Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Male Menopause, Andropause and now “Manopause”?

August 22nd, 2014 by Heather Dillaway

August 18, 2014 cover of TIME magazine

By now, everyone has probably seen this week’s TIME cover story. The magazine’s August 18th cover photo showed a topless, seemingly frumpy, middle-aged man worried about his loss of testosterone and (therefore) manhood under the title, “Manopause?! Aging, Insecurity and the $2 Billion Testosterone Industry”. The cover story details the booming testosterone (“Low-T”) industry in the U.S., describing the reasons why middle-aged men might go to the growing number of Low-T clinics for treatment. While the article draws some interesting parallels to the hormone therapy industries that have targeted women and highlights some of the important risks and unknowns about Low-T treatments, there are some interesting gaps and missteps in the article that are worth detailing.

First, if we are going to talk about a male menopause, can we please pick one term? This author of this article refers to male menopause, andropause, and then titles his article “manopause.” So, which is it? Having all of these terms floating around is just confusing. As we know from research on women’s menopause, having more than one term or having vague terms for a health condition just leads to confusion. This article adds to the confusion over terminology.

Second, the article is titled “Manopause” but really has little to do with this supposed testosterone “deficiency” condition. The article is mostly about the growing Low-T industry and men’s search to remain youthful. It is more about potential treatments for testosterone deficiency than anything else. Anyone looking for information on what “manopause” is would be misled by the title and would not find any answers in this article. At most, readers learn that men who are worried about aging might have low testosterone. Readers will not gather comprehensive information about manopause, andropause, male menopause, or male aging.

Third, this article only addresses research on testosterone “deficiency” in a cursory manner. Readers looking for actual evidence of decreasing testosterone in midlife or the need for Low-T treatment should make sure to consult scientific studies of such things. Since this is TIME magazine, this is not a source of any real information on these subjects. As another commenter reports, the author’s reference to “foggy science” is also misplaced; while we do not have complete answers, there are real studies to be found on this subject.

Fourth, there are comparisons made to women’s menopause, hormone therapy for women, and how women handle their midlife transitions in this article. While it makes sense to compare endocrinological changes in women’s and men’s bodies and burgeoning hormone replacement industries for midlife women and men, comparisons about how women and men “handle” their midlife transitions are a bit misplaced and subjective here. The author states that “women handle their [bodily] betrayal more matter-of-factly – a nip, a tuck, a tint, maybe, but not a Vegas condo”. The author argues that, “judging by the demographic profile of sports-car buyers,” men don’t deal well with testosterone deficiency and bodily change. As someone who has studied women’s bodies and women’s menopause for almost 20 years, I think this comparison masks the variation in how women or men might experience these transitions and reifies gender dichotomies that help no one in the long run. Women DO have trouble with bodily change at times. And the majority of men still forgo Low-T treatments. The author would have done better if he had steered away from these gendered generalizations about how individuals “handle” midlife.

A commenter at HealthNewsReview.Org asks, Does Manopause Really Warrant one of TIME’s 52 Covers This Year? This is a great question. The power of pharmaceutical industries in this country means that topics like this get more press than is probably warranted (especially in light of all of the topics that could have had this front page, such as Ebola, Ferguson, Parkinson’s or ALS disease, foreign conflicts, etc.). Some scholars argue that we are experiencing the “pharmaceuticalization” of society, which puts industries like the Low-T industry front and center and makes us think in terms of “deficiency”, “disease”, and “replacement”. Pharmaceuticalization reinforces ideas about the importance of youthfulness and unchanging bodies and makes the onset of midlife problematic in general. We are actively urged to fight bodily change (here termed bodily “betrayal”) despite how normal it is.

Lately I’ve also seen a lot of press on men and masculinity. NPR has been running an “All Things Considered” series on boys and men this summer, detailing the hardships and unique experiences that boys and men have. I also read that a group of middle aged men recently got together to create a play called “Four Play” to combat the hype around Menopause: The Musical – to make sure that men have their stage too. In Detroit this summer we’ve also been tangoing with groups of Men’s Rights Activists who feel that feminists are taking over the world. To me, the “Manopause” cover of TIME magazine falls right in line with other recent attention to “men’s issues”. To me, this is all a backlash against attention given to women’s issues. In some cases I don’t even think it’s a conscious or calculated backlash but it still presents as one.

Overall, I’m indifferent about this TIME story. I don’t think it warrants the cover photo or the cover story but it is interesting to find out about a growing testosterone industry. Nonetheless the hype around the story concerns me because I keep thinking about what’s lurking behind the hype. For instance, we have to think about the gendered dynamics behind these stories and media portrayals, for gender forms an important backdrop here and can hinder the pursuit of real knowledge about these midlife transitions. Gender ideologies are what make testosterone (and estrogen) important in the first place. In addition, I do think we need to settle on one term for male menopause/andropause/manopause and why it might be important for us to think about. Finally, we really need to think about what pharmaceuticalization means for all of us.

No Snack, Just Tampons

April 24th, 2014 by Heather Dillaway

I was flipping through the May 2014 issue of Working Mother Magazine the other day and landed upon a small article about a working mother’s recent “faux pas”: on a “crazed morning” she accidentally packed her bag of tampons in her 7-year-old son’s camp bag and took her son’s snack to work with her. Not only did this mistake leave her son without a snack for the day but also with an “inappropriate” item in his camp bag. The article, titled “The Big Switch,” told of this mother’s horror when she realized that she packed tampons in her son’s camp bag. It told of the constant agony and mortification she felt in just thinking about what might happen at school if anyone found the tampons in her son’s bag. She called her friends and they laughed, offering no advice. She braced herself for the end of the day but, when the end of the day came, she found out that her son had received a special treat of Oreos at school because he had no snack. Her son arrived home happy and unphased. The story ends without us finding out whether the son ever even realized that he had tampons in his school bag. We are also left to think, “Phew, disaster averted.”

Mothers naturally make mistakes all of the time (indeed, it’s maybe one of the things we do best!). However, this mistake was high stakes because it challenged an important social norm: a concealment norm. Women should not let anyone know that they menstruate and they should definitely not involve and/or show kids the evidence. This mother worried for her son’s potential willingness to “share” his knowledge of the tampons in his bag among his friends. She envisioned moments within which everyone at camp would know that she had packed tampons in her son’s bag and was concerned about potential repercussions. This mother worried that camp counselors might even call Protective Services if they found out about the tampons in her son’s bag, and that other parents might find out and complain as well. She knew there could be real consequences….but there weren’t consequences. In fact, in the end, this mistake seemed trivial. Perhaps the son saw the tampons and didn’t think they were a big deal, or perhaps he never saw them.

When we go against concealment norms and “show” to others that women/moms menstruate, we realize exactly how powerful those concealment norms are. This mother spent an entire day on the edge of her seat, unable to engage in her paid work, worried about what would happen to her son and to her because of this mistake. She thought about all of the possible problems and solutions, and engaged in quite a bit of emotional work trying to deal with the fact that she had made this mistake. This illustrates exactly how much work women invest in the concealment of menstruation, how much time and energy it entails yet also how fragile concealment is over time. Women must continually engage in concealment (and also be ready to do damage control) to make certain that menstruation can remain hidden.

This is also a story about how working mothers are constantly negotiating whether they are “good” mothers. This mother provides lots of excuses for why the “big switch” happened – everything from having deadlines at work to being a single mother. Thus we see another set of social norms at work as well in this story: social norms about who is a “good” mother. According to our social norms, there is only one kind of good mother at the end of the day: the mother who does not make mistakes. How silly is that? The ending of the story even seems to suggest how silly these motherhood norms might be, because the son turned out just fine — tampons didn’t hurt him, nor did his lack of snack.

In the end, this small story is just one more representation of the tightropes that women walk, and the impossible demands that social norms place on women. Let it be known that women menstruate and that mothers make mistakes. No social norm has the power to discount those facts.

“The Tampon that’s Right Even for Single Girls”

November 21st, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

It’s Throwback Thursday on social media, and we’re joining in with this ad for Pursettes tampons that ran in Cosmpolitan (U.S.) magazine in 1966. Nearly 50 years on, little has changed in femcare marketing: Look at the familiar themes of medicalization of menstruation, secrecy, fearmongering, and the dreaded scourge of odor problems.

The idea that tampons can steal virginity isn’t quite as pervasive today, but one can still find it in tampon ads as recently as 1990 in teen magazines.

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.

How do girls learn about periods?

May 1st, 2013 by Laura Wershler

How do girls learn about menstruation today? Who talks to them? Who do they talk to? Or do most girls rely on the Internet for information about periods?

Take this article by Elizabeth (bylines are first names only) – What I Wish I Knew About My Period – posted last week at Rookie, an online magazine for teenage girls. Not a teenager but definitely a young woman, Elizabeth (Spiridakus) shares the wisdom she’s gained through her menstrual experience. Here’s her sum-up:

These are all the things I wish someone had told me before I got my first period, and in the couple of years that followed. Most of all, I wish I had FOUND SOMEONE TO TALK TO! I had so many questions and fears about the whole business, and I think I would have been so much less self-conscious, and so much HAPPIER, if I had only had access to some friendly advice. So, talk to your friends! Talk to your cool older cousin or aunt or sister or your best friend’s cool mom or your OWN cool mom. Leave your questions—and your good advice—in the comments, because I certainly haven’t been able to cover all the bases here.

Read this again: “Most of all, I wish I had FOUND SOMEONE TO TALK TO!”

Photo courtesy of Laura Wershler

Elizabeth urges readers to talk to their friends, cool older relatives, or their own – or somebody else’s – “cool mom.” Great advice, but I have to ask:  Why aren’t cool moms and older relatives already talking to the girls in their lives about menstruation? Sharing friendly advice? Passing on wisdom from mother to daughter, woman to woman?

Suzan Hutchinson, menstrual activist, educator and founder of periodwise.com, a project dedicated to empowering girls and women to embrace the taboo subject of menstruation, has a few ideas about this. She thinks many moms don’t know when to begin “the period talk” or what to say, so they remain silent until their daughters start their periods, or they wait thinking their daughters will initiate period talk. She warns against this.

“We should all remember that when moms offer too little information or start providing information too late, girls often question their credibility and hesitate to return as new questions arise.”

Although Suzan’s mother talked to her about menstruation, she didn’t start early enough, before Suzan heard things from other girls that she didn’t understand. Her early menstrual experience included lying to her friends about getting her period long before she did at age 15. By then she was “too embarrassed to ask my much more experienced friends” and “too proud to turn to Mom.” She tried to deal with things on her own.

“I needed a period coach – someone to walk through things with me and instruct me…help me figure out what to do, when to do, how to do.”

A period coach. This is exactly what Elizabeth is for the girls at RookieRead the comments. Readers loved it.

She’s not the only one using the Internet to connect with girls about menstruation. Despite my reservations about a website operated by the company that sells Always and Tampax, the content of which deserves serious critique, I must acknowledge that thousands of girls are turning to beinggirl.com for period coaching, including tips on how to talk to their moms!

Moms shouldn’t be waiting for their daughters to talk to them. They need to find their own period coaches. Other mothers like Suzan Hutchinson and the mom who started bepreparedperiod.com.

The more information girls have the better. Brava to Elizabeth for What I Wish I Knew About My Period. But moms and cool older relatives have got to get in the game. Now. Don’t wait until the girls in your life come to you.

Redbook Gets It Right

May 8th, 2012 by David Linton

Our recent Weekend Links post referred to a cheesy piece in Cosmopolitan magazine about stupid and offensive remarks that have been said to women by their ob/gyn.  At about the same time, Redbook‘s May 2012, issue had an article by another ob/gyn, Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, titled, “Have a healthy, happy vagina,” which used a q & a format to address “the five issues women stress about most” concerning their “lady parts.”

Image from Redbook, May 2012, p. 183

  1. Will childbearing “ruin” my vagina?
  2. Is the smell okay?
  3. Do I look weird down there compared to other women?
  4. Why don’t I have vaginal orgasms?  Can I change that?
  5. Why does my vagina sometimes hurt when I have sex?

The responses to the questions were basically thoughtful and supportive, though a bit coy sometimes, with the talk about “lady parts.” In other words, they gave the kinds of information that’s found all the time in the posts on re:Cycling.

It also included four dumb/insensitive things doctors have said while their patient was “in the stirrups.”  The heading was, “Your OB/GYN said WHAT!?”

What’s missing from Mother Jones’ birth control calculator?

February 22nd, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Source: Public Domain

In response to Rick Santorum’s recent assertion that birth control only costs “a few dollars” and therefore there shouldn’t be such a big fuss about denying insurance coverage, Mother Jones published a birth control calculator this week that estimates your lifetime costs for birth control, based on your current age. The calculator asks you to enter your age and then select your preferred method. Options include the pill, IUDs, Implanon, injections, the patch, the vaginal ring, and surgical sterilization. (It doesn’t specify sterilization for women or for men, but given the context of the current debates, I’m assuming the calculator estimates only the cost of female sterilization.) It also fails to take into account that, in reality, most women use more than one method throughout their reproductive years.

Now, I know that aside from the cost of reference books, charting supplies, and perhaps a course or two to get started, using Fertility Awareness Methods is free, but condoms and spermicide aren’t. And as NPR reported on Tuesday, it can be difficult or inconvenient to get those methods covered by health insurance. Diaphragms and cervical caps aren’t cheap either, and they both require physician visits to be properly fitted. Diaphragms last a long time, but they do need to be replaced every few years. It’s been a while since I needed one, but I’m pretty sure that my health insurance covered the cost of my diaphragm, although I had to pay out-of-pocket for the accompanying spermicide gel. In my student days, I got both at my school’s Student Health Center, covered by the student health insurance fees that we were required to pay whether we used the student health center or remained on parental insurance.

I’ve written before about my bewilderment at the diaphragm’s disappearance, but I’m increasingly frustrated that the current political debates about the pill are contributing to the apparent erasure of all non-hormonal methods of birth control. The pill has become synonymous with birth control in some quarters, without consideration of the profound implications of that swap for women’s health.

I am not opposed to the pill, by the way. I want it to be available, I think it should be covered by health insurance, and I want it to be safe. But I also want women to have complete, accurate, accessible information about all of their birth control options. And let’s get all of them covered by health insurance.

“Death Loves Menopause”: Heart and Stroke Foundation Sends Wrong Message

February 8th, 2012 by Laura Wershler

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada has inaccurately branded menopause as a killer of women. I will not be sending them a donation.

Last October, the foundation launched a fundraising campaign called Make Death Wait. Magazine and TV ads personify death as a man with a disembodied voice (he sounds like a stalker) who says he loves women (and men) and is coming to get them.

Eileen Melnick McCarthy, director of communications for the foundation, wrote to me in an email that the intent of the campaign is to “wake up Canadians to the threat of heart disease and stroke.” The campaign – urging viewers to “make death wait” by making a donation – has drawn both support and criticism.

Note the stereotypical hot flash reference: The thermostat is set at 15 C (60 F) but reads 23 C (73 F).

Photos of the ad by Laura Wershler

I think the TV ads are creepy, but what disturbed me more was the Death Loves Menopause message in the December issue of Chatelaine, Canada’s oldest women’s magazine. The small print reads: “He loves that menopause makes women more vulnerable to heart disease and stroke.” But is this statement defendable?

Dr. Jerilynn Prior, endocrinologist and scientific director of the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research, wrote in an article about women’s risk for cardiovascular disease that the assumption heart disease in women is caused by estrogen deficiency associated with menopause  is a myth:

The reasoning behind this notion goes like this—young women have lots of estrogen and don’t get heart attacks. Older menopausal women are “estrogen deficient” and get heart attacks. Therefore, lack of estrogen causes women’s heart disease. That is like saying that headache is an aspirin-deficiency disease!

 

It is true that heart disease and stroke is the #1 killer of women, but the ad’s assertion that it is menopause that makes women more vulnerable raised the ire of women’s health experts I asked for comment.

Joan Starker, a PhD clinical social worker specializing in midlife, menopause, and aging issues, called it “an appalling and shocking advertisement.” Starker says she and her colleagues have “worked hard to shatter negative conceptualizations of menopause and aging. When I viewed this ad, I was left with only one horrifyingly toxic message – menopause equals death – which is ageist and sexist.”

Barbara Mintzes, assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, calls the ad “misleading and inaccurate” and says “there is no sudden shift in the rate of heart disease post- versus pre-menopause (or around age 50), as would be expected if menopause was a major risk factor for heart disease.  As women age our risks of heart disease gradually increase, similarly to ageing in men.”

My fellow blogger, Paula Derry, is a PhD health psychologist who critiques, analyzes, and theorizes about menstruation research/theory, with menopause being one of her specialties. “The idea that women’s risk of heart disease increases after menopause is a common one, yet there is little evidence for any increase in risk, much less that menopause is a key cause of heart disease and death,” she says.

Derry cites a 2011 paper in the British Medical Journal - Ageing, menopause, and ischaemic heart disease mortality in England, Wales, and the United States – that concluded aging rather than menopause was key: “Heart disease mortality in women increased exponentially throughout all ages, with no special step increase at menopausal ages.”

Last March, the American Heart Association issued the Effectiveness-based Guidelines for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in Women—2011 Update. These guidelines present a long list of risk factors such as obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes. Menopause is not included as a risk factor and is mentioned in just one sentence in the document.

As Derry says, “If I were going to donate money to an organization it would not be to one that tried to scare me with what I understand to be inaccurate facts.”

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada should “wake up” to the truth about heart disease and menopause.

Off the Pill, Off the Magazines

January 12th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Holly Grigg-Spall

“Less stressed, thinner and more interested in sex.” – but not buying magazines.

In a recent issue of the UK’s Stylist magazine — a weekly women’s glossy that is available for free at tube stations and selected clothing stores — there was an article headlined ‘What does 10 Years On The Pill Do To You?‘ As a result of my on-going blog, Sweetening the Pill, which documents my experience of coming off the contraceptive pill, I was contacted by the writer to provide some quotes for this piece. Unfortunately, I was edited out. As a journalist myself, I understood this situation has little to do with the writer’s choice of content and more to do with the magazine editor’s final say on what was most fitting for the feature. Yet the title question is the very crux of my blog: having taken the Pill for 10 years, stopping as a result of discovering the answer to this very question.

 

Photo Credit: Anthony Easton // CC 2.0

According to the Stylist piece the answer is that the Pill changes your memory skills, lowers your libido, makes you attracted to the wrong kinds of men for you, changes weight distribution, prevents you building muscles, make you retain water, make you depressed and jealous…and how can you tell if this all is just you or the Pill? You can’t and you shouldn’t try to find out, is the message here. We are advised to not take a break from the Pill, not even for a week, and if you are concerned, just ask for a different brand from your doctor. There is no discussion of non-hormonal alternatives. There is also no discussion of the benefits of not taking the Pill, of allowing your body to ovulate once a month.

 

My answer to this question was: “The Pill has a whole body impact. Taking the Pill shuts down a woman’s hormone cycle — and the ovulation and menstruation that is an essential part of this cycle — and replaces it with a low stream of synthetic hormones. This has an affect on every organ in the body — the impact is wide-reaching and crudely administered. The peaks, troughs, and plateaus of a woman’s ‘natural’ cycle are wiped out. The monthly hormone cycle is integral to many of the body’s central functions, including the metabolic, immune, and endocrine systems. This changes everything — from your sense of smell to your libido to your ability to absorb vitamins from your food.

 

Many women have said to me that coming off the Pill was ‘life-changing’ and, as someone now two years off the Pill after ten years on, I have to agree with the description. The life-threatening potential effects of the Pill get publicity — the blood clots and strokes — but the quality of life-threatening and the emotional and mental effects are barely discussed. Fatigue, muscle loss, urinary tract infections, bleeding gums, stomach disorders, flu-like symptoms, hair loss — relatively minor physical issues caused by the Pill that together can make life very hard. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, rage, paranoia — all issues brought on by the Pill, due to a combination of switching off the hormone cycle and vitamin B deficiency. I experienced the whole package and when I wasn’t bordering on nervous breakdown I was flatlining, barely able to feel anything at all.”

 

The whole body impact, although alluded to in the Stylist piece, is not considered head-on. What does it mean to take such a powerful drug every day for years when you are not sick? And when there are as effective alternatives for pregnancy prevention? On a second, and third reading of the piece I cannot see mentioned an unequivocal benefit of taking the Pill other than pregnancy prevention until we reach the last refuge of the worried magazine editor — the box-out — in which ‘the benefits of taking the Pill’ are listed. These include pregnancy prevention (of course), protecting women from the already very rare ovarian cancer in a very minimal way, and cutting the risk of iron deficiency anemia. Then cited is that bizarre piece of research that surfaced last year which claimed women on the Pill are 12% less likely to die, of any cause. As though Pill-taking were a key to eternal life. To a studied reader, it’s a paltry gathering of research – even I, as anti-Pill as I am, could come up with a better list. And so why this pushiness in the feature itself when it comes to keeping women on the Pill?

Cosmopolitan, the Sex Magazine That Won’t Talk About (Period) Sex

October 21st, 2011 by David Linton

Guest Post by Saniya Ghanoui

Cosmopolitan is open about its coverage of sex. It is curious then that the coverage of period sex is limited and not as open or adventurous as other sex ideas found in the magazine. The message regarding period sex is simple: men must be protected from menstrual blood.

The idea that a male will touch blood stirs the ideas of castration, a battle, or even death and thus must be avoided. This is ironic, given that many women actually have a heightened sexual arousal while on their periods. And since Cosmopolitan is directed towards women it is odd that it does not put women’s issues on the forefront but rather still caters to the taboo, despite hiding behind its catchphrase of “Fun Fearless Female.”

In the Cosmo Sex Challenge, one Cosmopolitan writer and her boyfriend attempt to try 77 sex positions in 77 days. Typically the writer’s period should come up approximately twice in 77 days, yet is only mentioned once. She mentions that her boyfriend isn’t “into it,” in reference to period sex, but convinces him to do it. After one hot and heavy night, in the boyfriend’s bed, she notices red handprints on the sheets so she throws a pillow over them and makes a “mental note to change his sheets tomorrow morning.” This is a physical act of apologizing.

The changing, and it can be assumed the subsequent washing of the sheets, not only works as an implicit apology but also reemphasizes the stereotype that women must perform this idea of a proper feminine role in a relationship. Also, she is changing the sheets so her boyfriend does not find out about the handprint, meaning she does not want him to see the blood. For what reason? Is she ashamed that she bleeds? Embarrassed?

In addition, when she first sees the handprint her reaction is “Oh. My. God.” Obviously this is an expression of shock that is emphasized by the separation of each word with a period. So after doing these complex sex positions (and many more to come), this is what makes her express shock? Yet, she doesn’t seem to be shocked that her period only came once in 77 days.

The Shame Game

August 22nd, 2011 by David Linton

Long before the current fad in Reality TV shows that trade in humiliation and embarrassment, the prevailing menstrual culture inculcated in women a feeling that exposure of the fact that a period was in progress was a social catastrophe.  However, just as “The Biggest Loser” invites participants to parade their socially unacceptable bodies before the cameras for fame and fortune, there are times when women are invited to share their stories of menstrual humiliation in exchange for a moment of media recognition and even a cute photo spread.

Consider the October 1, 2007, issue of FIRST: for women on the go, a supermarket checkout publication.  A regular column titled “First Blush” that specialized in sharing readers’ “mortifying moments” in this issue was titled “My most mortifying tampon moment!”  It consists of four letters from women aged 35 to 50 relating stories of an exposed string, a blood stain on a car seat, dog mischief, and a child’s blurted remark about her mothers’ “bagina.”

The piece is illustrated by the smiling author of one of the letters, “Meg Fitzpatrick, 42, Yardly, PA” whose story about the adorable daughter’s outburst earns her a prized photo in the magazine.

Accompanying the article is some promotional copy for a product called “The Combpanion Tampon and Pantiliner Case” that is described as “a hair comb with a hidden compartment in its hollow handle” so that the reader can “carry a tampon . . . without fear of being spotted holding your feminine product.”

I’m prompted to wonder what an equivalent column in a men’s magazine would look like.  Do men ever have “mortifying moments?”

Shed the Shame

March 10th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Kotex still wants us to “break the cycle“. But every time I see these ads, I think of Chella Quint‘s message to Kotex: We’re only gonna stop feeling the shame when we take ownership of our periods. And we’re taking it back from you, dude. So you can’t reclaim our periods for us. You’re some of the people we’re reclaiming them from. Got it?

youBUYkotex


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.