Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Depo Provera and menstrual management

April 8th, 2014 by Holly Grigg-Spall

Melinda Gates speaking at the London Summit on Family Planning; Photograph courtesy Wikimedia Commons

A few weeks back I did an interview with Leslie Botha regarding the distribution of Depo Provera to women in developing countries. Recently Leslie shared with me an email she received from someone working in a family planning clinic in Karnataka, India. He described how he was providing the Depo Provera injection to women and finding that, after they stopped using it, they were not experiencing menstruation for up to nine months. He asked for advice – “what is the procedure to give them normal monthly menses….is there any medicine?”

I have written previously about one potential problem of providing women with Depo Provera – the possibility of continuous spotting and bleeding that would not only be distressing with no warning that this might happen and no medical support, but could also be difficult to navigate in a place with poor sanitation or with strong menstrual taboos. As women in developed countries are so very rarely counseled on side effects of hormonal methods of contraception, it seems unlikely women in developing countries receive such information. As we know, some women will instead experience their periods stopping entirely during use of the shot and, as we see from this email and from the comments on other posts written for this blog, long after use.

In this context I find it interesting that the Gates Foundation’s programs for contraception access have a very public focus on Depo Provera. The method was mentioned again by Melinda Gates in a recent TED interview and when she was interviewed as ‘Glamor magazine Woman of the Year’ the shot was front-and-center of the discussion of her work. Yet the Foundation also funds programs that provide support for menstrual management and sanitation.  Continuous bleeding from the shot, or cessation of bleeding altogether, would seem to be an important connecting factor between these two campaigns.

Much has been written on the menstrual taboo in India and how this holds women back. In the US we have come to embrace menstrual suppression as great for our health and our progress as women. We see menstruation as holding women back in a variety of ways. However, in India could lack of menstruation also be seen as a positive outcome? Instead of dealing with the menstrual taboo with expensive programs that provide sanitary products and education, might suppressing menstruation entirely be seen as a far more cost-effective solution? It may seem like a stretch, but I am surprised this has not been brought up during debates about the need for contraceptive access in developing countries. Yet of course, the menstrual taboo may well extend to absence of menstruation – a woman who does not experience her period might also be treated suspiciously or poorly.

When Melinda Gates says women “prefer” and “request” Depo Provera I always wonder whether that’s after they’ve been told how it works (perhaps described as a six-month invisible contraception) or after they’ve had their first shot or after they’ve been on it for two years and then, via FDA guidelines, must find an alternative? How much follow up is there? As the self-injectable version is released widely how will women be counseled? Gates argues that the invisibility of the method is part of the draw as women do not have to tell their partners they are using contraception, but what happens when they bleed continuously or stop entirely?

It seems to me like there might be a real lack of communication – both between medical practitioners and their patients, drug providers and the practitioners, and those who fund these programs with everyone involved. It is often argued that the risks of pregnancy and childbirth in developing countries justify almost any means to prevent pregnancy – including the use of birth control methods that cause health issues. How much feedback are groups like the Gates Foundation getting on women’s preferences if they seem to be so unaware of the potential problems, even those that would greatly impact their wider work?

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.

Etiquette for menstruation

November 19th, 2013 by Holly Grigg-Spall

Photo courtesy of sweeteningthepill.com

Recently I was fortunate enough to be asked to lend an excerpt of my recently released book to the UK Sunday Times Style magazine. The mostly fashion-centric Style magazine is not really known for its edginess or risk-taking (except perhaps in the realm of shoe and make-up choices) and so I was happily surprised when the editor told me that the subject matter discussed in my book that she happened to find most interesting was, in fact, menstruation. I had expected her to want to focus on condoms perhaps, or just my personal story, but no, she was keenly interested in what I wrote about periods.

The argument I make in my book is that how we feel about hormonal birth control is inextricably linked to how we feel about menstruation. In a sense, many of the newer methods of hormonal birth control, as well as the newer uses (running packets of pills together, prescriptions for cramps or heavy bleeding) show an effort to get rid of the period completely, rather than just hide it away. I also discuss in the book, briefly, menstruation activism. However, I do defer to the far better work done by the likes of SMCR’s own Chris Bobel who writes on this topic with far more knowledge (not to mention wit).

You can read the feature in full here at my website (it’s otherwise behind an online pay wall and frankly I’m pleased to rob Rupert Murdoch of a few pounds by making it freely available).

In the end, the feature was not exactly an excerpt from my book – more so it was quotes from the book mixed with quotes from a long interview with the editor. Therefore I didn’t quite know what would be published in the magazine. The finished piece covered a range of controversial topics seen here at re:Cycling regularly – menstrual outing, reusable femcare products, the potential health benefits of ovulation…

If the high point of my career was getting the word “patriarchy” into the notoriously right-wing British tabloid The Daily Mail, I think I had another peak seeing this sentence in the Style (notorious for its high priced designer fashion spreads) – “This movement believes the act of stopping and hiding our periods with hormonal contraceptives and sanitary products is a mark of corporate ownership of our bodies.” I take great pride in also getting a discussion of menstrual extraction on to Style’s pages, and therefore onto the breakfast table of approximately one million British people – “an entire period’s worth of menstrual blood could be removed in a few hours instead of being experienced over days.” Well, if we can have Page 3, why not menstrual extraction?

The editor who did such a great job on this piece was Fleur Britten and in a funny twist of fate I realized, during our conversations, that in my first full time working position after college, at the publishing company Debrett’s in London, I worked as a production assistant on one of her books – Etiquette for Girls. At that time controversy surrounded Fleur’s section on the proper etiquette for one-night stands (I think it was something about getting out quickly, quietly, but leaving a nice handwritten note). So, it made me smile to see her skewer the etiquette of menstruation in the opening paragraph of this piece: “Many women are bored with having to take a whole handbag into the ladies rather than carry a tampon in their hand. Men say “I’m going to take a dump,” but we don’t say, “I’m just going to change my tampon.””

When I was carrying the proofs of Fleur’s book to the printers back some seven years ago, little did I know we would be conspiring to get the British public to say “I am menstruating” today over tea and toast.

Sustainable Cycles: 4624 miles, buckets of sweat, and 90 menstrual cups

September 30th, 2013 by Chris Bobel

Guest Post by Rachel Horn of Sustainable Cycles

All photos courtesy of Owen Gorman.

Last month, I returned to California after my friend Owen and I rode our bicycles from San Francisco to New York City. We rode 4,624 miles through 12 states over 3 months. We carried our essentials (about 70 lbs, bikes included), met hundreds of people, received incredible amounts of kindness, and talked a lot about periods.

I am a spokeswoman for a project called Sustainable Cycles—I rode from town to town, facilitating discussions about menstrual products. Women, men, people, bookworms, students, graduates, clinicians, mothers, teenagers, environmentalists, bicycle enthusiasts, passers by—we all gathered to talk about the cost (~$2000 over a lifetime), waste (~260 lbs of trash), and content (synthetics, pesticides, & dioxins) of conventional pads and tampons. I carried a slew of products with me—a pad, a tampon, a cloth pad, sea sponges, and menstrual cups—to show, and we created a space where any question could be asked and any story be shared. Each event was a space for open, honest, and unashamed conversation about anything menstruation-related. As party favors, people who wanted to make ‘the switch’ from disposables left with a new menstrual cup.

Owen and I had never done a long-distance bike trip before, but by now we’re pretty good at it. Our farthest day was 123 miles from Cleveland, OH to Erie, PA; the longest stretch without services was 84 miles in Utah; our tallest summit was 11,400 feet in Colorado; and we only ran out of water once (which was enough) in Nevada. I organized discussions along the way using public library computers and fast food restaurant wifi. At night we stayed in parks, campsites, at friends of friends places, with online hosts, and with random strangers we met in bike shops. I found people all across this country to be incredibly giving and hospitable. We were treated to countless meals, showers, beds, laundry, great conversations, and all kinds of support. If I had a nickel for every time I was told, “this is your home”, I could buy all 30 jars of peanut butter we consumed.

Sustainable Cycles is small, it’s young, and it is one of the most amazing projects of our time. I happened to stumble upon it earlier this year as I was brainstorming about how to fund my cross-country cycling adventure. I found a blog about two young women who bicycled from Seattle to Los Angeles in 2011, hootin’ and hollerin’ about menstruation and giving away free menstrual cups as they went. Toni and Sarah were “sparking a grassroots movement toward more sustainable approaches to menstruation” and, armed with almost 300 cups donated to them, started Sustainable Cycles. A satisfied cup user myself, I contacted them, began to fundraise, received 90 cups generously donated by DivaCup, and on May 4, 2013 began spreading the gospel as I pedaled east.

Most of the people we encountered were supportive and surprised by the project. I got anywhere from a pensive “Um…that’s interesting…I’ll tell my wife” to a passionate “Thank you so so much for doing this”. The purpose of this bike ride is to combat the shame and taboo that keeps us silent and ignorant about issues surrounding menstruation. It is about calling attention to the environmental, economic, and health impacts of conventional products and creating a space where people can question exactly what they support with their dollar, be it Tampax tampons or cut-up T-shirts. It is about sharing knowledge and empowering each other; everyone is invited to the discussion, no matter what they do or do not use. I see menstruation as a phenomenon that connects us despite race, color, gender, socioeconomic status, language, ethnicity, culture, ability, education level, shape, size, etc. It is a conversation we do no have often enough. During my three months on the road, I held discussions in all of the states I pedaled through, gifted cups to interested persons, and met a lot of people I otherwise may never have. Like a professional taxidermist in Nevada, a man in Nebraska who’s first and last name are exactly the same, and a solo bike tourist who became our dear friend.

Menstruation as a sensory and aesthetic experience

June 28th, 2013 by Breanne Fahs

Public domain photo // Wikimedia Commons

I recently attended the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research conference in New York and left the conference with some rekindled inspiration about the importance of seeing menstruation as a shared experience of feminist embodiment. Moreover, after leaving the conference this point was repeatedly driven home by conversations with people who did not attend the conference. One of the most common reactions I have gotten when discussing the SMCR conference was, “Are there enough people studying that to warrant an entire conference?” Somehow the “unmentionable” aspects of menstruation translate for various audiences into surprise that a reasonably large group of people would want to study it. My response is that SMCR brings together people with disparate interests that collide around a solidly feminist understanding that embodiment matters. How we experience our bodies, and the shame and empowerment stories that surround them, informs not only self-understanding but our perceptions and knowledge of systems of oppression. Never have I participated in a more wholly and unapologetically feminist conference; even the National Women’s Studies Association, by comparison, often shies away from showing its feminist politics so blatantly or celebrating its feminist sisterhood so openly. The conference delivered an opportunity to think deeply about feminist embodiment, with the menstrual cycle as its primary target.

My partner and I left New York a few days after the conference to fly to Florida for a few days of swimming in the warm Caribbean waters along the coast of Ft Lauderdale and Miami. We had run around New York for a week by then, dashing from place to place in the chaotic and intense tumble of the city, our heads full of culture and our feet aching. By the time we arrived in the humid, balmy South Florida sun, we needed some repair, some sleep, some time to do a whole-lot-of-nothing. (The SMCR conference bag, doubling as a beach bag in Florida, got some long, long stares.) On our final day of the trip, we had an evening flight back home so we decided to spend the day in the ocean and head straight for the airport for what turned out to be an unusually terrible flight—completely full, broken air conditioning, no food or movie, and seated in the back row next to lines of antsy passengers waiting for the restroom. I remember standing in the smelly tiny box of the airplane bathroom (by then drizzled and perfumed with that familiar mix of urine, water, and toxic cleaner smell) reflecting on the importance of our sensory and aesthetic experiences. Shifting from New York to Florida had transitioned us from the provocative but grueling concrete StairMaster of New York (complete with peeling ceilings in the subway) to the soothing peacefulness of bath-water oceans. To then enter the nasty sensory assault of that airplane provided quite a jolt to the senses.

With menstruation on my mind, I wondered, then, if a major motivation for convincing people to use alternative menstrual products is simply that it creates a better sensory and aesthetic experience. Mainstream tampons and pads seem a lot like metaphorical airplanes—unintuitive, wasteful, uninspired, bland, and meant to leave us with no sense of individuality or humanity. For me, switching from years of using tampons to instead using funky, super comfortable, eco-friendly Lunapads created the opportunity for a better sensory experience—as they were physically more comfortable and created no unpleasant smells—and aesthetic experience—as they added a bit of individuality and uniqueness to the experience by having visual appeal. Reusable pads also eliminated the problem of worrying about clogging toilets with tampons, filling trash cans with ugly wrappers, and carrying a pile of products along on trips and vacations. For me, Lunapads created a bit of much-needed peace with my menstrual cycle.

At the SMCR conference, two students of mine—Stephanie Robinson-Cestaro and Jaqueline Gonzalez—presented a workshop there on how to “sell” a new menstrual narrative, that is, how to convince reluctant people to try alternative products and ditch mainstream FEMCARE products. (They created an organization called M.A.R.C.—the Menstrual Activist Research Collective—designed to help distribute alternative literature and encourage new coalitions of young activists.) We constantly strategize about how to talk about and recruit women to take the plunge and try “weird” products like sea sponges, DivaCups, and reusable pads. In addition to the important political and environmental dimensions of such a decision, I would add that alternative products typically create a more sensual and aesthetic experience. We should care about this. Our menstrual cycles deserve as much care and attention as do our other “private” rituals—bathing, sleeping, grooming, and so on. When we treat our bodies well, and stop managing our cycles with crappy, cheap, potentially harmful products, we connect better to ourselves and the world in general.

Shameless, Part 2

February 7th, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Chella Quint, Adventures in Menstruating

So I like the new Mooncup ad for lots and lots of period positive reasons.

Here it is again:

I watched it, I enjoyed it, I shared it, but I couldn’t ignore this other blog post title forming in my head after the first viewing:

“OMG! They’ve used an educational rap!” say several slam poets and rap battlers (including a statistically small number of female rap battlers) at once as they collectively facepalm.

Yeah, so, there’s that. A number of readers will know I perform regularly on the spoken word scene and I’m on my university’s slam team. Lately, there’s been a little more slam/battle crossover in the spoken word universe, so I thought I’d check in with a few pals for some peer review. They’ve each agreed to weigh in below on their impressions of the video’s effectiveness from a wordsmith’s perspective.

Sticking with the marketing point of view though, cultural appropriation of rap for commercial purposes is such an old trope that it’s more status quo than newsworthy. In fact, in this particular advert, I really think that the usual criticism is mostly offset by the genuine use of rap as protest against disposables.

Interesting as it might be to me, I know that the femcare industry and most consumers don’t need to read a peer review of the authenticity of the rap battle. I had a hunch that Mooncup’s choice to adhere to some of the conventions of the genre has actually helped them get the message across more effectively (and certainly more effectively than more typical #OMGRAP ads currently making the rounds).

I don’t think it’s a gratuitous use of rap. I think it’s a well observed and effective pastiche.

When I got in touch with Mooncup last week to get the stats for last Friday’s post, I also checked out the origin story for the rap battle. Kath Clements, their Campaigns and Marketing manager, was happy to share their process:

“It was a real collaborative effort between Mooncup and [the ad agency] St. Luke’s. We needed a device for positioning a debate and a conceptual framework – we put it in our natural habitat which is the toilet! We were aware we were appropriating a thing with cultural connotations, so we tried to do it with finesse.”

I asked her about how it was written, and she told me that St. Luke’s worked with a producer who battles in his free time, and liked the concept enough to help them out and write it pro bono. He also coached the actors who play Tampon (who has actually rapped before in her own right) and MCUK (I just got that joke), who appeared in Mooncup’s last viral ad campaign.

With that insight, it looked to me like I could analyse the battle in good conscience. See, I really like the wordplay, puns and syncopation of classic freestyling, and my twelve-year-old self delightedly and ignorantly partook in gentle games of The Dozens with my middle school pals. The casual sexism and homophobia that I’ve witnessed on the current battle scene puts me off, though. I valued this ad’s depiction of women in a rap battle scenario. So I wanted to check out my theory that the quality of the pastiche and the rhyme are part of the payoff for this ad.

The first bit of commentary comes from Harry Baker, who’s been on Don’t Flop but who also raps about maths and slams about dinosaurs, both of which are more my speed.

“I think it’s almost too obvious that it’s made up of key statistics made to rhyme, but I guess that is the point of the advert. Things like the ‘no strings attached’ line would get a reaction from a crowd probably. So first reaction is ‘eye roll’ + ‘rap to get down with the kids’ but the rhyme/hook is there. For me I’m fine with it being a rap battle between two women, and it makes sense as a way of A vs B advert information, but the rhymes themselves aren’t really good enough to get away with it, or do the genre justice – I guess it’s good they want to use the format in mainstream media (pastiche is a great word) but what I would watch for/do in a rap battle is the intricate word play and rhyme schemes which I feel this lacks!”

Shameless. Or, How To Make An Ethical Femcare Ad.

February 1st, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Chella Quint, Adventures in Menstruating

I saw a femcare ad that I actually liked.

I know, right? I don’t even know who I am anymore.

I’m kidding. I’m exactly the same person. It’s the ad that’s different.

Now. I don’t promote individual femcare companies. I do ad analysis. As long as femcare adverts remain the loudest voice in the menstrual discourse, I’ll keep encouraging people to use social media to create a two-way conversation and to increase their advertising literacy. Since I started this project, though, I’ve longed to see an ad that was period positive: that didn’t use shame to sell or use humour at the expense of menstruators. This is the first one I’ve ever seen.

It’s a viral video that’s been put out this week by Mooncup UK, a small (but growing), ethical company producing reusable, medical grade silicone menstrual cups. The ad directly challenges the current market leaders and promotes their own product without once dipping into the fear/embarrassment/secrecy triumvirate used throughout the history of femcare.

Here’s the ad:

And here’s the analysis:

Like a number of femcare ads that have made news over the past couple of years, it’s funny, viral, and sends itself up.

Where previous ads by bigger brands have gotten it wrong, though, it’s usually been because there were still echoes of the history of shame, fear and manufactured problems that could all be solved by the product. Ads for disposables somehow never seeming to mention the inconvenient truth (thanks, Al) about landfills and waste.

But the Mooncup ad works because:

They have a massively on-message USP. The unique selling point is that it’s reusable for years. Those who prefer tampons to pads could be persuaded to make the switch. I know many people who have sung their praises for ages, and while I’ve been doing the Adventures in Menstruating project, their company’s reach has grown far beyond its Brighton offices, and awareness around menstrual cups generally (a number of companies produce silicone and latex menstrual cups around the world), has spread, mostly by word of mouth, small distributors, and a few clever ad campaigns.

Brand loyalty for products that you don’t need to replace often is built through trust, reliability, and integrity. It’s a classic advertising model, but it’s usually applied to big ticket items like cars. Gives a whole new meaning to Think Small.

I’m aware that there are very different business models working with a one off purchase vs. repeat purchase disposables. If tampon companies respond, it’d be refreshing if they used what I like to call the Ocean Breeze Soap model. (Tampons are convenient in a pinch. Just like other disposable products are handy for the same reason. It would be way better for the environment if we used fewer convenience products, but if you do choose to use a disposable product of any kind, we hope you’ll choose ours.) Disposable femcare companies can’t deny their carbon footprint, but they frequently take the lazy option and distract consumers with shame and fear.

Shame is out of the equation. Its persuasive powers aren’t tainted by the classic canon of leakage fear, invisibility, euphemisms like ‘comfort’ or ‘freshness’, or that mysterious blue liquid. (Okay seriously – what IS that stuff? Do they use water with food colouring? Wildberry fruit punch? What?) They don’t need to use shame – no femcare company does.

They have a convincing argument backed up by statistics (that they are willing to share and which you are welcome to read and critique further). This ad lists the reasons why menstrual cups are better in a direct product comparison: better for your body, better value financially, and better for the environment than disposables. (In the style of a rap battle. But I’ll come back to that in my next post next week.)

I emailed Mooncup and requested data to back up the claims, and they, impressively, sent it straight over:

Source: no of tampons (22 per period)

Source: tampons absorb “everything”

Source: Mooncups hold 3x as much as a tampon

#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.

Side-by-Side

November 30th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

When I talk with young women who’ve never heard about alternative menstrual products, they often have a hard time imagining inserting something the size of a menstrual cup. For some reason, asking them to picture a silicone (or rubber) cone-shaped shot glass doesn’t ease their anxiety. Thanks to the Magical Menstruation Tumblr, I now have the perfect visual aids:

And there’s even a video to demonstrate how to do that tricky-looking fold!

[ Original source: Femme Fleur ]

Sustainable Cycles

October 31st, 2011 by Chris Bobel

Sarah Konner and Toni Craigie Bicycle Down the West Coast, Live on $4 a Day, and Talk to People about Sustainable Menstrual Products.

Hear, in their own words, what they did and why it matters.

These gals are our menstrual sheroes!

Our Project

Over a lifetime, the average woman spends about 2,000 dollars on single-use pads and tampons, creating an enormous truckload of trash. There are more affordable and sustainable options that very few people seem to know about. We left Seattle on bikes on August 18th and arrived in LA on October 10th, and we will be continuing this work off-bicycle in the coming months. Along the way, we are meeting women, community organizers, health professionals, business owners, and people of all stripes, and having conversations about the benefits of reusable menstrual products.

For this project, we have been focusing on reusable menstrual cups—made of natural gum rubber latex or medical-grade silicon; they catch, rather than absorb menstrual flow. One cup costs $35 and can last up to 10 years—quite a deal. There are three companies that sell menstrual cups in the US, all approved as safe by the FDA. Each company has donated cups, totaling over 200, for us to give as gifts along the way. We also have a small number of reusable pads to give away.

There are powerful environmental impacts from this lifestyle switch and also important health benefits. For every woman who leaves behind single-use disposable pads and tampons, you can imagine a truckload of trash not going into the landfills, the decreased carbon footprint from production and shipping of these products, the trees saved, and all of the environmental toxins not going into our air, water, and bodies.

The Trouble with Disposables (Pads and Tampons)

Conventional pads and tampons are made of chlorine-bleached wood pulp, with some cotton (generally grown with tons of pesticides), rayon, plastic, and glue mixed in. They also contain bleach and dioxins, carcinogenic chemicals that are harmful to your body and to the environment. The vagina – wet, warm, and porous – seems like the last place you’d want those chemicals. Tampons, especially the super absorbent kinds, can create a perfect breeding ground for Toxic Shock Syndrome, caused by the deadly bacteria known as Staph (Staphylococcus aureus). These disposable products are not easily biodegradable, which is why they often clog septic systems and long outstay their welcome in our oceans and landfills.

The most immediate concern for many women is the cost of single-use products, every month, until menopause. Pads and tampons are an economic burden on all women BUT prove especially difficult for low-income women since they are not covered by food stamps.

The Scoop on Reusables

Using a menstrual cup puts a woman in more intimate contact with her body: she needs to figure out the mechanics of inserting and removing the cup and sees the color and consistency of her menstrual fluid each time she empties the cup.  Once you get over the learning curve, cups seems easier, more hygienic, and believe it or not, less gross than pads and tampons.  Many users come to value the increased knowledge of their body and cycle that they get from their cup.

Contact lenses make a great analogy: at first people are worried about touching their eye or may experience some irritation as they figure out the best way to put the lenses in.  Quickly, however, most people develop an easy routine around their contacts, and it’s no big deal.

Once thoroughly explained, most people see this switch as a “no-brainer.” Many eco-friendly lifestyle changes are cost-prohibitive (organic food) or time-intensive (hang-drying clothing instead of using the dryer). Menstrual cups have a huge ecological and health benefit, while also saving money and simplifying a woman’s life: you never have to buy pads and tampons again, you never have to remember to put them in your purse. We are all constantly bombarded with little things to do to help the environment. It’s confusing, and you can’t do them all. This is one simple thing that saves time and money and makes a big difference.

Love Your Body, Love Your Beach, Love Your Cup

September 5th, 2011 by Chris Bobel

Mooncup, the British reusable menstrual cup makers, just launched their Love Your Beach? Love Your Vagina campaign—a compelling attempt to connect the care for your body/care for your planet messages at the root of the push for alternative menstrual care.

My first reaction: that deliciously sensual vulva has HAIR! ‘Atta girls!’ This body-positive, earth-loving feminist is on board.

Then I read British journalist/commentator (and self described “broad-minded broad”) Julie Burchill’s piece in The Independent about the Mooncup ad and was brought back to reality, that is, the reality that is colored by menstrual taboos and woman-body-hating. Oh geez, really, Julie? Et tu?

In short, Burchill rails against not only the soft cup, but also the sponge and reusable pads, and by extension “breastfeeding, small shopping, slow eating”—other movements, she concludes that “conspire to straight up KEEP WOMEN AT HOME FOR AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE” (yes, her words, her emphasis). Words like gory, inappropriate, and vile pepper her indictment against options she rejects before she tried them. Her basis? Her “best ex-hippie friend, happily brought back to the land of the living.”

If you strip away her regrettable squeamishness at trying something new (single use pads and tampons FTW!), we find a rather clumsy critique of eco-feminism. Though I can’t be sure since I keep tripping over Burchill’s ignorance and the REAL public enemy.

I, too, shudder, when a product is sold to women (or anyone) because THEY MUST or THEY SHOULD. When this US national breastfeeding awareness campaign heavy-handedly warned women that NOT breastfeeding effectively meant selfish mothering, lots of feminists protested.

Give me info, support, and compassion, not a big finger wagging in my face.

So I hear Burchill’s frustration with ‘Go green, you bitch’ messages, but here, it doesn’t stick. She is mad at a cup maker for promoting a product she thinks sets women back. But for me, the scoundrel is not MORE options, but rather our old nemesis the menstrual taboo which grows out of a long standing discomfort with women’s bodies ON THEIR OWN TERMS. We are cursed with an egregious inconsistency bred out of sexism: Women’s bodies on display? Cool. Women’s bodies as commodities? Score! Women’s bodies lactating, menstruating, doing what bodies do. Eeewww!

Exposed breasts and reusable cups and a expanding field of options—these aren’t the problems limiting women’s potential.  No, deep-seated discomfort with women’s bodies in their natural state–that’s one that really keeps us back.

Menstrual Cups for African Girls

January 5th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling
Rhoune Ochako, a research officer at APHRC, explains how the cup works in this photo from the APHRC web site.

Rhoune Ochako, a research officer at APHRC, explains how the cup works in this photo from the APHRC web site.

At re:Cycling, we’re interested in all kinds of menstruation and women’s health issues, all over the world. We have written several times about the need for menstrual pads for girls and women in developing nations, like the Kasissi Project Girls Program producing M.A.K.A. pads in Uganda and Sustainable Health Enterprises making pads from banana trees for women in Rwanda, and LunaPads’ Pads4Girls program, which collects and donates reusable pads to girls in several African nations as well as Mexico and South America. We’ve also suggested that cramps and menstrual pain may cause girls to miss school as much as lack of menstrual supplies.

So it was with great interest that we read about a new pilot program of the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) that will distribute menstrual cups to girls in Nairobi.

Women and girls in Korogocho slums have been identified who will use the cup for up to four months, after which they will be interviewed about their experiences,” explained Rhoune Ochako, a research officer at APHRC.

The study will also assess acceptability of the cup, as many girls were intimidated to use the cup. A teacher at Our Lady of Fatima Secondary school initially queried 400 students, of whom only three were willing to participate in the study.

Celestine Awino [age 17] is among girls who agreed to participate in the project that started about a year and a half ago and has been using the cup since then. “At first I was afraid. I waited until a friend used it, then I tried. I have now been using it for over ten months,” she says.

Awino says she is able to engage in school activities during her periods while wearing the cup. “I take part in sports, cleaning and learning activities without any problem. It is better than missing school because one lacks sanitary pads,” she says.

Given the economic and environmental advantages of menstrual cups (not to mention their reliability), this experiment has great potential to make a big difference.


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.