Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Occupy Your Period

November 28th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

The Occupy movement is about equality. Its primary aim is to create a more just world economically, but socially, too, for economic justice and social justice are inextricably linked. The specific focus of each local group may be somewhat different, but Occupiers share a distrust of corporations and financial institutions and concern for erosion of democracy. Globally, this movement suggests another world – another way of doing politics – is possible, as protesters visualize and plan for one.

If you think the Occupy movement has been lying low since they were kicked out of Zuccotti Park last fall, you’re wrong. They’re still going strong, helping New York and New Jersey recover from Hurricane Sandy. Occupy Sandy is a coalition from Occupy Wall Street, 350.org, recovers.org and interoccupy.net. Another off-shoot of Occupy Wall Street started the Rolling Jubilee, a project that buys debt for pennies on the dollar and abolishes it, instead of collecting it. It’s basically the people’s bailout.

If we want to see a new way of menstruating – open, without shame, like Chris wrote about earlier this week, with honest talk Heather has called for, without the the moral panic Breanne’s students reported at NWSA– we must Occupy Menstruation. Even the parts we hate. I like to think all of re:Cycling is part of the Occupation, along with #periodtalk and others who break the silence.

And it wouldn’t hurt if we followed Max’s example above, and protested the economic injustice of it as well.

The Little Boy and the BFG

November 26th, 2012 by Chris Bobel

Photo by Andrea Mason. Used with permission

His mother told me she was in the shower and when she came out, there he was. “He kept pushing them through the applicator and saying, ‘A flower!’ and then trying to sniff them,” she explained  (and the t-shirt, by the way, is just a wonderful coincidence).

So why is this such a charming yet cringe-worthy moment captured in time?

A sweet little boy innocently explores some curious objects, ‘flowers’ to him. They are not charged with a snicker and an ‘ohmigod.’ They are not products just for women’s deep dark ‘down there’. They are neither yucky nor gross. In fact, they are FASCINATING and FUN! And that’s because our menstrual shaming culture has not worked its insidious magic on him yet.  Today, these tampons are just flowers. [And a fun fact here: in the Middle Ages, the word “flower” was commonly used to signal menstruation, according to scholars Etienne Van De Walle and Elisha P. Renne]

As I studied this photo, dissecting the typical reactions it surely elicits, my mind wandered to my favorite passage from the Roald Dahl classic, The Big Friendly Giant. In it, Sophie, the little girl who befriends the massive and gentle protagonist with his own unique vocabulary, attempts to explain the impropriety of open, let’s just say it, fart talk.

Everyone is whizzpopping, if that’s what you call it, Sophie said. Kings and Queens are whizzpopping. Presidents are whizpopping, then why not talk about it? Glamorous film stars are whizzpopping. Little babies are whizzpopping. But where I come from it is not polite to talk about it.

Redunculous! Said the BFG. If everyone is making whizzpoppers, then why not talk about it?

Exactly. Everyone farts, so why the hush hush? About one-half the world’s human population menstruates (most for multiple decades) but we are expected to pretend we do not.

Redunculous, but oh-so-common. So when a little boy brings evidence of menstruation into the light of day, we think, if only he knew what THOSE THINGS WERE REALLY FOR! The horror!
But what if he knew AND he didn’t care? What if he knew and he STILL thought they were still fun to play with, still reminded him of flowers?

What then?
 What would menstruation feel like, for menstruators and everyone else, without the yuck factor? How would resistance to shame reshape our menstrual culture? Our menstrual practices?  Our attitudes toward our very own bodies, whatever they do or do not leak? These are not new questions—we ask them again and again on this blog and that’s just here. And yet, while we are clear that menstrual shame is counterproductive, even damaging to quality of life, most of us are still pretty stuck there. What do we actually DO differently to normalize menstruation? Isn’t this how we remake the world, one simple act at a time?

Can we begin with this sweet little guy? Let’s try. What do we say to him when we find him on the bed, about to peel open another super tampon?

Uh..no, honey…those are just for Mommy. Those are not for little boys. Let me have those (as we hurriedly scoop them up and hide them, better this time).

OR

Do we say something else, something that refuses to inject these wads of cotton and rayon with a mysterious negative charge, and just, matter of factly, states their purpose—the same way we would respond as if he had broken into a box of Band-aids or Q-tips. If he has a follow up question (sometimes they do at this age; sometimes not), we answer.

What would YOU say to our little tampon enthusiast?

Sex During Pregnancy, Bloomers, Risks of Vitamin A and More Weekend Links

November 24th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

It’s something that’s happening to me; it’s not part of me

November 22nd, 2012 by Alexandra Jacoby

You don’t know what my cramps are like…So RELIEVED I am not pregnant…Tampon commercials: it is not. like. that.

It’s something that’s happening TO me; it’s not part of me.

It struck me when she said that. 

 

It happens to you.
It’s not part of you.

What do you think about that?

Is that how it’s like for you?

Your menstrual cycle.

How to Make Sure Your Period is Never “Late”

November 20th, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

Have you ever been concerned because your period was late? I know I have. But I’m not anymore! And you don’t have to be either! And since I’m sure you’d rather not spend several days every month nervously pacing and counting dates backwards on your hands while glaring at the general vicinity where you guess your uterus is, I’ll tell you how.

It’s simple:

LEARN ABOUT YOUR BODY!

Your period is not a Rolex watch; it was not specifically crafted in Switzerland to accurately tell time. A woman’s reproductive system is designed to … wait for it … reproduce! It takes into account all kinds of things when determining whether or not “now” is a good time to try and have a baby, and not ONE of those things is what day it is.

“Oh rats! I’m late for … uh … me ….”  This is something your period will never say. Think about it for a second. Your period is late? For what? For itself? Do you see how insane that is?

Whether or not, and when, a woman gets her period each cycle depends on a slew of hormonal events, which can be influenced by many things, such as diet, environmental and emotional stress, and on and on.

So let’s take things from the top and see why you think your period is “late,” shall we?

To begin, there is a theory that all women used to cycle with the moon. They would ovulate at the full moon, and they got their period with the new moon. But there is some evidence that suggests that the amount of ambient light in your bedroom while you’re sleeping at night can influence your cycle, in the same way that the moon supposedly did.

So if we are basing the notion of a “standard 28 day cycle” off when we used to cycle with the moon, we’re all pretty much screwed! Think of your bedroom — your alarm clock, a charging cell phone, a streetlamp, a light from under the door because your roommate is on another ‘Friday Night Lights’ bender: most of us do not sleep in a room where the only light is moonlight.

To further confuse matters, women who are on the pill “get their period” at around the same time every month, but anyone who knows anything about the pill knows that is not an actual period. It’s a bleed caused by the body’s withdrawal from progesterone on the week of placebo pills.

So we’ve got these two things that mislead women into thinking that their cycle should be 28 days.  One of my colleagues who has been teaching the Fertility Awareness Methodfor years says that she’s never had a client whose cycle was the same exact length every single time.

Sample chart for Example 1
© Kindara, used with permission


Period not arrive when you thought it would? Let’s take a look at your chart, it could be several things:

If you actually learn about what is going on in your body each cycle, and chart your fertility using the symptothermal method, you will be able to see and understand what is actually happening with all your heretofore “mystery bits.”

1. You haven’t ovulated yet, which means that a period is a ways off.  You might experience breakthrough or withdrawal bleeding later, but this would not technically be a true menstruation.

 

Sample chart for Example 2
© Kindara, used with permission

2. You ovulated and are currently in your luteal phase, which appears up until now, to be of a normal length.  Depending on how long your luteal phases typically are, you could have a better idea of when to expect your period, and if that day passes with no period, let’s see what’s behind door number 3.

 

 

 

 

3. You ovulated and are currently in your luteal phase, which appears to be longer than normal, which could indicate pregnancy.  (Or in very rare cases, a luteal cyst.)

Sample Chart for Example 3
© Kindara, used with permission

You see, there is always a reason that your period has not come yet, if you’re waiting on it. Certainly, you could say I’m just arguing semantics, but the truth of the matter is that your period is never “late,” it is doing exactly what your body is telling it too. The trick is to understand your body, rather than blame it and stare wistfully up at the moon, hoping it will work its sweet, sweet magic on your uterus.

 

Chart your cycle, and you’ll always know what the deal is.

Doooooooo it.

Editor’s note: Click on images to view at full size.

Birth Control Is a Human Right, Endometriosis Research, Menzies, and More Weekend Links

November 17th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Menstrual “Outing,” Menstrual Panics

November 16th, 2012 by Breanne Fahs

Last fall, as a women and gender studies professor, I taught a course called “Psychology of Gender” where I decided to include an experiential activist assignment that asked students to form groups and engage in some sort of menstrual activism. The instructions asked students to choose some aspect of cultural attitudes toward menstruation that they wanted to improve (e.g., pharmaceutical labeling of “PMS” and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, men’s negativity toward menstruation, shame and silence around menstruation, problems with conventional menstrual products, and so on) and design a simple intervention that could enact change either on campus or in the community. As I had never assigned this before, and I had no idea what would happen, I had no clear expectations for how this would turn out, though I had a hunch that students would encounter some resistance and pushback for this work.

Photo used with permission

My students created a series of innovative projects and set out in earnest to challenge negative attitudes about menstruation. One group designed labels with accurate information about menstruation, and they then put these on a variety of menstrual products that they distributed on campus. Another group made fliers and signs that warned passersby about the dangers of conventional tampons; they also handed out information about Lunapads, Gladrags, Divacups, and other do-it-yourself products. A third group made buttons that read, simply, “Real Men Buy Tampons”, and handed these out to men on campus, while a fourth group went into gas stations and created makeshift “need a tampon, take a tampon” boxes near the cash registers. A fifth group challenged negativity about menstrual sex by holding signs near the streets bordering campus that read, “Honk if you love menstrual sex,” and a final group dressed a woman in white pants (with a notable red stain on her pants) and filmed her as she walked through a local mall.

The results of this “experiment” yielded some fascinating clues about the culture of menstruation today, ones that have far-reaching implications for those of us who may think menstruation is, well, “out of the box.”  While students certainly encountered many positive reactions (e.g., men who eagerly and proudly wore their buttons; women who appreciated the “free stuff”; people who praised the students for their bravery), they also dealt with a surprising amount of negative backlash. Students faced verbal harassment and “police presence” on campus while handing out tampons. Signs were removed from the cafeteria by administrators because they would “disrupt” student appetites. The woman walking through the mall faced stares and snickers (and, on one occasion, a group of teenage boys called her names and told her she was “disgusting”), though few people notified her of her “accident.” Most interestingly, however, the group that held signs about menstrual sex actually triggered a reaction from a local state representative, who started a full-blown menstrual panic by calling the office of the President at the university and demanding to know why students would engage in this sort of “obscenity” (humorously, she mixed up “menstruation” with “masturbation” in her description).

Photo used with permission

Without going into too many details of what followed after (we have a book coming out soon called The Moral Panics of Sexuality that includes a chapter about this “menstrual panic”), this entire project made me reflect on a few aspects of activism we too often forget: first, it takes very little to incite panic about menstruation; second, students can make a big impact in small ways, which makes menstruation an ideal site for pedagogical discussion and activism; and third, even the mere mention of menstruation is itself a radical act. This latter point has gotten me thinking about issues of disclosure and visibility about menstruation, particularly among our more like-minded feminist allies. What if we simply started to violate the silent stigma around menstruation by disclosing that we were menstruating today? I have a group of students (Jax Gonzalez, Stephanie Robinson, and Marisa Loiacono) who presented this idea last weekend at the National Women’s Studies Association conference in Oakland, California. Their claim? That simply saying I am menstruating today can radically upset discourses of silence and shame about menstruation, while also holding us accountable for how we put our bodies on the line in feminist activism.

I am menstruating today. A simple statement that has the potential to undermine and upset the most basic assumptions about menstruation: that it will remain invisible, silent, secret, “managed,” “maintained,” and certainly undisclosed in public. With this in mind, and in honor of these fantastic students, I encourage you to try this. “Out” yourself as menstruating, not just to your family/partner/loved ones, but in a public sense. See what happens. It is, after all, the simple rebellions that create the most panic.

#periodtalk: Let’s keep talking about menstruation

November 14th, 2012 by Laura Wershler

Bloggers at re:Cycling often challenge and invite readers to open up and talk about our menstrual experiences.

In a September post, Heather Dillaway asked : “Why don’t we talk about the important variations in our menstrual cycles?” In another, she wrote about the “second talk” Poise ads that encourage women to share their perimenopause experiences.

Chris Bobel wrote in defense of hating her period, sparking a lively discussion and much support for both her honesty and her call for “a more (not less) pluralistic menstrual discourse.”

Alexandra Jacoby has been writing a series of posts exploring things about our bodies we tend not to talk about.  From Tell me again why we can’t talk about body stuff to her last post asking readers for suggestions on How to menstruate while camping , she is opening the door ever wider to menstrual cycle conversations.

We do our bit at re: Cycling to get people thinking and talking about menstruation from a broad range of perspectives, including the personal.  And, happily, we are not alone in bringing “period talk” out in the open.

Last Friday, I participated in a #periodtalk Tweet Chat, a monthly event hosted by Be Prepared Period, a website dedicated to providing accurate, helpful information about menstruation to girls, women and parents. One of Friday’s guests was Suzan Hutchinson (@periodwise), the Director of Connectivity for You Are Loved, a non-profit organization “focused on raising awareness about tampon related Toxic Shock Syndrome and providing factual information about menstruation.” You Are Loved has been an ongoing #periodtalk participant. Suzan, a self-described “menstrual cycle activist since youth,” herself experienced TSS.

Suzan’s topic was menstrual understanding; her introductory Tweets shared some of her story:

I began my menstrual journey at age 15 with a belted pad & knowledge that a week each month my body would betray me.

No one talked about periods. I thought my experience was unique – that I was odd. Embarrassment kept me silent.

Suzan eventually came to view her period as just one part of her menstrual cycle, and she brought this cycle perspective to the Tweet Chat. In a post-chat phone conversation, Suzan told me that she has seen how #periodtalk has helped others lose their embarrassment in talking about periods. “I’ve watched women who started out not being able to contribute become menstrual activists, bringing other women to the chats.”

She also told me about the day #periodtalk trended worldwide on Twitter. It was September 14, 2012 and the topic was Back to School: Periods101. A blog post at Lunapads.com describes what happened:

 Today #PeriodTalk had it’s big moment when it reached trending topic status worldwide. A pretty big accomplishment for a bunch of folks chatting about a topic which is usually so “hush-hush”. Of course the taboo-nature of the topic brought the trolls out of the woodwork and some pretty nasty things were said by a few crass individuals. Participants in #PeriodTalk were admonished for talking openly about something, which was in their opinion, not appropriate for the internet….seriously? Not appropriate for the internet? Have these people *seen* the internet?

Too bad for the trolls. Talking openly about our menstrual cycles is here to stay. We’ll keep doing it at re:Cycling and #periodtalk is thriving at Be Prepared Period. They have also launched an online Period Talk  forum where girls and parents can ask questions and get answers about anything related to menstruation and puberty.

The next #periodtalk Tweet Chat – on the topic of Non-Profits and Menstruation – is on Friday, December 14, 2012. Check it out.

Hot Flashes Are Weird

November 12th, 2012 by Paula Derry

I have two pretty contradictory sets of opinions about hot flashes. In a previous blog post, I emphasized one of them. Namely, that flashes are a mind/body phenomenon in which a woman’s interpretation of her physical experiences are central to her being distressed or not, of being able to cope or not, of what an experience is and means. A woman can identify her “real” self with her thoughts or her body, or she can experience her embodied self as a totality. In my first set of attitudes, the diversity of physical experiences is part of the mix: The same term, “hot flash,” is used for a wide family of experiences that range from mild to unbearable, from heat to heart palpitations, from empowerment to anxiety. However, in my second set of opinions, physical experience is front and central, and my thoughts can be summarized as follows: Hot flashes are weird.

In a conventional view, flashes are simply something that happens because of the hormonal changes surrounding menopause. They are often defined as a transient feeling of heat, sometimes accompanied by sweating or the skin turning red, that typically lasts a few minutes but can persist up to an hour. Flashes are most common in the years surrounding menopause but can begin many years before or occur many years after the final menstrual period. One theory is that fluctuating levels of estrogen affect a part of the brain that controls heat regulation. As a result, small changes in temperature are interpreted by the brain as meaning that the body’s temperature is outside the normal range; the hot flash is the body’s attempt to cool the body down. Alternatively, perhaps the hormonal imbalance affects the brain or other endocrine glands in other ways, or perhaps some women are simply more sensitive to these changes.

However, the experience of flashes is complex. A woman who is overheated for other reasons may not feel like a woman having a hot flash. A flashing woman might feel like she is on fire. Or she may feel hot only in an isolated body part, like her back or earlobes. Or the feeling of heat may start in one part of the body (like her head or upper back) and travel. Some women may not realize their feeling of gentle warmth is caused by a flash until later. Further, there are experiences in addition to that of warmth. The experience might feel like anxiety rather than heat. There may be a sharp physical shock or jolt. Some women, for example, may wake up in the middle of the night with a shock of anxiety and wonder what has threatened them. Some women report other associated sensations such as a racing heart, nausea, and breathlessness. Some feel dizzy, anxious, and unable to concentrate. Others experience cognitions and feelings such as empowerment, anxiety, and catastrophic thoughts.

Flashes are basically not understood. Beneath the scientific generalities, there is no specific understanding of what underlies flashes. They do clearly have something to do with estrogen: they increase in frequency in the years surrounding menopause, and treatment with a hormone medication is helpful. However, while fluctuating estrogen levels are assumed to be causal, clear evidence of this has been notably lacking. Further, flashes are found during the menopausal transition and postmenopausally, two very different hormonal situations, but are not a widespread phenomenon during premenstrual hormone fluctuations. For the minority of women with severe symptoms, there is no understanding that would lead to correction of underlying problems beyond symptomatic treatment with medications like estrogen. Why would a brain center regulating body heat be affected in some women but not others or in the same woman only sometimes? There are speculations that estrogen is needed for brain general health and proper neurotransmitter balance or that some women are “more sensitive” to normal changes in hormone levels. It seems that additional factors must also be at play. The large cross-cultural differences in flash frequency and the large placebo effects of medications are not understood, neither is the role of stress or other psychological or situational factors.

Women Voters Shut That Whole Thing Down, Women’s Health & Humor, and More Weekend Links

November 10th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Early Menopause Caused By Makeup?

November 8th, 2012 by Heather Dillaway

It turns out that phthalates – chemicals found in cosmetics, hairspray, packaged food, household cleaners, and other common plastic items – are causing early menopause. At least according to one new study that is getting a lot of hype in the past week or two. A team of researchers from Washington University in St. Louis, MO, studied phthalate levels in blood and urine for over 5,000 women, and those women with the highest levels of pthalates apparently went into menopause an average of at least two years before others.

This study is definitely making news. British news sources are reporting on this study as much as U.S. news sources. Women’s reactions to online news stories about this study are mixed. Women hearing about this study are quick to comment online, saying either (1) how quickly they’ll be running out to buy more makeup (to launch themselves into menopause) or (2) discontinuing their use of makeup (to ward against the effects of pthalates). What I find interesting is how divided women are about whether early menopause is good. Reactions to reports on this study definitely show attitudinal differences among women in that women do not think uniformly about menopause or about the importance of using cosmetics. Women are not  thinking uniformly about how damaging phthalates are to our bodies either.

Of course, by all news reports of this study, phthalates also cause cancer, diabetes, and even feminization of boys (really?), so even if you think early menopause is a good thing you might want to hold off on consuming more phthalates.

What this study (and people’s belief in the study) also reiterates is the fact that our bodies are affected by what we eat, use, and do, as well as what we come into contact with, where we live, etc. Some of the articles reporting on this study focus in on the natural, healthy choices we can make when picking beauty products, household cleaners, prepared food, and other common household items. Who knew there was vegan makeup, for instance? This is all worth a second thought. Sure, we might all want to be done with menstruation sooner than later but phthalate-induced menopause should probably not be our goal.

The Smithsonian Menstrual Archive

November 6th, 2012 by David Linton

Down the Washington Mall from the popular National Air and Space Museum and the National Gallery of Art lies the sprawling National Museum of American History with its fascinating collections of the history of American material culture: early plows, bicycles, mail boxes, tobacco tins, thimbles, shoes, harnesses, tools, stoves, and every other imaginable artifact from every aspect of American life.  The collection spans domestic, economic, military, technological, media, educational, and virtually every other realm of human endeavor.

And, locked away in a climate-controlled room next to cabinets full of objects associated with medical, disability, reproductive and health concerns are drawers full of items that woman have used to manage their periods.

Photo by David Linton

I was given a private tour of the collection by Dr. Katherine Ott, a curator of Science, Medicine, and Society at this branch of the Smithsonian and lead editor of Artificial Parts, Practical Lives: Modern Histories of Prosthetics. Her knowledge of the collection, its content, sources, and significance was coupled with a generous enthusiasm in sharing it.  The item we both marveled at most was a package of sanitary napkins made of sphagnum moss. Sphagnum moss is a substance commonly used today to line hanging pots of ferns and other plants to absorb and hold excess moisture.  It was also used by native American mothers who stuffed the moss into papoose back packs — early environmentally friendly disposable diapers. This menstrual management device consisted of a strip of moss wrapped in gauze and provided with safety pins to attach it inside an undergarment.

The packaging itself contained several details that revealed much about the menstrual ecology of the times. The demure picture of the “Sphagnum Moss Girl” dressed in a uniform echoing Clara Barton’s Red Cross nurses was coupled with a line that reinforced the picture, “Sphagnum Moss was used by the American Red Cross in the manufacture of surgical dressings for war time use”. This is strikingly similar to the descriptions used in the earliest advertisements for Kotex, which the company claimed was originally produced for use in front-line hospitals during World War I (or “the World War”, as it was described at the time before a second came along).

Photo by David Linton

And, in true ad-speak fashion, the product was given a catchy name: “SFAG-NA-KINS”. The package included a folded page titled, “A Short History About Sphagnum Moss From Which Sfag-na-kins Are Made”. The pamphlet includes details about how the substance was used by the Japanese army during their war with Russia and how it was perfected by various doctors and medical researchers, including one Dr. J.B. Porter of McGill University. Apparently competition from wood pulp-based products such as Kotex was already starting to take shape, as the pamphlet goes on to claim, “The SFAG-NA-KINS will be found to be greatly superior to anything else now on the market, and one of them should be equvilent to three or more of the Cotton Sanitary Napkins. The complete elimination of any stain to garments is only one of the many superior features of the SFAG-NA-KINS”. The fact that pulp products won out in the market may be due to the fact that “Kotex”, with its resonance to “cotton”, a substance more familiar and acceptable than moss, is a catchier name than the hard-to-pronounce and “sfag-na-kins,” not to mention the unsavory image of walking around with a wad of moss between one’s legs.

In addition to this rare mass marketed moss product, the collection contains every imaginable brand of pad, tampon, cup, and belt as well as drawers full of cycle management drug products including one of the original circular birth control pill dispensers. Adjacent cabinets were filled with hundreds of condom packages, pessaries, IUD’s, cervical caps, devices for containing a prolapsed uterus, and related marketing and educational posters, flyers, and brochures.

My tour of the Smithsonian collection and Dr. Ott’s insightful narration of its history enhanced my understanding of the complex connection between the biological characristics of the menstrual cycle and the social and economic context in which it exists.

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.