When Sophie Tabatadze started going to the Vake Swimming Pool and Fitness Club in Tbilisi, Georgia, she spotted a sign in the locker rooms that angered her.
“Dear ladies! Do not go to the pool during periods.”
She snapped a picture of it and shared it on Facebook: “Do you even realize how offensive this is?” she wrote.
The picture went viral worldwide.
“The sign was really disappointing. We live in a strong patriarchal culture … with lots of stigma associated with menstruation, which limits women’s participation in sports,” Tabatadze told TODAY via email.
She posted the photo hoping that the gym would realize its mistake and remove the sign. Right now, it doesn’t seem like the gym will take it down, she said. The gym did not respond to a TODAY request for an interview. Tabatadze still thinks the sign can spark important conversations.
“I think this poses a good opportunity to raise awareness and start a discussion on women’s health, including that periods are not something unhygienic, shameful,” she said.
Experts agree: Periods are not dirty and do not contaminate pools.
"It’s not any kind of public health risk," said Dr. Jen Gunter, a San Francisco Bay-area gynecologist and member of the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology. "I’d be a lot more worried about fecal matter in a pool, personally."
While swimming, most women use tampons, which absorb menstrual fluid before it leaves the body. There's some research looking at whether fluids can enter the vagina, but it seems they don't — the vagina is closed. This means that when women swim, water isn't rushing into their bodies and then pouring out, Gunter said.
It's certainly possible that a little fluid could escape past a tampon, but that's rare and it would be a tiny amount. Over a woman's entire period, she only loses about 60 milliliters of fluid. If any passed by the tampon, it would likely be a few drops unless something catastrophic was occurring.
"To hone in on menstrual blood is ridiculous," Gunter said, adding that pools contain other fluids, including sweat, urine, and fecal matter.
"That is why they put chlorine in a pool because humans secrete."
She thinks the policy likely originated from ignorance — many people feel like periods are inherently dirty.
"I think, again, it comes form people having no clue what happens in a menstrual cycle."