Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Sustainable Cycles

October 31st, 2011 by Chris Bobel

Sarah Konner and Toni Craigie Bicycle Down the West Coast, Live on $4 a Day, and Talk to People about Sustainable Menstrual Products.

Hear, in their own words, what they did and why it matters.

These gals are our menstrual sheroes!

Our Project

Over a lifetime, the average woman spends about 2,000 dollars on single-use pads and tampons, creating an enormous truckload of trash. There are more affordable and sustainable options that very few people seem to know about. We left Seattle on bikes on August 18th and arrived in LA on October 10th, and we will be continuing this work off-bicycle in the coming months. Along the way, we are meeting women, community organizers, health professionals, business owners, and people of all stripes, and having conversations about the benefits of reusable menstrual products.

For this project, we have been focusing on reusable menstrual cups—made of natural gum rubber latex or medical-grade silicon; they catch, rather than absorb menstrual flow. One cup costs $35 and can last up to 10 years—quite a deal. There are three companies that sell menstrual cups in the US, all approved as safe by the FDA. Each company has donated cups, totaling over 200, for us to give as gifts along the way. We also have a small number of reusable pads to give away.

There are powerful environmental impacts from this lifestyle switch and also important health benefits. For every woman who leaves behind single-use disposable pads and tampons, you can imagine a truckload of trash not going into the landfills, the decreased carbon footprint from production and shipping of these products, the trees saved, and all of the environmental toxins not going into our air, water, and bodies.

The Trouble with Disposables (Pads and Tampons)

Conventional pads and tampons are made of chlorine-bleached wood pulp, with some cotton (generally grown with tons of pesticides), rayon, plastic, and glue mixed in. They also contain bleach and dioxins, carcinogenic chemicals that are harmful to your body and to the environment. The vagina – wet, warm, and porous – seems like the last place you’d want those chemicals. Tampons, especially the super absorbent kinds, can create a perfect breeding ground for Toxic Shock Syndrome, caused by the deadly bacteria known as Staph (Staphylococcus aureus). These disposable products are not easily biodegradable, which is why they often clog septic systems and long outstay their welcome in our oceans and landfills.

The most immediate concern for many women is the cost of single-use products, every month, until menopause. Pads and tampons are an economic burden on all women BUT prove especially difficult for low-income women since they are not covered by food stamps.

The Scoop on Reusables

Using a menstrual cup puts a woman in more intimate contact with her body: she needs to figure out the mechanics of inserting and removing the cup and sees the color and consistency of her menstrual fluid each time she empties the cup.  Once you get over the learning curve, cups seems easier, more hygienic, and believe it or not, less gross than pads and tampons.  Many users come to value the increased knowledge of their body and cycle that they get from their cup.

Contact lenses make a great analogy: at first people are worried about touching their eye or may experience some irritation as they figure out the best way to put the lenses in.  Quickly, however, most people develop an easy routine around their contacts, and it’s no big deal.

Once thoroughly explained, most people see this switch as a “no-brainer.” Many eco-friendly lifestyle changes are cost-prohibitive (organic food) or time-intensive (hang-drying clothing instead of using the dryer). Menstrual cups have a huge ecological and health benefit, while also saving money and simplifying a woman’s life: you never have to buy pads and tampons again, you never have to remember to put them in your purse. We are all constantly bombarded with little things to do to help the environment. It’s confusing, and you can’t do them all. This is one simple thing that saves time and money and makes a big difference.

Weekend Links

October 29th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

What have you been doing with your weekends without the latest in menstruation and women’s health news to read?!?

  • What you should know about (bi)cycling while (menstrual) cycling.
  • o.b. tampons, a Johnson & Johnson product, has launched a new campaign to provide disposable menstrual products to girls in impoverished third-world nations.
  • Ginger Snaps Back, another sequel to Ginger Snaps, “the film that so memorably (and graphically) approached lycanthropy as a metaphor for a young woman’s coming of age (and, perhaps more sensationally, the menstrual cycle)”, is now available at Netflix.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is continuing its review of the potential increased risk of blood clots with the use of birth control pills containing drospirenone, such as Yaz, Yasmin, and BeYaz. The report and five appendices are online, and the FDA review will be presented and discussed at the joint meeting of the Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee and the Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee on December 8, 2011.

Some recent news about Hot Flushes and Night Sweats

October 25th, 2011 by Chris Hitchcock

Prevalence of Hot Flushes and Night Sweats in UK women 54-65

In a new, large (over 10 000 women)  survey of UK women aged 54-65, Myra Hunter and colleagues reported on the proportion of women who have hot flushes and night sweats (HF/NS), and on how frequent and bothersome they found them. Surprisingly, they did not find a difference across ages; 54% of women reported that they currently experienced hot flushes and/or night sweats, and this was as true for women in their mid-60′s as in their mid-50′s. Current users of hormone therapy were less likely to have current HF/NS, while those who had discontinued hormone therapy were more likely to have HF/NS compared with never users. It is common to think that HF/NS last for 2-5 years in a woman’s early 50′s. This study suggests that there is a need for therapies that are effective and can be used safely for a much longer duration.

FDA says no to Pristiq for (Post)Menopausal Hot Flushes

In early September, the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) turned down Pfizer’s request to market it’s antidepressant drug, Pristiq, as a treatment for hot flushes in menopausal women. Pfizer inherited Pristiq when it acquired Wyeth (makers of the hormone therapy medication PremPro).  This is the first anti-depressant to seek official approval for this indication, although there has been research and promotion of antidepressants as alternative, non-hormonal, off-label medications for vasomotor symptoms (hot flushes and night sweats) for some time.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there has been little coverage of this in the media, as contrasted with the coverage of the various steps towards this point.

I have noticed that when a drug therapy is approved or takes a step along the path towards approval, news coverage is general and widespread. When there is a hitch in the approval process, often only the financial markets pick up the story, because it affects share values. However, there is an article in Medscape that provides more background on the history of this application.

 

Cosmopolitan, the Sex Magazine That Won’t Talk About (Period) Sex

October 21st, 2011 by David Linton

Guest Post by Saniya Ghanoui

Cosmopolitan is open about its coverage of sex. It is curious then that the coverage of period sex is limited and not as open or adventurous as other sex ideas found in the magazine. The message regarding period sex is simple: men must be protected from menstrual blood.

The idea that a male will touch blood stirs the ideas of castration, a battle, or even death and thus must be avoided. This is ironic, given that many women actually have a heightened sexual arousal while on their periods. And since Cosmopolitan is directed towards women it is odd that it does not put women’s issues on the forefront but rather still caters to the taboo, despite hiding behind its catchphrase of “Fun Fearless Female.”

In the Cosmo Sex Challenge, one Cosmopolitan writer and her boyfriend attempt to try 77 sex positions in 77 days. Typically the writer’s period should come up approximately twice in 77 days, yet is only mentioned once. She mentions that her boyfriend isn’t “into it,” in reference to period sex, but convinces him to do it. After one hot and heavy night, in the boyfriend’s bed, she notices red handprints on the sheets so she throws a pillow over them and makes a “mental note to change his sheets tomorrow morning.” This is a physical act of apologizing.

The changing, and it can be assumed the subsequent washing of the sheets, not only works as an implicit apology but also reemphasizes the stereotype that women must perform this idea of a proper feminine role in a relationship. Also, she is changing the sheets so her boyfriend does not find out about the handprint, meaning she does not want him to see the blood. For what reason? Is she ashamed that she bleeds? Embarrassed?

In addition, when she first sees the handprint her reaction is “Oh. My. God.” Obviously this is an expression of shock that is emphasized by the separation of each word with a period. So after doing these complex sex positions (and many more to come), this is what makes her express shock? Yet, she doesn’t seem to be shocked that her period only came once in 77 days.

I’ll read for the cure, but I won’t drink the pink Kool-Aid

October 19th, 2011 by Laura Wershler

OPINION

Every October it’s the same thing:  Buy pink, think pink, drink the pink Kool-Aid.  All in pursuit of (mostly) the cure for breast cancer.

Forget the cure. I’m much more interested in preventing the disease. As such, I’ve refused for years to walk or run for the cure to breast cancer. Not only am I concerned that too little of the money raised by such events is being spent on prevention research, I also don’t like what can only be called the commodification of breast cancer.  For more on this check out thinkbeforeyoupink, a program of Breast Cancer Action.

In addition to these concerns, I find some of the breast-cancer fundraising and awareness-building activities being promoted this year to be nothing short of cringe-worthy.

I certainly won’t be attending boobyball 10 next month.  This auspicious event is put on by Rethink Breast Cancer, a Canadian non-profit geared to building awareness in the under-40 crowd. Too bad Rethink’s booby fetish seems more appropriate for the under-12 set.

And I won’t be wearing an “I love boobies” bracelet anytime soon.  Nor will students at a middle school in Kelowna, British Columbia, where the bracelets were recently banned because the message was deemed “offensive.” I’d ban the $3.99 over-priced plastic wristbands just for being silly.

The bracelets, along with other silly “I love boobies”  promotional products, are sold by keep-a-breast.org, the mission of which “is to help eradicate breast cancer by exposing young people to methods of prevention, early detection and support.”

Although I’m sure both of these organizations mean well, I want to scream, “Enough already!”  I know I don’t fit either org’s demographic, but still, enough already.

What I will attend, this evening, and with some hesitation, is the inaugural Read for the Cure event in Calgary.  For $90 I’ll enjoy wine and nibbles, hear three Canadian female authors read from their work, and take home three books by these featured writers.

Marina Endicott is one of three featured authors at Read for the Cure in Calgary, Alberta on October 19.

Read for the Cure is a Canadian endeavor launched in Toronto in 2006 by two women from the same book club who had recently completed treatment for cancer.

“Acknowledging the important role of reading in their lives, and the wonderful support they had received from their fellow members during their treatment, they saw an opportunity to harness the energy of enthusiastic book clubs and readers to raise funds for cancer research.”

I love books, I love my own book club, and I’m going to the event with a dear friend whose mother died of breast cancer.

While breaking my self-imposed boycott of cancer-related fundraising events, I plan to ask a few questions of my fellow attendees:

What’s your take on the mammography screening controversy?

Are you aware of the connection between healthy ovulatory menstruation and breast health?

What do you know about vitamin D and cancer prevention?

I’m also hoping to engage representatives from the Alberta Cancer Foundation and the Cancer Research Society — the two recipients of the event’s proceeds — in discussions about the current research projects they’re funding.  Do they know about the Breast Cancer Prevention Study being conducted by Grassroots Health to explore the association between vitamin D levels and breast cancer?

Tonight, my drink of choice will be red wine. Here’s to a fun evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Online Articles on Menopause ARE Worth Reading!

October 13th, 2011 by Heather Dillaway

I get Google Alerts on “menopause” every Wednesday because it’s important that I know about the new bits of information popping up about the topic I research most. Most of the time, though, I’m frustrated with the discussion of menopause online and don’t pay attention much to the alerts I get. Yet, amidst the endless biomedical debates about whether soy or other supplements and alternative therapies reduce hot flashes, whether hormone therapies (HT) are risky, and whether or not a male menopause exists, there ARE a few important things to notice in the online menopause world. For instance, a short article called “True or False: Test your menopause smarts” at SunHerald.com (a news sources for the “Biloxi-Gulfport and South Mississippi” region) represents what I see as a fairly positive contribution to the online readings on women’s health and, more specifically, menopause. For instance, in reviewing menopause the author proposes that:

1.       There ARE variations in women’s experiences, and that these variations are normal!

2.      Too often we see menopause as primarily negative, when there are positive things about menopause. Or, at the very least, women might be likely to feel indifferent about menopause.

3.      The menopause transition (perimenopause) can be a long-term process, and the author acknowledges that it could last as long as a decade or more. Women probably need to know this from the start!

4.      Hot flashes are normal despite being frustrating, and that it is likely that you might experience them.

5.      Women might not feel one particular way about sex during menopause – and no matter whether you feel good or bad about sex during menopause it’s probably okay (unless you personally would like it to be different, in which case there are probably things you can do to change your situation).

6.      The U.S. does not represent the best model for how to go through menopause (at least this is what the author infers). In fact, women in other countries may fair much better as they go through menopause, for a variety of reasons that the author does not get into.

7.      Recent breakthroughs in medical science might make women who are worried about having children get a blood test to see how long they have until perimenopause sets in (see my earlier blog post about this blood test last year!). The way in which the author wrote up this part of their article suggests to me that they can see the pros and cons of this blood test, which I like.

Many of my blog posts represent a critique of information out there for menopausal women, but I thought it might be nice to highlight a positive contribution to the online literature on women’s health. Despite my minor critiques of this article (e.g., the word “suffer” appears frequently, and there is a huge focus on sex over other topics, etc.), I think women should read this article. Which leads me to my main point in writing this blog post: there ARE some good things out there about menopause. Anyone else find a good example of positive health information lately?  :-)

Col. Qaddafi’s Take on the Period

October 11th, 2011 by David Linton

It seems like everyone has something to say about the nature of women and the meaning of menstruation. Even Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the recently deposed and still at large dictator of Libya, took it upon himself to opine on the topic. I am not able to judge the accuracy of the translations I have read since so many of those who write about Qaddafi find it hard to resist taking shots at his many peculiar characteristics, but here’s an excerpt from his magnum opus, The Green Book, a three-volume manifesto covering a wide range of subjects, including the nature of men and women, education, politics and the Libyan constitution. The translation comes from a site called Kawther Salam.

“Female is women, and male is man. And women according to the saying of gynecologists, “She menstruates or becomes ill each month, and men do not menstruate because they are male, man does not get sick monthly with “period”. This periodic disease means, every month there is bleeding so the woman because she is female is under a natural monthly disease of bleeding. And when the woman does not menstruate she becomes pregnant . . . and man does not become pregnant and therefore is not naturally affected with these diseases which infect women, because of being females. A woman after that gives breastfeeding to the child… the natural breastfeeding is two years. Therefore breastfeeding means that the woman accompanies her child and her child accompanies her, therefore her activities are paralyzed and she is directly responsible for another human being whom she helps in all biological functions, and without her he dies, and men do not become pregnant and give breastfeeding.”

In light of the starkly negative view of women and menstruation implicit in this passage (presuming the translation accurately captures the tone), it will be interesting to see how the newly emerging political and social structures in Libya frame the menstrual ecology of the country. Those readers familiar with menstrual values and practices in countries and cultures like Libya are encouraged to comment so as to enrich our understanding.

You’re Taking WHAT Class???

October 7th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Alexandra Epstein – Marymount Manhattan College.

how school helped me come out of the menstrual closet

Finally, the time had come where I was choosing my classes for my senior year of college. I had finished my required courses to complete my social work minor, and with only a few required courses left until I complete my psychology major, I had lots of room to choose electives! What to take though? Maybe an art class? Or what about a science class? As I scrolled though my options online, something caught my eye. “The Social Construction and Images of Menstruation”. Honestly, anything to do with the social construction of anything is good in my book, so without even thinking much about it, I registered.

Day one in class, it hit me; I was in a class completely focused on the idea of how menstruation is viewed by society. I was a bit taken aback. As a woman, I had grown up “dealing” with my period, but I had never actually thought about it, or what it meant to me as a woman. Now, I can’t stop. I can’t stop thinking about it, I can’t stop talking about it, I can’t stop reading about it. The idea of the social construction behind menstruation has not left my head since I entered that classroom on the first day of the semester.

Not only has this class opened my mind to a whole new concept, but it has made me more comfortable to openly talk about menstruation and everything that goes along with it. It wasn’t even two months ago that I was so uncomfortable with the concept of the period. I wouldn’t talk about it often with my friends, I would hide my tampons in bags within bags so no one would know that I was on my period, and I thought of my period as a burden and huge inconvenience. Within the past month I have grown to love my period. It is something I am proud to be able to experience. I have become very open with conversation regarding menstruation. I have asked all of my female friends about their first experience with their periods, and all of my male friends if they know how to use a tampon. I love the responses I get. Some people embrace the chance to talk about something we as humans don’t normally talk about. However, most people I talk to become so uncomfortable with the fact that I’m talking about such a taboo topic. They ask me why I choose this class, or why my school even offers such a rare subject to study. What they are most shocked by is the fact that my professor is a male. “A guy teaches that class? Isn’t that awkward?” “No!” I reply, “Its brilliant and insightful and I am in love with it.” Too many people are uncomfortable with this topic. I am making it my mission to take the awkwardness out of menstrual conversations.

Culture-Jamming Kotex

October 5th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

If you’ve been with us for a while, you might remember that we (and our fabulous readers) had a lot to say in the spring of 2010 when Kotex launched U by Kotex (or YOU.BUY.KOTEX, as we came to call it) and its “Break the Cycle” campaign.

In digging up a copy of the “Reality Check” video that launched the campaign for one of my classes this week, I came across this critique of “Reality Check” by an activist/artist identified online only as Annamalprint. She’s a menstrual activist after our own bleedin’ hearts!

The campaign has won many advertising industry awards, and has been credited with increasing Kotex sales by 10%, by the way. We can expect those neon tampons to be around for a while.

The Pussy is Stronger

October 3rd, 2011 by Chris Bobel

A friend shared this clip from stand-up comedian and actor Hal Sparks.

He leads with  this “I disagree—vehemently—with the use of the word “pussy” to describe a weak person. Because the vagina is the tougher of the two genitals…. by a long shot!”

And later…”It bleeds every month and it won’t die.”

That puzzled reaction to menstruation is as old as time, say the cultural historians of menstruation. We know now, of course, that the monthly shedding of the uterine lining is no mystery. Nor does this regular occurrence suggest that women are necessarily witches or demons or otherwise intrinsically cursed or even blessed.

But his point is a good one.

It IS important to reframe the female body as POWERFUL.  As RESILIENT.

And demonstrate how our language—especially the words we use to slur and to exalt—obscures this reality.

Thanks, Hal, for a good laugh and a better think.  You are a REAL pussy.

Weekend Links

October 1st, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

 

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.