Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Flibanserin is NOT “female Viagra” and here’s why

July 30th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

If you’ve been hearing about the “female Viagra” drug Flibanserin in the media over the past couple of months and wonder what it’s all about, Dr. Aaron Carroll at Healthcare Triage sets the record straight and tells you everything you need to know about Flibanserin in this seven-minute video.

To quote Dr. Carroll, “The two drugs aren’t even close to the same thing.” He asks the media and others to stop calling Flibanserin the “female Viagra.” He says, “It makes pharmacology nerds very, very unhappy when you do that.”

#noboozewithflib

For one, Viagra is taken on an as needed basis and does not work if the man is not already sexually aroused. Flibanserin is intended for daily use by premenopausal women and affects the brain, supposedly, to increase feelings of sexual desire. Side effects include, says Dr Carroll, “marked sedation, somnolence and fatigue,” and are made worse in those who consume alcohol.

The video provides need-to-know information because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is leaning towards approving Flibanserin this summer. Though twice rejected by the FDA, an aggressive public relations campaign spearheaded by drug owner Sprout Pharmaceuticals has resulted in a recommendation to the FDA to approve the drug with risk management options. A letter to the FDA signed by Leonore Tiefer, PhD, of the New View Campaign and over 100 other concerned health experts, sex researchers and clinicians urging them to reject approval of flibanserin explains the many problems with the drug. Here’s what the letter says about Flibanserin and alcohol:

We will leave the topic of flibanserin’s safety to others, except for mentioning the truly absurd situation of approving a daily drug to boost the sex lives of women in their 30s and 40s that must not be taken with alcohol. As sexologists we can say with confidence that this advice is both preposterous and doomed.

The New View Campaign also wrote a song advocating that women and the FDA Throw That Pink Pill Away:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research added its voice to those opposing FDA approval of Flibanserin by passing the following resolution in June at its 2015 Biennial conference in Boston, MA:

The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research regrets the recommendation by the Bone, Reproductive, and Urologic Advisory Committee and the Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee on June 4, 2015 that Flibanserin be approved with risk management options. The discussion after the vote was recorded made it clear that even those in favor had serious reservations about the efficacy and safety of the drug. We believe that women want safe and effective options, not unsafe and ineffective medications. Therefore, we urge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to override the Advisory Committees’ decision and reject this drug.

NOTE: This post was updated on July 30, 2015 at 12:55 p.m. EST with the addition of the song.

Experiencing Menopause: Sexuality, desire and literary exploration

April 27th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Three paper presentations on Menopause at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston will explore sexuality and the menopausal woman, as well as personal menopausal experiences as collected in a literary anthology.

1. Sex and the Menopausal Woman: Resisting Representations of the Abject Asexual Woman
     Presented by Jane Ussher and Janette Perz, Centre for Health Research, School of Medicine, University of Western Sydney 

Drawing on qualitative research conducted with women at midlife, and those who have experienced premature menopause after cancer, we argue that sexuality can continue to be a positive experience for women throughout adult life and into old age.

Medical discourse has traditionally positioned the menopausal transition as a time of sexual atrophy and loss of femininity, with hormonal replacement as the solution. In contrast, feminist critics have argued that women’s experience of sexual embodiment during menopause is culturally and relationally mediated, tied to discursive constructions of aging and sexuality, which are negotiated by women.

This paper will present a critical examination of women’s experiences of sexuality during and after the menopausal transition, drawing on in-depth one-to-one interviews we have conducted with 21 women at midlife, and 39 women who have experienced premature menopause as a consequence of cancer treatment.

Theoretical thematic analysis was used to identify three themes across the women’s accounts: ‘Intrapsychic negotiation of sexual and embodied change’; ‘Feeling sexy or frumpy: Body image and the male gaze’; ‘Indifference or desire? The relational context of sexuality during menopause’. Through this analysis, we challenge myths and misconceptions about the inevitability of sexual decline at menopause, as well as normalise the embodied changes that some women experience–whether menopause is premature, or occurs at midlife. We argue that sexual difficulties or disinterest reported by women during and after menopause are more strongly associated with psycho-social factors than hormonal status, in particular psychological well-being, relationship context and a woman’s negotiation of cultural constructions of sex, aging, and femininity. However, sexuality can continue to be a positive experience for women throughout adult life and into old age, with many menopausal women reporting increased sexual desire and response, as well as re-negotiation of sexual activities in the context of embodied change. This undermines the bio-medical construction of menopause as a time of inevitable sexual atrophy and decay.

2. Writing Menopause: Creating an Anthology
     Presented by Jane Cawthorne and E. D. Morin

The editors will discuss their process of envisioning and creating a new literary anthology that considers the diverse experience of menopause from various points of view. The anthology is composed of new works of poetry, short fiction, interviews, creative non-fiction, and cross-genre pieces, along with several previously published creative works that were chosen to round out the collection.

Although the editors make no claims that this work is in any way definitive, their focus instead was to create a venue for more stories and to encourage a richer vocabulary about this important transition within a literary context. The editors have observed that few literary representations of menopause exist. They will explain how they arrived at wanting to create this collection, as well as the submission process, the criteria used in accepting submissions, and how the shape of the collection shifted organically with the nature of submissions received. They will reflect on what types of submissions they would not accept, what they think the volume says about menopause, and how their own ideas about menopause were changed during the process. A few excerpts will be read.

3. Sexuality and Post-Menopausal  Women:  Desirability and Desire
     Presented by Maureen C. McHugh, and Camille J. Interligi,  Department of Psychology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Ageist cultural messages portray old bodies as ugly, asexual and undesirable (Calasanti & Slevin, 2001; Furman, 1997), and yet not engaging in sufficient partner sex is viewed as a sexual dysfunction.  How do contradictory cultural messages about the sexuality of older women impact their sense of themselves as sexual beings?

Aging threatens women’s sense of themselves as women, as sexual beings, and as sexually desirable (Clarke, 2011). Ageist cultural messages convey the cultural value placed on youthfulness and portray old bodies as ugly, asexual and undesirable (Calasanti & Slevin, 2001; Furman, 1997). Stereotyped as experiencing physical and sexual decline, and viewed as asexual, older women’s sexual interest may be deemed inappropriate. Yet not engaging in sufficient partner sex is seen as a dysfunction (McHugh, 2006).  Who says how much sex is enough? How do contradictory cultural messages about the sexuality of older women impact their sense of themselves as sexual beings?

Depo-Provera and Fifty Shades of Grey—The Movie

February 13th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Dear Readers: The following post first appeared on July 25, 2012, during the media think-piece flurry over the soaring popularity of E.L James’s Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. With the movie opening on Valentine’s Day, 2015, I can’t wait to find out if or how Depo-Provera is referenced as the contraceptive choice made for heroine Anastasia Steele by ob-gyn Dr. Greene, a character I have confirmed via IMDb is in the movie. I argued in the post that Depo-Provera as Ana’s birth control method was an unrealistic plot device. Commentary on Fifty Shades has again started to snowball, but I doubt anyone besides myself will have the slightest interest in this facet of the story. I invite readers who get to the theater before I do to report back in the comments section.

Menstrual Considerations in Fifty Shades of Grey

Fine literary fiction it is not, but the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by E.L. James can certainly claim to be libido-boosting storytelling. Deirdre Donahue at USA Today summarized the books’ appeal in 10 reasons ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ has shackled readers. She pretty much nailed it. And she’s read the books, which is more than can be said for other writers, including this one who implied that heroine Anastasia (Ana) Steele signs a contract to become hero Christian Grey’s submissive in a BDSM relationship. She doesn’t.

Until he meets Ana, Christian’s sexual history has included only BDSM relationships, those involving bondage, discipline, dominance, submission and sadomasochism. BDSM plays a role in their love story, but the most sadistic thing that Ana submits to is a shot of Depo-Provera. re:Cycling readers know what I think of this contraceptive: I. Am. Not. A. Fan.

As a menstrual cycle advocate, I pay attention to menstrual mentions wherever they appear. It was impossible for me NOT to hone in on how James handles menstruation and birth control.

Christian quickly ascertains that Ana, a virgin when he meets her, is not using birth control. (His unflinching communication about sexuality is one of the books’ most appealing aspects.) As their sexual affair begins, he uses condoms. Within a week or so he asks when her period is due and says, “You need to sort out some contraception”. But our hero is a rich control freak, so he arranges for “the best ob-gyn in Seattle” to come to his home on a Sunday afternoon. Ana, the narrator:

“After a thorough examination and lengthy discussion, Dr. Greene and I decide on the mini pill. She writes me a prepaid prescription and instructs me to pick the pills up tomorrow. I love her no-nonsense attitude — she has lectured me until she’s as blue as her dress about taking it at the same time every day.”

Alas, Anastasia, just 21, is the perfect example for why researchers with the Contraceptive CHOICE Project are recommending that women under 21 use long-acting reversible contraceptive methods. She forgets to keep taking her pills when she and Christian briefly break up. It’s back to condoms for this couple, until Dr. Greene reappears, confirms Ana is not pregnant, and, after Depo-Provera’s side effects are dismissed as irrelevant because “the side effects of a child are far-reaching and go on for years,” gives her the shot. I almost had to stop reading.

I get it that James uses Depo-Provera as a plot device, as becomes apparent. But the author’s decision to give Ana Depo-Provera is not in keeping with either Dr. Greene’s or Christian’s characters. I don’t believe for one minute that the best ob-gyn in Seattle would give Depo-Provera to any patient; she’d recommend a Mirena IUD. As for control-freak Christian, he is adamantly committed to Anastasia’s safety, evidenced in many ways. He would never consent to her taking a drug with these potential side effects: weight gain, digestive problems, depression, loss of bone density, vaginal dryness, and — especially — loss of sexual sensitivity and desire. Never! And he’s too smart not to know this.

Christian’s occasionally expressed distaste for condoms also seems to be a plot device considering he uses them so skillfully, and without obvious diminishment to either his or Ana’s pleasure, through 986 pages of the 1594-page trilogy. The tearing of foil condom packets is a leitmotif that in no way hinders this man’s exceptional “sexing skills.”

But James gets full marks for this: Christian Grey is not afraid of blood. While making love in a spacious hotel bathroom, he gently removes Ana’s tampon and tosses it in the toilet. Later, sitting on the bathroom floor, Ana remembers she has her period:

“I’m bleeding,” I murmur.

“Doesn’t bother me,” he breathes.

Menstrual Marking

November 18th, 2014 by David Linton

The idea that animals (male animals, that is) mark territories with urine streams is well established, particularly in the case of dogs, wolves, and other similar breeds. It seems that men too (notably adolescent boys) engage in some sort of marking practices when it comes to failure to flush urinals or toilets in public (and sometimes domestic) facilities.

A story by Haruki Murakami in a recent New Yorker magazine (Oct. 13, 2014; pg. 100+) depicts a teenage girl who uses a menstrual product as a way of marking territory as well. Murakami’s character is a middle-aged woman in a story titled “Scheherazade” who, in the course of a string of post-coital sharing moments, confides to the narrator a time in her adolescence when she was obsessed with a boy in her high school. Too shy to approach him personally, she would occasionally sneak into his home and peruse the contents of his bedroom. Eventually she stole several of his personal objects – a pencil, soccer insignia, sweaty tee shirt – and leaves something of her own hidden in the back of a drawer or under some old notebooks. In addition to a few strands of her hair, she hides the most personal object she can think of:

“Finally, I decided to leave a tampon behind. An unused one, of course, still in its plastic wrapper. . . . I hid it at the very back of the bottom drawer, where it would be difficult to find. That really turned me on. The fact that a tampon of mine was stashed away in his desk drawer. Maybe it was because I was so turned on that my period started almost immediately after that.”

When she returns to the house on several later trips she always checks to see that the tampon is still in place and delights that it has remained in the boy’s drawer. The tampon comes to be described as “a token” that represents her unrequited crush on the boy who is barely aware of her existence. Eventually she comes to associate her erotic attraction with her menstrual cycle, even thinking about the boy’s masturbation as being compared to her period, “All those sperm had to go somewhere, just as girls had to have periods.” Finally, the boy’s parents discover that someone has been invading their home and change the locks so that her trespasses are ended. But the story’s exploration of the erotic associations of menstrual details is fascinating and fairly rare.

Furthermore, the fact that this is a male author’s take on the topic probably makes it somewhat unreliable even though it claims to be told through the words of a woman’s reminiscences. Readers are invited to respond with mention of other stories that explore both the erotic and territorial marking potential of menstrual products and blood.

Obvious Child: The Other Taboo

June 18th, 2014 by Holly Grigg-Spall

cervical mucus

 The recently released rom-com ‘Obvious Child’ has been discussed far and wide for its mature, sensitive and funny approach to the topic of abortion and yet I have not seen one comment on the fact that this movie also makes mainstream (and yes, funny) the topic of cervical mucus.

In the opening scene stand-up comedian Donna (played by real-life comedian Jenny Slate) is performing on stage at her local open mic night. She wraps up with a joke about the state of her underwear and how, she describes, her underpants sometimes look like they have “crawled out of a tub of cream cheese.”

She claims that they often embarrass her by looking as such during sexual encounters, something she feels is not sexy.

Of course, by “cream cheese” I immediately assumed Donna meant cervical mucus. Unless she is supposed to have a vaginal infection – which seeing as it is not discussed amongst the other myriad bodily function-centric conversations in the movie, I doubt to be the case – then it’s clear she is detailing her experience of cervical mucus.

Later on that night, when Donna meets and goes home with a guy, has sex and then wakes up in bed with him the following morning, she sees that her underwear is laying next to the guy’s head on the pillow. Not only that, but this is one of those situations she finds embarrassing as the underwear is actually covered in the aforementioned “cream cheese” or cervical mucus. She cringes, retrieves the underwear and hastily puts it back on under the covers.

At this scene we can assume that the presence of visible cervical mucus indicates that the character is in fact fertile at this time during the movie. Even if we didn’t know this movie was about unplanned pregnancy, perhaps we would know now. Apparently Donna is not on hormonal birth control, and she’s not sure if, in their drunkenness, they used a condom properly. So, I speculate, if Donna had known she was fertile and that the “cream cheese” in her underwear was actually one of the handy signs of fertility her body provides, then she may have taken Plan B and not had to worry about an abortion. But, then, of course, we wouldn’t have had the rest of this movie. We would have had a very different movie – a movie someone should also make.

But it goes to show how some body literacy might go a long way in helping women make more informed choices. The abortion sets her back $500 and causes some emotional turmoil. A dose of Plan B is cheaper and easier to obtain, although not without some side effects. Maybe even, we can speculate, if Donna had known she was fertile she might have avoided PIV sex that night.

It’s great to see a movie approach the choice of abortion as though it really were, well, a choice. But isn’t it interesting that in doing so it shows how women can be hampered in their choices by a lack of body literacy?

We often see women in movies discussing their “fertile time” in regards to wanting to get pregnant – and so meeting their husbands to have sex at the optimum time in usually funny, crazy scenarios. Sometimes we have seen women taking their temperature or using ovulation tests and calendars to figure this out. However, I think this might be the first mention of cervical mucus in cinema.

I had the honor of seeing this movie with longtime abortion rights and women’s health activist Carol Downer and getting to discuss it with her after. Carol pioneered the self-help movement and self-examination, adding much to our collective knowledge of our bodies.  

This is what she had to say:

“I enjoy the genre of romantic comedies with all their faults; I’m not as critical of them as I am of other genres, and ‘Obvious Child’ more than met my expectations. I particularly liked ‘Obvious Child.’ I liked the uninhibited tipsy lovemaking scenes that showed casual sex at its best. Then, the complications that arose when she found out she was pregnant and needed to have an abortion and when he continued to be very interested in having a real relationship rang absolutely true to me. It’s just our luck, isn’t it, to get pregnant when there’s no realistic way to continue the pregnancy? The women, married or unmarried, who get abortions have some variation of this experience. When we have such bad timing, it’s the pits! I loved that their relationship grew in facing the regrettable necessity of the abortion and the recovery together, and you get the feeling that the relationship has a good future ahead of it. A darned good story.”

Save the Date! The Next Great Menstrual Health Con

June 16th, 2014 by Chris Bobel

Herpes Is The New Black

March 12th, 2013 by Kati Bicknell

Okay, the title of this post may have thrown you off, but hopefully it also lured you in so that you can hear me out.

What’s the story here? Just that herpes is way more common than most people realize, and that you can get it from people who may or may not even know that they have it.

 

Micrograph showing the changes of herpes simplex virus (HSV) – Photo by Nephron // Creative Commons 3.0

Herpes is a virus that causes outbreaks of blister-like lesions on the skin. Many people have had these on their mouth, where they are known as cold sores. When these same lesions appear on the genitals they are known as genital herpes. Technically they are two different versions of the same virus. HSV-1 is usually found in oral herpes cases. HSV-2 is usually found in genital herpes cases, but either virus can cause outbreaks in either location. Upstairs can go downstairs, and downstairs can go upstairs, as it were. Ahem.

According to the American Sexual Health Association, it’s estimated that about 50% of the adult population have had a cold sore on their mouth at some point in their life, meaning they have HSV-1. Half the population! That means that half the population could potentially give you genital herpes if they performed unprotected oral sex on you, so use protection, ask for your partner’s STI status well BEFORE you engage in any hanky panky, and don’t forget to ask if they’ve ever had a cold sore. If they have, you may be at risk to contract herpes. Unfortunately, most people who are infected with the herpes virus never show any symptoms, so even if they’ve never had an outbreak, they could STILL give you herpes.

According to the Center for Disease Control, around one in six people aged 14 to 49 in the United States have the HSV-2 virus, AKA genital herpes. One in six. That’s a lot. Same deal here, they may have never had an outbreak, but they can still give it to you, and YOU can have an outbreak! If you have one outbreak, you’ll likely have more, as the herpes virus will stay with you forever.The good news though is that the outbreaks tend to decrease in frequency and severity over time.

The best way to minimize your risk of getting herpes is to know the STI status of all your partners, and to know your own. You can (and should) be one of those awesome responsible people who doesn’t give their partners the surprise gift that nobody wants. Routine STI screenings won’t check for the herpes virus, so you have to ask for it specifically.

To get a test for herpes, ask for an IGG-type specific blood test. It will show if you have antibodies to either of the two viruses, and tell you which one, if either, you have. This test will only pick up the antibodies though, which take about three to four months after the initial outbreak to show up, so it isn’t 100% accurate. Just do the best you can. And always practice safer sex (no sex is totally “safe”).

Use protection when your partner’s STI status is unknown. That means dental dams for cunnalingus and analingus, and condoms for anal sex, vaginal sex, sex toys if shared between partners, fellatio, etc. And even if you DO use condoms every time, herpes has an asymptomatic shedding period, when the virus can be passed even if there are no sores, and only the part of the body that the condom is covering is protected, and herpes can be spread from scrotum to vulva.

But even if you do all of those things, some people will STILL get herpes!

I have four friends who I know have herpes. (All names have been changed to protect their privacy.)

Susie got an outbreak of herpes out of nowhere. Her ex-boyfriend had it, but she’d never had any signs of it. Six months after she left him she got her first outbreak.

Carmen and Leslie each had their first outbreaks of herpes after several years of being with their monogamous male partners. In both cases, their boyfriends had never so much as a cold sore, and both men tested negative for herpes. Where did it come from? Had they been exposed to it earlier and the virus lay dormant for years before deciding “to rear its ugly-ass head“ (as Leslie said)? No one knows.

Karen got it from her boyfriend performing oral sex on her. She’d never had sexual intercourse. He didn’t have any cold sores on his mouth. She still got herpes. Total bummer.

Medicating the Postmenopausal Vagina

March 4th, 2013 by Paula Derry

On February 26, 2013, the Food and Drug Administration issued a news release saying that it had approved a medication called Osphena to treat a problem called postmenopausal dyspareunia (pain during sexual intercourse associated with changes in the vagina after menopause). The medical website Medscape reported that the news release had been issued. How to read these announcements? It seems as though FDA approval should be enough to know that a medication is safe and effective.   However, what are some guidelines in reading and evaluating this announcement?

First, some background: After menopause, when estrogen levels decline, tissues (cells) of the vaginal lining can become thinner, drier (thus providing less lubrication during intercourse), and less elastic or flexible.

This can result in pain during intercourse, feelings of burning or soreness, inflammation, and irritation.

Andreyeva by Ilya Repin // Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

There are a variety of solutions for dealing with this.  Regular sexual stimulation (intercourse, masturbation) is recommended to keep vaginal tissues healthy.  Water-based lubricants can help reduce discomfort during intercourse.  Expanded views of sexual pleasure that don’t include intercourse might work around the problem. Leaving enough time to become aroused during intercourse (extended foreplay), communication between partners about when sex is painful and when not, can also help. Herbs like dong quai and black cohosh are recommended, especially by complementary/alternative practitioners, although the herbs  lack a research base. A low-dose estrogen applied to the vaginal area (as a cream, tablet, etc.), is effective. Local application minimizes estrogen being absorbed into the bloodstream, traveling through the body, and having effects, some of them potentially negative, distant to the vagina. There is, however, controversy about some estrogen being absorbed.

Now, to the FDA announcement:  The FDA requires proof of a medication’s safety and effectiveness before it is approved.  According to the news release: “Osphena’s safety and effectiveness were established in three clinical studies of 1,889 postmenopausal women with symptoms of vulvar and vaginal atrophy. Women were randomly assigned to receive Osphena or a placebo. After 12 weeks of treatment, results from the first two trials showed a statistically significant improvement of dyspareunia in Osphena-treated women compared with women receiving placebo. Results from the third study support Osphena’s long-term safety in treating dyspareunia.”

Notice, first, that the drug’s effectiveness was tested for 12 weeks. This is not an unusual amount of time for such a study, but it is not very much time. Notice also that women treated with Osphena had a “statistically significant” improvement. As I discussed in a previous post, “statistically significant” means “unlikely to have occurred by chance.” In other words, there was evidence that Osphena  really did have an effect, but we don’t know how big an effect—it might be very large or very small.

Safety was established by studying the experiences of women for one year: however, one year is not a long time for side effects to develop. Osphena is a systemic medication. That means it is not applied locally in the vaginal area, it is ingested as a pill so that it travels to all parts of the body in the bloodstream. It is a selective estrogen-receptor modulator, or SERM. SERMs act like estrogen in some places in the body while not in others. The idea is that a SERM like Osphena would act like estrogen in keeping vaginal cells healthy while not acting like estrogen to increase health risks like certain cancers. However, more time than a year might be needed for health problems to show up. Indeed, the FDA news release stated that “Osphena is being approved with a boxed warning alerting women and health care professionals that the drug, which acts like estrogen on vaginal tissues, has shown it can stimulate the lining of the uterus (endometrium) and cause it to thicken…. Women should see their health care professional if they experience any unusual bleeding as it may be a sign of endometrial cancer or a condition that can lead to it.” The FDA announcement also stated that “Common side effects reported during clinical trials included hot flush/flashes, vaginal discharge, muscle spasms, genital discharge and excessive sweating” and that Osphena should be prescribed for the “shortest duration consistent with treatment goals and risks for the individual woman.”

In conclusion:  It’s always a good idea to approach information with an alert and critical mind, to look for details, to have information about background and context, and it’s always great when you have a resource you trust to help interpret information.

A Quiet Celebration of the Horny Menstruator

December 28th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Lauren Rosewarne

Courtney Cox shocked America in 1985 when she became the first person to say “period” on TV. Period, at least, in the context of menstruation and not punctuation.

 


Tampax, 1985-style

 

Flash forward a couple of decades and this year the same daring word (along with a couple of other doozies) ruffled a few feathers in a Carefree ad. At least it did initially. The furore quickly dissipated and the ad now runs regularly, uneventfully, in Australia. We’ve seemingly learnt how to cope without the conniptions.

 


“That bit of discharge” ad, 2012

 

I daresay it’s the ingratiating of the Carefree ad – with its references to the bits of ladyhood ironically considered least feminine – into our landscape that’s paved the way for another revolutionary down-there-business ad going undetected. Undetected and surprisingly, unwhinged about.

 


Libra “Bootcamp” ad, 2012

 

The new Libra ad dares use the P-word again – sure, itself a euphemism but a) “menstruation” is probably too many syllables for a short ad and b) I’d still rather hear period than any other sanitised circumlocution.

The truly startling bit about the ad however, is the way female sexuality is presented.

For most of last year I was living and breathing menstruation while writing a book on it. My focus was on media presentations and sex n’ blood got treated to a whole chapter.

While there are signs that our culture has become more menstrually mature – we’ve evidently learnt not to dial 000 when discharge is mentioned on TV for example – some menstrual taboos remain. Menstrual sex is a biggie.

On one hand thinking of the menstruator as sexy seems outlandish in the context of film and television. A couple of wonderful Californication scenes aside, periods on screen invariably and inevitably disrupt sex lives and give women – and men – an excuse to restrict it to spoonin’.

On the other hand, feminine hygiene ads are in fact full of attractive ladies peddling products to help menstruators stay sexy all month long. In advertising, the idea of the bleeding woman as outwardly desirable is effortlessly detected.

A much more shocking – and far more insteresting – construct however, is the idea of the menstruator herself feeling sexy. By sexy here, I’m not referring to the way others see her – to her objectification – rather, to her being in touch with her own horniness at a time when women often feel – biologically or because society has coerced it – dirty and out-of-action.


“It’s like a crime scene in my pants” – No Strings Attached (2011)

 

The Libra ad involves a woman who, while initially reluctant because of her period, eventually joins her friend to perve on male boot campers.

Lecherous ladies in advertising are nothing new of course; Diet Coke has long been flogged with some mildly hideous Sex and the City-style male sexualisation:


Diet Coke, 90s style

 


Diet Coke, 00s style

 

My concept of feminism doesn’t deem women panting over men as something inherently progressive. It’s not the ogling in the Libra ad however, that interests me. Rather, it’s the act of ogling for the purposes of arousal while the woman has her period.

I can’t help but be charmed by TV offering us a horny menstruator.

While a niche genre, menstrual-themed porn – here, I refer to the indie material, rather than, say, the buckets-o’-blood-fetish stuff – hints to the idea that some women are, shock horror, actually randier during their periods. Mainstream pop culture and vanilla porn however, routinely give the idea a wide berth. As in No Strings Attached (2011), menstruation is apparently a time when a bloke is just not gonna get a look in.

Just as I’m delighted when I see a woman on TV who deviates from the young/thin/white archetype that pop culture so adores, equally happy am I to see an example of female sexuality presented as a little more complex – and a tad more messier – than what’s normally on offer.

A small win, but I’ll take it.

Republished with permission from The Conversation

Footloose and Pharmaceutical-Free?

October 26th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Holly Grigg-Spall, Sweetening the Pill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Menstrual Considerations in Fifty Shades of Grey

July 25th, 2012 by Laura Wershler

SPOILER ALERT: Plot details in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy are revealed in this post.

Second book in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.

Fine literary fiction it is not, but the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by E.L. James can certainly claim to be libido-boosting storytelling. Deirdre Donahue at USA Today summarized the books’ appeal in 10 reasons ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ has shackled readers. She pretty much nailed it. And she’s read the books, which is more than can be said for other writers, including this one who implied that heroine Anastasia (Ana) Steele signs a contract to become hero Christian Grey’s submissive in a BDSM relationship. She doesn’t.

Until he meets Ana, Christian’s sexual history has included only BDSM relationships, those involving bondage, discipline, dominance, submission and sadomasochism.  BDSM plays a role in their love story, but the most sadistic thing that Ana submits to is a shot of Depo-Provera. re:Cycling readers know what I think of this contraceptive: I. Am. Not. A. Fan.

As a menstrual cycle advocate, I pay attention to menstrual mentions wherever they appear. It was impossible for me NOT to hone in on how James handles menstruation and birth control.

Christian quickly ascertains that Ana, a virgin when he meets her, is not using birth control. (His unflinching communication about sexuality is one of the books’ most appealing aspects.) As their sexual affair begins, he uses condoms. Within a week or so he asks when her period is due and says, “You need to sort out some contraception”. But our hero is a rich control freak, so he arranges for “the best ob-gyn in Seattle” to come to his home on a Sunday afternoon. Ana, the narrator:

“After a thorough examination and lengthy discussion, Dr. Greene and I decide on the mini pill. She writes me a prepaid prescription and instructs me to pick the pills up tomorrow. I love her no-nonsense attitude — she has lectured me until she’s as blue as her dress about taking it at the same time every day.”

Alas, Anastasia, just 21, is the perfect example for why researchers with the Contraceptive CHOICE Project are recommending that women under 21 use long-acting reversible contraceptive methods. She forgets to keep taking her pills when she and Christian briefly break up. It’s back to condoms for this couple, until Dr. Greene reappears, confirms Ana is not pregnant, and, after Depo-Provera’s side effects are dismissed as irrelevant because “the side effects of a child are far-reaching and go on for years”,  gives her the shot. I almost had to stop reading.

I get it that James uses Depo-Provera as a plot device, as becomes apparent. But the author’s decision to give Ana Depo-Provera is not in keeping with either Dr. Greene’s or Christian’s characters. I don’t believe for one minute that the best ob-gyn in Seattle would give Depo-Provera to any patient; she’d recommend a Mirena IUD. As for control-freak Christian, he is adamantly committed to Anastasia’s safety, evidenced in many ways. He would never consent to her taking a drug with these potential side effects: weight gain, digestive problems, depression, loss of bone density, vaginal dryness, and — especially — loss of sexual sensitivity and desire. Never! And he’s too smart not to know this.

Christian’s occasionally expressed distaste for condoms also seems to be a plot device considering he uses them so skillfully, and without obvious diminishment to either his or Ana’s pleasure, through 986 pages of the 1594-page trilogy. The tearing of foil condom packets is a leitmotif that in no way hinders this man’s exceptional “sexing skills”.

But James gets full marks for this: Christian Grey is not afraid of blood. While making love in a spacious hotel bathroom, he gently removes Ana’s tampon and tosses it in the toilet. Later, sitting on the bathroom floor, Ana remembers she has her period:

“I’m bleeding,” I murmur.

“Doesn’t bother me,” he breathes.

Menstrual Sex — Well, Not Quite

June 19th, 2012 by David Linton

Some months ago we published a piece titled “Menstrual Sex: the Last Taboo in Advertising?”  It was an analysis of a magazine ad for Softcups, a disposable menstrual collection cup, and it generated some interesting feedback.  Some reader took exception to the analysis, pointing out that the device and the add didn’t actually deal with menstrual sex since its purpose was to create a situation that eliminated any need to actually encounter menstrual fluids and therefore not having to deal with any of the social or psychological taboos nor with any aesthetic reservations the parties might have about having sex during the period.

Taking into consideration those thoughtful comments, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at another ad in the same series.

The tag line for the earlier ad was, “12 hour leak protection so you can sleep.  Or not.” And it showed the legs of a couple lying on top of each other with the women on top glimpsed through an open door, creating a voyeuristic sense of witnessing a private, erotic encounter.  The companion ad uses a similar approach, this time revealing a young couple kissing and holding hands seen through a narrow opening in a pair of thick curtains.  They are back lit by a window and might even be thought to be hiding behind the drapes.

The ad is a semiotician’s delight.  Everything surrounding the couple reads “old fashioned.”  The drapes are dark and tattered; a mantel on the left has a gilded picture frame above it and a small china tea pot on the shelf; to the right is another formal picture frame, floral wall paper and the edge of a deer’s antlers mounted high on the wall; the bottom of the picture fades into darkness.  However, at the bottom edge is a box of the Softcup product, angled in such a way as to appear to be emerging from the dark room.

In addition to the headline, “Do everything you would if you didn’t have your period. We’re not just talking about swimming.” The body text drives home the notion that this is a new product for a new generation that is less squeamish about sex during the period than the original occupants of the room: “The next generation of period protection.”  It goes on to mention “mess-free sex” and the rest of the copy stresses that the cup will contain the menstrual flow so that you can go about your life just as though you didn’t even have a period.

And, ironically, that’s just what turns the ad into a reaffirmation of the anti-period sex stereotype.  Though posing as a hip, new product to appeal to young women who presumably are not hampered by antiquated notions of when in the cycle it is OK to have sex, the ad implies that, just like the long tradition in pad and tampon ads, you can go about your life as though you did not have a period.  In other words, it’s another appeal to “keep him from knowing.”

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.