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 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 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.”

I couldn’t help but think what a great, if implicit, endorsement this is for Health At Every Size. Roseanne gives up on the trainer and exercise after one workout, because exercise for its own sake is seldom enjoyable to those who haven’t been active. HAES encourages people to find pleasure in moving one’s body — whether walking the dog, doing yoga, swimming, bicycling, or whatever — and doing the activity for the joy it provides rather than for an external goal. HAES also affirms Roseanne’s belief that “if you’re fat, it’s probably because you had fat parents and no amount of dieting will change that”.

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.

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.