Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

In Honor of (a Sampling of) our Brave Menstrual Champions!

November 26th, 2013 by Chris Bobel

The recent death of writer Doris Lessing led me to revisit her work a bit. *

Author of more than 50 books as well as an opera, Lessing was brave. She spanned genres, refused to tow a singular ideological line and used her Nobel Prize moment to remind us that privilege shapes greatness as much, even more perhaps, than talent.  And Lessing wrote about menstruation when few others dared.

In her 1962 novel The Golden Notebook, protagonist Anna Wulf journals on the first day of her period—chronicling every thought and feeling her menses produced for her. In the passage below, Wulf’s disgust with her body is hardly a menstrual-positive standpoint (and isn’t something off with her cycle if she detects such an offensive smell?). But there is an honesty, here. A broken silence. Lessing brought to the fore the reality of the fraught and conflicted menstruating body in the early 1960s, and that was a bold move.

I stuff my vagina with the tampon of cotton wool … I roll tampons into my handbag, concealing them under a handkerchief … The fact that I am having my period is no more than an entrance into an emotional state, recurring regularly, that is of no particular importance … A man said he would be revolted by the description of a woman defecating. I resented this … but he right … For instance, when Molly said to me … I‘ve got the curse; I have instantly to suppress distaste, even though we are both women; and I begin to be conscious of the possibility of bad smells … and I begin to worry: Am I smelling? It is the only smell that I know of that I dislike. … But the faintly dubious, essentially stale smell of menstrual blood, I hate. And resent. It is a smell that I feel as strange even to me, an imposition from outside. Not from me. Yet for two days I have to deal with this thing from outside—a bad smell, emanating from me. … So I shut the thoughts of my period out of my mind; making, however, a mental note that as soon as I get to the office I must go to the washroom to make sure there is no smell (pp. 339-340).

Lessing is not alone among the brave who dare to Speak a Menstrual Language. In honor of Thanksgiving in the US, I offer this shout out to a short list of  the courageous who inspire. Thank you menstrual champions.

Rachel Horn, of Sustainable Cycles, who cycled coast to coast this summer, promoting menstrual literacy and menstrual cup awareness.

Holly Grigg-Spall, who has put herself on the line with her new book Sweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control. Grigg-Spall has been challenged, sometimes pretty nastily, for suggesting that one can use a feminist reproductive justice lens to be critical of the pill.

And how about radical feminist pioneer of queer cinema, Barbara Hammer. Her 1974 expeimental film Menses playfully interprets, though a group of women enacting their own individual fantasies, what menstruation means to them. 1974!

Menarchists Jaqueline J. Gonzalez and Stephanie Robinson, who founded the Menstrual Activist Research Collective (M.A.R.C) in 2011, and just released their line of menstrual gear (http://www.etsy.com/shop/menarchists) at cost so you can help them spread the good word, or as they put, leave your MARC! We bleed. It is okay. We bleed. 

Then there’s Arunachalam Muruganantham, the self described “school dropout” (and now the subject of a new documentary) who developed a table top machine that rural Indian women can use to produce and sell low cost single use menstrual pads. He wants to make life easier for Indian women (and he is not interested in getting rich). Yes, there are sustainability issues, here, but there’s also a widening of options for women.

Used with Permission

Every teenager who, on the way to the school toilet, ever dared to walk down the hall with femcare-product-of-choice in open view. 

Every menstruator who hangs cloth pads on the clothesline with the rest of the laundry.

How to Check Your Cervical Fluid When You Feel Like You Just Don’t Have Any

February 12th, 2013 by Kati Bicknell

In an older post I wrote, I talked about how to check your cervical fluid with a folded piece of toilet paper or your clean fingers.

BUT! What if you’re doing that and not finding anything? What if you, like many women I talk to, think that they don’t have any cervical fluid?

Well, you’re in luck, because I’m about to explain how to measure your cervical fluid, even if it seems like you don’t have any! Are you ready for this? You’re so ready.

Adapted from a photo by Lamerie // Creative Commons 2.0

Things you’ll need:

  • Hand mirror
  • Clean towel
  • Soap and water

So … it goes a little something like this — CRAM YOUR FINGERS IN YOUR VAGINA! Just kidding. Not really. Kind of. Kidding about the “cramming” thing, but not about the “in your vagina” thing.

First things first, wash your hands. You don’t want to introduce any foreign bacteria into the vagina — it’s got a whole host of its own friendly bacteria that keeps things running smoothly, and you don’t want to upset the balance.

Now that your hands are clean … wait a minute! Okay, a lot of you reading this are probably very familiar with your vagina, where it is, how it looks, and every little nook and cranny inside and out. But some of you may not be. For those of you in the second camp, there is an extra step.

Grab a hand mirror!

Okay, was that hand mirror very dirty? Did you take it out of the woodshed or something? Is it your husband’s shaving mirror? If any of the above are true, wash your hands again.

Now get naked from the waist down — think gynecologist’s office, but significantly less unpleasant. You can leave your socks on. No cold stirrups (hopefully). Now sit or squat on a clean towel on the floor, and hold the hand mirror between your legs so you can actually get a good look at your vulva (external genitalia). As women, our genitals are positioned in such a way that they are very hard to get a clear look at without the aid of a hand mirror, so unless you’ve done this before, you may be surprised at what you see. Look at how beautiful you are! So many little folds of soft delicate skin, so many different shades of color. Vulvas come in all shapes and sizes and colors, and each are perfect and beautiful and packed with nerve endings, so don’t you even dare consider labiaplasty, even if the vulva you see in the mirror doesn’t look like the ones you may have seen in certain adult movies (or Canadian strip clubs). Yours is perfect. I promise.

Have a look and a feel around! Gently spread your inner labia apart and take a peek at what’s in there. You’ll see your clitoris, vaginal opening, and, if you have keen eyesight, the urethral opening. Neat, huh? You may even see some cervical fluid at the vaginal opening.

Now see where your vaginal opening is? Gently slide one clean finger inside, see how that feels? Okay, now you know WHERE to stick your finger when checking your cervical fluid internally.

Crouch in a squatting position, and place one or two (if they fit) fingers in your vagina, until you feel something like the tip of a nose (if you are fertile it might be much softer). This is your cervix! The place from whence all cervical fluid hails! The motherland!

Now draw your finger(s) gently out of your vagina and have a look at them. They will be slightly damp, because the vagina is a mucus membrane, like the inside of your mouth, so wetness is a given. Other than that, is there any “substance” on them? Anything that looks like grade school paste, or hand lotion, or raw egg whites? If so … there is your cervical fluid!!!! You found it! Hooray!

If not, you may be a) on the pill, b) in the pre-ovulatory infertile phase of your cycle, before you’ve started to make cervical fluid, or c) in the post-ovulatory infertile phase of your cycle, after ovulation, and your body may have stopped making cervical fluid for the remainder of your cycle.

If you don’t notice any, check again later in the day, and several times tomorrow, and every day after that! Soon you’ll have something to record on your chart!  :-)

Now you can stand up, wash your hands (again), pull up your pants (this step is critical), and go about your day!

Wheeee!!! Any questions on that? Ask me in the comments.

Cross-posted at Kindara, February 5, 2013

Footloose and Pharmaceutical-Free?

October 26th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Holly Grigg-Spall, Sweetening the Pill

At the West Coast Catalyst Convention for sex-positive sex-educators I was listening to a talk on definitions of sexual health when the birth control pill was brought up. I’d spent much of the event feeling desperately vanilla and so was pleased to be discussing something other than strap-ons and lube. The most popular forms of contraception – the hormonal kind – had been notably absent from all discussion that weekend.

Toys in Babeland window display, Photo by Joaquin Uy // CC 2.0

The speaker told the group that the pill is the leading cause of low libido and pelvic pain. She explained that studies had suggested the impact on libido could be permanent. The reaction of the audience was immediate and urgent – questions were fired out and it became clear that this information was news to most. A number of audience members seemed genuinely shocked. “What’s the science behind that?” one woman asked, but the speaker said she didn’t know.

Although the convention’s attendees had an intimidating level of knowledge when it came to sexual technique and sex toys, I discovered that once I mentioned I was there to develop a book and a documentary on hormonal contraceptives, many repeated the usual disinformation about birth control methods.

The speaker was right – the birth control pill is a leading cause of lowered sexual desire and pelvic pain. It’s also known to cause loss of lubrication, vaginitis, and vulvodynia. Other hormonal contraceptives such as the Depo Provera injection, implant, ring and Mirena IUD have been seen to have similar consequences. In fact, Dr. Andrew Goldstein, director of the U.S.-based Centers for Vulvovaginal Disorders and one of the foremost vulvodynia experts in North America, blames an increase in complaints of this kind on third generation low-dose pills.

The study the speaker referred to was conducted by Dr. Claudia Panzer of Boston University and it did suggest some women may see a permanent effect on their testosterone levels, and so their level of desire. There have also been studies on these methods impact on frequency and intensity of orgasm, showing both to be decreased. Not to mention the 50% of women who will experience general negative mood effects that surely impact on their interest in sex. Many, many other studies have shown a clear negative effect on libido whilst using hormonal contraceptives. So many that it’s become something of a joke to roll eyes over the “irony” of prescribing a pill for pregnancy prevention that stops you wanting to have sex anyway.

At a convention dedicated to the celebration of sexual pleasure, I was surprised to see this information received with such confusion. A sex-positive attitude is becoming synonymous with “set it and forget it” long acting hormonal methods of contraception. But it struck me that sex-positive advocates should be the biggest fans of fertility awareness methods. Here’s why:

Breaking News: Men Discover Tampons Can Absorb Blood

June 13th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Photo by henteaser // CC 2.0

Last week at The Art of Manliness, a contributor wrote a post about numerous possible wilderness survival uses of tampons. The post was picked up by the popular site, Boing Boing, and the commenters in both sites added more uses, as well uses for disposable maxi pads (although some contributors seem uncertain of the difference). Many creative uses for disposable femcare products were suggested, and while I can’t personally vouch for (or against) any of them, I offer this post as Public Service Announcement to correct some of the misinformation about tampons and pads that those uses presume.

The use of an opened tampon or a maxi pad for a bandage probably seems obvious to re:Cycling readers, as many are familiar with the history of Kotex, developed when World War I nurses discovered that the cotton cellulose they were using on wounded soldiers was highly absorbent. (The phrase ko-tex stands for cotton texture.) But as a few sharp readers of The Art of Manliness are aware, it has been decades since maxi-pads or tampons of any brand were made of cotton (except, obviously, the all-cotton types sold in health food stores). Pads are made from mostly from wood cellulose fibers, with plastic outer layers made of polypropylene or polyethylene. Some of the newer, improved maxi-pads feature synthetic gels designed to draw blood away from the body — not exactly a feature you’d want in a bandage, when you’re trying to stanch the flow of blood and promote clotting. If you’re bleeding heavily, you’re probably better off tearing off your t-shirt and pressing it against the wound. Tampons are also made of wood cellulose, often with a core of viscose fiber. Viscose fiber is rayon, created by treating cellulose with sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide.

And although most brands are individually wrapped these days, neither tampons nor pads are sterile. Nor are they produced in sterile conditions. I’d be very leery of using a tampon as a water filter. Surely there are safer, equally portable, emergency filters one could pack in a wilderness survival kit.

Many of the other emergency uses of tampons involved using the fluffy wood pulp as kindling, or otherwise setting them on fire. Now there’s a use I can get behind!

Getting Cozy with Tampon Cozies

November 21st, 2011 by David Linton

Guest post by Michael Yazujian — Marymount Manhattan College

Photo by Caitlin Weigel (used with permission)

Caitlin Weigel knits and sells tampon cozies on her Etsy site, a website where people can sell crafts that they make. These cozies are perfect for women who are trying to avoid humiliation who are also fans of squids (and probably other tampon users as well). They may reinforce the shame and embarrassment that some women associate with tampons by concealing them, but they do so in a playful way that suggests the taboo be taken less seriously. The squids seem to be mocking society’s belief in tampon awkwardness with their googly eyes and promote a sort of tampon pride that you could show off to your friends. The reduction of shame through humor is not a new concept, but I believe that Caitlin Weigel has knit a useful weapon against the uncomfortable and serious manner in which tampons are viewed.

 

Editor’s note: See also Vinnie’s Tampon Case

Culture-Jamming Kotex

October 5th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

If you’ve been with us for a while, you might remember that we (and our fabulous readers) had a lot to say in the spring of 2010 when Kotex launched U by Kotex (or YOU.BUY.KOTEX, as we came to call it) and its “Break the Cycle” campaign.

In digging up a copy of the “Reality Check” video that launched the campaign for one of my classes this week, I came across this critique of “Reality Check” by an activist/artist identified online only as Annamalprint. She’s a menstrual activist after our own bleedin’ hearts!

The campaign has won many advertising industry awards, and has been credited with increasing Kotex sales by 10%, by the way. We can expect those neon tampons to be around for a while.

“Bleed All You Can Bleed”

January 31st, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Reel Grrls produced this animated vision of what watching television might be like in a world where Gloria Steinem’s classic essay “If Men Could Menstruate” wasn’t fiction.


(Via Lunapads twitter stream.)

Cup U

December 4th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Vanessa Tolkin Meyer recently published her thesis film on Vimeo: it’s a short film about the menstrual cup. It’s also about attitudes toward menstruation and how we talk about it.





Maka Pads help girls and women in Uganda

November 12th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

The Kasiisi Project Girls Program is now the first producer of locally manufactured sanitary pads in Uganda. Their M.A.K.A. pads (Menstruation Administration Knowledge Affordability) are made of papyrus. A package of ten sells for 650 shillings — one-third of the cost of imported pads. The availability of MakaPads helps women miss work and girls miss school less frequently.

The Power is in the Vag

November 8th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

In the latest episode of Vag Magazine (a production of the Upright Citizens Brigade), Fennel shares her strategy for managing menstruation.


Vag Magazine Episode 3: “Swamp Ophelia” from Vag Magazine on Vimeo.

“We’ve had some complaints from our cleaning feminists.”

S.H.E. = Sustainable Health Enterprises

October 13th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Check out the new video about the latest developments from Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE).

(Previously at re:CyclingSHE featured in Marie Claire; Girls, Periods, and Missing School II: Breaking the Silence.)

Party Time

September 23rd, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Liz Henry's uterus pinataHave you ever wanted to make a uterus piñata? Say, for a baby shower or a menarche party? Liz Henry explains how.

Ms. Henry notes that the symbolism is not as violent as it might first appear:

Now you might think of this as perturbingly violent or promoting the idea of bashing someone’s body part with a baseball bat. However, try to adjust your mind to a different symbolism where cornucopia-like, abundant wealth flows freely out of a fertile, open uterus and you, as whackers with baseball bats, are encouraging it to open up to the world and deliver its fabulous contents!

[via Geek Feminism]


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.