Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

What’s Sick?

March 31st, 2010 by Chris Bobel

crestorToday, there’s a front page story in the New York Times about Astra-Zeneca’s move to market their cholesterol pills (known as statins, and as the NYT reports, already the most prescribed drugs in the US)  at healthy people in spite of unresolved concerns about risks, namely an elevated risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Gee. This sure sounds familiar: a  product aimed at healthy people, approved by the FDA, even before there’s ample evidence of safety.

I am imagining the new ad campaign…”Why let cholesterol worries slow you down? Choosing healthy foods and getting adequate exercise is sooooooo 20th century.Take a pill. Done.”

Of course, the comparison I am hinting at here is flawed. High levels of cholesterol ARE a genuine hazard. Heart disease is deadly.  Conversely, menstruation is NOT a disease and under most conditions, need not be treated.

But my point here is to call attention to Big Pharma’s too-quick impulse to sell drugs of questionable safety to healthy people and FDA collusion in this.  Marketing cycle-stopping contraception (a.k.a. menstrual suppressive contraception a la brands Lybrel and Seasonique, for example) to healthy women is not an isolated incidence of the premature and high-risk mainstreaming of prescription medications. See recent critiques here and here (and the official Society for Menstrual Cycle Research position statement on cycle-stopping contraception here).

In the eyes of Big Pharma, if we aren’t sick, we will be soon. If we aren’t dosing  The. Next. New. Drug, we aren’t taking charge of our health.

Sick? I think THAT’S sick.

Menstrual Moments on Television: Parks and Recreation

March 27th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

I’m surely not the only fan of Amy Poehler and Parks and Recreation around here, am I? (Oh, Amy Poehler, have you been reading my mail? Leslie Knope is more like me than I care to admit.)

As I’ve written elsewhere, menstruation is seldom mentioned or represented on television outside of femcare advertising. The one notable exception has been when a girl’s menarche is played for laughs in the family sitcom. Now there’s another exception, in last week’s episode of Parks and Recreation.

In this episode, Leslie brought together all the surviving Directors of the Pawnee Indiana Department of Parks and Recreation, hoping for some inspiration for the catalog copy she needed to write. Instead she found a lot of bullying, misogyny, and other bad behavior.

In clip at right, the oldest of the former directors advises Leslie to stay away from leadership roles because the intellectual demands will interfere with her reproductive abilities. Leslie politely dismisses this by explaining that times have changed, and she aspires to greatness. But more importantly, she turns off the tape recorder, letting viewers know that this retrograde attitude is so unacceptable that she won’t be recording it for posterity. Having such views expressed by the oldest character also makes them easy to dismiss.

Saturday Surfing: Link-a-riffic Reading

March 27th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

This week’s recommended reading:

That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stronger

March 24th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Cartoon of women with cramps

London newspaper The Telegraph reports on the development of a new medical treatment for dysmenorrhea, or painful periods. The article contains very little information about the new pill — most of the article describes the variety of misery some women experience with menstruation. The only information about the new medication is that the drug blocks vasopressin, a hormone involved in regulating uterine contractions and thus a cause of menstrual cramping.

But I was struck by this sentence in the second paragraph:

But now [women with painful periods] might no longer have to soldier on stoically after researchers have developed a pill which could put an end to the root cause of their discomfort.

See that? Women with cramps aren’t whiners or crybabies or just making excuses. They’re hard-working troupers who soldier on stoically despite being miserable.

Blood on Screen: The Runaways

March 23rd, 2010 by Giovanna Chesler

Last July we posted photos from an unnamed film set where Dakota Fanning stood, ready for camera, with blood running down her thighs and a blood stain on the back of her skirt. Were these menstrual markings or the next era of horror film misogyny? The answer can be seen in the newly released film The Runaways, a drama about a 1970′s all girl rock band fronted by Cherie Currie (played by Dakota Fanning) and guitarist, Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart.)

Here, menstruation is a framing element, as the film begins with a screen sized image of a red blood drop falling to the pavement. Cut to Fanning wiping blood from her thigh in disbelief. Her sister, Marie rushes her to the bathroom to attend to their first period, for Marie whines “Everything happens to you first!” Cherie packs her undies with paper towels, ties a sweatshirt around the stain, and in stunned disbelief of what has just transpired, tags behind her sister and her sister’s creepy dude date. He leers at her, “You’re a woman now.”

Later that evening, Cherie crops her hair, paints a David Bowie red streak across her face, and begins to come into herself. Becoming a woman in this film, does not include being soft and desirable for boys. Rather, menarche signifies entrance into glam rock iconography.

As Cherie meets up with Joan, and the two launch The Runaways, Cherie’s early entrance into womanhood seems to have come too soon. Still a child, Cherie is pushed into the front of a stage and asked to groan into a mic about her bursting sexuality in the song Cherry Bomb. The demanding manager, Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), yells at her to give more to the song “This isn’t woman’s lib. It’s woman’s lib-ido.”

In the coming weeks on tour, Cherie will partake in her first kiss, first sip, first line, first pill – revealing how womanhood has not “dropped” upon her. It arrives in waves through her choices, or her inability to make them. And there is still more growing to do.

Menstrual Tracking 2.0

March 22nd, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Mikvah CalendarI haven’t studied every online tool for period tracking but this one appears to be the most sophisticated yet: MikvahCalendar.com helps observant Jewish women track their cycles, including her niddah (ritually impure) time. It automatically calculates sunrise and sunset, sends email or text reminders, and can be customized for Chabad, Ashkenazic, and Sephardic traditions. And it’s Rabbincally Approved.

Kotex Anti-Ads, Round Two

March 21st, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Over the last week, I thought I had participated in enough discussions of Kotex’s new “Break the Cycle” campaign; we had a lengthy discussion here at re:Cycling, and I’ve joined in the comments at several other ladyblogs, as have my co-bloggers. But then I discovered there are more videos!

Don’t expect to see any of these on U.S. television, but they’re definitely worth checking out: in one, a man seeks the advice of other shoppers in selecting the right tampons for his girlfriend (hint: her height and weight really aren’t relevant); in another, people appear reluctant to identify ink blots that resemble a human vulva, more so than identifying those that resemble a human penis. And you won’t believe the names for both. But I think this one is my favorite:


I want to be able to just press the play button on this one the next time I hear someone say, “What?!? There’s a Society for Menstrual Cycle Research?!?”


Saturday Surfing: Linktastic Recommendations

March 20th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Here are some highlights from our reading this week in women’s health:

And did I mention that we’re finally on Facebook?

So the pill won’t kill me; what’s the point?

March 18th, 2010 by Laura Wershler

Women on the pill live longer. So touts a March 12, 2010 Reuters news story out of London, England reporting on a study published March 11 in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). A misleading headline if ever there was one.

The study followed 46, 000 women for up to 40 years, to see if the mortality risk among women sho have used oral contraceptives differs from that of never users. What the study actually found, according to the public release issued by BMJ on March 12 is this: “Women in the UK who have ever used oral contraceptives are less likely to die from any cause, including all cancers and heart disease, compared with never users.”

The study also found a slightly higher risk (of death, I presume) in women under 45 years old who are current or recent users of the pill.  As such, the authors assert:

Many women, especially those who used the first generation of oral contaceptives many years ago, are likely to be reassured by our results.  However, our findings might not reflect the experience of women using oral contraceptives today, if currently available preparations have a different risk than earlier products.

I’m 56 years old. I didn’t take the pill in the UK. But I did take it in Canada in the early to late seventies, back when it was much stronger than it is today. And back when it was NOT common for women to start the pill at 15 and take it for a decade or longer.  Am I reassured by these findings? Sort of. Although years of hard-fought-for healthy, ovulatory menstruation, subsequent to my year long post-pill amenorrhea, are more likely responsible for my good health than having  been an “ever user” of oral contraceptives. And more likely to protect me from heart disease and cancer than whatever benefits I may have derived from my on again, off again pill-taking history.

As for women under 45, it’s not just the “currently available preparations” I’d be concerned about. And there are tons of them: multiple variations of standard pills, continuous use pills like Seasonale and Lybrel, and cycle-stopping contraceptives like Depo-Provera and the Mirena IUD. The other concern is that the contraceptive use of young women today is much different than it was in my youth. They start using oral and other hormonal contraception at younger ages, before their reproductive systems have fully matured and their fertility (regular, ovulatory menstrual cycles) is well established. And they tend to take it for longer. The verdict on the long-term effects of this kind of contraceptive use is yet to be determined.

I’m not going to debate the merits or faults of this study or the unanswered questions it raises. The question I really want to ask is “What’s the point?”

The cynic in me believes that this study, and misleading headlines like Women on the pill live longer, will be used to compel women of all ages to ‘shut up already’ about their growing concerns with hormonal contraception. It will be dragged out as “scientific evidence” that taking the pill saves lives, as is implied in this article published by the Daily Mail:

The contraceptive Pill can extend your life and may even save 1,500 lives a year, a study has suggested.

Women who have taken the Pill at any stage in their life are less likely to die from any cause – including heart disease and all types of cancer – than those who have never taken the oral contraceptive.

But wait, here’s the next paragraph:

However, the positive effects may only be enjoyed by women who have taken older-style pills rather than those on newer drugs.

Let’s get real. For women my age this study may offer some small comfort. But for young women, it is perfectly useless. Many of them are re-thinking hormonal birth control and seeking out alternatives. They are paying attention to news stories and research about the disconcerting negative health outcomes experienced by women taking hormonal contraception. Research from many quarters suggests that taking the pill (et al) can cause inflammatory bowel disease and hardening of the arteries, raise the risk of heart attack, diminsh bone density, and impair women’s sex drive.  Many women are fed-up with mood disorders, weight gain, and the general malaise that accompanies their pill use. Others are ”ditching the pill for good” and writing about their experiences on blogs and magazine websites.

And now a femcare ad campaign that’s not afraid to say VAGINA

March 18th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Triangle of flowers labeled "Lady Garden".Or coochie, or bajingo, or vajayjay, or any other term for female genitalia. The big news in U.S. femcare this week is the launch of Kotex’s new “Break the Cycle” campaign, and the refusal of American television to air commercials that use the word vagina. As Amanda Hess put it, “you know, the place where the fucking tampon goes.” Meanwhile, Mooncup has launched new ads for their menstrual cups with a “Love Your Vagina” campaign in the UK. The campaign includes posters all over the place with different names women have for their vaginas – fru-fru, bajingo, coochie, lady garden and vajayjay – and the domain name LoveYourVagina.com.

According to this article in Marie-Claire,

Mooncup intend[s] to stimulate debate and encourage women to care about their vaginal health as much as they care for their hair, nails and make up. Kath Clements, Campaigns Manager for Mooncup, says: ‘We hope the ads will get women thinking, smiling and talking about their vaginas.’

No word yet on whether British media are permitting television ads.

The Latest Menstrual Technology Is Also the Oldest

March 17th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling
Magazine advertisement for Stayfree picturing a maxi-pad cut out of a woman's t-shirt.

Magazine advertisement for Stayfree Maxi-Pads, March 2010.

In the ongoing femcare arms race, manufacturers compete to promote the latest technology in menstrual wear. We’ve seen LeakLock®, Four Walled Protection®, Built-in Backup® Skirt, Clean SorbTM Cover (I am not making this up, to borrow an old line from Dave Barry), and now THERMOCONTROLTM technology.

But it’s illustrated with one of the world’s oldest technologies for period management: Just tear off a piece of your shirt. There. Isn’t that nice – soft and absorbent?


By the way, the fine print at the very bottom of the ad reads, “DRAMATIZATION. Stayfree® Ulta-Thins are not made from the same material as athletic fabric.”

Will Kotex Break the Bank with “Break the Cycle” Campaign?

March 16th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

This week, Kotex is launching a new campaign “that aims to encourage women to talk candidly and without embarrassment about periods and vaginal care”. Research statistics from the brand indicate that “vaginally-aware women” are more likely to have a positive body image (40% vs. 31%) and to be satisfied with their level of self-confidence (64% vs. 43%) and ability to express themselves (76% vs. 55%). In the same survey, 70% of women said they wish society would change the way it talks about vaginal health, but less than half feel like they can do anything about it.

Of course, this means new products from Kotex. But from where I sit, there’s little new here. The products seem to be the same old Kotex pads and tampons, now individually wrapped in bright, “fierce” colors instead of the usual pastels. The same old plastic applicators are now yellow, blue, or green, instead of just pink.  The anti-ad advertisement technique (see video at right) was pioneered by Sprite (a CocaColaTM product) in their mid-1990s “Image is Nothing. Obey Your Thirst.” campaign. The Sprite ad was featured in Douglas Rushkoff’s 2001 film, The Merchants of Cool, as an example of how corporate advertising appropriates youth culture to appeal to young people.

And that seems to be what Kotex is doing with “Break the Cycle.” The new web site has a hip, blocky style and multiple ways to interact with the company and with other customers (hello, Twitter! hi there, Facebook!). Quotes from girls and young women appear throughout the site, many in handwritten fonts. The FAQ file (“Real Answers“) features three answers to each question: one from a peer, one from a mom, and one from a health expert.

At the same time, this looks likes an honest effort to increase education and honesty about menstruation and vaginal health. Kotex surveyed 1,607 North American girls and women aged 14-35 about their knowledge of menstruation, vaginal health, and self-esteem and body image. The findings won’t surprise anyone at re:Cycling:

Chart summarizing some of findings from Kotex study.

  • Most women are satisfied with their personal relationships, self-confidence, and level of happiness – a majority describes themselves as intelligent, independent, and happy. However, the majority are not satisfied with what their body looks like and only a minority describe themselves as beautiful or sexy.
  • Many women think of their vaginal area as ugly and are self-conscious about what a potential sexual partner might think of how their vagina looks.

The specific findings about menstruation are sadly familiar; I recall finding similar statistics in a widely-cited survey conducted in 1981 on a similar population when I first began studying menstruation 20 years ago.

  • Society’s attitudes toward vaginal health – menstruation in particular – have had an effect on how women experience certain milestones, communicate with each other, and how they feel about
    themselves.

    • More than half of women (59%) felt awkward around others when they first got their period, and about 3 in 5 (62%) report that they felt uncomfortable discussing the experience with other people, even their close friends and family.
    • Though a majority (66%) say getting their period didn’t really change anything else about who they are or how they behave, more than half (55%) report that they became more self-conscious about their body once they started menstruating, and even now, more than half of women (54%) feel dirty when they have their period, and 2 in 3 (67%) don’t want people knowing when they’re menstruating.
    • One in three women (32%) think buying period products is embarrassing.
    • More than 4 in 5 (84%) say they feel the need to hide their tampon or pad on their way to the bathroom in a public place (e.g., work, school, restaurant) – more than half (54%) strongly agree with this statement.

Despite my cynicism about the ad and disappointment in plastic products, I am glad to see a femcare company promoting openness about menstruation and vaginal health. “Vaginally aware women” sure beats “have a happy period” and “stop Mother Nature”.

Readers should note that statements published in re: Cycling are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.