It's camping season for those of us who are gluttons for punishment and bug bites. But during your foray into a recreational rural transient lifestyle, how do you know you're safe? How do you know that your dripping vagina isn't attracting deadly wildlife?
University of Illinois Anthropologist Dr. Kate Clancy is what you might call a period expert. And not a period expert as in she's someone who has had dozens and dozens of periods, a period expert like she literally studies periods and their role in human history. In a fascinating column for Scientific American, she explores the topic of periods and whether or not they attract or repel our four legged wild eyed forest friends.
To answer the question on everyone's mind, scientists have actually found that periods don't attract all bears. Black bears, for example, couldn't care less if you're riding the tiny cotton pony. The groundbreaking 1991 study's called "Reactions of black bears to human menstrual odors," and you can find it in vintage editions of The Journal of Wildlife Management. But there hasn't been much research into whether periods attract bigger, scarier grizzly bears. Spending the last several minutes raptly perusing the Wikipedia page on fatal bear attacks (don't even click unless you have like half an hour to descend into an Internet Spiral) has led me to believe that most people killed by grizzlies in North America in recent years were dudes, who I presume weren't menstruating at the time of their death.
Dr. Clancy notes that misgivings about what she sarcastically refers to as women's "period stench" aren't based on actual wildlife attraction to or aversion of human menstruation. Despite theories that ancient people may have excluded women from hunts because of the idea that periods make women "unclean," Clancy notes that their theory doesn't really stand up to muster. Period stench doesn't attract or repel, say, deer any more than cow urine attracts or repels deer. And in studies of the subject, wild animals have had the same reaction to men's vein blood as they do to women's menstrual blood. In other words, periods only caused problems for women in the wilderness if they're part of a tribe that relies on hunting and gathering for food, and if that tribe also believes women to be unclean.
So go ahead and go camping with your big box of tampons and your big uterus full of useless blood and tissue. The bears probably don't give a shit. Wolves or sparkling vampires, on the other hand...