Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Why young teens need real periods–not the Pill

September 8th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Guest Post by Dr. Lara Briden, ND

Photo supplied by Lara Briden

The onset of menstruation (menarche) is an important time for girls. It heralds their future fertility, of course, but it’s much more than that. Menarche is also when girls start to make female hormones for the first time.

Making hormones is not easy. It requires regular ovulation, and that can take a few years to become established. That’s why the early years of menstruation are exactly the wrong time to take hormonal birth control. Yet, unfortunately, that’s when more and more girls start taking it. According to a new study [1], this decade has seen a 50 percent jump in the number of young teens (12-15 years old) using medication such as Pills, injection, implant, and Nuvaring. These girls are at risk for many of the side effects of hormonal birth control including:

  • impaired bone density [2]
  • altered brain structure [3]
  • increased risk for depression [4]
  • suppressed libido [5]

Side effects occur partly from the synthetic hormones themselves and
partly from lack of girls’ own estrogen and progesterone.

Ovulation is How Girls Make Hormones

Ovulation is not just about making a baby. It’s also the main hormonal event in a menstrual cycle, and the only way to make estrogen and progesterone. When we shut down ovulation with hormonal birth control, we rob girls of the hormones they need for metabolism, bone health, cardiovascular health, mood, and more.

Girls who take synthetic pseudo-hormones via the Pill lose the ability to produce their own hormones. Pseudo-hormones have some similarities to real human hormones, but they also have many differences. For example, the progestin levonorgestrel causes hair loss, but the body’s own progesterone stimulates hair growth. The progestin drospirenone increases the risk of blood clots, but progesterone improves cardiovascular health. Ethinylestradiol, the synthetic estrogen in the Pill, impairs insulin sensitivity [6], but estradiol improves it. These synthetic hormones do not have the health benefits of the human hormones they replace.

Pill Bleeds Are Not Periods

Hormonal birth control is often prescribed to “regulate” periods, but that is nonsensical because a pill-bleed is not the same as a real period.

A real period is the end result of a series of important hormonal events including ovulation. In contrast, a pill bleed is a withdrawal bleed dictated by the dosing regimen of the drug manufacturer.

Newly menstruating girls often have irregular or heavy periods. That can make it tempting for doctors to suggest and for mothers to agree to give them hormonal birth control to mask the problem. But irregular and heavy periods are normal at that age. They occur because girls have not yet established regular ovulation. Hormonal birth control further suppresses ovulation, and that’s why it’s exactly the wrong thing to do. Hormonal birth control won’t promote future ovulation or menstrual regularity, and will probably make it even harder to ovulate in the future.

Better Treatment for Menstrual Problems

Teens have many non-hormonal treatment options for troublesome period symptoms.

Heavy periods: Teens will usually outgrow heavy periods after a couple of years. In the meantime, they can use natural treatments such as a dairy-free diet and the herbal medicine turmeric. Short term use of ibuprofen can also be helpful. I discuss these strategies in this article on Natural Treatment of Very Heavy Periods.

Irregular periods: Irregular periods are common in the first couple of years of menstruation and they usually do not require treatment. If periods do not start to become more regular, then please seek a medical diagnosis. The best treatment will not be the Pill, but rather it will be something to address the underlying cause of irregular periods. For example, the common hormonal condition polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) requires diet and exercise to normalize blood sugar. The Pill is not appropriate treatment for PCOS, contrary to what your doctor might say.

Acne: Teen acne responds extremely well to a dairy-free, sugar-free diet and to the nutritional supplement zinc. Natural acne treatments work more slowly than the Pill, but they’re a better choice in the long term because they’re a permanent cure. In contrast, the Pill’s synthetic estrogen will only mask acne for the duration that it’s used. As soon as the Pill is stopped, acne will typically return even worse than it was before.

Better Birth Control

For those teens who need birth control, there are a couple of good non-hormonal methods. The advantage of a non-hormonal method is that it permits healthy ovulatory cycles and hormone production.

Weekend Links are all about first period stories

September 5th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Let it Flow #2 by Menstrual Designer Jen Lewis. Photographer: Rob Lewis

All though the month of September we are exploring menarche at re: Cycling. Check out the kick-off post with a YouTube link to the 1989 episode of Roseanne in which mom Roseanne gives daughter Darlene first period advice that is still relevant today.

Last December The Guardian published a compendium of first period stories from readers. Sue Spillman ordered trial tampons from a magazine ad thinking it would be “easy and discreet.” Let’s just say that when the package arrived the cops got involved.

A few of the 10 First Period Horror Stories posted on Cosmopolitan suggests mothers could do a better job of preparing their daughters for menarche. Maybe I was lucky but my mother, a public health nurse, made sure I had the supplies I needed before I got my first period.

At Vice this past January, anonymous female comedians contributed their best (and worst) period stories. Most of them seem to be related to first periods. Here’s a short one that couldn’t have happened in my day:

Stephanie: My period started for the first time when I was 13 and happened to be at home. My mom was also home, but I was too embarrassed to go tell her, so I emailed her.

Several of these stories make me think we could do a much better job to prepare the girls in our lives for the experience of menarche, and provide them with more helpful guidance on how to manage the challenges that come with the onset of menstruation. I wrote about this in a 2013 blog post called How do girls learn about periods?

Gina Boothroyd shares a much different perspective in her poignant July 2015 piece for The Guardian: My autistic daughter coped with getting her first period much better than I did. Although her 11-year-old was “pleased and proud to get her period,” Boothroyd worries about what comes after menarche that her daughter may miss out on.

Laura Wershler is a veteran sexual and reproductive health advocate and writer, SMCR member, and editor-in-chief of re: Cycling.


#Menstruationmatters and it starts with menarche

September 3rd, 2015 by Laura Wershler

It’s Menarche Month at re: Cycling

Menarche (mə-NAR-kee) refers to the first menstrual bleeding or period, the onset of menstruation. This month at re: Cycling we will explore menarche from many points of view.

I think how we talk with our daughters and other important girls in our lives when they get their first periods truly will influence their experience of menarche. I don’t think you could find a better role model than the fictional character Roseanne, who, in an 1989 episode of the show named for its star Roseanne Barr, aces the first period talk with her daughter Darlene. Fortunately, this three-minute scene is immortalized on YouTube.

Roseanne walks in to her daughter’s bedroom to find tomboy Darlene bagging up her sports equipment. Darlene thinks her life as she knows it is over, but her mother makes a compelling case for why it’s really just beginning.

Re-watching this scene I love how Roseanne avoids the stereotypical first comment on a girl’s first period: “Now you can have a baby.” Yes, menarche implies fertility, but Roseanne, wisely, doesn’t go there at first. Instead, picking up Darlene’s baseball glove and ball, she tells her daughter “these are a girl’s things Darlene as long as a girl uses them.” My favourite bit is Roseanne’s reply to Darlene when she says, “I’m probably going to start throwing like a girl now anyway.” Roseanne, tossing the baseball in Darlene’s mitt, doesn’t miss a beat. “Definitely,” she says, “and since you’ve got your period you’re going to throw a lot farther.”

Roseanne is absolutely right. Menarche means that as a girl’s hormonal cycle kicks in and she starts to ovulate consistently her bones and her muscles will get stronger. When a young athlete or dancer gets her period, she needs to hear from the important people in her life that menstruating will make her stronger, that getting her period will ultimately make her a more capable athlete or a dancer who can jump higher and leap farther.

If a girl is into creative endeavours, then we can frame menstruation and its accompanying cyclic hormonal changes as a pathway to maturity. She’ll have more to write about, sing about, paint about as she gains access to deeper emotional experiences. Maybe your daughter or young niece likes to cook or play the flute. Tell her now that she’s got her period she’ll cook with more “flavor” and play with more feeling. That’s what Roseanne would have done.

This is not to suggest we ignore that menarche brings with it sexual and reproductive pleasures and challenges. We’ll discuss all of these aspects this month on the blog. Roseanne finds a neat way to reference the fertility that comes with menstruation near the end of the scene. I hope you’ll watch to find out what she says. With her “heart-and-soul” humor, Roseanne keeps it real.

This month on re: Cycling, Dr. Lara Briden, ND, writes about why ovulation is important for girls’ good health and why non-hormonal treatments for period problems are the best option for teens. Saniya Lee Ghanoui brings us her research on menstrual education films and endocrinologist Jerilynn Prior of the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research shares an estimated timeline for what is normal development in the years after menarche for both cycles and ovulation. You’ll also be able to watch and listen to mother and daughter authors Sheryl E. Mendlinger and Yael Magen tell a most original first period story as they read from their recently published book Schlopping.

Keep visiting the blog throughout September for all this and more. Share the posts with friends and colleagues, and, please, share your thoughts and opinions on these posts about menarche in the comment section. Menstruation matters–and it starts with menarche.

Laura Wershler is a veteran sexual and reproductive health advocate and writer, SMCR member, and editor-in-chief of re: Cycling.


Ms. September – Menstruation Pin-Up

September 2nd, 2015 by Jen Lewis
Beauty in Blood Presents
Ms. September: Let It Flow #2
Year: 2015
Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis
Photographer: Rob Lewis

A cha cha about menstrual products, and other menstrual poetry open mic originals.

August 31st, 2015 by Editor

#SMCR2015 Plenary Session Video Presentation

Menstrual Poetry Open Mic

Menstrual educator and activist Chella Quint, center, teaches the audience the Menstrual Products Cha Cha at #SMCR2015 Open Mic.

The 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston concluded on Saturday night, June 6th, with a menstrual poetry open mic. Local slam poets joined SMCR members for an evening of spoken word performances about menstrual realities: big, small, old and new. Performers explored the multiple dimensions of our messy, wondrous and vexing bodies, our sexualities, genders, health and our feminisms. The event was hosted and kicked off by Janae Johnson, a Boston area spoken word poet, teaching artist, educator and winner of the 2015 Women of the World Poetry Slam.

Click on the arrow, sit back and enjoy a unique, free-wheeling, all-welcome evening of spoken word performances.

Videography provided by courtesy of Robert Lewis.


Can art change the way society thinks about menstruation?

August 28th, 2015 by Editor

#SMCR2015 Plenary Session Video Presentation

Beyond “Menstruation Bathroom”: Stimulating Social Change Through Visualizations of Gendered Blood

Can art change the way society sees, perceives and thinks about menstruation? Can visual art help expand the scope of reproductive justice in the mainstream? In this panel discussion, five artists from Widening the Cycle, the art show that ran concurrently with the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, June 4th to 6th, 2015, in Boston, discuss the catalyzing power of visual art and explore the use of menstrual blood in art-making following the seminal work of Judy Chicago’s “Menstruation Bathroom.” From religious tradition to radical self-acceptance, the artists cover it all.

Participating artists: Jen Lewis, Diana Alvarez, Gabriella Boros, Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch, Lucy Madeline and Kyle.

Videography provided courtesy of Robert Lewis.


Mainstreaming Menstruation: A Scholar’s Journey to Advocacy and Education

August 24th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

#SMCR2015 Plenary Session Video Presentation

Mainstreaming the Flow: (Still) Selling My Soul to Start the Conversation

Keynote Address by Tomi-Ann Roberts, PhD, to the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, Friday, June 5th, 2015, Boston, MA

“I want to bring menstruation out of the closet.”

In this presentation Tomi-Ann Roberts, a professor of psychology at Colorado College, talks about her efforts at “mainstreaming the flow” and presents some of the many challenges and satisfactions of moving from scholar to advocate and educator for non-academic audiences on the connections between objectification, sexualization, and menstrual wellness. Hear how she addressed the “thigh gap” controversy in a blog post for teenage girls in her role as a U by Kotex advocate, while at the same time worrying that she is giving girls ideas for self-objectification. Learn how she is contributing to a class action legal case on behalf of incarcerated women that is arguing for menstrual privacy as a civil right, yet concerned that she might be reifying negative attitudes and emotions about menstruation. Robert’s journey from scholar to advocate to educator demonstrates the power of a “shared voice” to demystify and destigmatize menstruation.

Videography provided courtesy of Robert Lewis.


Award-winning menstrual cycle advocacy and research

August 17th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

#SMCR2015 Plenary Session Video Presentation

Making Menstruation Matter Award, Student Awards and the Mary Anna Friederich Service Award

Presented at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, held June 4-6, 2015, at Suffolk University in Boston, MA.

Awards Coordinator Mindy Erchull hosted the 2015 SMCR awards ceremony on Saturday, June 6th, 2015.

Student awards are given to either undergraduate or graduate students who present high quality research at the conference. Amy Dryden received the Linda McKeever Award and Saniya Ghanoui the Esther Rome Award.

Two long-time SMCR members–Joan Chrisler and Elizabeth Kissling–were honored with the Mary Anna Friederich Service Award for their outstanding and unusual service contributions to the Society.

Veteran women’s health advocate Judy Norsigian accepted the Making Menstruation Matter Award on behalf of the Boston-based organization  Our Bodies Ourselves. A non-profit, public interest organization most recently based in Cambridge, MA, USA, OBOS develops and promotes evidence-based information on girls’ and women’s reproductive health and sexuality. Their landmark publication, Our Bodies Ourselves, has sold millions of copies around the world and has been translated into more than two dozen languages.

Working in collaboration with U.S. and global organizations, in more than 30 countries, OBOS vigorously advocates for women’s health by challenging institutions and systems that devalue women and prevent them from having full control over their bodies and their health.

The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research honors this group for these efforts and, in particular, their pioneering historic work around improving femcare product safety and menstrual health and awareness more generally.

Videography courtesy of Rob Lewis.


Respect for Menstruation is a Human Right

August 13th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

#SMCR2015 Plenary Session Video Presentation

Keynote by Loretta J. Ross, Reproductive Justice Pioneer

Presented at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, held June 4-6, 2015, at Suffolk University in Boston, MA.

“I tend to think of reproductive justice as a promiscuous concept that will have sex with any idea that looks like it’s going to protect women’s human rights.”

Speaking at the SMCR conference on Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice on June 5th , 2015, Loretta J. Ross addresses how women and girls can celebrate their bodies, especially their menses, instead of being shamed and hidden as in most cultures. Building on the experiences learned at the Black Women’s Health Imperative and using the human rights framework, Ross talks about how activists are changing the conversation about menstruation and womanhood.

Loretta J. Ross is an expert on women’s issues, hate groups, racism and intolerance, human rights, and violence against women. Her work focuses on the intersectionality of social justice issues an dhow this affects social change and service delivery in all movements. She was a co-founder and the national coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective from 2005-2012, a network founded in 1997 by women of color and allied organizations that organize women of color in the reproductive justice movement. She was also a national co-director of the April 25, 2004 March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C., the largest protest march in U.S. history with more than one million participants, and the founder and executive director of the National Center for Human Rights Education (NCHRE) in Atlanta, Georgia.

Videography provided courtesy of Robert Lewis.


Menstrual Hygiene Management: A Global Panel Discussion

August 6th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

#SMCR 2015 Plenary Session Video Presentation:

“Menstrual health is like the rhino for ecology, it’s the thing that if we get wrong the whole ecosystem fails. And if we get menstrual health wrong the social ecosystem fails.”  

Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is critically neglected in development programs leading to negative cascading effects, particularly for girls, in health, education, safety and productivity. This plenary session was presented at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research on June 4th, 2015, in Boston, MA. A global first, the panel brought together activists, practitioners, funders and academics to share their unique work and discuss barriers and opportunities to form a global, lasting movement to mainstream menstruation management.

Megan White Mukuria  (ZanaAfrica)

Leeat Weinstock (Grand Challenges Canada),
Sinu Joseph (Myrthi),
Murat Sahin (WASH in Schools, UNICEF),
Archana Patkar (Water Supply and Sanitation Coordinating Council),
Beverly Mademba (WASH United)


Call for abstracts for the upcoming virtual MHM conference on October 22, 2015:

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.