! Warning: The following discussion regarding menstruation may be uncomfortable or offensive to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.
Growing up, I was exposed to some very negative attitudes about menstruation. It was common for me to hear menstruation referred to as "The Curse" and I was regularly encouraged to view my period as an inconvenience. Specifically, a woman's monthly period was presented to me as a messy but necessary evil. It contributes to her emotional and physical discomfort, and it interrupts various activities in one's social life, like swimming at the beach or having sex. In essence, I was indoctrinated like millions of other women to despise a natural function that God created. But the Bible tells us that everything God created is good. Surely there is a reason God gave us menstrual cycle, but perhaps it is more than just biological.
During menstruation, the uterine lining (endometrium) is shed if fertilization has not occurred. When mammals menstruate, the endometrium is either absorbed by the body (covert menstruation) or it is expelled (overt menstruation). While there have been recorded instances of other mammals experiencing overt menstruation (i.e. blood loss), the research appears to show that in all of these species, the loss of blood is a non-event compared to the situation in humans! Is it mere coincidence that humans are the only creatures to experience significant bleeding during menses?
The Bible says that human beings were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and that the creation itself attests to God's existence (Romans 1:20). He bled to give us life. Is it any surprise that He would also make creatures in His own image that would bleed to bring forth life? The most significant thing that Jesus accomplished on this earth was to bleed and die for our sins. His blood is the doorway to eternal life. In the same manner, blood is the doorway to physical life. Most health experts hold the view that during menstruation, the body rejects the blood when pregancy has failed. However, I like to look at menstruation this way: the body retains the blood when pregnancy is a success. Why? Because the baby needs to live off that blood while it is in the womb. The Bible says the life of a creature is in the blood (Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 17:11-15, Deuteronomy 12:23). When a woman menstruates (and when she suffers pain during that cycle) her very nature is reminiscent of the bleeding and suffering of Christ. And just as a newborn baby is covered in blood when he comes into the world, a newborn Christian is brought into the Kingdom of God covered in blood.
But what about all those scriptures declaring a woman "unclean" when she has her period? The Bible openly refers to this time of the month as a woman's "impurity" (Leviticus 15:19-30, Ezekiel 36:17). Many people (particularly women) view this concept with smug indignance. They are offended that God would declare a woman "unclean" during her menstrual cycle. They are deceived into thinking that this is just another sign that God is a misogynist. That is exactly what Satan wants them to think. But nothing could be further from the truth.
First, let's remember that all discharges, whether vaginal or penile, were considered unclean. God did not discriminate against women. Secondly, many of the old testament laws forbid contact with blood at all. As noted earlier, blood is sacred because it represents life (Leviticus 17:11). The value placed on blood would naturally call for certain activities surrounding blood to be forbidden.
Finally, let's not forget that the most unclean thing of all is our sin. The Bible says that all of us are unclean, and that our righteous deeds are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). What is the dirtiest rag you can think of? I think it would be fair to say that God is actually making a comparison of our righteous deeds to menstrual rags in this verse. The function of a menstrual rag is to "soak up" the mess. When we present our good deeds to God, acting as though our righteous acts are going to absorb our bad deeds, it is like presenting God with a dirty tampon. What God desires is a brand new, unstained cloth. Our rags of righteousness are so stained by our sin they can hardly be considered pleasant to Him. So when God calls our menses "unclean" we should not get offended, but instead remember that our sin is more repugnant to Him than any of our bodily fluids could ever be.
That being said, let's go back to the original discussion regarding how menstruation is presented in our culture. It is largely considered a time of inconvenience. Women curse their menstrual cycle because it is viewed as an interruption in their regular activities. They also complain largely over the suffering that takes place during that time. (Incredibly enough, I have experienced both deep emotional turmoil during my period as well as physical pain in my head, hands, and feet! At other times I just feel intense fatigue, as if my limbs are a heavy weight I can no longer carry.) Like Christ, we endure this suffering because it is necessary to sustain life. However, unlike Christ, who never opened His mouth, we sometimes can complain very loudly about the suffering we experience. Some women have such painful or emotionally difficult periods, they would give anything to reduce their suffering. And our enemy is only too glad to help.
There are several new forms of "birth control pills" that are designed to reduce menstruation to only four times a year. While it may sound enticing to reduce one's menstrual "inconvenience" by 75%, could we be deceiving ourselves into rebelling against God's holy design by doing so?
From day one, Satan has done everything in his power to bring life to a halt. His attack on life has been both spiritual and physical. He deceived the woman into eating the forbidden fruit, in the hopes that she would then eat of the tree of life, thus sealing her fate as being dead in her sin forever. But God thwarted that plan (Genesis 3:22-24). He tried to block the Messiah from giving life by having all the babies His age killed (Matthew 2:16). He tried to disqualify Jesus as the Messiah (Matthew 4:1-11). Where he is unsuccessful preventing eternal life, he compensates in promoting physical death by waging war on the womb. In addition to the gross slaughter of the unborn through abortion, Satan has achieved great success in convincing women to voluntarily induce amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) through self-induced eating disorders such as anorexia and submitting to unnecessary hysterectomies.
My period is not exactly what I'd call fun. But now when I wake up in the morning to find a brilliant splotch of red on my bedsheets or I feel like there is a knife in the small of my back, I try to make a conscious effort to refrain from complaining. When I feel as though there are spikes going through my feet and temples, I take two Advil and a hot bath. Then I remember the One who bled for me, and give thanks to Him for making me in His image.
If you are interested in further reading, here is a wonderful resource that describes some alternate biblical views on menstruation.