Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Bring on the Fat!

July 31st, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

I’ve been doing research on my own menstrual cycle for almost four years, charting my cycle using the Fertility Awareness Method.

 

Photo by Pete&Brook // CC 2.0

My cycles have always been wacky. I got my period when I was 11  but bled only a couple times a year, until, at my doctor’s suggestion, I went on the pill at 18, to “regulate” my cycle.  At 26 I learned that the birth control pills didn’t actually regulate my cycle, they just covered up the real issue.  I was determined to let my body find its own natural cycle, so I went off the pill. I wanted the option to have my own children someday, and with my dubious state of fertility, I needed to give myself a head start on having a healthy cycle.

I didn’t find much information about cycle health for a while, but when I was finally introduced to Toni Weshler’s book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility, I felt that  I had found the key!  I was fascinated to learn that with just a few simple actions each day I could get a clear picture of my cycle health. I started charting right away and did my best  give my body a shot at having a “normal” healthy cycle, exercising, eating healthy, trying different herbs and foods. But nothing seemed to make a lasting difference.  I would still only get around four periods a year.

This year in February I went to China, so Kindara could take part in the Haxlr8r start-up accelerator program. I was shocked when within two weeks of arriving in China, I ovulated, after not having my period for six months. I don’t generally ovulate in the winter, so I thought maybe this was just the end of that drought, being as it was March. But then I ovulated again in April, and in May, and in June.

The only thing I could point to that I was doing differently from what I had ever done before was eating lots of weird meat. In China it seems that no part of the animal is wasted. I had countless meals consisting of mostly bones and/or animal fat. In fact the regular “meat” that I was used to in the States didn’t seem to exist.  Everything was either bones, organs, or fat. This was pretty unnerving to me at first, but I slowly got used to it. So I kept it up. When we came back to the states in mid-June I made an effort to eat meat at least several times a week, the fattier and weirder the meat, the better!  And that’s hard to find here. But my efforts seem to be working, I ovulated in July as well!  This makes five months of regular cycles, for the first time in my life.

This is incredible, and I never would have had such a front row seat on the action if I wasn’t charting my cycle. I seem to have cracked the code on what my body was missing. And this means that I should have an easier time getting pregnant, if and when I decide I’m ready. My procreative power is now in my own hands, and I love it!

The Diva Cup Song, IUD TMI, Birth Control News, and More Weekend Links

July 28th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Collateral damage: Throwing menstruation out of the museum narrative

July 27th, 2012 by Breanne Fahs

Last year, the media focused much attention on the Smithsonian’s decision to pull the David Wojnarowicz video, “A Fire in My Belly,” from an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., entitled, “Hide/Seek”.  The museum apologized for the piece’s contents after a group of Republican representatives and the Catholic League demanded the removal of the video.  Part of “the first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture”, the piece depicted the suffering of an HIV positive man along with ants crawling on a crucifix.  Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia called it “in your face perversion paid for by tax dollars”.

'Menstruation' art and photo by Pauliina Seppälä // CC 2.0

This scenario is far from unique, as the issue of censoring sex (alongside feminism and women artists in general) in museums has a long and contentious history both in the United States and abroad.  In the late 1980s, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) engaged fierce battles about whether to fund so-called obscene shows, often equating obscenity with explicitly gay and lesbian content (e.g., Robert Maplethorpe’s photography). Museums like the Chicago Art Institute and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City have both battled over the morality and ethics of censoring sex in the museum (John E. Semonche, Censoring Sex: A Historical Journey Through American Media). Greek vases and objects depicting explicit sexual acts have been deemed unfit for children’s viewing and have been removed from major museums throughout the world.  The National Museum of Erotica in Canberry, Australia shut down over controversies surrounding its explicit portrayal of sexual artifacts.

So how might this relate to the menstruating body? This week, I visited one of my favorite museums in the world—the Heard Museum of American Indian Art and History in Phoenix, Arizona. They had several exhibits revolving around family life, ritual, and celebrations of “coming of age” among indigenous cultures in the Southwest. One exhibit featured paintings of ceremonies practiced among Native American communities of the Southwest. Another exhibit on Apache life featured several cases of clothing and text dedicated to women’s initiation into womanhood following the onset of puberty. Notably, the word menstruation or any depiction of women’s menstrual blood were entirely absent from both of these exhibits. Discussions of preparation of food, flowers, and clothing by elderly members of the girls’ communities were featured prominently, along with the significance of women learning how to transition to womanhood. Almost certainly, this ritualized process revolved around the onset of women’s menstrual cycles, yet no mention of women’s menarche occurred.  I wondered: Has the menstruating body suffered from collateral damage of censoring sex?  Do we associate all aspects of the (leaky, “disgusting”, abject) female body with the “sinful” and “harmful-to-children” rhetoric of sexually-explicit museum materials?  When men’s “powerful” ejaculations (Jackson Pollack!!) and phallic powers are celebrated in full force, why do women’s cycling bodies hold such a taboo place in museum culture?  What would it mean if menstruation held a more prominent place in museums in general?

Taboos surrounding the entrance of menstruation into museums continue in full force.  Though a few radical feminist performance artists have featured work on menstruation (see Linder Sterling’s menstrual jewelry, or Mako Idemitsu’s 1973 piece, What a Woman Made featuring photos of tampons), the normally edgy and forward-thinking art world has yet to fully recognize menstruation as a valid subject of interest.  The backlash against the Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health (MUM), once located in Carrollton, Maryland and now featured only online, reveals just how much difficulty the public has accepting menstruation as a valid subject of analysis.  In a 2007 article discussing the “10 Most Bizarre Museums”, MUM is listed alongside the Toilet Museum, the Voodoo Museum, the Museum of the Penis, and the Burger Museum.  In another article on “The Seven Most Horrifying Museums on Earth”, MUM takes company with museums on child mummies, psychiatric patients, ventriloquism, fetuses in jars, and ancient phalluses. Harry Finley, the founder and curator of MUM, said in a 2010 interview, “[Menstruation] is not a polite thing to talk about in casual society. I’ve gotten so used to this now that it’s no big deal for me. But it is for other people. Especially coming from some guy. I really get, sometimes, a horrified reaction. I can tell by the stares and the silence. Even from liberal people. When I started the museum, I thought, ‘Oh boy, this would not bother them.’ But it still bothers basically everybody. Almost every reaction is negative. . . . I think a lot of it is the association of a male doing this. Like, what is his interest in this?”

Menstrual Considerations in Fifty Shades of Grey

July 25th, 2012 by Laura Wershler

SPOILER ALERT: Plot details in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy are revealed in this post.

Second book in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.

Fine literary fiction it is not, but the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by E.L. James can certainly claim to be libido-boosting storytelling. Deirdre Donahue at USA Today summarized the books’ appeal in 10 reasons ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ has shackled readers. She pretty much nailed it. And she’s read the books, which is more than can be said for other writers, including this one who implied that heroine Anastasia (Ana) Steele signs a contract to become hero Christian Grey’s submissive in a BDSM relationship. She doesn’t.

Until he meets Ana, Christian’s sexual history has included only BDSM relationships, those involving bondage, discipline, dominance, submission and sadomasochism.  BDSM plays a role in their love story, but the most sadistic thing that Ana submits to is a shot of Depo-Provera. re:Cycling readers know what I think of this contraceptive: I. Am. Not. A. Fan.

As a menstrual cycle advocate, I pay attention to menstrual mentions wherever they appear. It was impossible for me NOT to hone in on how James handles menstruation and birth control.

Christian quickly ascertains that Ana, a virgin when he meets her, is not using birth control. (His unflinching communication about sexuality is one of the books’ most appealing aspects.) As their sexual affair begins, he uses condoms. Within a week or so he asks when her period is due and says, “You need to sort out some contraception”. But our hero is a rich control freak, so he arranges for “the best ob-gyn in Seattle” to come to his home on a Sunday afternoon. Ana, the narrator:

“After a thorough examination and lengthy discussion, Dr. Greene and I decide on the mini pill. She writes me a prepaid prescription and instructs me to pick the pills up tomorrow. I love her no-nonsense attitude — she has lectured me until she’s as blue as her dress about taking it at the same time every day.”

Alas, Anastasia, just 21, is the perfect example for why researchers with the Contraceptive CHOICE Project are recommending that women under 21 use long-acting reversible contraceptive methods. She forgets to keep taking her pills when she and Christian briefly break up. It’s back to condoms for this couple, until Dr. Greene reappears, confirms Ana is not pregnant, and, after Depo-Provera’s side effects are dismissed as irrelevant because “the side effects of a child are far-reaching and go on for years”,  gives her the shot. I almost had to stop reading.

I get it that James uses Depo-Provera as a plot device, as becomes apparent. But the author’s decision to give Ana Depo-Provera is not in keeping with either Dr. Greene’s or Christian’s characters. I don’t believe for one minute that the best ob-gyn in Seattle would give Depo-Provera to any patient; she’d recommend a Mirena IUD. As for control-freak Christian, he is adamantly committed to Anastasia’s safety, evidenced in many ways. He would never consent to her taking a drug with these potential side effects: weight gain, digestive problems, depression, loss of bone density, vaginal dryness, and — especially — loss of sexual sensitivity and desire. Never! And he’s too smart not to know this.

Christian’s occasionally expressed distaste for condoms also seems to be a plot device considering he uses them so skillfully, and without obvious diminishment to either his or Ana’s pleasure, through 986 pages of the 1594-page trilogy. The tearing of foil condom packets is a leitmotif that in no way hinders this man’s exceptional “sexing skills”.

But James gets full marks for this: Christian Grey is not afraid of blood. While making love in a spacious hotel bathroom, he gently removes Ana’s tampon and tosses it in the toilet. Later, sitting on the bathroom floor, Ana remembers she has her period:

“I’m bleeding,” I murmur.

“Doesn’t bother me,” he breathes.

The Biology of Reproduction Isn’t Just About You

July 23rd, 2012 by Paula Derry

Photo by Minyoung Choi // CC 2.0

A scientific paper was recently published which looked at how shifting patterns of daily light and darkness affect pregnancy in mice.   The authors were interested in this question because studies have suggested that humans who experience such patterns, such as shift workers or women who travel repeatedly across time zones, have reduced fertility. In their study, pregnant mice were divided into three groups. All groups had 12 hours of light followed by 12 hours of darkness.  The control group had the same pattern throughout the 21 days of pregnancy.  The other two groups had shifting patterns.  In one, the 12 hours of light started six hours earlier every five days (phase advanced group); in the other, six hours later (phase delayed group). In the control group, 90% of the mice had successful pregnancies and deliveries; in the phase advanced group, 22%; in the phase delayed group, 50%.

Circadian rhythms is the general term for biological activities that have a 24-hour cycle, like sleeping and waking, or like hormones whose amounts vary during the course of a day. There are many circadian rhythms in humans, animals, and plants.

They are internal, determined by the physiology of the animal or plant. However, they are also entrained (synchronized with) environmental events like the amount of light at night vs. during the day. This entrainment means the rhythms match what is going on in the environment and also can adjust to environmental change. In the pregnant mouse experiment, the light shifts were so large they disrupted the internal circadian timekeeper, which had cascading effects on mouse physiology and success in maintaining a pregnancy.

There are also many physiological rhythms that mesh with environmental patterns on longer or shorter time scales, for reproduction as well as many other aspects of biology. Zucker (1988), for example, found an annual rhythm to whether the amounts of a hormone called luteinizing hormone (LH) had a feedback relationship (that is, interaction) with the amounts of estrogen in ground squirrels. Typically in a mammal, LH increases estrogen production, and then when estrogen levels reach a high point the LH surges which initiates ovulation. For ground squirrels, who only become pregnant during January to March instead of having a regularly repeating cycle throughout the year, this relationship between hormones only exists during the breeding season. If the ovaries of females are surgically removed (so that their bodies don’t make estrogen), LH levels still go up to initiate the breeding season at the correct time of year; that is, levels of LH appear to be controlled by some environmental factor.

There are also social influences on the biology of reproduction in animals. Nelson (1999) summarized some of them: If four or more female mice were housed together in a cage, their cycles occurred less frequently. If they were then exposed to a male, they ovulated at the same time. In a study of albino mice, if a strange male was introduced into the cage of pregnant females, the females spontaneously aborted about 25% of the time. If the male who impregnated the female was re-introduced into the cage, there were no miscarriages. Female rats that were handled daily by researchers reached puberty at an earlier age than did rats who were not, and mice housed alone reached puberty sooner than mice housed with other females.

What does this mean for humans? There are not necessarily direct correspondences between animal and human research. Sometimes human physiology is simply differerent; sometimes, exactly the same. In addition, humans may have many influences where animals have fewer, so big, determining effects in animals may be mere suggestions in humans, one factor among many. On the other hand, the circadian research I discussed above was suggested by the possibility that shift workers and frequent travelers have fertility problems. Many social influences on human menstruation — synchronized menstrual cycles among college roommates, effects of stress — have been reported.

The possibility that intrigues me is this:  We are individuals, but we are also intrinsically part of larger environments. Reproductive biology is about our inner organization of hormones, brain chemicals, goals and interests, but it is also about the viability and value of conception in specific social groups and physical environments. Our physiology is inside our skins, internal to us, but is also related to maintaining a state of balance with our physical and social environments.

References

Nelson, R.  (1999). An introduction to behavioral endocrinology.  Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.

Summa, K., Vitaterna,M., & Turek,T.  (2012).  Environmental perturbation of the circadian clock disrupts pregnancy in the mouse” PLoS One 7(5): e37668.  doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037668

Zucker, I. (1988). Neuroendocrine substrates of circannual rhythms.  In D. Kupfer, T. Monk, & J. Barchas (Eds.), Biological rhythms and mental disorders (pp. 219-252).  New York: Guilford.

DIY Tampons, Cycling while (Bi)cycling, and More Weekend Links

July 21st, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Image public domain, US

Someone Stole my Menstrual Cycle Research Bag

July 19th, 2012 by Heather Dillaway

Photo courtesy of Mindy Erchull, since my red bag was stolen

Two months ago someone broke into my office at work. They didn’t steal anything of monetary value so, in the larger picture, it’s not really that big of a deal. The campus police think that probably they were looking for laptops or other technology items that were easy to steal, which they did not find. But they did steal some random things, like books on race and class inequality and my red conference bag from the last Society for Menstrual Cycle Research meetings in June 2011. The books they took are probably worth almost nothing and I have plenty of conference bags and life will go on. What I found interesting, though, is the many interactions and feelings I experienced about this stolen red bag.

When the police came they of course took an inventory of all things stolen. I had to tell them what the red bag looked like and what it said on the bag. I’m pretty sure the thirty-something male police officer who recorded the incident did not even write down the fact that the bag said “Society for Menstrual Cycle Research” on it. In fact, when I told him what the bag said, he and my colleague standing next to me had a conversation about how the thief most likely ditched the bag as soon as they realized what it said and laughed. It’s probably true. What thief would want to walk around with a red bag that said “Society for Menstrual Cycle Research” on it?

Eventually two female police officers were involved as well (as investigators at the scene). The two female officers never really reacted to the fact that the red bag said “Society for Menstrual Cycle Research” and reacted with no emotion whatsoever about it. I couldn’t tell whether they thought it was unimportant or whether they did not want to deal with what the bag said. Once everyone knew that no items of monetary value were stolen, it was very clear that the incident was not of priority to everyone. I completely understood since, I, too, knew that I would not really miss the items stolen. But every colleague who found out what bag was stolen laughed at the mention of the red stolen bag. It was almost as if this red bag made it okay to think the break-in was not that important. That there was no way to track down a thief of a Menstrual Cycle Research bag because a smart thief would get rid of that bag the minute they could.

Did all of this happen the way it did simply because of what the stolen red bag said on it? Is this because of the mere mention of menstruation? And why did I feel slightly uncomfortable the whole time the police were involved? And why did I know ahead of time that there would be no police follow-up about the missing bag (or whether I had found anything else missing over time)?

It crossed my mind at the time that this is what it must feel like to suspect racism in interactions but not be able to prove it.

In the end, I don’t miss the things stolen, but I do feel like something else was going on in all of the interactions about the red bag and the lack of police follow-up on this incident. However subtle the stigma surrounding menstruation and however unimportant the bag is to me in the end, I still feel strange about the incident two months later.

To me this signifies the very, very subtle ways in which stigma works its power and the very, very subtle ways norms are reified. I also have lots of questions remaining in my head that highlight my mixed feelings about the incident: Who cares if a Menstrual Cycle Research bag is stolen? Should I really care that I have less public evidence that I go to such a conference or study menstruation and menopause? Should I really care that people don’t want to think or talk about Menstrual Cycle Research? Should I care that all of my colleagues laughed, and that I laughed once or twice too, to think of a thief running around with a Menstrual Cycle Research bag? Should police really investigate the loss of such a trivial item? My unsettled feelings about this experience make me want to at least write this blog post about it, even if it’s not important enough to keep thinking about after this. I’d love to hear if readers have had similar experiences of dealing publicly with the fact that they study menstruation, because I think this is one example of just that – a menstrual cycle researcher having contact (however insignificant) with the real world.

Where have all the menstruators gone?

July 18th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Lauren Rosewarne, University of Melbourne

Exploring missing menstruation on screen

Periods are depicted far more often on screen than I could have ever imagined; perhaps the biggest surprise I got from spending a year researching the topic.

Less surprising however, was that most presentations depict menstruation as the messy, embarrassing, sex-interrupting, mood-swing-inducing week-long hell ride that women have grown to expect from Hollywood.

While 200 scenes were many more than I expected, given that nearly all women will menstruate monthly for some thirty-odd years, 200 scenes actually isn’t all that many.

While most of Periods in Pop Culture focuses on what those scenes themselves reveal about society’s fraught relationship with periods, one chapter in fact explores the why so few portrayals. Given how very common and normal it is, why is the topic so frequently eschewed?

I proposed a handful of reasons including Hollywood’s aversion to telling female stories, narrative distraction, and the show don’t tell nature of the screen. In this post I offer  two other explanations: menstruation as a non-event and political correctness.

As one of the millions of girls who got an (albeit long outdated) menstrual education from Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?, I learnt that some girls apparently eagerly await their first period kinda like Christmas. I wasn’t like Margaret. I didn’t pine for it, and when I got it I didn’t look down at my underpants and throw my head back in delight like Debbie (Nell Schofield) in the Australian film Puberty Blues (1981): for me it was a non-event.

The non-event nature of menstruation appears a central explanation for its absence.

In an episode of sitcom The Golden Girls (1985–1992), Sophia (Estelle Getty) reflected on her periods: “I got it, no one told me. I didn’t get it, no one told me. I figured, this is life, and went back to my meatballs.” In this scene, Sophia reflects that many women don’t see any overwhelmingly need to talk about menstruation or complain about it or even to honor it, but that it is simply something that needs to be gotten on with.

Aside from those times when pregnancy is feared or desired, there are few occasions when menstruation is experienced as particularly memorable or gets bestowed with any great significance. I think this fact significantly underpins its absence on screen.

Thinking of menstruation as somehow naturally insignificant or uninteresting however, would be premature. In the film To Sir With Love (1967), there is a scene where teacher Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier) reprimanded girls who he believed burnt a menstrual product in his classroom: “A decent woman keeps things private. Only a filthy slut would have done this!”  Here, Thackeray refers to the most important rule of menstruation: concealment. On screen, if audiences see menstruation or if a character identifies as bleeding, she has neglected her most important gender burden. By infrequently portraying menstruation, the secrecy imperative is upheld. When women downplay the significant of their periods, when they believe their periods are uninteresting, internalized sexism is highlighted.

Another explanation for missing menstruation is so-called political correctness; that avoiding it reflects the contemporary dictums of liberal feminism: shunning topics which play up differences between men and women.

Given that menstruation is so common and that so many taboos exist surround it, it might be assumed that including it in narratives would be a feminist act. The flipside of this however, is that doing so might do gender equality a disservice; that presenting it reminds audiences of biological inequalities between men and women.

In a scene from the series Californication (2007-), Hank (David Duchovny) is about to have sex with his daughter’s teacher Mrs. Patterson (Justine Bateman). As they undress, Mrs. Patterson says, “Just so you know, I’m on my period.” Mrs. Patterson didn’t – and likely in our culture couldn’t – automatically assume that Hank would be fine and thus gave him an exit strategy. By mentioning menstruation in a sex scene, it existed as a glaring biological power imbalance; that an opportunity was offered for Hank to reject her on the basis of her biology.

By excluding menstruation, a female character can be interpreted as having the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with her male counterpart; that she can be as sexually aggressive as she likes and not have to query whether her partner is bothered by her period. In turn, she doesn’t get limited by her biology.

Predictably, there are some serious limitations to this argument. On screen and off, women’s biology is ever present. Eliminating reference to menstruation certainly doesn’t make female characters any less female; in fact, disproportionate inclusion of, and focus on women who are stereotypically feminine demonstrates that biological differences between men are women continue to be crucially important on screen.

Over 200 scenes of menstruation did indeed surprise me, although admittedly it’s quite a bit sad that it did. Given how common menstruation is, given that the good majority of women cope each month without drama, fanfare or hijinks, one might expect that more presentations – notably more normal presentations – would redden our screens.

 

Dr Lauren Rosewarne is a political scientist based at the University of Melbourne, Australia. She is the author of four books; her newest, Periods in Pop Culture: Menstruation in Film and Television, will soon be published by Lexington Books.

Pinning the Tampon on the Web

July 17th, 2012 by David Linton

Having crafted a social media campaign to create brand consciousness and loyalty in young girls with its cartoon character, Kita, Kimberly-Clark’s ad agency in Israel, Smoyz, has come up with another campaign aimed at a somewhat older demographic.

Once again tapping into the spread of social networking systems, a new Kotex marketing plan has found a way of infiltrating one of the latest iterations of web-based show and tell known as Pinterest. For those not yet aware of this new exercise in narcissistic display, here’s what it is. Pinterest users, more than two-thirds of whom are women, create virtual bulletin boards largely consisting of pictures, though sometimes captions are added and other forms of graphic displays.

Pinterest has taken off in the last year with the rise of cell phone devices that make it possible to snap photos and instantly post them to one’s Facebook page or other shared internet site. According to USA Today, the number of users has jumped from 117 million in January to 18.7 million in March.

According to their video, Smoyz, the Kotex agency, perused Israeli women’s Pinterest pages and “located 50 inspiring women” woman and then created a previously unknown commemoration named “Woman’s Inspiration Day.” The chosen women had “pinned” photos of objects they found attractive or desirable on their Pinterest sites. The agency staff then duplicated, as best they could, the objects depicted on the sites. However, though it is not mentioned, it’s pretty clear that they avoided posts with very expensive or hard to acquire objects.

Having gathered up many of the actual items depicted – bracelets, mugs, paint brushes, craft items, etc., they packaged them in a gift box along with a full line of Kotex products and delivered them to the women’s homes.

Smoyz reports that, “The women got surprised and excited and posted about their gifts”, which resulted in “2,284 Interactions” and “694,853 Total Impressions”.

Obviously this is just an extension of the already well established idea of getting consumers to wear your logo or brand name across your chest, on your sleeve, or even across your posterior. The term “viral marketing” takes on even more nuances as marketing drives continue to invade every aspect of our lives. AdWeek‘s online commentary concludes, “Pretty labor intensive, but smart. Any brand message centered around female self-expression could do well on Pinterest, if the tactics don’t overwhelm the target.”

Menstruation may not yet be completely out of the shame closet, but at least it’s making it way onto the Internet.

The Man-Pad Experiment, Life-Saving Contraceptives, Vajazzling, and More Weekend Links

July 14th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling
  • Photo by Boris Mann / CC BY-NC 2.0

    This is from a few months ago, but I just discovered it this week, via MenInMenstruation: The Man-Pax Experiment. After being told by a reader that until he’s worn one, he has no business making a tampon or maxi-pad joke, comedy writer Sam Jordan conducts a good-natured experiment, and documents his week of wearing a maxi-pad.

  • Aurora at The Vagenda queries the need for modesty during a pap smear: “There is nothing immodest about failing to be embarrassed by the idea of a nurse and doctor glimpsing my pubic hair. There is nothing immodest about having my genitals visible when they are being examined. There is nothing immodest about being treated for a disease.”
  • Contraceptives could save lives. That’s the conclusion of a study published this week in The Lancet, published just in time for a major family planning conference in London organized by the British government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The proportion of international population assistance funds that went to family planning dropped to just 6 percent in 2008, down from 55 percent in 1995, while more money went to fight AIDS/HIV and more ideological battles (especially in the US) overshadowed the continuing need for family planning.
  • At xoJane, s.e. smith takes on the marketing of feminine hygiene products to menopausal women.
  • We’re all so, so tired of the question of whether menstruating ladies in the woods attract bears. What about deer?
  • The way menstruation is — and isn’t — represented in film and television plays a role in what we think about it, according to Lauren Rosewarne’s new research.
  • When we criticized Jennifer Love Hewitt for promoting vajazzling a few years ago, we thought it was a passing trend. But the practice is still around, and now enshrined in an art exhibit at (Art)Amalgamated in New York.  (Editor’s note: I was more surprised to see the author refer to her vagina as her ‘kitchen‘, as I’m more familiar with that term used to refer to another part of female anatomy: the difficult-to-reach, hard-to-style hair at the back of the neck, a term commonly used in many African-American communities.)

PMDD: No News Is News, for the APA

July 11th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Joan Chrisler, Connecticut College

I have to admit that I have not been closely following the news about the forthcoming edition (5th) of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is expected to be published by the American Psychiatric Association in May 2013.  So, when our blog editor Elizabeth Kissling asked me to take a look at a recent update on PMDD in Psychiatric News, I was intrigued.  As I read the article I found myself becoming irritable, very irritable, even angry – but, don’t worry about me; I couldn’t possibly have PMDD, as I no longer menstruate.  No, my emotional lability has more to do with the psychiatrists’ tendency to play fast and loose with facts than it does with my physiology.

Photo by Ben Husmann // CC 2.0

The “news” begins with a statement that PMDD has been “proposed” to be included in the section on depressive disorders rather than in the appendix, which is reserved for disorders that need more study and shouldn’t yet be used clinically.  This is a canard.  PMDD appears in both the appendix and the depressive disorders section of the current edition – the DSM-IV-TR, which was published in 2000.  As a result, it is already being used clinically.  Perhaps what they really mean to say is that it is being removed from the appendix because we already know enough about it.  Hmmm.

Next, we are told that there has been an “explosion” of research on PMDD in the “past 20 years.”  Why 20 years?  PMDD was originally named Late Luteal Phase Dysphoric Disorder and proposed for listing in the DSM-II-R (1987); early research that was intended to support the new diagnosis was not convincing, which probably factored into the decision to change its name. The current edition of the DSM was published 12 years ago, and the original DSM-IV in 1995 (17 years ago).  According to PsycINFO, the largest psychology database, there have only been 259 articles published since the most recent edition of the DSM appeared, which hardly seems like an explosion, especially if we consider that many of them are about PMS, not PMDD.  Others are not empirical reports of studies about PMDD; they are literature reviews, critiques of the diagnosis, and articles about psychotherapy for women with the diagnosis. The 259 even include random studies of migraines, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and menopause.  The psychiatrists believe that these studies provide “greater legitimacy” for the diagnosis.  Sorry, but I am not convinced.

The news report indicates that the criteria have been sharpened to require the presence of at least five of eleven symptoms during “most” menstrual cycles of the previous year.  Prospective daily ratings are recommended, but it seems unlikely to me that most patients would be willing to wait or that most doctors would really insist that women rate themselves daily for a year before prescribing medication for PMDD.  Another change is that the symptoms must produce “clinically significant distress” and “interference” with work, school, relationships, or social activities. These require judgment calls: “clinical significance” is the doctor’s call, and “interference” is the patient’s call.

I predict that these “sharper” descriptions are still vague enough to be overused. Example: A student in one of my classes told me in all seriousness that her menstrual cramps interfered with her daily life because she had to take an aspirin occasionally.  Did she have to skip class and lay down with a heating pad?  No, she took her pill and went about her business.  “Then, how is that interference?”, I asked. “I don’t usually have to take an aspirin!”, she insisted. Now, I hope that that young woman is unusual, but I ask you to consider that the youth culture seems to value anything “extreme” and consider much of their experience to be unusual. My students think that (almost) everything is “awesome”, “incredible”, and “amazing”. If they were asked if their irritability is “extreme”, I suspect they would be much more likely than I would be to say “yes”.

Perhaps the most interesting (well, in a bad way) part of the news is that symptoms have been reordered to give priority to emotional lability, irritability, and anger and to deemphasize depressed mood. Why? “The work group agreed that clinically depressed mood is not the first thing you think of when you think of PMDD”.  Perhaps the work group is thinking about cultural stereotypes of premenstrual women!  If depressed mood is no longer a key criterion for PMDD, why is it still called PMDD?  Shouldn’t the work group have proposed a name change that would drop “dysphoric disorder”?  Why will it be continue to be classified with depressive disorders if it isn’t one?

Finally, the news report notes that how much distress and/or interference premenstrual symptoms produce depends on women’s personality, coping style, and life circumstances. Well, of course. There are many studies in the literature that show this. Stress, trauma, and even frequency of perceived discrimination (Pilver et al., 2011) predict severity of premenstrual complaints. There is much that psychotherapists can do to help women to manage their symptoms, but all the DSM suggests is drug treatment: SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors — the most commonly prescribed anti-depressants in the U.S.).

In conclusion, I refer readers to the SMCR’s resolution dated June 2001.  Women should continue to be cautious about whether their premenstrual symptoms constitute a mental illness and whether they want to take a strong anti-depressant medication for the rest of their menstrual lives. Other types of help, without potentially serious side effects and the stigma of a psychiatric diagnosis, might be effective.

For more information about PMDD and the DSM, see:

Caplan, P. J. (1995).  They say you’re crazy: How the world’s most powerful psychiatrists decide who’s normal.  Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.

Chrisler, J. C., & Caplan, P. (2003).  The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde: How PMS became a cultural phenomenon and a psychiatric disorderAnnual Review of Sex Research, 13, 274-306.

 

It’s Time to Throw a Menstrual Party!

July 9th, 2012 by Chris Bobel

Does the notion of a Menstrual Party smack of an oxymoron?

For most, that’s a yes. And that’s why we need one.

There’s so much more to Period=Yuck, and a good party can show us how much.

Like any winner social event, this party  is a time and place to gather and connect—with the added benefit of  increasing our menstrual IQs.

Our friends at Be Prepared Period and You ARE Loved are hosting their First Annual Online Menstrual Party on Friday, July 13 from 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. ET. They are the perfect hosts for such an event, because they intimately understand the pressing imperative of menstrual know-how.

Readers of re:Cycling may remember You ARE Loved, the courageous educational foundation established by Lisa Elifritz, in honor of her daughter Amy Rae Elifritz. Amy Rae died from TSS in 2010. Because of a tampon.The Elifritz family is suing Playtex for negligence and liability, and they allege medical malpractice at the hand of the hospital where Amy Rae was treated. This grieving family rightly seeks accountability and justice and a world where not one more girl or woman succumbs to TSS. As Elizabeth Kissling reminds: we have to teach girls and women that “the femcare industry isn’t looking out for them—they’ve got to look out for themselves.”

Prepared Period and YAL have been deploying social media to get this message for a year now. Their online educational chats have grown from a few to fifty or more participants discussing a new topic each month. Past topics include “Periodic Stories: Ours and Yours”, “Exploring the Many Feminine Hygiene Options”, and “Puberty and Periods: Guiding Tween and Teen Girls”. So the July 13th menstrual party is their 1st anniversary.

The party can be accessed via Twitter using the hashtag #PeriodTalk, and will include conversation, questions, polls and lots of interaction on a variety of menstrual products and plenty of essential Q and A. There will also be numerous giveaways. FREE STUFF! Additional information, including links to register for multiple product giveaways, is available on the Tweet Chat pages of the Be Prepared Period and You ARE Loved websites.

Show up for Amy Rae. And stay for yourself and girls and women everywhere.

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.