Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

I am a pro-choice menstrual cycle advocate

January 9th, 2013 by Laura Wershler

As 2013 begins, I give thanks to each and every one of my colleagues at the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research and all my blogging buddies at re:Cycling. Without them I’d feel left out in the cold.  

Are menstrual cycle advocates left out in the cold? Photo by Laura Wershler

I’ve been a menstrual cycle advocate since 1979 when, during a year of post-pill amenorrhea that totally freaked me out, I began to research the ill effects of hormonal contraception. It is not an understatement to say that reading  Barbara Seaman’s national bestseller Women and The Crisis in Sex Hormones changed my life. It started me on a path of self-discovery, and commitment to the idea that healthy, ovulatory menstruation is integral to women’s health and well-being. If you don’t know about Barbara Seaman and her work in women’s health activism, please read about her.

My menstrual cycle advocacy took what could be considered a counter-intuitive path. I aligned myself with the pro-choice sexual health community, committed to comprehensive access to sexual and reproductive health information, education and services. I’ve been as much a contraception and abortion rights advocate over the last three decades as I’ve been a menstrual cycle advocate. But I was a successful user and ardent advocate of the fertility awareness method long before I became a board director at the pro-choice Calgary Birth Control Association in 1986. I went on to serve 10 years on the board of Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada and worked for six years as executive director of Planned Parenthood Alberta, which became Sexual Health Access Alberta in 2006. I’m currently on the board of Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, the former PPFC.

I stress my pro-choice credentials because I think I’m often suspected of being anti-choice. Surely any woman who advocates for healthy, ovulatory menstruation and speaks out against the health concerns inherent in hormonal birth control methods must be anti-contraception and anti-choice. I am neither. More broadly, I’ve written and talked a lot about the value of body literacy for women’s health and well-being.

I wonder sometimes why I’ve stuck it out with the pro-choice sexual health community. While many have been open to my ideas, I have seen little effort to learn about the health benefits of ovulatory menstruation or acknowledge the need – let alone act – to better serve women who want to use non-hormonal contraception. It’s frustrating to be a lone voice, but I keep talking.

It took me over 20 years to find the community that serves and appreciates my menstrual cycle advocacy. I attended my first Society for Menstrual Cycle Research conference in 2005, and that’s how I came to belong to this diverse group of academics, medical professionals, researchers, activists and artists committed to advancing knowledge and awareness of the menstrual cycle. We come from different perspectives, we ask different questions and we focus on different aspects of women’s menstrual lives. But we all hold true to the same idea: #menstruationmatters.

Menstrual cycle advocacy can be lonely and oh so frustrating. Chris Bobel’s recent post about how difficult it can be to help others make the menstrual connection included this quote from me:

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. 

Thanks to SMCR and re:Cycling, I’m not going to stop asking hard questions, or challenging the ignorance and avoidance that many in the mainstream sexual health-care community demonstrate when it comes to ovulation, the menstrual cycle and fertility awareness. I’ll keep chirping and chipping away.

  

17 Responses to “I am a pro-choice menstrual cycle advocate”

  1. Bravo Laura – I will be ‘chirping and chipping’ away as well!

  2. Susan Langerman says:

    Hello Laura, if you can spare the time, and if you truly ask hard questions, I’d like to talk to you about the product invention, a female hygiene product, which I started to develop 4 years ago. I completely understand the lone voice from the woods, although that is more related to my effort to commercialise my product range. With your experience I maght learn more and by you asking questions and perhaps offer some advice, I may improve on my requests for financing or lisencing. Please write me at lourentz1511@gmail.com. I may just surprise you pleasanly !

  3. Susan Langerman says:

    Hello Laura, if you can spare the time, and if you truly ask hard questions, I’d like to talk to you about my product invention.

  4. Thank you, Laura, for emphasizing not just menstrual cycles but also ovulation.
    Sometime, perhaps in re:Cycling, I’d like to try to explain what I mean by ovulation and why I think it is so important for women’s self-knowledge and health.
    When I get discouraged by grant rejections, inability to publish papers and by institutional obstructionism I recall Emily Dickinson’s poem Hope .

  5. Elizabeth Creely says:

    Laura- have you read Malcolm Gladwell essay “John Rocks Error?” i just did- from the standpoint of one who did not like hormonal contraception and did not use it, i found the ideas this essay raised fascinating.
    Here is the link: http://www.gladwell.com/2000/2000_03_10_a_rock.html

    • Laura Wershler says:

      Hi Elizabeth, Yes I’ve read it and, while fascinating from some standpoints, I found the ideas mostly disconcerting. I wish it had not been republished in What the Dog Saw, where it garnered a broader audience. The case made for menstrual suppression does not hold water when examined in the light of evidence concerning the health benefits of regular ovulation. And the use of Depo-Provera to do so has caused nothing but problems for most women who’ve used it. Have you read my post: Coming Off Depo-Provera Can Be A Woman’s Worst Nightmare? The comment stream is compelling.

      • Elizabeth Creely says:

        Agreed. I thought it was an interesting essay, but…I was uneasy with the idea, and esp. with the idea of more tampering with women’s bodies. It was very thought-provoking.

  6. Jim says:

    Greetings, Laura, from someone on the “other side”.

    I very much appreciate what you are doing. This is an issue of women’s health, not a sectarian issue or a religious issue. Some on “my side”, have, unfortunately, have given it a bad name by trying to make it one.

    I do see people trying to “bridge the gap”, especially the younger generation, but the cultural divide is significant and there is a lot of mistrust, miscommunication, and unintentional insensitivity on both sides.

    Body literacy, women’s health, and women’s well-being should not be controversial.

    • Laura Wershler says:

      Agreed. We all need to spend more time talking together on middle ground. I saw an article today that Planned Parenthood Federation of America is moving away from “choice” language, beyond the ideas of having to be either pro-choice or pro-life. I think this is a good thing. It’s more important to focus on what’s really happening in women’s lives.

  7. [...] as a pro-choice menstrual cycle advocate on the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research’s blog re: Cycling. I’ve been a menstrual cycle advocate since 1979 when, during a year of post-pill amenorrhea that [...]

  8. Maggy says:

    Thanks for the interesting post. I have sometimes felt like a bit of an oddball in that I am sexually active with a man, but I have never used hormonal contraceptives. I am in my mid 40s and I’m in my first intimate relationship with a man since my 20s. I am grateful that the pill and other hormonal methods exist, but I have always been wary of using them. I fear they would worsen my depression. I was surprised to hear a health educator colleague say there was no medical necessity for the period. Maybe this is true, but “that time of the month” is usually more of a time of reflection and personal growth than pain for me. I currently use the IUD without hormones and it’s been a good choice for me. Thanks for validating my choices.
    :-)

    • Laura Wershler says:

      Maggy, What a lovely way to put it – “validating my choices.” As a women’s health writer that is my primary goal, to provide information and ideas that help women validate their choices, especially the ones that can make us feel like oddballs, or elicit criticism or head shaking from others.

      I think when health educators talk about “no medical necessity for the period,” they are thinking only of cycles that are already being manipulated by hormonal contraception. They never think – or take the time to educate themselves – about the health benefits gained by regular menstruation with consistent ovulation. I’d say healthy breasts, bones and hearts are damn good reasons supporting the medical necessity for having ovulatory periods.

      Thanks for commenting.

  9. [...] pro-choice values have co-existed for decades with my advocacy for NHBC and menstrual cycle education. But I admit that because of my [...]

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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.