This article appears in The Incarceration Issue, a special edition of VICE Australia
If you've ever shared a house with a bunch of other fertile piles of skin, hair, and female hormones, you know what it means to sync up. Consider all bathrooms ocupado and painful-boob talk a constant. But what about prisoners? Do women's prisons become moody, achy hell holes every few weeks?
The debate over whether women living together begin mirroring each other's menstrual cycles started in 1971 when Harvard psychology student Martha McClintock wrote "Nature." In the paper, she proposed that pheromones from cohabiting women led to what she dubbed "menstrual synchrony."
Subsequent studies have been inconclusive, but any woman with sisters or female housemates will tell you the myth feels real, and apparently it feels real in prison, too.
"There were times where you just knew when everybody was about to bleed," remarked a former inmate who served five years. She added, however, that women are not usually in close contact long enough to properly fall into step. "Women are constantly shuffled around, so there isn't much of a chance for that to happen."
Blood isn't the only product of menstruation, and often the resulting emotions are the bigger pain in the uterus. "Any kind of emotional thing going on in a prison is going to be contagious and affect everyone, to a degree," one female inmate noted. But she also pointed out that emotions are already so strained it might be difficult to notice a mass PMS event.
At the end of the day, the pure stress of the prison experience can mean you're lucky to get your period with any regularity. Whether you're picking up other pheromones or not—stress, a change of diet, and going off the Pill ensure your body does whatever it wants.
"I couldn't keep track of it at all—it was completely irregular the entire time," said our former inmate. And maybe that's for the best. Being in prison is tough enough without dealing with a very crowded crimson wave.
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