Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Egg Freezing, DIY Abortions, The Great Wall of Vagina, and More Weekend Links

December 29th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

By Don Alberti (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A Quiet Celebration of the Horny Menstruator

December 28th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Lauren Rosewarne

Courtney Cox shocked America in 1985 when she became the first person to say “period” on TV. Period, at least, in the context of menstruation and not punctuation.

 


Tampax, 1985-style

 

Flash forward a couple of decades and this year the same daring word (along with a couple of other doozies) ruffled a few feathers in a Carefree ad. At least it did initially. The furore quickly dissipated and the ad now runs regularly, uneventfully, in Australia. We’ve seemingly learnt how to cope without the conniptions.

 


“That bit of discharge” ad, 2012

 

I daresay it’s the ingratiating of the Carefree ad – with its references to the bits of ladyhood ironically considered least feminine – into our landscape that’s paved the way for another revolutionary down-there-business ad going undetected. Undetected and surprisingly, unwhinged about.

 


Libra “Bootcamp” ad, 2012

 

The new Libra ad dares use the P-word again – sure, itself a euphemism but a) “menstruation” is probably too many syllables for a short ad and b) I’d still rather hear period than any other sanitised circumlocution.

The truly startling bit about the ad however, is the way female sexuality is presented.

For most of last year I was living and breathing menstruation while writing a book on it. My focus was on media presentations and sex n’ blood got treated to a whole chapter.

While there are signs that our culture has become more menstrually mature – we’ve evidently learnt not to dial 000 when discharge is mentioned on TV for example – some menstrual taboos remain. Menstrual sex is a biggie.

On one hand thinking of the menstruator as sexy seems outlandish in the context of film and television. A couple of wonderful Californication scenes aside, periods on screen invariably and inevitably disrupt sex lives and give women – and men – an excuse to restrict it to spoonin’.

On the other hand, feminine hygiene ads are in fact full of attractive ladies peddling products to help menstruators stay sexy all month long. In advertising, the idea of the bleeding woman as outwardly desirable is effortlessly detected.

A much more shocking – and far more insteresting – construct however, is the idea of the menstruator herself feeling sexy. By sexy here, I’m not referring to the way others see her – to her objectification – rather, to her being in touch with her own horniness at a time when women often feel – biologically or because society has coerced it – dirty and out-of-action.


“It’s like a crime scene in my pants” – No Strings Attached (2011)

 

The Libra ad involves a woman who, while initially reluctant because of her period, eventually joins her friend to perve on male boot campers.

Lecherous ladies in advertising are nothing new of course; Diet Coke has long been flogged with some mildly hideous Sex and the City-style male sexualisation:


Diet Coke, 90s style

 


Diet Coke, 00s style

 

My concept of feminism doesn’t deem women panting over men as something inherently progressive. It’s not the ogling in the Libra ad however, that interests me. Rather, it’s the act of ogling for the purposes of arousal while the woman has her period.

I can’t help but be charmed by TV offering us a horny menstruator.

While a niche genre, menstrual-themed porn – here, I refer to the indie material, rather than, say, the buckets-o’-blood-fetish stuff – hints to the idea that some women are, shock horror, actually randier during their periods. Mainstream pop culture and vanilla porn however, routinely give the idea a wide berth. As in No Strings Attached (2011), menstruation is apparently a time when a bloke is just not gonna get a look in.

Just as I’m delighted when I see a woman on TV who deviates from the young/thin/white archetype that pop culture so adores, equally happy am I to see an example of female sexuality presented as a little more complex – and a tad more messier – than what’s normally on offer.

A small win, but I’ll take it.

Republished with permission from The Conversation

Menstruation — It’s Not Like Anything Else

December 26th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

I got a bit snippy with a new reader in our comments recently. I didn’t mean to, and I sure hope I didn’t drive anyone away from re:Cycling.

But after 20 years of studying, writing, talking, and reading menstruation research, I’ve grown weary of certain predictable responses when people learn the subject of my work. Chris Bobel sometimes talks about the “You study WHAT?!?” reaction, but that’s not the one that triggers my snark response.

Photo by K Connors

What grates my cheese is when someone listens respectfully for a moment or two to the elevator speech version of my latest article or talk, and then says something like, “Well, why should people talk more about menstruation? It’s not like I go around talking about my bowel movements all the time. It’s a natural function, too, it’s just private, yadda yadda, end of discussion. Period.”

No. Not end of discussion.

I’m so, so tired of this comparison. It’s not about ‘they’re both natural and they’re both private’. Menstruation is shamed and vilified because women do it. I turn, once again, to Simone de Beauvoir: “the blood, indeed, does not make woman impure; it is rather a sign of her impurity” (p. 169). That is to say, menstruation does not make woman the Other; it is because she is Other that menstruation is a curse.

Just as the penis derives its privileged evaluation from the social context, so it is the social context that makes menstruation a curse. The one symbolizes manhood, the other femininity; and it is because femininity signifies alterity and inferiority that its manifestation is met with shame. (1952, p. 354)

 

One only need take a quick look around to see differential treatment of body functions. Are manufacturers of toilet paper trying to sell you TP based on how shameful it is to poop? Consider those dirty-ass bears in Charmin ads telling you to “enjoy the go”– a marked contrast from femcare ads.

Is the average time from onset of pain in bowel diseases to diagnosis eleven years because people think pain with bowel movements is normal or because physicians and/or family members think you’re exaggerating how much it hurts? Compare documented endometriosis research.

Plus, people do talk about bowel movements. All the time. They talk about how particular foods affect their digestion. They excuse themselves from meetings and social gatherings to use the bathroom, sometimes saying why in euphemistic terms, sometimes in coarse and graphic language. The older they get, the more they do it.

This is not merely about what’s ‘natural’ or ‘private’. It’s about women, and about who counts and what matters. Women count, and menstruation matters.

This Time With Feeling! Making the Menstrual-Reproductive Justice Connection

December 24th, 2012 by Chris Bobel

Rejection stings.

A couple weeks ago, I received  the following ‘thanks, but no’ to a  proposal I sent to a reproductive justice conference,

Dear Chris Bobel,

Thank you for submitting your proposal, “How Menstruation Matters to the Reproductive Justice Movement”…..Our staff has spent the last few months evaluating proposals and building an initial workshop list. We were inspired by the volume of quality proposals that we received. All of them helped us in the planning process.

 At this time, however, we are not accepting your proposal for the 2013 conference.

Ouch.

As I typically do, I immediately headed to the deep dark brooding place of self-recrimination. That’s where I go. But as I set afoot on this well-worn path to my special ugly place,  I did something I don’t usually do; I paused, lifted my head and looked around.

As I did, I wondered, if just maybe, the rejection was not the result of the deficits in my proposal, but rather, a reflection of the broken link between menstrual awareness and the broader movement for embodied autonomy.

In other words, maybe the rejection was not as much about me (and my failings) but more about the world around me, and ITS (meaning OUR)  failings as a culture to see how a certain bodily reality is part of a larger whole.  Maybe the fact that a team of progressive reproductive justice activists and scholars saying NO THANKS to an opportunity to make the essential linkages between the menstrual cycle across the lifespan and reproductive justice is an indication that WE still have SO MUCH WORK TO DO to help people see this crucial connection.

I know I am not alone in feeling like the spotted elephant on the Island of Misfit Toys (seasonal reference: DONE!). Sister menstrual warrior Laura Wershler recently wrote the following when I this blog post-in-progress:

Caring about menstruation and the menstrual cycle makes me almost a freak in the pro-choice world. I get ignored or criticized a lot because people don’t want to ask or answer some of the questions I keep trying to pose about choice around non-hormonal contraceptive methods. 

So what’s a freak to do? We could stamp our feet and curse those who don’t see what’s pretty obvious to us, but that won’t raise the awareness.

This is on us.

Yes. Rejection stings, but maybe this time, I can take something away far more productive than the usual self-flagellation. Maybe this time, I can take it in as a clarion call, a motivation for a deeper commitment to help others make the menstrual connection, to, spread the #menstruationmatters message (thanks again Laura Wershler).

This means more conference proposals (and a thicker skin for more rejections). More writing. More blogging. More teaching. More radio interviews. More everything.

Who’s with me?

 

Night Sweats, Tampon Jewelry, The Perfect Woman & More Weekend Links

December 22nd, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

We’re Ripe for the Third Talk, Actually!!

December 20th, 2012 by Ashley Ross

No question – Poise’s Second Talk Campaign is undeniably courageous, taking on Menopause, the Previously Unmentionable. Call me impatient and unappreciative, but I just can’t help mourning the missed opportunity to REALLY empower women, instead of aligning with those unrelenting forces bent on squeezing the Mojo from the second half of our lives.

Seeped as I am in the journey of menopause, (my own, and as co-creator of the Menopausal Mojo Teleseminar program), my curiosity was cautiously piqued when I opened the Poise link in this blog post  last month. (Cautious because, after all, Poise is an incontinence product and the association is not only anxiety provoking but inadvertently quantizes my experience into a demeaning and unimaginative metaphor — something like shame meets discouragement meets insult. Sorry, that’s just how it feels to me. Let it be known, I am not in denial here – it has been a while since I could safely jump on a trampoline with anything in my bladder.)

Nevertheless — someone is talking publicly about menopause. And I am certainly curious to see what aspect of this rich, challenging and potentially transformative experience they are choosing to highlight.

The first thing we see: “8 in 10 women agree, it’s time to change the way we think about menopause”.

YES!!! What we’ve been saying all along, my wonderful co-conspirator, Karen Clothier (creator of the body-mind-spirit focused and unexpectedly successful Menopause the Magical Telesummit) and me. We find ourselves coming back again and again to feeling the urgent need to rebrand menopause. We clearly do want another way to understand peri/menopause. After hundreds of years of agents of the male paradigm systematically dismantling our authority of our experience, using shame to silence our inherent collaborative tendencies, we have lost the language to talk about the transformative experience of our 40’s and 50’s – as we move from fertile women to mature women, from “child bearer’s to bearers of wisdom” (Kristi Meisenbach Boylan The Seven Sacred Rites of Menopause).

Clearly the difficulty begins with the term “menopause” itself. The term was coined in 1812 by the French physician de Gardanne and is defined as (a moment in time) 12 months after the last menstrual period. A little hard to acknowledge a rite of passage when its beginning, middle and end are as elusive, instantaneous and vague as that. But that’s not all, that’s simply the scientific use of the word. Our everyday use of it also describes perimenopause (the 5-10 year period before the Moment-In-Time) as well as post-menopause (an unspecified period after the Moment-In-Time). Confused yet?

Small wonder that we need new, updated language, imagery, descriptions, mythology and role-models — a full-spectrum, holographic map to describe the physical, emotional and spiritual terrain of our midlife experience.

Wait, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Back to the Poise menopause page, and how it misleads women by reducing this remarkable transition into … yes, you got it … SYMPTOMS. As if symptoms are the menopausal experience. And the successful management of said symptoms is all there is to this phase of our life cycle. Tragically reductionist, when seen from the perspective of how insidiously the media molds our reality. This is brilliantly elucidated in Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s movie Miss Representation, which shows “the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, which make it difficult for women … to feel powerful.”

“Disparaging”. Hold that thought while we listen to Dr. Jennifer Berman, Poise’s menopause and intimacy expert, describing mood swings. In the clip  “What’s the DEAL with my moodswings”*, does she validate our experience and perhaps suggest that our emotions might be valuable indicators of our experience? Does she acknowledge the virtually universal need of women at this stage to retreat (I would venture to say the developmental milestone in the female psyche to withdraw and self-reflect), and then acknowledge how at odds with our externally driven, production oriented culture this urge is? Perhaps she suggests that THAT might be the reason WHY our moods are swinging – that our emotions are accurately reflecting the environmental imbalance of the whole paradigm? Wouldn’t it be the moment for Poise, and all those interested in empowering women, to ask this crucial question: why are we making menopause all about what’s wrong with us?

Here’s what the good doctor says:   “Moodswings are very common during the perimenopause and menopause.  Women will describe symptoms of feeling more irritable and short fused, more weepy and depressed, more (uh) anxious and sort of, (uh) difficulty concentrating …and that’s very common during perimenopause, and it tends to level out, to some degree, as women approach menopause.”

Firstly, is it just me or is her tone patronizing? Is she explaining anything new here and offering solutions as promised? Is she even answering the question: “What’s the DEAL with my moodswings”?!

Now of course I see what a masterful campaign Poise have created here. They’ve captured an untapped market, have obviously paid close attention to the terms used by women in their focus group and have echoed the aspirations of menopausal women to save us from our Symptoms.

How much more interesting would it be if they used the global reach and collective power of the internet to invite us to create new language and ways to define our midlife experience that go beyond complaining about hot flashes (see “personal stories” on the site)? Ladies, instead of letting them reduce our experience to managing our symptoms, let’s demand inspiring stories about how we are stepping into the second half of our lives with the Mojo that comes from accessing our collective wisdom, our wizened humor and our well-earned self-respect. Now that’s a branding campaign worth following.

Do You Want to Have Kids?

December 18th, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

I’m sure by now most of you have seen this video by Jonathan Mann and Ivory King, which went viral last week. Or at least I hope you have, because it is wonderful.

I went to Bennington College with Jonathan and have been enjoying his music for years. He’s been writing a song a day for over 1000 days straight, and he shows no signs of stopping.

Usually he writes about fun or silly things, like kittens in space. So naturally I was surprised on December 5th to see that his 1,435th song was called ‘We’ve Got to Break Up.’ It was, appropriately, a song about him and his girlfriend of five years, Ivory, deciding to break up because only one of them wants to have children.

I think this is one of the best videos I’ve ever seen, not just out of the Song A Day files, but anywhere, and not just because it’s catchy.

The choice to have children or not is immensely personal, and if a couple is mismatched in their desire to have children, one or both members of the relationship will ultimately be unsatisfied, regardless of the many loves, joys and other interests they may share.

This is a topic that needs to be discussed more openly and honestly, with each member of the relationship being clear about their needs and desires. If your life won’t be complete without hearing the pitter patter of little human feet, staying with someone who doesn’t want to have children is not fair to either person.

I think this is why ‘We’ve Got to Break Up’ has received so much attention. This important topic is so rarely talked about, especially in public, that to see a couple expressing their views on the subject is unexpected and compelling. The pain on both of their faces as they realize they must say goodbye to a loyal, loving, wonderful partner in order to lead the lives that ultimately will bring them happiness is heartbreaking, yet also inspiring.

In my opinion it deserves mentioning that it is Ivory who doesn’t want to have children. This goes against the grain of popular culture, where I feel like women are the ones who are expected to want to have children. One million extra bonus points for Ivory for being clear about what she needs. The fact that women can now choose when, if ever, to have children is freaking sweet! That’s why it’s so important that women realize they have this choice, and learn about how their bodies work, so they can have children if, and only if, they want them.

I hope that Jonathan and Ivory’s brave and open-hearted song to their friends (and, as it turns out, the world) will give more people the courage to have these difficult conversations with their partners.

#PeriodTalk, Period Hate, Period Ignorance, and More Weekend Links

December 15th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Do you love your LARC?

December 12th, 2012 by Laura Wershler

Throughout the contraceptive realm, LARCs are being heralded as the best thing since Cinderella’s glass slipper with little acknowledgement that for many women LARCs are more like Snow White’s poisoned apple.

Nov. 25 to Dec. 1, 2012, was LARC Awareness Week, billed by the California Family Health Council as “a chance to increase awareness about LARCs as a safe, effective, and long-acting birth control method.” Women were invited to contribute video messages on the theme Why I Love My LARC.

This catchy acronym stands for long-acting reversible contraceptive, and the push is on for many more women to choose this form of birth control. Make no mistake, it’s all about control: What the doctor puts in, only the doctor can take out. Ergo, it’s 99% effective. You can quit taking your pills, rip off your patch, or NOT show up for your next Depo-Provera shot. But if you hate the side effects caused by your IUD or implant, you’ve gotta go see a health-care provider to have it removed.

I’ve challenged the Contraceptive Choice Project study that praised the effectiveness of LARCs over the pill, patch and ring. I took issue with the ACOG recommendation that LARCs are the best methods for teenagers. Now there’s more hype with LARC Awareness Week.

According to the awareness campaign, LARCs include the ParaGard (copper) IUD, Mirena (progestin) IUD and Implanon, a non-biodegradable flexible rod, also containing progestin, that is inserted under the skin and left for up to three years. (Here’s a story about the rods going missing in women’s bodies.) Read the patient information about Implanon. Would you agree to have it inserted into your body?

Women who hate Implanon are speaking out. So are women who don’t love their ParaGard or Mirena IUDs. On YouTube, a video by a women with Mirena issues has over 6000 views;  Why I Love My LARC, posted 8 days earlier, has about 100.

The old-school LARC – Depo-Provera – is not on the campaign’s list of LARCs, though it is heavily used in the United States. Holly Grigg-Spall recently reported that “one in five African American teens are on the Depo shot, far more than white teens.” Hmm. Will they all be switched to other LARCs when, or if, they come back for their next shot? Perhaps Depo is not on the list because women can discontinue this contraceptive without clinician intervention. But it’s probably because Depo causes bone density loss – and because this LARC is not a lark. Women are sharing their Depo stories on another re:Cycling post:  Coming off Depo-Provera can be a women’s worst nightmare. You can find more bad news about this LARC than any other.

What about getting your LARC removed if you hate it instead of love it? One re:Cycling blogger shared what happened when she wanted her ParaGard IUD removed:

I HATED the thing but the nurse who was supposed to take it out tried to talk me out of it for a good 20 minutes. Finally I was like ‘”Why do you want me to keep this item in my uterus so badly?” And she said, “I just don’t want to see you get rid of your very effective birth control.”

This is not the only reason why women who end up hating their LARCs will be discouraged from rejecting them. The Affordable Care Act requires all health plans issued on or after August 1, 2012 to provide no-charge access to FDA-approved LARCs. What’s it going to take to convince health-care providers to remove an expensive contraceptive – provided for free – that was supposed to last for three to 10 years?

Maybe a YouTube video about Why I Hate My LARC will help make it as easy to get rid of one as it now is to get one.

Getting from the Average to the Individual When Reading Reports of Research

December 10th, 2012 by Paula Derry

We are unique individuals. Or, we are like everyone else. Which is it? For menstrual periods and the menopausal transition, as perhaps for most things, we’re a little bit of both. For me, keeping in mind that both are somehow true, and understanding the ways in which each is true, is a crucial but tricky business. Scientific findings are often reported as though they are universal truths. “The normal menstrual cycle is regular and occurs every 28 days.” “Depression is more likely during the transition to menopause.” However, research most typically examines groups of people, and results are most often average findings. A discrepancy between the average and the range of real experience isn’t surprising.

Take, for example, a study of the transition to menopause. This was longitudinal research—that is, the same group of women was studied for many years, and the patterns of change in their menstrual cycles over time could be documented. The authors conclude that there are three stages in the transition to menopause. At first women experience, perhaps beginning in their thirties, subtle changes in menstrual flow (like periods becoming heavier or lighter) without cycle length becoming irregular. Next, periods become irregular. Finally, women skip periods in the run-up to menopause. The stages are based on what, in the authors’ words, occurs “most frequently”; the average or frequent result is the basis for understanding the underlying pattern. Yet there is also a lot of variation. As reported in the article, only 39% of the women progressed in a forward manner through the three stages. Almost half seesawed back and forth. In addition, it is known that a significant minority of women report that they have gone from regular cycle lengths straight to menopause without a time of menstrual irregularity. I remember that when I first read this study I felt a certain comfort that changes in my body, like lighter periods and other changes, were predictable and fit into a pattern that other women experience. Yet, on the other hand, the findings can’t be used as a blueprint for what is supposed to happen. We share experiences with others, but we’re also unique individuals.

The average menstrual cycle is said to be 28 days—well, I don’t know many women with a 28-day cycle, and while some women describe themselves as “regular as clockwork” other women are bewildered that anyone could think that the cycle was regular. Rates of depression have been found in many studies to increase during the menopausal transition. However, the great majority of women do not become depressed (the “relative risk” has increased, but the “absolute risk” remains low). Knowing that the rate increases might suggest to a woman that she consider this possibility, but does not answer the question of whether she will become depressed, or, if she does, whether her depression is related to perimenopause or something else.

In trying to use scientific facts to understand ourselves or the world around us, the difference between the particular and the general, the predictable and the unpredictable, is important. Our individual behavior and physiology aren’t random or without form, but neither are they completely predictable.

Disappearing Condoms, Vagina Talk, and More Weekend Links

December 8th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Useful Gifts to Buy this Holiday Season

December 6th, 2012 by Heather Dillaway

The other day a Huffington Post article crossed my desk, titled, “Gift Guide 2012: What To Get The Menopausal Women In Your Life.” According to this article, here are some of the things menopausal women (read: perimenopausal women) might want this December:

  1. Coldfront cooling palm packs (to relieve sweaty palms)
  2. A personal desk fan (for those hot flashes at work)
  3. A “menopause gift basket” filled with healthy treats and goodies, maybe also including vitamins, and alternative remedies for relief, “to stabilize mood and help the body adjust to hormonal changes.”
  4. A Feel Cooler Cooling Mattress Pad or Cooling Pillow that interacts with your nightly body temperatures to cool you down (for night sweats)
  5. Cool Sensations Moisture Wicking Bed Sheets (reportedly for those floods of night sweats you might get)
  6. Hot Girls Pearls – cooling beads to wear around your neck (for hot flashes) – apparently these have even made it onto Oprah’s Show
  7. Tickets to Menopause the Musical
  8. Sweat-wicking pajamas (there are lots of different brands, again to deal with night sweats)

Clearly the theme here is that menopausal women get hot and need relief. Fair enough, for many menopausal women this would be true. But this list got me thinking: what might I add to this list? Here are some I thought of:

  1. Humorous gifts, such as books of jokes about menopause and aging?
  2. Books about menopause
  3. Cookbooks that specialize in natural eating?
  4. A yoga gift certificate? Or other exercise certificate?

I’d love to hear from readers about other ideas for menopause-related holiday gifts.
Then I got to thinking again: If my daughter had reached menarche already, what kinds of holiday gifts could I get her that relate to her life stage? Here are some of the ideas I thought of, and I definitely need help from readers to expand this list:

  1. Pretty reusable (washable) maxi pads (e.g., Lunapads)
  2. A cool bag to carry maxi-pads around in
  3. A cool tampon case (like the ones that Uncommon Goods sells)
  4. Cool new (extra) underwear
  5. A special calendar for her to use to track her periods
  6. New Moon Girls’ magazine (or just an online membership to New Moon Girls)
  7. The book, Our Bodies Ourselves, or other books on puberty and menstruation

So, readers, what else belongs on this list? Those of you already buying for Hannukah and Christmas might have some great ideas…..please chime in!

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.