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By Mark Nichter; Mimi Nichter

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Humans are as much rule breakers as rule makers and obeyers. Pregnancy is often attributed to slip-ups during the first 16 days of a woman’s cycle during which time she is culturally perceived to be fertile. A second point involves menstrual irregularity and the range of factors from diet to physical activity and stress which impact on the frequency and duration of a woman’s cycle (Harrel 1981). Menstrual irregularity, particularly amenorrhea, contributes to confusion about a woman’s fertility and raises doubt as to whether a woman is pregnant or not.

It is noteworthy that a collaborative World Health Organization study on Patterns and Perceptions of Menstruation (Snowden and Christian 1983) in 10 countries (including India) does not address 26 ANTHROPOLOGY AND INTERNATIONAL HEALTH the issue of fertility in relation to popular perceptions of the menstrual cycle. This is particularly striking because the study was largely oriented toward examining perceptions of menstruation in relation to family planning methods and issues. 15. Humoral theories of procreation based on wet-dry, hot-cold, and open-closed states underscore a wide range of fertility enhancing practices concordant with notions of proper timing and positioning during intercourse.

The first was elicited while interviewing women about how modern family planning methods were perceived to work. Oral contraceptives are considered by Sri Lankan women to have heating and drying properties. These properties are not perceived as “side effects” of the oral contraceptives but rather the very properties which constitute the means by which the pill effectively prevents fertility. 25 She went on to note that a woman taking oral contraceptives was as dry as she would be in the latter days of her cycle before menstruation.

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