Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research


November 30th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

When I talk with young women who’ve never heard about alternative menstrual products, they often have a hard time imagining inserting something the size of a menstrual cup. For some reason, asking them to picture a silicone (or rubber) cone-shaped shot glass doesn’t ease their anxiety. Thanks to the Magical Menstruation Tumblr, I now have the perfect visual aids:

And there’s even a video to demonstrate how to do that tricky-looking fold!

[ Original source: Femme Fleur ]

Because of a tampon

November 28th, 2011 by Chris Bobel

Photo of Amy Rae Elifritz used with permission.

Amy Rae Elifritz was 20 when she died of tampon-related Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) on June 13, 2010.

Take a moment to reckon with this.

Because of a tampon.

Her remarkable mother, Lisa Elifritz founded a not for profit You ARE Loved (ARE=Amy Rae Elifritz). The organization’s mission centers on “raising awareness of tampon related Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) and providing factual information about menstruation.”

YAL is doing some creative outreach using social media. They launched a blog project this year to spread TSS awareness throughout the blogosphere, and they are doing more general menstrual education, too. For instance, their monthly “Tweet Chats”  touch on a range of related issues. November’s chat explored menstrual care options and December’s upcoming chat is about “Period(ic)Stories”.

Thanks to Lisa Elifritz, Amy’s too-short life is much bigger than her 20 years. Lisa and her collaborators are transforming an avoidable tragedy into social action that can literally save lives.

Because no one should die because of a tampon in 2010.

Bad Period Stories, Fertility Awareness Inspired Art, and other Weekend Links

November 26th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

  • Live Green Mom used XtraNormal to make this awesome video explaining the benefits of Diva Cup.
  • The ladies at Jezebel asked readers to submit “horrifying period stories”, and that’s pretty much what they got. I’m horrified at how badly people treat menstruating women and girls. It’s as if there were contest to see who could shame us the most.
  • Artist Rebecca Morton draws inspiration from Fertility Awareness. [via GladRags]
  • Earlier this month, the New York Times magazine featured an interview with Al Vernacchio, who teaches a sex education course at Friends’ Central School on Philadelphia’s Main Line that public sex education teachers in the U.S. only dream about. The course features frank, honest talk about sexuality, including

    a couple of dozen up-close photographs of vulvas and penises. The photos, Vernacchio said, are intended to show his charges the broad range of what’s out there. “It’s really a process of desensitizing them to what real genitals look like so they’ll be less freaked out by their own and, one day, their partner’s,” he said. What’s interesting, he added, is that both the boys and girls receive the photographs of the penises rather placidly but often insist that the vulvas don’t look “normal.” “They have no point of reference for what a normal, healthy vulva looks like, even their own,” Vernacchio said.

  • Understanding vaginal pH: Your vagina is a tomato. [via Lunapads]

what to tell the girl in my life about menstruation?

November 24th, 2011 by Alexandra Jacoby

Ever since I saw this uterus pillow, I have been thinking about what to tell the girl in my life about menstruation. She’s ten years old. This pillow is exactly something I would give her! It’s handmade, using strong colors of the kind I like, and about a subject most people don’t want to talk about. [I like to annoy her!] Also, it’s pretty.

I’ve had it since the summer, and I still haven’t given it to her — because I want to say something with it.

uterus pillow - ovulating

uterus pillow by Wendy Caesar.

But – what?

I have no idea what she knows or thinks or feels about her body in general, or about menstruation in particular.

Where do I start?

[translate that to several months of procrastination]

Telling myself that it was research and preparation for a good talk, I started asking people what they think I should say to a ten-year old girl in my life. Most asked me if it wasn’t too early to start this topic? I mean if she isn’t menstruating yet…

why bring it up?

Her school will know when to start the conversation. Or maybe leave it up to her, to whenever she asks you…

She’ll ask her mother then probably. Or maybe her mother has already started this conversation….

Wait! None of that matters —

I am totally ducking. I am afraid to get it wrong.

How will she know that conversations are not tests, or competitions, if I keep acting like there’s a right way to do this— like I need training, expertise or approval to talk to the girl in my life about something that I have experienced myself for several of her lifetimes?

I want her to know that it’s ok to not-know EVERYTHING about your body and what comes next, and that it’s ok to ask questions from a place of not-knowing.

Right. Decision made. I will not become an expert before talking with her.

I’ll make this about her and about me.

Here’s what I’ll do:

I’ll ask her what she’s heard so far:

  • What do you know about menstruation?
  • What did your mother tell you?
  • School?
  • Friends?
  • Female relatives?
  • Your father?

I’ll check in with her:

  • What does it feel like? – What people told you —
  • Is it: scary, embarrassing, no big deal, exciting…

I’ll tell her why I brought this up:

The menstrual cycle is not just about bleeding and whether you can get pregnant today — though, those two situations are reason enough to learn as much as you can about your cycle. You want to be prepared for, and satisfied with, both experiences.

uterus pillow - menstruating

the same uterus pillow, by Wendy Caesar.

The menstrual cycle is one of your body’s vital signs.

Its hormones and processes affect and interact with how you feel, how your bones grow, how your skin looks, your body temperature… From the inside out, of your body-your home, your cycle determines your quality of life in many ways.

Most of us know little about how our bodies work. And, unless we feel pain, have difficulty doing something we want to do, or are incapacitated, we don’t necessarily need to know any more than the little we know.

But — and this is why I bring it up — the more you do know about how it works, the more power you have over the quality of your body-life, which in turn feeds your mental-spiritual-emotional life. And back around again.

I bring up the menstrual cycle because its integral to the workings of a woman’s body and while there are ranges of normal — day to day, it’s a unique experience for each of us.

I want her to be aware of that, and to begin paying attention to her body because it’s her body. Not just when it raised an issue that needs a response, like what to do about the blood.

I’ll end with:

Earlier menopause with ovary-saving hysterectomy

November 22nd, 2011 by Chris Hitchcock

Recently Heather Dillaway blogged about the challenges and frustrations of naming, and this blog continues with that theme, looking at a recent article about increased rates of ”ovarian failure” following ovary-preserving hysterectomy.

Ovary-saving hysterectomy linked to early menopause,” reads the USA Today on-line headline, and the article opens with the statement that:

Younger women who have a hysterectomy that spares the ovaries are almost twice as likely to go through early menopause as women who do not have their uteruses removed, according to a new study. 

It’s an alarming statement, and one likely to alarm an already anxious woman. The study in question was a longitudinal study following 406 women aged 30-47 at the time of their surgery and a control group of 465 similar-aged women who did not have a hysterectomy. The study will be published in the December 2011 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, and the news coverage was drawn from the Duke University press release, entitled “Hysterectomy Increases Risk for Earlier Menopause In Younger Women”.

The first challenge of naming is in the subtle difference between the press release’s earlier menopause, and the USA today article’s early menopause. Early menopause is defined as menopause that occurs before the age of 40; the earlier menopause in the article is a difference of about 2 years — an important difference.

In women who no longer have menstrual flow, how did the authors establish menopausal status, or ”ovarian failure”, as they called it? In women with a uterus, menstrual flow is a convenient landmark, which is roughly aligned with the hormonal changes to decide when menopause (or is it post-menopause?) has begun. We assume that 12 months without menstrual flow likely means that there will be no further flow (although that is not always true), and that it is a good estimate of when ovarian hormonal cycles have stopped. In this article, the authors used an annual blood sample to measure a hormone called FSH (follicular stimulating hormone). FSH is high in menopausal women, and an FSH>40 IU/L was used as a criterion for reaching menopause. However, we have known since 1994 that a high FSH level is not diagnostic of menopause, and, indeed, 6 of the 504 women were excluded because they had a baseline FSH > 40 IU/L, despite having menstruated within the previous three months. Regularly cycling women in their 40′s can have high FSH levels, and later have low FSH levels and ovulatory cycles. In menstruating women, blood samples would also be timed, which is not possible for women who don’t menstruate. It would be interesting to know how the high FSH criterion corresponded to menstrual cycle history in the control group.

Studies like this are hard to do. The authors were careful — they enrolled women prior to surgery and followed control women in the same way. To get 403 women with complete data, they started with over 900 women.  The controls were fairly well matched — similar in age, age at first period, c-section and oral contraceptive history. However, women undergoing surgery were more likely to have had at least one full-term pregnancy (84.5% vs 68.3% in controls), and more likely to have had a previous tubal ligation. In addition, fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cysts and previous surgery for fibroids were more common in those having a hysterectomy. Both the hysterectomy itself and the history of previous surgery, particularly tubal ligation, may also contribute to a difference between the two groups. Finally, women with hysterectomy were heavier than the control group.

By following the two groups, the authors were able to estimate that hysterectomy accelerated the rate of reaching the FSH threshold by about 2 years. This is consistent with other research, and fits with the finding that hysterectomy and other reproductive surgeries are associated with a lower rate of breast cancer, presumably due to lower estrogen exposure.

Getting Cozy with Tampon Cozies

November 21st, 2011 by David Linton

Guest post by Michael Yazujian — Marymount Manhattan College

Photo by Caitlin Weigel (used with permission)

Caitlin Weigel knits and sells tampon cozies on her Etsy site, a website where people can sell crafts that they make. These cozies are perfect for women who are trying to avoid humiliation who are also fans of squids (and probably other tampon users as well). They may reinforce the shame and embarrassment that some women associate with tampons by concealing them, but they do so in a playful way that suggests the taboo be taken less seriously. The squids seem to be mocking society’s belief in tampon awkwardness with their googly eyes and promote a sort of tampon pride that you could show off to your friends. The reduction of shame through humor is not a new concept, but I believe that Caitlin Weigel has knit a useful weapon against the uncomfortable and serious manner in which tampons are viewed.


Editor’s note: See also Vinnie’s Tampon Case

Weekend Links

November 19th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

“When it comes to their balls, guys just don’t seem to have any”

November 18th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

I’ve spent so many years as a professor of Women’s Studies telling students that feminism is about equality, and that being pro-woman doesn’t mean being anti-men. I thought perhaps we’d moved past that 1990s meme of seeing everything that is for women as male-bashing, but here we go again.

The latest marketing strategy of Essure, a permanent birth control method for women that destroys the Fallopian tubes, is to appeal to men’s fear of vasectomy: “because you can only wait so long for him to man up”.

Le sigh.

Does the Pill cause prostate cancer?

November 16th, 2011 by Laura Wershler

Of the growing list of reasons why women might want to reconsider using birth control pills, this could well be the strangest.

Researchers at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto published a study on Nov. 15  in the BMJ Open Journal in which they found a “strong correlation” between the use of birth control pills and the incidence of prostate cancer worldwide.

One of the possible explanations of how the two are related is the potential impact of the estrogen compound – ethinyloestradiol – that women using the pill secrete in their urine. It has been speculated elsewhere that these endocrine-disrupting substances could end up in our drinking water or get into the food chain.

The Pill, introduced in the 60’s, has been widely used for decades. The study suggests that exposure to these substances over 20 to 30 years could have a clinically significant effect. Researchers said further study of this link is needed.

In 2010 the media was full of stories marking the 50th anniversary of the birth control pill. The Pill at 50: Sex, Freedom and Paradox, rang the headline of a Time Magazine article by Nancy Gibbs. Could rising rates of prostate cancer be part of this paradox?

Kotex Tampons Recalled Due to Bacterial Contamination

November 14th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling


If you’ve got Kotex tampons at home, check your boxes: Kimberly-Clark, Kotex’s parent company, has recalled the brand’s Natural Balance Security Unscented Tampons (Regular Absorbency) in both the 18- and 36-count boxes, reports the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The recalled tampons were sold at select Walmart stores in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas; select Fry’s stores in Arizona; and select Smith’s stores in Utah and Arizona.

During the manufacturing process, the tampons were contaminated with the bacterium Enterobacter sakazakii, which can cause UTIs, pelvic inflammatory disease, and potentially life-threatening vaginal infections. There is also a chance that the bacteria can be transmitted between individuals.

Consumers should stop using the tampons immediately and contact a physician if you have used them, or if you experience unusual vaginal discharge, rash, fever, headache, vomiting or abdominal pain, particularly if you have AIDS, are HIV-positive, are pregnant or have cancer or any other existing serious illness.

Consumers should also contact Kimberly-Clark’s Consumer Services Division at 1-800-335-6839 so the necessary information and arrangements can be made to retrieve the unused product.

A full list of products is available at the original post.

Feeling Uncertainty, Confusion, and Frustration about Menopause

November 10th, 2011 by Heather Dillaway

Last Friday I attended a conference on autoethnography and was privileged enough to listen to Carolyn Ellis give the keynote speech on this new and upcoming qualitative methodology.  Sitting there and listening to Ellis talk about the need for all of us to be reflexive and put ourselves into our research projects, I realized that I probably do need to acknowledge my own feelings of uncertainty and frustration as I study menopause and midlife. Therefore, this blog entry is for you, Carolyn Ellis, as I am inspired by you to be better from now on about acknowledging the connections between me and my work and trying to understand myself as a research instrument as I seek to understand menopause and midlife better.

The reasons I really started studying menopause are the very reasons why I’m still studying it but also frustrated by it. In the mid to late 1990s, my experiences as a birth control counselor at Planned Parenthood in Delaware and Michigan led me to realize that plenty of middle-aged women don’t understand what’s happening to them when they start to have irregular periods in perimenopause. I also watched my mother begin perimenopause in the mid 1990s and be confused and embarrassed to talk about the experience when she had always been the first one who always wanted to talk about pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and birth control (“What was so confusing about menopause?,” I thought).  I’ve now formally studied and written about women’s thoughts and experiences of menopause since 1999. All along, the terminology and definitions of menopause have been as problematic for me as for the women I’ve studied. I’ve listened to menopausal women who tell me that they are completely confused about biomedical terminology for their life stage and completely baffled about what they’re going through.  I’ve heard them talk about how doctors and other women they talk to are just as confused as they are. What is this thing they’re going through? I’ve talked to other feminist social scientists and humanities scholars who think we should call menopause “reproductive aging” or “the menopause transition” to signify that variation over time is really the only guaranteed experience at this time of life. Endocrinologists and biologists turn around and tell me that the term “reproductive aging” is faulty because all that term signifies is that we are all maturing from birth on – that it is an empty term signifying nothing. I listen to endocrinologists, epidemiologists, public health educators, women’s health advocates, menstrual activist researchers, biologists, and clinical/biomedical researchers who are all ready with their own take on what terminology and definition is “best” for describing this time of life. Some argue that there is a strict three-phase model of perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause that we should follow. Some argue for a five or even seven stage model for “menopause,” parsing out pre, post, early and late stages of the menstrual life course (such as early and late  premenopause, early and late perimenopause, menopause, early and late postmenopause, etc.). Some argue that perimenopause is really the only “stage” of “menopause” or late reproductive life that women really want to know about because that is when all the (negative) symptoms come. I hear others argue that “menopause” and “postmenopause” are the same thing, or are that these are conflated terms that mean nothing, and that both of these terms should be scrapped. (Yet then I hear individual women I interview tell me that postmenopause is as frustrating as perimenopause.) I hear other researchers say that EVERY term associated with menopause or reproductive aging is faulty. If I listen to individual menopausal women, they tell me the same. Two months ago, I did a presentation on midlife in general, and a feminist humanities scholar (whom I respect quite a bit) told me I shouldn’t be using the term “midlife” at all, because it is a non-term itself, defined by nothing. If I think about all of the terms I associate with menopause – menopause, the climacteric, the change, the change of life, perimenopause, postmenopause, the late reproductive years, the menopause transition, women’s midlife transition, reproductive aging, etc. – I don’t even know what terms I should be using. Over time I have thought that the best case scenario is just to use the term that women themselves use (therefore I used the word “menopause” a lot to describe a whole transition, or adopted the term “reproductive aging” when urged by feminist scholars to do so in order to define a broader transition). But, now, I’ve been critiqued recently for not correcting individual women when they use the “wrong” term to describe what they’re going through.

Menstruation Gets Blamed for Everything!

November 8th, 2011 by David Linton

© Bettman/CORBIS, Creative Commons 2.0

In Gore Vidal’s 2006 memoir, Point to Point Navigation, he name drops his way through more than four decades of a very interesting life with great stories about the famous and notorious folks who crossed his path. One tale is related by his stepmother, Kit, about her former husband and Gore Vidal’s father, Gene Vidal, and his relationship with the pioneering woman pilot, Amelia Earhart, with whom he apparently had a long-running affair. Gene Vidal was also a pilot as well as an innovative businessman involved in many aspects of what was then called air commerce.

According to Kit, her husband had a theory about the accident over the Pacific that killed Earhart. He believed that she had deliberately crashed the plane: “’She was going through a bad time with G.P. [George Palmer Putnam, her publisher husband]; she was also undergoing some sort of premature menopause.’”

Whew! It seems that no matter where you turn, if a woman is having a bad day, the menstrual explanation will be trotted out. But suicide by plane crash as a response to perimenopause?!?! Now, there’s a flight of fancy.

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.