menstruation

Introduction

menstruation, periodic flow of blood and cells from the lining of the uterus in humans and most other primates, occurring about every 28 days in women. Menstruation commences at puberty (usually between age 10 and 17). The onset of menstruation, called menarche, signals the body's coming readiness for childbearing. It continues, unless interrupted by pregnancy until menopause (around age 50).

There have been many myths and taboos associated with menstruation. Some cultures isolated women or thought the menstrual flow "unclean" or a "curse." More recent taboos against exercise or sexual intercourse during menstruation are slowly lifting. Some scientists have asked why menstruation occurs at all—why the uterine lining does not remain in place, regenerating itself as other parts of the body (such as the skin and digestive tract) do. One theory is that menstruation is a defense against microbes that enter the uterus with incoming sperm.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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