Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

TMI – Too Much (Menstrual) Information

September 30th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Michael Yazujian, Marymount Manhattan College

I found this sketch the other day when I was on www.ucbcomedy.com. It is by a sketch duo called Klepper and Grey, who are originally from Chicago, but now live in NYC. It is very similar to the “Her First Period” sketch by the Frantics (posted at re:Cycling August 5, 2011), in that things that are considered socially unacceptable to be shared are being shared in such a friendly tone; the main difference is that in this sketch the information is being shared knowingly. Both sketches make you wonder how do subjects get to a point when they are considered rude or unacceptable to discuss, even though they are so common among so many people. Things like menstruation, sex, and bowel movements are all normal bodily experiences, but they certainly don’t make appropriate dinner party conversation, or topics to share casually with an acquaintance on the street.

I’d be interested to hear comments from others about what they think the increased public display of formerly private matters means, especially when it comes to the conventional menstrual taboos.

Dads, Daughters, and Menarche

September 29th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Oh, Mr. Dad! Is that the best you can do?

Mr. Dad is a syndicated parenting advice column in my local paper, and the September 26 edition featured a query from a dad worried that his 11-year-old daughter may begin menstruating while her mom is deployed overseas (she just left, and she’ll be gone for a year).

Mr. Dad’s first bit of advice is for the squeamish father to find an adult woman to talk to his daughter about puberty:

Your first assignment is to find an adult woman to run point. This could be a relative, friend, or even one of the female spouses whose husband is deployed with your wife’s unit. She’ll be able to walk your daughter through the basics and give you a list of supplies you’ll want to have on hand.

To his credit, Mr. Dad doesn’t let Nervous Dad off the hook, and does advise that he learn about female puberty “just in case things don’t go exactly according to plan”. But I’d rather see more dads embrace the possibility that they may well be the one their daughter turns to at menarche, like this dad.

Heck, they could even up being the helpful, available next-door neighbor in a time of need, like ol’ Hank Hill, in this video clip.

Cardiovascular deaths increase with steady aging, not menopause

September 27th, 2011 by Chris Hitchcock

Earlier this month, researchers published a statistical analysis of mortality data in England, Wales and the United States, disproving the common statement that, after menopause, women face increased rates of mortality from heart disease. There are other studies that have come to similar conclusions, but there are a few things that make this study different. One is that it drew on epidemiological data from three different parts of the world, which reduces the likelihood of a local coincidence. A second is that they took care to create longitudinal data sets, comparing women born in different birth decades with the appropriate mortality over time. In doing so, they avoided the problems of cross-sectional data.

The authors found that there was a steady exponential increase in risk with age, and that there was no sign of accelerated risk at the typical age of menopause (50). They compared different versions of mortality curves, and were able to show that a two-stage model of mortality with a hinge at menopause was not a good fit to the data.

These findings have received national and international coverage, and are a major blow to the argument that menopausal women require premenopausal hormones to retain premenopausal protection from cardiovascular risk. Menopausal women are older than premenopausal women, and that is why they are more likely to die from cardiovascular disease, not because of the hormonal changes of menopause.

Weekend Links

September 24th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Menopause Isn’t for Dummies

September 23rd, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Roseanne’s Nuts was one of the delights of summer 2011, especially for those of us who have missed the comedic talents of Roseanne Barr. If you don’t watch television (or are outside the US), Roseanne’s Nuts is Roseanne Barr’s return to episodic television, this time in the form of a reality show set on the star’s 40-acre macadamia nut farm in Hawaii. When her eponymous sitcom ended in 1997, she made a couple of attempts at talk show hosting, then left L.A. and the limelight to raise her youngest son and macadamias in Hawaii. He’s now a teenager, and the nuts are ready to harvest.

An ongoing thread of the show is Roseanne’s plan to harvest and distribute her nuts as a low-cost protein source for impoverished people. Each episode also has its own self-contained, seemingly unscripted plotline. Unlike many of today’s popular reality shows, however, there are no manipulated showdowns or drunken feuds. Much of the time, Roseanne and her family seem like everyone else’s family — if only the rest of us could live off sitcom residuals and were followed around by a camera crew. There is laughter and teasing, and some conflict underpinned with genuine affection, but everything isn’t always tidily resolved in 22 minutes.

In the Episode #15 (original air date September 10), 58-year-old Roseanne copes with continuing symptoms of menopause. It’s handled so honestly (for the most part) that I’m going to overlook the fact that the episode was titled “Menopause for Dummies”.* The episode opens with Johnny Argent, Roseanne’s manpanion**, sharing a list of menopause symptoms he has found on the internet. Roseanne acknowledges having them all, except for tingling in her extremities, and decides to visit her friend, Dr. Allen, and to investigate whether she should receive hormone treatments. (The full episode can be watched online at Lifetime.com until Oct. 11; preview a short clip at right.)

-+-+-+- SPOILERS AHEAD -+-+-+-

Roseanne visits Dr. Allen — on camera, of course — this is a reality show — and explains her concerns. He asks about her libido and her sex life, and she replies, “It’s like an old person’s”. She responds forthrightly to his suggestion that dryness may be the cause of her ‘feminine itching’: “that’s all dried up like a sonofabitch”. Dr. Allen wants to measure Roseanne’s hormone levels with a 24-hour urine test, as he believes that will provide more precise information than any blood test. Roseanne is horrified by his description of her contribution to the procedure (“You pee in a bucket for 24 hours”), but even more horrified by his other recommendation: she needs to exercise.

Roseanne tells the camera — the proxy for us, the audience at home — that she doesn’t know if she’ll go on hormones or not. Her women friends recommend red wine, saying it’s bad for menopause (“because it makes you sweat”) but good for the libido. Her eldest son Jake is delighted to hear that his mom is considering hormones, telling the camera, “After eight years of being batshit crazy, I think she’s finally ready. I’m so happy — once she gets hormones, my life’s gonna be a lot easier.”

Some of my SMCR colleagues who study menopause may cringe at these scenes, but I think they’re representative of the kind of communication many women experience around menopause; that is, well-meaning, if ill-informed, advice from friends and family. It feels like the kinds of conversations lots of us have in our own living rooms and front porches. It is this feeling of unscripted authenticity that draws viewers to Roseanne’s Nuts. I also note the special irony of menopause; after 20 or 30 years of our hormones being blamed for erratic and irritable behavior, we’re now advised to consume hormones to rein in our erratic and irritable “batshit crazy” behavior.

This sense of authenticity and realism continues in the scenes where Roseanne works out with the trainer recommended by Dr. Allen. The trainer eases Roseanne into aerobic activity, but Roseanne is reluctant and uncomfortable, especially when the trainer starts to show enthusiasm and high-fives Roseanne. She tells the trainer, “I hate the fact that I’m supposed to act like I like it. That’s not gonna work for me. I don’t like it. I can’t lie through it.”

Vitamin D and Early Onset of Menstruation

September 21st, 2011 by Laura Wershler

Could vitamin D deficiency in young girls contribute to early onset of menstruation?  

A study conducted by the University of Michigan School of Public Health suggests this may be the case.  Blood vitamin D levels were measured in 242 girls between the ages of 5 and 12 in Bogota, Colombia. The girls were then followed for 30 months.

“Compared to girls in the vitamin D-sufficient group who first menstruated at the age 12.6 years, those in the vitamin D-deficient group started menstruating at11.8 years. (Epidemiologist Eduardo)Villamor says that although 10 months may seem like a small gap, the difference is momentous because at that age, a young girl’s body may undergo many changes rapidly.”

The findings are significant because of other research suggesting links between early onset of menarche, or first menstruation, before the age of 12 and serious health concerns later in life such as cardiovascular disease and breast cancer. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with poor bone health and osteoporosis.

This study showing an association between vitamin D deficiency and early menarche raises many questions. Should mothers be asking their doctors to test their daughters vitamin D levels? How might vitamin D supplementation prevent future health concerns now associated with early menarche? What blood level for vitamin D is optimal?

Grassroots Health, a non-profit advocacy organization promoting optimal vitamin D levels for the prevention of disease and maintenance of good health, has recently launched a study on breast cancer prevention with vitamin D. The group also has an initiative called D*Action involving a consortium of scientists, institutions and individuals committed to solving what they consider to be a worldwide vitamin D deficiency epidemic.

Might the girls in Colombia lead the way for vitamin D supplementation to begin at a young age to protect the bones, breast and hearts of the next generation?

Weekend Links

September 17th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Have You Had HPV? Tweet It Today!

September 16th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

The Village Voice has declared today, Friday, September 16, ‘Tweet That You Have Had HPV Day’.

U.S. readers probably know that on Monday, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann upbraided Texas governor Rick Perry for requiring girls in his state to have the vaccine during a Tea Party sponsored debate among Republican candidates for the presidential nomination, and then claimed the HPV vaccine causes ‘mental retardation’.

One dramatic response came on Twitter from writer Ayelet Waldman, who wrote that she got HPV from her husband in a monogamous marriage, and had to have cervical lesions removed. She was promptly told to keep that to herself, it was TMI, and that it was probably her fault for being slutty. (For an excellent critical summary of the whole kerfuffle, read Jill’s post at Feministe.)

HPV is easy to spread and hard to detect. From the CDC:

HPV is passed on through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. HPV may also be passed on during oral sex and genital-to-genital contact. HPV can be passed on between straight and same-sex partners–even when the infected partner has no signs or symptoms.

A person can have HPV even if years have passed since he or she had sexual contact with an infected person. Most infected persons do not realize they are infected or that they are passing the virus on to a sex partner. It is also possible to get more than one type of HPV.

HPV is easily spread, but can be prevented and treated. As the Village Voice article asserts, “Perhaps the greatest danger in the battle against HPV is one of PR. People are ashamed (after all, it’s an STD), and women in particular are shamed. No one wants to admit it, no one talks about it, and when people do, it’s in whispers and there’s a lot of misinformation.”

So talk about it, tweet about it, and don’t be ashamed. Fight sex negativity.

The Red Liner Bag

September 15th, 2011 by Heather Dillaway

Menstruating while traveling is always interesting. It involves many in-the-moment decisions and also some significant planning at times (both before and during trips). But, it also means noticing various details about your surroundings. I was in a rest area bathroom this summer in the middle of Pennsylvania as I was coming home from Washington, D.C., and saw something so refreshing: a bright red plastic liner bag for a tampon & pad receptacle in a public restroom. In every stall of every public restroom in the U.S., there is a receptacle for throwing away disposal feminine hygiene products and we’ve all seen thousands of them (if not more). Usually those receptacles are lined with white plastic bags or brown paper bags. Never in my life — until this summer in a bathroom at a highway rest area –  have I ever seen a bright red one. It was so refreshing to see such a bright color, and red for that matter! I thought right away, “Why aren’t they red more often?” Especially in the age of colored reusable pads and the neon-colored line of UbyKotex products, perhaps we should be pushing color (and expecting color) on other menstruation-related products? The color red was surprising and validating at the same time, as if finally someone realized exactly what color that liner bag should really be. I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has seen these red liner bag. Has anybody else seen red?

 

Celebrate Maggie’s Day

September 14th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

“No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.”

Raise a glass – today is Margaret Sanger’s birthday. Learn about her and her work at the Margaret Sanger Papers Project.

Literary Menstruphobia – Part II

September 13th, 2011 by David Linton

Speculation about the private lives of historic figures is always a dicey thing. The task is made more difficult depending on how long ago the individual lived, how well known they were in the first place, whether they or their acquaintances wrote about them, whether there is an epistolary trail of letters to and from others that have not been destroyed or lost, etc. Furthermore, the more intimate the aspect of the life under investigation, the more likely it is that there is little evidence to lead to reliable conclusions. Hence, when it comes to sexual practices, preferences, and prejudices, conclusions are often highly speculative.

(How different our present personal historical records are with their endless streams of Facebook revelations and confessions, YouTube postings, uninvited tagging, cell phone and email hackings, endless streams of digital photographs and videos.)

Which brings us to the intriguing case of John Ruskin, a botched honeymoon, and the unconsummated marriage.

John Ruskin (1819-1900) was perhaps the preeminent English art critic and social commentator of the 19th Century. His collected writings run to 26 volumes of well over 400 pages each, and there have been numerous biographies, dissertations, and scholarly treatises about him and his work covering at least five shelves of even a modest college library. His diaries, letters and journals have also been published. It seems he believed that every thought that crossed his mind was worth preserving and scholars seem to think it’s all worth reading.

The most intriguing personal detail centers on his relationship with his wife. At the age of 29 Ruskin married Effie Gray, a woman 9 years his junior. According to letters and documents separately written by both of them they did not consummate the marriage on their honeymoon. And, by the time Effie sued for an annulment six years later, they still hadn’t.

In a letter to her father following her separation from Ruskin, Effie explained what went wrong, “Finally this last year he told me his true reason, . . . that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife is that he was disgusted with my person the first evening.” But the question remains, exactly what was it about Effie’s body that repulsed her new husband? Biographers have speculated that her pubic hair turned him off because his notion of female beauty was formed by the hairless bodies of classical statuary and paintings; or perhaps she had a strong body odor.

Now that the mention of menstruation has become increasingly acceptable in all realms of society, it is thought that Effie’s period may have been the culprit. This is the line taken in a new book titled, Effie: The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, John Ruskin and John Everett Millais by Suzanne Fagence Cooper. Of course, we will never know for sure what John Ruskin’s real hang-ups were. However, the fact that male menstrual ignorance was so thorough at the time makes it reasonable to suggest menstruphobia as a likely explanation for his lost libido. Furthermore, the fact that scholars entertain and write about the possibility and that the detail is included in a male-authored review of the scholarship in The New York Times constitutes yet another sign of shifts in the menstrual ecology. (For a full review of Effie in The New York Times, see Charles McGrath, “Victorian goddess, a Real Wife and a Sour Marriage,” June 22, 2011, pg. C-4.)

To make matters even more interesting, there is currently in production a new film titled “Effie” co-authored by Emma Thomson and her husband Greg Wise, with Dakota Fanning cast in the role of the frustrated Mrs. Ruskin. It will be fascinating to see if menstruation plays a role in the plight of the relationship. Stay tuned for future developments.

Cycling for Cycling Change

September 12th, 2011 by Chris Bobel

Sarah Konner and Toni Craige begin their trip in Seattle.

Sarah Konner and Toni Craige are two impressive women. They are biking all the way down the west coast and living on $4/day while spreading the word of sustainable menstrual care.

Menstrual activism in motion!

Theirs is a great model of seeing a need and doing SOMETHING! Here are two young women with a passion, strong legs and endless energy and that’s enough.  They are willing to sleep and eat on a shoestring so that they can share their stories of doing right by the earth and getting back in touch with their bodies.

And for those willing to try a cup, they’ve got a sack of donated products.

Check our their progress and consider supporting them. They welcome financial support AND emails to the ELLEN show where they hope to make an appearance.

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.