Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Food. Fashion. Blood?

January 10th, 2014 by Laura Wershler

A month ago I was musing about what it might be like to blog about fun stuff like food, fashion or travel – you know, topics not quite so “fraught” as the menstrual cycle. Sometimes it feels like just so much work sharing facts and opinions about why body literacy matters, why knowing how our cycles work and how ovulation impacts our health can lead us into meaningful, self-determined relationship with our bodies and ourselves.

But in the days leading up to Christmas, I was reminded by two young women, both of whom I’ve known since they were babies, daughters of friends, one in her late 20s, the other in her early 30s, why I do what I do.

Photo by Laura Wershler

The younger had contacted me last September, at the suggestion of her mother, with questions about switching birth control methods. She was fed up with the Pill, wanted to quit, was considering the Mirena IUD, told me about her history with ovarian cysts, irregular cycles. In a stable relationship, she hadn’t thought much about children. We talked about options. I assured her there were effective non-hormonal methods she could use, that by doing so she could assess her fertility, get her cycle functioning normally before making a decision about the Mirena. I sent her information about treatment – not involving hormonal contraceptives – for ovarian cysts; I asked a medical colleague questions on her behalf. She was thankful, emailing me that she had “some heavy thinking to do, including my actual timeline for children.”

I hoped to see her at her family’s annual Christmas party. We greeted each other briefly when I arrived, but not until the house was teeming with guests did we have the chance to talk privately amidst the holiday din. She told me she’d stopped the Pill three months before, could hardly believe how much better she felt, even though she’d yet to have a period. She thanked me, again, for validating her desire to quit the Pill. It so happened she had an appointment the next day with her family doctor; she knew what treatment she would request to help get her cycle started.

It did not go well. Her doctor, like so many I’ve heard about, was not interested in the menstrual cycle research she had done or the choices she wanted to make about her reproductive health. Quite the contrary: her doctor was hostile. It was disheartening for her, maddening to me, but not surprising.

A day later, at another holiday gathering, the other young woman stopped me in the hall to ask what I thought of the Mirena. She’d made the switch from the combined Pill (estrogen/progestin) to a progestin-only version to help with migraines. She offered that she and her partner had not yet decided about children, but she was concerned about leaving it too late. I told her the Mirena was intended as a five-year method, and if she was thinking she might want a child, it was a good time to stop hormonal contraception and assess her fertility before making a decision, either way.

I forwarded both women links to a naturopath skilled in menstrual cycle and fertility issues, and to a fertility awareness instructor who’d just announced her 2014 Eco-Contraception Program. The decision about what to do next, of course, will be theirs.

I sense both young women are searching for new, mindful connections to their bodies. Even if all I ever do is help a few such women find the support they need to make this connection, then to hell with food and fashion, I’ll keep writing about the menstrual cycle.

Give the Gift of Body Literacy

December 16th, 2013 by Laura Wershler

Photo by Laura Wershler

This holiday season consider giving the women in your life the gift of body literacy. The books, resources and services compiled below support understanding and appreciation of our bodies.

Gifts for teenagers:

* To hold a Wondrous Vulva Puppet is to experience a loving representation of the female body. Dorrie Lane’s vulva puppets are used around the world to spark conversations about our bodies and our sexuality. To quote a testimonial on the website: “The sensual curves, velvety feel and beauty of these puppets seems to disarm people in a way that opens the door to real discussion about women’s sexuality.”

* Toni Weschler, widely known for her best-selling book on fertility awareness Taking Charge of Your Fertility, has also written a book for teenagers. Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen’s Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body makes the perfect gift for your daughter or younger sister, neice or cousin. This book can transform a young teenager’s experience and understanding of her body as it teaches her the practical benefits of charting her menstrual cycles. Available in paperback and Kindle editions.

Gifts for those who want to learn fertility awareness:



* Justisse Method: Fertility Awareness and Body Literacy A User’s Guide by Justisse founder Geraldine Matus is a helpful gift for anyone wanting to learn about fertility awareness based methods (FABM) of birth control. It is “a primer for body literacy, and a guide for instructing women how to observe, chart and interpret their menstrual cycle events.”

For someone who wants to learn fertility awareness to prevent or achieve pregnancy, or to fix menstrual problems, finding a certified practitioner is getting easier. Technology can connect women with skilled instructors who may live thousands of miles away. Check out the practitioners below online and on Facebook.

*   *    *   *   *   *

* Flowers Fertility (Colleen Flowers, Colorado): Facebook.

* Grace of the Moon (Sarah Bly, Oregon): Facebook.

* Holistic Hormonal Health (Hannah Ransom, California): Facebook.

* Justisse Healthworks for Women provides a directory of Justisse-trained Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioners (Worldwide): Facebook.

* Red Coral Fertility (Justina Thompson): Facebook

* Red Tent Sisters (Amy Sedgwick, Ontario, Canada): Facebook

I invite other certified instructors who work locally to leave their contact information in comments.

Gifts for women in midlife

* For women who are in the perimenopausal transition – which can last from six to 10 years for most women, ending one year after the final menstrual period – give the gift of information. Connect friends and family with the website of the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research where they’ll find many free resources that offer explanations and treatment suggestions for the symptoms they may experience throughout this transition including night sweats, hot flushes, heavy and/or longer flow, migraines, and sore, swollen breasts.

* To those who love fiction, consider giving Estrogen’s Storm Season, a fictionalized account of eight women’s journey through perimenopause written by CeMCOR’s Scientific Director, endocrinologist Dr. Jerilynn Prior:

They are as different as women can be—yet they share the mysterious experiences of perimenopause, night sweats, flooding periods or mood swings. We follow these women as they consult Dr. Madrona, learn the surprising hormonal changes explaining their symptoms, get better or worse, and try or refuse therapies. As each woman lives through her particular challenge, we begin to see how we, too, can survive perimenopause!

Proceeds from book sales support ongoing research.

From menarche to menopause, it is never too early or too late to acquire body literacy. I invite readers to share other gift ideas that promote menstrual cycle comfort and support body literacy.

A Review of Selene: A New Cycle-Tracking App

September 2nd, 2013 by Chris Bobel

Guest Post by Amy Sedgwick, HRHP, Red Tent Sisters

Screenshot of Selene app // Photo courtesy of daringplan.com/selene

While there are no shortage of apps designed to help women track their periods, finding an app that meets the needs of women who are practicing fertility awareness methods (FAM) for birth control or conception can be quite a challenge. As a teacher of the Justisse Method of Fertility Management (there is currently no app available but there is one in development) I am often asked by my clients about web-based solutions to tracking their cycles when they are travelling or find themselves in other situations where their physical charts are impractical. Fertility Awareness users will be pleased to know that there is a new app on the market, Selene, which has been developed with FAM in mind. In addition to being able to chart the standard fertility markers (cervical mucus, cervical position, and basal body temperature), Selene boasts loads of unique features like the ability to make note of the things that affect reliability the most – like sickness, travel, and disturbed sleep. Selene also allows the user to define their own markers to track patterns in health, mood, libido, and more. The chart tab of the app shows you your cycle in a graph format, while the calendar tab displays it from a monthly perspective. Some of the other highlights of the app include a description of the daily moon phase, an automatic luteal phase calculator, the ability to ask questions about your chart in the “Ask an Expert” section, and a detailed instructions and help section. Selene excels at utilizing the principles of the widely-used fertility awareness method taught in Taking Charge of Your Fertility. Using principles from the book, the app will shade out days of predicted fertility based on the information you enter. It will also calculate an ovulation prediction based on the average length of your cycles. The app highly encourages users to seek additional support and education for their fertility awareness practice, particularly if they are using it for birth control. While Selene offers the most nuanced approach to menstrual cycle charting that I have thus seen (although I can’t claim to have evaluated all the apps on the market), one feature I would like to see added in future versions is the ability to manually choose whether a day is considered fertile (i.e., as indicated by bold stripes on the calendar view) so that those schooled in other approaches to fertility awareness, like the Justisse Method, could have the option of applying our own rules and calculations overtop of the calendar view. The only other critique I have of Selene is that the developer has chosen a dark navy background, which I personally find difficult to view. I’d prefer to see them use a colour scheme that is brighter and easier to read. I am grateful to Selene’s creators for being so thoughtful, thorough and conscientious in the creation of their app. I look forward to seeing what enhancements and updates they integrate into future versions.

Two stupid ideas about menopause, and one that makes sense

July 3rd, 2013 by Laura Wershler

Two new suppositions about menopause have been tossed around the media in recent weeks. They make for racy headlines but both, unfortunately, perpetuate the myth that menopause is a disease women need to be protected from.

Most recent was the assertion by researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, that menopause in women is the unintended consequence of men’s preference for younger mates.

Men to blame for menopause

The writer with her mother Erna Sawyer who turns 95 on July 20, 2013. Is menopause an “age-related disease” that science must figure out how to prevent or an evolutionary adaptation for longevity?

Evolutionary biologist Rama Singh, co-author of the study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, gave this explanation in a CBC news story: “What we’re saying is that menopause will occur if there is preferential mating with younger women and older women are not reproducing.”

The study used computer modelling to arrive at this hypothesis. Singh said that this “very simple theory”…”demystifies menopause…It becomes a simple age-related disease, if you can call it that.”

Well, no Mr. Singh, you can can’t call menopause a disease. I challenged this idea in response to the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Death Loves Menopause ads in February 2012.

Yet there he is, hoping his work will prompt research on how to prevent menopause in women, helping us to maintain better health as we age. What does he really know about menopause anyway?

Another stupid idea about menopause surfaced in late May with headlines like: Women could evolve out of menopause ‘because it is no benefit to them.’

Women could evolve out of menopause

The story, covered by media everywhere, was based on comments by biologist and science writer Aarthi Prasad at the 2013 Telegraph Hay Festival, Britain’s leading festival of ideas.

The Daily Mail reported that if women evolve out of menopause we could then have children well into our 50s (But how many women want to?), and that “targeted gene therapies will be developed to treat the condition.”

We’ve been fighting the assumption that menopause is a “condition” that needs to be treated for decades, with members of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at the forefront of this assumption-busting.

Quoted in The Telegraph, Prasad also said, “What we think is normal is not normal for nature. If it is something not in all mammals, is it something necessary or beneficial for us? I do not see any benefits.”

Wow! Menopause is not “normal for nature.” But what about the argument made by doctors like Elsimar Coutinho who promote menstrual cycle suppression, who assert incessant ovulation (i.e. reproductive capacity) is not natural, normal or healthy in humans, therefore we should take drugs to stop it?

These doctors and scientists need to get on the same page. Which is it? Do we ovulate too much or do we not ovulate enough?

As for “no benefits” to menopause consider this: What if menopause is an evolutionary adaptation that works in women’s favor?

Do women live longer, healthier lives because of menopause?

An October 2010 story in The Calgary Herald - Why don’t monkeys go through menopause? - discussed the research of University of Calgary anthropologists Mary Pavelka and Linda Fedigan who’ve spent years documenting the aging and reproductive histories of Japanese female macaques.

Few study subjects lived past their reproductive capacity, about age 25, and those that did showed signs of serious physical deterioration. For these primates, retaining the ability to reproduce until late in life did not make them healthier. Fedigan noted that they were “crippled up with arthritis, their face is all wrinkled and their fur is falling out.”

The question, they noted, was why would human females lose their ability to reproduce in healthy middle age?

“One hypothesis is that it’s a byproduct of evolution for longevity in humans,” Pavelka said.

Now here’s an idea that makes sense. Think about it. Men produce sperm – albeit of dwindling quantity and quality – until they die; women transition to menopause and can live healthy lives for decades after. Women live significantly longer than men. Therefore, it’s reasonable to hypothesize that menopause supports longevity in women.

The Many Faces of Cervical Fluid

May 7th, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Kati Bicknell, Kindara

It has been brought to my attention several times that not all women’s cervical fluid matches the usual descriptions of sticky, creamy, egg white, or watery. This means some women are having a hard time charting their fertility, because they don’t know how to categorize their cervical fluid for their chart.

So today I’ll give you very detailed descriptions of the different types of cervical fluid, and how to classify them.

I’m going to be incorporating vaginal sensation into the mix here. Vaginal sensation is the way your vagina *feels* when different types of cervical fluid are present. You know how you can tell if the inside of your nose is wet, like when you have a runny nose? And you know how you can tell if the inside of your nose feels dry, like when you are in a dusty desert? You can tell the same things about your vagina as well, if you pay attention. The way your vagina feels can give you a lot of insight on the state of your fertility and what kind of cervical fluid you’re likely to find.

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to cervical fluid is that there is a baseline level of moisture that will always be present in the vagina. After all, it’s a mucus membrane, like your mouth. If you touched the inside of your cheek, it would be damp — same thing with the vagina. Don’t let that normal vaginal moisture confuse you. Unless there is a physical substance on your fingers or toilet paper, it doesn’t count as cervical fluid. (The exception here is watery cervical fluid: sometimes the water content is so high that there is nothing that will hold together, and it’s just plain wet. But in those cases there is usually so much of it that there is no question about whether or not it’s cervical fluid.)

Cervical fluid is measured above that baseline level of moisture. It tends to start out on the drier end of the spectrum, and it increases in water content as a woman approaches ovulation. Generally, the higher the water content, the more fertile the cervical fluid. After ovulation the water content will decrease.

Note: all cervical fluid is potentially fertile. If you are charting to avoid pregnancy, any cervical fluid you notice before ovulation means that your fertile window has begun. But for women who are trying to achieve pregnancy, there are definitely types of cervical fluid that are more optimal for getting pregnant. So, shall we launch our boat onto the sea of cervical fluid exploration? Lets!

These are the different categories of cervical fluid.

None:

  • What it feels like (vaginal sensation): dry, or like “nothing’s going on.”
  • What it looks like: nothing! Maybe a slight dampness on your fingers that will quickly evaporate.
  • What it feels like on your fingers: a slight dampness.
  • What it looks like on your underpants: nothing. Squeaky clean. You could wear those underpants again tomorrow if you wanted to (ain’t no one gots to know about it!).

Sticky:

  • What it feels like (vaginal sensation): dry, sticky, or like “nothing’s going on.”
  • What it looks like: whitish or yellowish, tiny bits of clear gummy bears, tiny pieces of drying rubber cement, grade school paste, wet Elmer’s glue, wet wood glue, crumbly off-white Play-doh, thick white or yellow cream, clumpy, pasty, tacky, gummy.
  • What it feels like on your fingers: springy, sticky, crumbly, dry, pasty.
  • What it looks like on your underpants: white or yellowish lines or areas that tend to sit on the top of the fabric, as opposed to soaking in. When it dries it forms a crust that can hard to wash out on laundry day.

Creamy (similar to sticky, but with a higher water content.):

  • What it feels like (vaginal sensation): cool, slightly damp, or may not feel like anything.
  • What it looks like: milky, cloudy, like hand lotion, yogurt, whole milk, or heavy cream.
  • What it feels like on your fingers: smooth, creamy.
  • What it looks like on your underpants: white or yellowish lines or areas that tend to sit on the top of the fabric, as opposed to soaking in. When it dries it forms a crust that can be hard to wash out on laundry day.

Eggwhite:

  • What it feels like (vaginal sensation): slippery, lubricative.
  • What it looks like: raw egg whites, wet rubber cement, clear, stretchy.
  • What it feels like on your fingers: slippery or lubricative or stretches an inch or more between thumb and forefinger.
  • What it looks like on your underpants: slippery, wet, may sit on top of the fabric, or soak in slightly.

Watery:

  • What it feels like (vaginal sensation): water rushing, dripping or gushing out of your vagina; cold, wet sensation.
  • What it looks like: clear or milky/clear, about the consistency of water or skim milk.
  • What it feels like on your fingers: wet, slippery.
  • What it looks like on your underpants:  leaves round wet patches that soak into your underpants.

I’m sure I left out some possible descriptions of cervical fluid here. If I didn’t name one that you’ve personally experienced, let me know in the comments. I’ll add in more descriptors as needed, so we can make the most thorough cervical fluid compendium known to humankind!

Cross-posted at Kindara, February 20, 2013.

Menstruation according to Apple

March 14th, 2013 by Breanne Fahs

Screen shot from GP International LLC

The repetition of all-things-pink=all-things-related-to-women’s-health has started to seriously irritate me. First, we had pink containers for birth control pills, followed by the pink repackaging of Prozac (renamed Sarafem) to treat “Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder” (PMDD).” Then we dealt with the reductive and ferociously popular pink ads, logos, banners, and yogurt containers of the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation. Next came special dye that “restored” women’s so-called natural pink color to their labias (“My New Pink Button”), reminding women (especially women of color) that their brown and grey and flesh colored labia are not…pink enough? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, then, that the most popular menstruation apps for the iPhone and iPad—Period Tracker, iPeriod, Period Diary, and Monthly Cycle—have a similarly pink, flowery, and “girlie” vibe. Anything designed for women’s bodies apparently has infantilize women by looking like Strawberry Shortcake and Barbie, regardless of how adult we may get. But my issues with these apps do not end there.

Having used Period Tracker now for several years as a way to predict my period, I am most familiar with its particular brand of what it means to menstruate. Much like the messages featured in advertisements for pregnancy tests—which emphasize women’s longing for pregnancy and their sheer and utter joy when finding out the news of their pregnancy—Period Tracker also frames the purpose of the app as a sort of fertility monitoring tool even though reviews of the app suggest that most women use it to do what the title says: to track periods. The assumptions that women want to become pregnant extend into many features of the app: when a woman ovulates, flowers appear on the otherwise-barren tree, reminding her that she should get it on with a sperm provider; during menstruation, the app starts a “countdown,” allowing women to tick off the number of days they have “endured” their cycle; green dots appear for the days women can get pregnant; and, finally, the app features a tool where women can track “intimacy.” (Apparently, the word “sex” is too gauche for the world of period tracker apps, leaving “intimacy” as a code for sexual intercourse).
Further, Period Tracker has a variety of built-in ways to attach menstruation—and the menstrual cycle in general—to shame and negativity.

The app allows women to track a variety of symptoms throughout their cycle, but every single one of these has negative connotations of pain and misery. Acne. Backaches. Bloating. Bodyaches. Constipation. Cramps. Cravings (Salty). Cravings (Sweet). Dizziness. Spotting. Headaches. Indigestion. Insomnia. Joint Pains. Nausea. Neckaches. Tender Breasts. In the list of moods one can track, the first two listed are ANGRY and ANXIOUS. Period Tracker also alerts women to the start date of their period, but it does so by referring to it as, simply, “P” (implying that, if someone saw that we had a period start date alert on our phone, it would shame us). (Note that the app, iPeriod, has similar features, as they call sex a “love connection,” allow three options for mood—normal, sad, and irritable—and construct pregnancy as the ultimate goal of tracking the menstrual cycle.)

All this emphasis on pregnancy, menstrual negativity, and the “monstrous” symptoms of PMS obscures the fundamentally important (and feminist!) work of tracking one’s menstrual cycle for positive and decidedly non-fertility reasons: most obviously, to anticipate our period’s starting date, but less obviously, to understand and track the body’s rhythms, to actively avoid pregnancy, to know ourselves more deeply, to appreciate our cycles, to better predict menstruation and how it coordinates with our schedules, to accurately assess whether we have experienced a drastic change in our “normal,” to track a female partner’s cycles, to signal the start of menopause or irregular cycling, to keep an eye on heavy periods versus light periods, and to feel more in tune with our bodies (among others).

Why can’t a period tracker allow women to celebrate the menstrual cycle or see the arrival of menstruation as joyous or positive? Why can’t we track positive bodily changes like “Increased Libido,” “Elevated Mood,” and “Heightened Sensitivity”? I want a period tracker that dumps the hot pink color, the swirling flowers that only bloom during ovulation, the adamantly pro-pregnancy angle, the sex phobic language, the heterosexism, and the shaming of women’s menstrual cycles in favor of a radically reimagined, positive, celebratory mode of menstrual charting. Knowing what our bodies are up to has long roots in our feminist past—let’s find a way to have our technology reflect that!

Does it matter that hormonal contraceptives are endocrine disrupting chemicals?

March 6th, 2013 by Laura Wershler

I’ve been wading through State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals – 2012. The 289-page report was prepared by a group of experts for the United Nations Environmental Programme and World Health Organization.

It is dense and complex, but what I’ve been looking for is any acknowledgement that hormonal contraceptives are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

Hormonal contraceptives clearly act as EDCs according to the definition used in this report:

An endocrine disruptor is an exogenous substance or mixture that alters function(s) of the endocrine system and consequently causes adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, or (sub) populations. A potential endocrine disruptor is an exogenous substance or mixture that possesses properties that might be expressed to lead to endocrine disruption in an intact organism, or its progeny, or (sub) populations.

Adverse health effects would include, in this context, anything that disrupts the reproductive systems of humans (and wildlife) or contributes to other health problems such as hormone-related cancers, thyroid-related disorders, cardiovascular disease, bone disorders, metabolic disorders and immune function impairment. Hormonal contraceptives certainly disrupt the reproductive system and have been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular events, loss of bone density, decreased immune function and, in some studies, increased risk for breast cancer. Metabolic disorders? Recent research suggests that long-acting progestin-based birth control may increase risk in obese women for Type 2 diabetes.

The only mention I could find of specific contraceptive chemicals is in section 3.1: The EDCs of concern. In a table under the sub-heading Pesticides, pharmaceuticals and personal care product ingredients, two key components of hormonal contraceptives are listed: Ethinyl estradiol, the synthetic estrogen used in most oral contraceptive formulations, and Levonorgestrel, a synthetic progesterone used in combined oral contraceptive pills, emergency contraception, the Mirena IUD, and  progestin-only birth control pills. Levonorgestrel is considered of “specific interest.”

The concern with these chemicals is not the effects they may have on women taking them, but on the possible reproductive impact on wildlife from the excretion of these chemicals into the aquatic environment. It seems ethinyl estradiol and levonorgestrel are considered safe contraceptive drugs when taken by choice to disrupt fertility, but EDCs worthy of concern when such disruption is unintended.

How would it change our perception of hormonal contraceptives if we acknowledged them as endocrine disrupting chemicals? Would we wonder why there is no discussion of how these EDCs might contribute to the health issues considered in the report? Would we ask why hormonal contraceptive EDCs are routinely used to “treat” (meaning only to alleviate symptoms of) endometriosis, fibroids and PCOS – conditions potentially caused by other EDCs?

Another relevant concern addressed in the report is the effect of “estrogenic agents, and their role in breast cancer.” The report states there “is good experimental evidence that estrogenic chemicals with diverse features can act together to produce substantial combination effects.” I have to wonder how hormonal contraceptive EDCs fit into this mix.

Here’s something to ponder. Last week news stories reported that the incidence of advanced breast cancer among young American women, ages 25 to 39, has risen steadily since 1976. Lead researcher Rebecca Johnson was quoted as saying, “We think it is a real trend and, in fact, it seems to be accelerating.” The increase is small in relative numbers, only 850 cases in 2009, but the “trend shows no evidence for abatement.”

Researchers can’t explain the increase. Lifestyle changes, obesity, sedentary lifestyle and toxic exposure to environmental chemicals are offered as possible factors. But what about the hormonal contraceptives many women of this generation have been taking since they were 15 or 16 years old? Surely these EDCs must be considered as potentially contributing factors.

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

Getting Over The Pill

January 15th, 2013 by Kati Bicknell

Here’s a notion: Birth control pills are not the only way manage your reproductive health.

The pill came out more than 50 years ago, and at the time, it was a symbol of liberation and freedom for women. Suddenly, they no longer had to worry about unplanned pregnancy. It was great. But now that 50-year-old technology is starting to lose much of the appeal it once had.

Adapted from a photo by Jess Hamilton // Creative Commons A-NC-SA 2.0

Today many women get on the pill as teenagers to “regulate” irregular cycles, and they get off the pill in their late 20s or early 30s when they want to get pregnant. The unfortunate reality is many women find it’s not as easy as they thought it would be to get pregnant. Ten or fifteen years of being on oral contraceptives doesn’t “fix” an irregular cycle; it just kind of pushes the pause button on your reproductive system.

When you come off the pill in your late 20s or early 30s because you finally want kids, your body has to pick up where it left off when you were a teenager. Often women at this stage of their lives find it takes longer than expected to conceive and wind up on the assisted reproductive technology track — reproductive endocrinologists, expensive and annoying tests, procedures, hormone injections ,and all that jazz. And, heartbreakingly, after several years and thousands of dollars, that doesn’t always work.

The side effects of the pill are a real pain in the ass for many women, too. Weight gain, depression, loss of libido, and “not feeling like myself” (AKA “I seem to have gone insane”) are some of the more common complaints cited. In fact, a CDC report on contraceptive use states that 10.3 million women have stopped taking the pill due to side effects, or fear of side effects.

All women need a way to have children when they want them, and to not have children when they don’t. And they need to feel good about the whole thing — not freaked out, bloated and crazy. Imagine how the world would be different if this was a reality.

This reality is possible thanks to the wonderful simplicity of the Fertility Awareness Method — the technology behind Kindara. Instead of women’s reproductive reality being like this:  “Oh my god,  I don’t want to get pregnant” during her twenties, followed by “Oh my god,  I want to get pregnant NOW!” in her thirties, the Symptothermal Method makes it one question: “When do I want to get pregnant?”

Charting your cycle using the Fertility Awareness Method can help you achieve your reproductive goals without pills, side effects, or stress, whether you want to have kids in the next few years, in 10 years, or never. By charting your cycle, you will see if and when you are ovulating, and you will know when you are fertile, which is the trick to knowing when you can or cannot pregnant. Charting your cycle could help clarify issues that need to be remedied before you can get pregnant too. You can even confirm pregnancy with your chart. Exciting!

If women were taught the basics of Fertility Awareness as soon as they entered their reproductive years and knew that they could avoid or plan for pregnancy by charting their primary fertility signs (temperature and cervical fluid), they would save a lot of time, money, and stress.

What a different world we would all be living in if each woman shifted her thinking from “I need this pill so I don’t have unplanned pregnancies, and I need my doctor to prescribe this pill” to “I know just what is going on with my cycle at all times. I am calm, confident, and empowered. I manage my own fertility thank you very much, and I don’t need pills to do it.”

Now I’m not saying that oral contraceptives have no place in the world. They are a wonderful invention. Thanks to the pill, women today can take it as fact that pregnancy can be prevented easily and effectively. But because this is now a forgone conclusion, we are free to look for even better options — options like the Fertility Awareness Method that can prevent pregnancy easily, effectively, autonomously and without side effects.

Originally published at Kindara.com on December 15th, 2012

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.

How to Make Sure Your Period is Never “Late”

November 20th, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

Have you ever been concerned because your period was late? I know I have. But I’m not anymore! And you don’t have to be either! And since I’m sure you’d rather not spend several days every month nervously pacing and counting dates backwards on your hands while glaring at the general vicinity where you guess your uterus is, I’ll tell you how.

It’s simple:

LEARN ABOUT YOUR BODY!

Your period is not a Rolex watch; it was not specifically crafted in Switzerland to accurately tell time. A woman’s reproductive system is designed to … wait for it … reproduce! It takes into account all kinds of things when determining whether or not “now” is a good time to try and have a baby, and not ONE of those things is what day it is.

“Oh rats! I’m late for … uh … me ….”  This is something your period will never say. Think about it for a second. Your period is late? For what? For itself? Do you see how insane that is?

Whether or not, and when, a woman gets her period each cycle depends on a slew of hormonal events, which can be influenced by many things, such as diet, environmental and emotional stress, and on and on.

So let’s take things from the top and see why you think your period is “late,” shall we?

To begin, there is a theory that all women used to cycle with the moon. They would ovulate at the full moon, and they got their period with the new moon. But there is some evidence that suggests that the amount of ambient light in your bedroom while you’re sleeping at night can influence your cycle, in the same way that the moon supposedly did.

So if we are basing the notion of a “standard 28 day cycle” off when we used to cycle with the moon, we’re all pretty much screwed! Think of your bedroom — your alarm clock, a charging cell phone, a streetlamp, a light from under the door because your roommate is on another ‘Friday Night Lights’ bender: most of us do not sleep in a room where the only light is moonlight.

To further confuse matters, women who are on the pill “get their period” at around the same time every month, but anyone who knows anything about the pill knows that is not an actual period. It’s a bleed caused by the body’s withdrawal from progesterone on the week of placebo pills.

So we’ve got these two things that mislead women into thinking that their cycle should be 28 days.  One of my colleagues who has been teaching the Fertility Awareness Methodfor years says that she’s never had a client whose cycle was the same exact length every single time.

Sample chart for Example 1
© Kindara, used with permission


Period not arrive when you thought it would? Let’s take a look at your chart, it could be several things:

If you actually learn about what is going on in your body each cycle, and chart your fertility using the symptothermal method, you will be able to see and understand what is actually happening with all your heretofore “mystery bits.”

1. You haven’t ovulated yet, which means that a period is a ways off.  You might experience breakthrough or withdrawal bleeding later, but this would not technically be a true menstruation.

 

Sample chart for Example 2
© Kindara, used with permission

2. You ovulated and are currently in your luteal phase, which appears up until now, to be of a normal length.  Depending on how long your luteal phases typically are, you could have a better idea of when to expect your period, and if that day passes with no period, let’s see what’s behind door number 3.

 

 

 

 

3. You ovulated and are currently in your luteal phase, which appears to be longer than normal, which could indicate pregnancy.  (Or in very rare cases, a luteal cyst.)

Sample Chart for Example 3
© Kindara, used with permission

You see, there is always a reason that your period has not come yet, if you’re waiting on it. Certainly, you could say I’m just arguing semantics, but the truth of the matter is that your period is never “late,” it is doing exactly what your body is telling it too. The trick is to understand your body, rather than blame it and stare wistfully up at the moon, hoping it will work its sweet, sweet magic on your uterus.

 

Chart your cycle, and you’ll always know what the deal is.

Doooooooo it.

Editor’s note: Click on images to view at full size.

The Quest to Give Cervical Fluid a Name!

September 25th, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

 

Photo by Acaparadora // CC 2.5

Cervical fluid, the sticky/creamy/stretchy/slippery substance produced by the cervix is arguably the most important substance on earth. Without it, the human race would be shortly extinct, yet not many people even know what it is. This is unacceptable, and you and I are going to change this.

In case you don’t know, Cervical Fluid plays a vital role in helping women get pregnant, avoid pregnancy, and figure out health issues, yet its name has remained merely a description. Cervical fluid is too important to be forever described but never properly named.

Cervical fluid is incredibly valuable. Without it, life as we know it would literally cease to exist. Fertile cervical fluid keeps sperm alive once it is inside the vagina.  It provides nutrients, a hospitable alkaline environment, and aids in transportation. Cervical Fluid helps the sperm survive, sometimes for up to five days, while waiting for an egg to be released. Cervical fluid is like a soccer mom, providing snacks, protection, and transportation to the sperm, while they are on their way to the big game.  Without her, there would be no game, and getting pregnant would be virtually impossible without outside intervention.

And that is just ONE of the many ways cervical fluid makes our lives richer. It also tells an awful lot about the state of a woman’s hormones, which can play a key role in many health issues.

OK, so we’ve established that cervical fluid plays a vital role in the continuance of the human race, not to mention women’s health.  But with just a description for a name, we are faced with an intractable communication problem: unnamed bodily substances have a particular propensity to make people uncomfortable, and currently many people get scared off or grossed out by cervical fluid’s various descriptive identifiers.

You’ll hear it referred to as “Cervical Mucus”, “Vaginal Discharge”, “Vaginal Mucus”, and the slightly less gross-sounding “Cervical Fluid”. It’s not fair.  What if semen was called “Testicle Mucus”, or “Penile Discharge”?  Imagine if saliva was called “Oral Mucus”, or “Mouth Discharge”?  It’s not, for a reason! Even feces gets its own name!  You don’t often hear it referred to as “Solid Anal Discharge”. Each of these substances has an important role to play in the health of the human body, and hence, they have been given names, not just descriptions, so that we can acknowledge and understand them.

This quote from The Simpsons episode The Principal and the Pauper  illustrates my point:

Lisa: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Bart: Not if you called ‘em stench blossoms.

Homer: Or crapweeds.

Marge: I’d sure hate to get a dozen crapweeds for Valentine’s Day. I’d rather have candy.

Homer: Not if they were called scumdrops.

You get the point.  Something can be lovely and beautiful and wanted, but if you call it by an unappealing name, no one is going to give it a chance.

Now, I personally LOVE cervical fluid. It has taught me a great deal about my fertility and my health.  It’s a crime that this stuff is not more not widely popular. I posit that if cervical fluid had a more euphonious appellation, people would be more interested in hearing, talking, and reading about it.  Which would lead to understanding and wider acceptance. This Quest to name Cervical Fluid has broad-reaching social implications. With wider understanding and acceptance of this most sacred substance, women would own their fertility again. The sense of panic and confusion that many women experience when thinking about their reproductive health would diminish and eventually vanish.  There would be fewer unplanned pregnancies and more wanted pregnancies. More wanted pregnancies would lead to happier families and, ultimately, a happier world!  For the betterment of women everywhere and the world at large, cervical fluid needs a name of its own!

I propose we give cervical fluid a name within six months. I will be working towards this goal. If you want to help, please leave your thoughts about this and your suggestions for cervical fluid’s new name in the comments below. Together, we’ll make history.

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.