Early Modern Women: an Interdisciplinary Journal Volume III, (2008)
Growing interest in the historiography of the female body has resulted in a number of studies of the ways that menstruation was represented in early modern England. These studies concur that, within the prevailing humoral system of bodily economy, regular menstruation was seen as a physiological function, essential to a woman’s overall health. However, examining early modern manuals on women’s health reveals a key paradox: although normal menstruation was considered a disease, a monthly sickness or illness, failure to menstruate regularly was also considered a disease, which physicians went to great lengths to cure. Such was the prevalence of the belief that the key to a woman’s health was sited in her uterus that Lazare Rivière stated in the section of his anatomy guide devoted to women’s health in the mid-seventeenth century that the womb was the source of “six hundred miseries and innumerable calamities.”
Like humoral theory itself, most ideas about the cause and effects of menstruation were based on the ancient ideas of Hippocrates and Galen, which explained that, because of a woman’s more sedentary lifestyle, her body was less efficient than a man’s at utilizing the blood that she produced. The resultant build- up of blood and other waste in the female body (described as a “plethora”) must be eliminated through menstruation for the sake of her health.