Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research


October 30th, 2009 by Chris Bobel

bledbook copyThem was fightin’ words.

re:Cycling readers (thanks!) already know about Redbook‘s dimwitted “snub” of the soon-to-be released FLOW: The Cultural History of Menstruation:

You welcome it, bemoan it, or just live with it. However you feel about your period, we’re pretty sure most of you would rather spend your cash on a three- to five-day supply of Ben & Jerry’s than this 250-plus-page tome that teaches you about menstruation in the animal kingdom and the origin of tampons.

Menstrual activists Chella Quint and Sarah Thomasin sprung into comedic action and put together this oh-so-clever response ’cause they know a knee-jerk reaction to the big M when they see it.

Luckily, Redbook readers can and do think for themselves!  Quint remembers her ahead-of-her-time Grandma who knew a thing or two about our favorite topic  IN SPITE of her subscription to a particular ladymag.

Way to give it back, gals!

How (and When) to Make a Baby

October 29th, 2009 by Chris Hitchcock

According to this article, a surprising number of women seeking infertility care don’t know when to effectively focus their efforts. Australian researcher (and SMCR member) Kerry Hampton asked women seeking infertility advice about the normal ovulatory menstrual cycle, and found that most women lack basic knowledge about the menstrual cycle, ovulation, and when the optimal time is to conceive.

A study of 204 women who attended assisted-reproduction clinics in Melbourne during 2007 and 2008 showed only 13 per cent had a good knowledge of the ”fertility window” in their monthly menstrual cycle when pregnancy can occur.

Fertility nurse specialist and Monash University researcher, Kerry Hampton, told the Fertility Society of Australia’s annual scientific meeting yesterday that 11 per cent of the women had no knowledge of the fertility window and 52 per cent had poor levels of awareness.

Ms Hampton said most of the women had been trying to conceive for one year or more when they were surveyed, and that if they had of known more about natural conception, they would have had a better chance of success.

”A lot of these women were not able to optimise their chance of natural conception because they didn’t understand the window,” she said.

Quote from Australian publication The Age (link above)

The article goes on to quote a number of infertility specialists who remark that timing conception to a woman’s menstrual cycle is too stressful, arguing that the stress of precise timing can itself cause fertility problems.

But does withholding information about a woman’s own fertility signs really reduce stress? And how stressful is it to learn to read the signs?

Using a daily charting tool, such as CeMCOR’s free Menstrual Cycle Diary, can help women to become aware of the cyclic changes that precede ovulation. You can spend a lot of money on LH kits, waiting for a one-day window that tells you that ovulation is impending. Or you can track changes in your own body, and get to know what will predict ovulation.

Keeping the diary itself can be interesting and informative, and also gives you some sense of predictability and understanding. Here are some signs to look for:

    Mid-cycle stretchy mucous (like egg-white), followed by a change to more tacky mucous. The mucous is a response to the estrogen produced by a growing follicle surrounding the egg. Peak mucous precedes the release of an egg, and the mucous itself helps with sperm motility and conception. Following ovulation, progesterone changes the mucous texture to a drier, tackier secretion.
    Menstrual Cycle Diary records – Over time, by comparing your own patterns of experience with the date of ovulation estimated by the basal temperature, you will come to understand your own fertility signs. Some women find that breast tenderness is helpful, most will find stretchy mucous helpful.
    To understand how these patterns are related to ovulation, the least expensive reliable method is to use Basal Body Temperature. Body temperature rises slightly following ovulation, which is a direct effect of the progesterone that is produced following ovulation. Using a basal thermometer (one that reads to 2 digits) each morning before rising, and writing down the temperatures each day gives the information needed to estimated when ovulation occurred. Digital thermometers with a memory for the previous temperature are an inexpensive investment.
    To formally calculate the date of likely ovulation, calculated the average value (add them up & divide by the number), then look for whether there was a shift from below the average to above the average. A “normally ovulatory” menstrual cycle needs to have at least 10 days of higher temperatures at the end of the cycle. This period of higher temperatures is called the luteal phase, it is generated by the progesterone that is made following the release of an egg, and if the interval is too short, there is not enough time for the fertilized egg to get started in the uterus (implanted) before your period starts. That’s pretty common, especially related to stress, and also to ageing (more common in perimenopause).

If you keep the diary for a few months, you will start to see patterns in your own body, and get to predict when you will ovulate. The temperature rise follows progesterone rise, which follows ovulation – ovulation likely occurred within 1-2 days prior to the temperature rise.

That kind of pattern indicates ovulation, and you want to be trying to conceive during the stretchy mucous phase.

Keeping daily track of body changes over the menstrual cycle can become a routine part of your day.. It brings women into better awareness of body changes, which itself can be helpful. And it can give an area of self-knowledge and empowerment, in the often disempowering journey of not conceiving a much wanted child.

Disclaimer: Chris Hitchcock is a Research Associate at CeMCOR. Other SMCR members are engaged in fertility awareness training and methods (including Kerry Hampton).

Dia de los Muertos Cloth Menstrual Pads

October 29th, 2009 by Elizabeth Kissling

diamuertas_padsFor your seasonal pleasure, I bring you cloth menstrual pads decorated with Dia de los Muertos motifs (with thanks to Lisa, one of my Women’s & Gender Studies alumnae). These handmade pads are available at Etsy (of course!), either individually or as a set with several different sizes for your menstruating convenience.

Soft flannel or terrycloth pads are far more comfortable than paper, as well as more economical and better for the environment. If you’re going to use cloth pads, you may as well have some fun with them! CherryRiot, the Etsy seller who makes these beauties, also offers mentrual pads with tattoo themes, cherry blossoms, and other designs, as well as plain red.

Laughing AT Us

October 28th, 2009 by Chris Bobel
SKIDS: Masculine Hygiene, 2007, Chella Quint

SKIDS: Masculine Hygiene, 2007, Chella Quint

I don’t know how it happened, but somehow, I missed the viral web-based marketing campaign  “Men with Cramps” launched in 2006 by Dandelion for P&G’s ThermaCare. (Dandelion, by the way, calls themselves a “brand-sponsored storytelling company”. I. Am. Not. Making.This.Up)  The campaign generated 1.3 million views and over 15K mentions in blogs and chats and critical acclaim with a 2008 Bronze Effie Award. Nothing like a good story, I guess.

Full disclosure:

I find the campaign hilarious. This is very witty satire. The parodies of “doing science,” of Ken Burns-style documentaries and especially of MASCULINITY are beautifully executed.  As I watched the series of short videos, I laughed so hard my partner had to take his work to another room (and I had the audio on headphones). But it was the kind of laughter that felt naughty, betraying, even forbidden (and alert readers already know we at re:Cycling are consistently suspicious of “the forbidden”).

Why the guilty pleasure, then? Why not JUST pleasure?

Well, the obvious answer is not simply that I am a cranky humorless feminist (see above), but that this campaign’s intent, of course, is to move product and that always causes me pause. There’s funny and there’s funny that makes somebody rich. I prefer just funny.  And while ThermaCare (a heat wrap designed to soothe menstrual cramps) doesn’t necessarily depend on the menstrual taboo for its success (unlike pads and tampons which exploit the cultural mandate to tidy it up and NEVER, EVER spring a leak), a sales pitch is a sales pitch and I begin to resent the sneaking feeling of being manipulated by corporate shills.

Lighten up, you say? Well, that’s just the top layer.

Dandelion explains that the idea behind the campaign was to  “Give women the vicarious, cathartic pleasure of watching MEN deal with the pain of menstrual cramps.” They further explain that in their research (whatever that is), women expressed a deep need for the men in their lives to really understand menstrual pain, and furthermore, “women universally believe that men are wimps when it comes to pain.”

Marketing strategy in a nutshell:  Drive traffic to the product through pained women’s revenge fantasies.

But as I found myself doubled over with laughter, I realized that I wasn’t loving this material because men were finally getting theirs, I was yucking it up because the mockumentary ridiculed the kind of serious attention some of us pay to the menstrual cycle. If you stop and think a minute, it suggests that women [and their advocates] are just taking themselves too seriously.

Gender switcheroos like these typically work because they demonstrate the ridiculousness of something (usually a gender script, like women’s preening behaviors or men’s swaggering) through exaggeration. I do exercises like these in my Intro to Women’s Studies classes often and they work well. The role reversal lifts a cultural veil.

Watching the earnest blowhard talking heads arguing the PROFOUND impact of menstrual cramps on the events of history (Napoleon had ’em, and Achilles, Shakespeare, too), ya gotta ask:  Do we look THAT silly making arguments about how debilitating menstrual pain can be? 30 seconds with wacky Dr. Fardel and you end here: Are menstrual cycle scholars coming across as THAT self-important and vacuous when we design our research studies, collect our data, and report our findings? Fardel’s hysterical research subjects and their tales of woe lead to: Are women really THAT whiny when they complain of  PMS and/or pain that really really hurts and gets in the way of normal, daily functioning?

Gee, to watch these clever parodies, one would think so.

But I am not going there.

Instead, I consulted someone who thinks and writes about FemCare advertising a lot more than I do. I asked menstrual activist/performance artist/zinester/comic  Chella Quint to “read” the campaign. Here’s what she wrote:

“Yeah, they’re funny, but in some ways [women are] still the butt of the joke, and their ultimate goal is still selling you stuff you don’t need that will make them rich.”

What she said.

In 2007, Quint, no stranger to funny, created a faux product and campaign called SKIDS for the purpose of, as she puts it, “showing up feminine hygiene ads for what they are.”

More from Quint:

…About Skids,  they don’t really exist – sorry. We can’t really condone more disposable products anyway, and at least underwear is washable. This isn’t really a scatological campaign – it’s mainly about showing up feminine hygiene ads for what they are.

If you’ve seen the Skids ads, they should have looked familiar to you. The language, imagery and style are all in keeping with tampon and maxi-pad adverts through the ages. Euphemism-laden, soft-focused and coy, these ads have influenced cultural taboos. Despite the potential of new media to break the cycle, these same old techniques and lazy stereotypes are beginning to infiltrate feminine hygiene product websites and social networking sites as well.

In light of this, we reckoned sometimes the only way to beat ‘em is to join ‘em. We created the ad campaign to point up some classic conventions that only jump out at you when the situation is reversed. So the next time you see a feminine hygiene ad, think twice

Who in their right mind wants to read about menstruation?!?

October 27th, 2009 by Elizabeth Kissling
From November 2009 Redbook magazine

From November 2009 Redbook magazine

Well, we do, of course. But the editors of Redbook magazine assume that the topic is not of even the slightest interest to their readers.

The clipping at the left is from the November, 2009, issue, which I found at my neighborhood laundromat. It’s from a larger sidebar that lists three books for the month with capsule reviews: Lit by Mary Karr is headed “With the Club”; Lauren Grodstein’s A friend of the family is headed “In the Tub”; and Elissa Stein and Susan Kim’s Flow: The cultural history of menstruation receives the heading “One to Snub”. In case the text is too small or the image isn’t visible in your browser, the review reads as follows:

You welcome it, bemoan it, or just live with it. However you feel about your period, we’re pretty sure most of you would rather spend your cash on a three- to five-day supply of Ben & Jerry’s than this 250-plus-page tome that teaches you about menstruation in the animal kingdom and the origin of tampons.

Apparently Redbook editors know their readers; one only has to travel about 15 pages further into this issue to find the featured cover story about questions you’re too embarrassed to ask your doctor. You know, questions about periods and other things down there.

Pyrrhic Victory for Prempro Users

October 27th, 2009 by Elizabeth Kissling

Connie Barton, an Illinois woman who developed breast cancer after taking Prempro for menopausal symptoms, was awarded punitive damages by a jury in Philadelphia yesterday. The jury has already awarded her $3.7 million in compensatory damages, back in September, but we will not learn the amount of punitive damages until another Philadelphia jury reaches their verdict in similar case against the Pfizer, the drug’s manufacturer. (Technically, the case was filed against Wyeth, but the two companies just completed a merger deal last week, and Wyeth is now a subsidiary of Pfizer.)

Wyeth’s attorneys successfully argued that public revelation of the amount of damages might influence the jurors in Kendall v. Wyeth. However, the jury’s finding that Wyeth ignored evidence that the drug could cause cancer is now public information. Would I sound bitter if I said I hope that news influences potential jurors?

According to the news story about Barton’s case at, Pfizer has now lost five of eight trials over its hormone-replacement drugs since cases began reaching juries in 2006. 1500 more trials against Wyeth are pending at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. But a longer story in Philadelphia Magazine reports 23 out of 31 cases set for trial have been resolved favorably for Wyeth; the company has settled five, and several are on appeal.

Christine Speer also writes,

The future of Prempro . . . seems pretty stable, no matter what the juries decide. Doctors in some 85 countries continue to prescribe it for hot flashes.

[. . . .]

The Philadelphia judge who basically invented mass tort pharmaceutical litigation — Sandra Mazer Moss — has made it her court’s mission to get through this docket and hear all 1,500 Philly-based trials. There might even be cases tried in groups. “The plaintiffs are due their day in court,” Moss says. “And so are the defendants. That is justice. Even one-tenth of a courtroom in your lifetime is better than nothing because you’re dead.”

If you were on the jury, you’d likely hear that Moss — who came to this court’s bench in January — arrived too late for the 205 women who died still waiting for their cases to come to trial. If you were on the jury, you’d hear that WHI’s lead researcher thinks 200,000 women who got breast cancer in the past decade have long-term hormone therapy to thank for it. If you were on the jury, you’d hear that Wyeth did everything a responsible drug company can possibly do in getting out a drug whose benefits still outweigh its risks.

Of course, if you’re not on the jury, you might never hear any of that. You might just be a patient.

World Menopause Day

October 25th, 2009 by Elizabeth Kissling

We’re a week late in commemorating World Menopause Day here at re:Cycling. Sounds like a holiday right up there with Menstrual Monday, but it doesn’t sound very celebratory, from what I can discern.

I discovered World Menopause Day, observed annually on October 18, when a press release for GEM Keep it cool™, “the first ever, ready to drink wellness supplement for menopause relief made with natural and nature-identical ingredients free of the risks associated with hormones” showed up in my inbox yesterday. Cynic that I am, I wondered if this holiday was simply about selling products to middle-aged women, so I began poking around on the internetz.

I found that World Menopause Day has a venerable history: it was started in 1984 by the International Menopause Society (IMS) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Both are reputable, credible organizations with admirable goals, so I was easily persuaded that World Menopause Day isn’t all about marketing. IMS marks World Menopause Day by doing its best to spread the word about potential health consequences of menopause:

In observation of the day, the IMS, through its organ the Council of Affiliated Menopause Societies, distributes sample press materials to inform women about menopause, its management and the impact of estrogen loss. World Menopause Day can also be a call to implement policies that support research and treatment in the area of menopausal health.

As the world’s population ages, there will be increasing numbers of women entering menopause and living beyond postmenopause. The potential symptoms of menopause may have a negative impact on the quality of daily life. Moreover, the consequences of menopause can lead to a host of age-related diseases including heart disease and osteoporosis. Nations around the world should continue to educate women about menopause and the benefits of preventive health care.

The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) offers similar party plans:

The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), in conjunction with The International Menopause Society, recognizes October 18 as World Menopause Day. This important day is acknowledged by the organization as the day when all nations should take active steps to educate women about the health-related implications of menopause.

I grok that many women, probably even a statistical majority, experience some unpleasant symptoms during the menopausal transition. And I know that the Baby Boom generation thinks no one ever experienced menopause before (just like they were the first to experience adolescence, sex, parenthood, and other milestones), but why does all of the acknowledgment of menopause and education about it have to be so clinical? Not to mention so sad. Menopause is not a disease. It’s a natural phase of adult women’s lives, and I’m really hoping it comes with some benefits. (For instance, I’m looking forward to being a wise old crone, esteemed by my community. Being a smart-assed young woman and now, middle-aged woman, hasn’t won me as much esteem as you might think.)

7dwarves_menopI’m tired of seeing menopause represented as abject misery. I was especially distressed to see one blog marking World Menopause Day with this illustration of the Seven Dwarves of Menopause. It’s another pathetic example of propagating the idea that women are ruled by their hormones, which are always destructive. There’s clearly a lot of education to be done about menopause, hence the need for World Menopause Day, but also a need to find ways to celebrate aging.

To learn about official Society for Menstrual Cycle Research views of menopause, read our Testimony to Office of Research on Women’s Health at NIH [2009] and our Position Statement on the Women’s Health Initiative & Estrogen Therapy [2007].

Because Health Care Reform Is A Women’s Issue

October 22nd, 2009 by Elizabeth Kissling

A Woman Is Not A Pre-Existing ConditionOur readers outside the U.S. may want to just skip over this post.

I’ve been watching what passes for debate over health care reform in the U.S. for months now, and it’s making me increasingly cranky. I suppose I’ve known for years that political decision making is heavily influenced by lobbyists and other financial interests, but it has never been so crystal clear to me as it has been this summer as I’ve watched so-called progressive and democratic congress members fight against doing what’s right. Americans need health care reform, and especially American women need it. Not only do women have distinct health care needs, women are more likely than men to require health care their whole lives, including care related to reproductive and menstrual concerns. That is not “extra”.  As Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) forcefully reminded Sen. John Kyl (R-Arizona), the sad fact that 60% of insurance plans don’t cover basic maternity is relevant to everyone.

Furthermore, women are frequently decision-makers regarding health care for their whole family, especially in woman-headed single-parent families (which are approximately 23% of all families in the U.S.). According to the Department of Labor, women make approximately 80% of all family health care decisions. Women are also more prone to certain chronic conditions, and on average, use more prescription drugs than men.

Yet in most of this country, insurers are allowed to set premium rates that take sex into account: these “gender ratings” mean that women (and businesses with predominantly female workforces), are often charged more than men for the exact same coverage. Sometimes the gender penalty is as much as 140% more. In a few states, a woman can be legally denied health insurance if she has been a victim of intimate partner violence; it’s a pre-existing condition. Now reports are emerging that women who have been sexually assaulted are denied insurance coverage for rape exams and medication and therapy for trauma.

And you don’t want to get me started on affordability issues; I’ve witnessed the struggle to keep health insurance first-hand in my own family, helping my parents pay for their coverage as their rates were jacked up each year. Rather than just rant about the insurance industry and the state of health care in the U.S., I’m going to leave you with these links to recommended reading:

Sharon Lerner, The Nation, Why Women Need Healthcare Reform

Nancy Folbre, economics professor at M.I.T.: Health Care Reform is a woman’s issue

Michelle Chen, Air America, Being A Woman Is A Pre-Existing Condition: Domestic Violence and Health Care

Ezra Klein, Washington Post, You Have No Idea What Health Costs

Matt Tiabbi, Rolling Stone, Sick and Wrong (Tiabbi’s trenchant analysis is one of the best pieces I’ve read about the need for health care reform in the U.S.):

Fully $350 billion a year could be saved on paperwork alone if the U.S. went to a single-payer system — more than enough to pay for the whole goddamned thing, if anyone had the balls to stand up and say so.

The National Women’s Legal Center has several excellent articles about health care, health care reform, and women’s needs (NWLC reports are the sources for much of the data I cite above), including this brief intro (.pdf) and this longer statement (.pdf). Visit their Reform Matters site for more.

You can also visit their educational campaign site, complete with easy links for emailing your representatives in Congress. Because being a woman is not a pre-existing condition.

First, do no harm

October 20th, 2009 by Elizabeth Kissling

When a link to this study, which found that the higher a patient’s BMI, the lower their physician’s respect for them, showed up in my Twitter feed yesterday (thanks, Michelle), I started connecting some dots.

Women delay seeking treatment for menstrual pain due in part to taboos about menstruation and concealment, often waiting and suffering for years. As I learned recently (and reported here), research estimates an average delay between onset of pain and diagnosis of endometriosis of 8 years in the UK and 11 years in the US.

Women (and men) who are considered “overweight” are frequently treated badly by health care practitioners, who tend to focus on the weight as the Cause Of All Illness and Ailments. Regardless of the reason for seeking treatment, fat patients are advised to lose weight. Given this reality, many fat people avoid seeing health care providers altogether, and those who do are less likely to be screened for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers. Even fat people with college educations and health insurance avoid doctors.

So what happens when fat women have menstrual problems? (Please note that I am following the practice of other advocates of fat acceptance and Health At Every Size (HAES) in using the term fat as a descriptive adjective, not a pejorative.)

Xanthine sought care from a respected gynecologist in her community for her uncomfortably heavy periods. The doctor could not stop talking about her gut: “Cut out the refined starches. Lose some of that gut, yes, at least twenty pounds you could stand to lose. Ha ha! Goodbye!” Xanthine reminded him again of the reason for her pelvic exam, and he changed her prescription for birth control pills.

Gina, a 16-year-old with a history of irregular menstruation who stopped having periods altogether, was advised to join Weight Watchers and to get lap-band surgery.

Because of a career-related relocation, Susanne was unable to receive treatment from the same doctor who diagnosed her Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Her new gynecologist told her, PCOS isn’t a real disease, it’s been made up by fat women.” This doctor went on to disparage the test results from her previous physician as well as Susanne’s intelligence.

There are more stories, of course. These are just some of the most egregious examples from the collection at First, Do No Harm: Real Stories of Fat Prejudice in Health Care.

I’m left wondering how many women of all sizes suffer in silence. How do any of us even know what counts as “normal” or “abnormal” menstruation??

In Search of the “Normal” Vagina….

October 19th, 2009 by Chris Bobel

Guest Post by Alexandra Jacoby, independent artist

VulvagraphicsSince September 2000, I’ve been capturing a glimpse of women’s most private selves. So private that most women have not seen their own, much less others. I’ve been making vagina portraits. They are close-up, documentary-style photographs of our vulvas—the elusive faces of our vaginas in plain view—so we can see ourselves for ourselves.

The project began when a friend of mine asked me if I liked the way my vagina looked. Apropos nothing: did I like the way my vagina looked? As I answered, I realized that I had never really taken a good look at it, and that other than a bit of porn, I hadn’t actually seen any other women’s vaginas.

I was pretty sure that they were all different, but had nothing to point to when talking with my friend, who clearly thought there was something wrong with how hers looked.

It struck me that there should be a book, a visual reference for women—of actual women. And, so began vagina vérité®—an unabashed exploration of the plain, ordinary, mysterious matter of our vaginas.

I’ve photographed 90 v-portraits so far—each beautiful and strikingly unique!

Before vagina vérité®, I hadn’t noticed how unusual it was for women to talk about our body-experiences. Not-talking was normal to me. In my experience, this silence, and the shame that underlies it, continues to be the norm. When I bring up the subject, and I often do, I am almost always met with surprise and discomfort.

In this space of not-talking, misinformation moves in, like my friend’s belief that her vulva was supposed to look a certain way.

I’d like to see this change.

I’d like us to talk about our body-experiences, and to have access to accurate information, images, and each other’s stories. I’d like to hear what you think, and about your experiences of your body. Mostly, I’d like this conversation to be normal. And, for that, I take action!

If you’re in the NYC-area, please join us at Vulvagraphics: an Intervention in Honor of Genital Diversity OCT 24-25, at The Change You Want To See gallery, 84 Havemeyer Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211.

It’s a space for conversation, organized by the New View Campaign, where you’ll experience vulva-celebrating art and crafts, including a preview of vagina vérité®. On Sunday, there’s a brunch salon. Check out the website for more details. Read the press release. I am VERY excited to be participating in Vulvagraphics! Come by and say hello. I look forward to talking with you!

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.