Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Menstruation and Music Don’t Mix

January 29th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Cartoon illustration of opera singerThat’s the report from this arts blogger at the New York Times. Yesterday, doctors from the Methodist Center for Performing Arts Medicine of the Methodist Hospital in Houston held a daylong symposium on the management of medical problems among musicians specifically and performing artists more generally. Performing-arts medicine is a relatively new specialty, and frankly, I’m not surprised by the need for it. (I know a drummer who has ongoing neck and back problems caused – or at least aggravated – by his art.)

But I was surprised to see a blanket recommendation that female vocalists use oral contraceptives to suppress menstruation. According to Keith O. Reeves, the deputy chief of Gynecology at the Methodist Hospital and a professor at Weill Cornell, premenstrual syndrome “brings vocal fatigue, decreased range, loss of power and loss of some harmonics.” Continuous use of synthetic hormones is quite an extreme remedy for an illness without a clear definition or etiology.

But apparently menopause is much harder on the vocal folds – our intrepid blogger can’t even tell us:

As for menopause, you don’t want to know. As Dr. Reeves quotes the great mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig, “It was a hell of some years.”

Soon: (Even)Better ‘Bitch’ing

January 28th, 2010 by Chris Bobel

bitch magAs of Feb 8th, freelance writer, re:Cycling guest blogger, and oral contraception watchdog Holly Grigg-Spall (check out her blog “Sweetening the Pill”) will join the Bitch magazine blog team. She will opine on women’s reproductive health—news stories, developments, research, and more.

I have been a long time fan of Bitch and expect to love it that much more with Grigg-Spall burning up the blogscape with her take on things.

More eyes and ears and voices! Hurrah!

The Guy with a Good Attitude Toward Menstruation

January 28th, 2010 by Chris Bobel

All this iPad humor has got us thinking about menstrual humor more generally–what’s funny (to some) what’s not (to others), why and why not.

In the end, anything-menstruation is almost always met with either

1) a shudder and a swift topic shift


2) an uncomfortable laugh that reinforces once again, the menstruation-rule-we-live-by.

Then there’s our friends Chella Quint and Sarah Thomasin who brilliantly and creatively write and perform menstrual humor that is genuinely funny without being offensive to women. But their work is truly exceptional.

Usually, the humor is more like this classic from Kids in the Hall. Finally giving up the luddite’s fight, I joined Facebook this week and look what I found: this page referencing a sketch starring Dave Foley

The over-the-top earnestness of this guy is funny, sure, but that’s not all that’s going on.

Yeah—he offers a lot more appreciation for the menstrual cycle than even I aspire to– but is the premise–that a guy could offer something other than disgust (or at best, indifference) to menstruation– really that hysterical?

Granted, the concluding passage (below)had me laughing, but like most (all?) satire, after the laughs die down, I’m left wondering: why IS that funny, anyway?

And what does the success (or the failure–you decide) of the humor reveal about enduring assumptions about masculinity, women’s bodies, and heternormativity?

That’s why the woman I shall love will be able to menstruate as fully and freely as she desires. Even if her monthly flow should build in intensity to a raging rust colored torrent! An unbridled river of life giving blood flowing from between her legs! An awesome cataract plunging off the edge of our couch. I wouldn’t be phased! No, no, even if coureur de bois would come up stream, battling the rapids, and singing a ‘jaunty song’! I would take no offense, rather I would ford across that mighty womanly river, and fetch herbal tea and Pamprin. And then I would mop her brow and admire her fecundity. For I…Have A Good Attitude….Towards MENSTRUATION!

Introducing the iPad

January 27th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Word on the street is that Apple is introducing their first tablet computer today. With their usual flourish, they’ve named it . . . wait for it . . . the iPad.

ETA: The ladies at Jezebel have published more than one compilation of period-related iPad jokes. A sample:

Are you there, God? It’s me, Marketing.

Don’t make fun. The iPad is the technology of the future. Period.

Can I get a scented iPad for when my data feels not-so-fresh?

Edited again to add: The Week has an interesting comparison of historical femcare slogans and Apple slogans – more similar than one might expect.

[Video via Lunapads]

Don’t Let The Cat(amenial) Out

January 27th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Word Search puzzle featuring menstrual cycle termsGuest Post by David Linton, Manhattan Marymount College

A short item in the February 2010 issue of Harper’s Magazine captures, yet again, how nervous some folks are about any mention of matters menstrual.  The piece referred to the publication of a list of words and terms that were blacklisted from use in crossword puzzles and other word games by a British computer program called Crossword Compiler.

Among the partial list of problematic terms, along with others such as bollocksing, bonk, clitoridectomy, fanny, nooky, ruttish, sapphic, sexy and shtup, was the word “catamenial.”  This rather arcane term is one of the more obscure references to the period, more likely to appear in medical or, surprisingly, broadcasting documents.

For the first 25 years of commercial TV’s existence in the US, the National Association of Broadcasters specifically banned the advertising of feminine sanitary products.  It was not until 1972 that the ban was lifted and a year later, 1973, the first mention of the menstrual cycle appeared in a ground breaking episode of All in the Family.

Once the ban was lifted, strict rules were put in place.  Network “standards and practices” guidelines detailed how and when menstrual products could be advertised using the most non-colloquial language they could find.  For example, NBC’s “Personal Products Advertising Guidelines” included a sub-category labeled “Catamenial Devices and Panty Shields,” and ABC used a similar phrase, “Catamenial Devices, Panty Shields, Douche Products”

Use of this Greek derivative (meaning to occur periodically) captures the sense of mystery and semantic evasion characteristic of the way menstruation is commonly discussed.  It is noteworthy that the guidelines issued by ABC, CBS and NBC all avoided any use of the more common terms, menstruation and period.  Furthermore, the most common generic terms used to apply to the products themselves are also avoided.  Nowhere in the network guidelines is there a reference to pads, napkins or tampons.

Not only is the language of the network advertising guidelines sanitized (so to speak), but the rules for ad content insured that the ads themselves would be similarly discrete.  In this regard, the most important rule was that men have no significant presence in the ads.  The NBC guidelines stated that, “Use of mixed social situations is limited to incidental appearances.”  CBS insisted that “Sexual themes are unacceptable.”  ABC agreed that, “The use of either children or mixed social situations in advertising is acceptable when incidental and unrelated to the product.”

The rise of cable TV has altered the menstrual landscape considerably, yet evasions continue to prevail.  As I type this observation, my spell check repeatedly underlines the word “catamenial” in red, and when I ask what the preferred spelling is I learn that it is “cat menial,” whatever that could possibly mean.  So here’s an invitation to re:Cycling readers.  If the folks at Crossword Compiler decide to rescind their ban, what crossword clue would you suggest as an appropriate one for the word catamenial?

Be part of the next edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves

January 26th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Cover of OUR BODIES, OURSELVESOur Bodies, Ourselves is seeking up to two dozen women to participate in an online discussion on sexual relationships.

Stories and comments may be used anonymously in the next edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, which will be published in 2011 by Simon & Schuster.

We are seeking the experience and wisdom of heterosexual, lesbian, bisexual, queer and trans women. Perspectives from single women are encouraged, and you may define relationship as it applies to you, from monogamy to multiple partners. We are committed to including women of color, women with disabilities, and women of many ages and backgrounds.

In the words of the brilliant anthology “Yes Means Yes,” how can we consistently engage in more positive experiences? What issues deserve more attention? And how do we address social inequities and violence against women? These are some of the guiding questions that will help us to update the relationships section in “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”

The conversation will start Sunday, Feb. 14 (yes, Valentine’s Day) and stay open through Friday, March 12.

Participants will be invited to answer relevant questions (see sample below) and build on the responses of other participants. We’ll use a private Google site to post questions and responses.

Personal stories and reflections are welcomed, along with updated research and media resources. While we hope to use some of the stories and experiences in the book, names will not be published.

We hope the open process* will spark robust discussion. We expect new questions to arise that challenge us to re-work this section even more.

If you would like to participate in this conversation, please e-mail OBOS editorial team member Wendy Sanford:

In your email, please tell us about yourself and what you would bring to the conversation. We need to hear from you by Feb. 5 Feb. 3 and will let you know soon thereafter about participation. Thanks for considering this!

*We have thought a great deal about privacy. If you want to share a story or information, but do not want to participate in the private Google site discussion, please indicate that in your email. We may send you questions that you can answer on your own.

* * * * * *
Sample Questions
Participants can suggest other questions

How do you define — and express — intimacy?

What are you looking for in a relationship? What kind of relationship do you seek at this time in your life — monogamous, non-monogamous, long-term, short-term, one partner or more than one? How is this related to being a woman or to your gender or sexual identity in the society(ies) and culture(s) to which you belong?

What do you enjoy most about being sexual?

What are your experiences in a relationship that spans differences such as class, race, age, physical or mental ability, chronic illness, other?

How does it affect your relationships when you are with someone whom the world gives more or less power than you have — because of race, income, gender or disability?

What role has love played or not played in your relationships?

Describe a time when you realized that despite the romantic images you may have grown up with, a relationship you intended to stay in over time was going to be work.

What are some obstacles that can get in the way of our relationships? What images or stereotypes in popular culture add to the difficulties?

What helps? What books or other resources do you trust to speak honestly about relationships?

What is it like to be in a relationship with a man/with a woman when you don’t like some or all of your own body?

How have specific acts of sexual violence against you, or general societal/cultural acceptance of violence against women or LGBT people, affected your intimate sexual relationships?

If you have been in intimate sexual relationships with both women and men, are there special dynamics and challenges that you have noticed in each?

If you have experience with online dating networks, what would you want someone to know who was just starting to explore that venue? What are the safety issues?

[Re-posted from Our Bodies, Our Blog]

Will HPV Screening Replace Pap Tests?

January 26th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Photo of two women in medical consult.Researchers in Italy have recently completed a study comparing the effectiveness of DNA testing for HPV (human papillomavirus) to the commonly used Pap smear for detecting cervical cancer. Their findings suggest that more cases of cervical cancer can be prevented with HPV testing than with the conventional Pap smear, especially for women over 35.

There are, however, some disadvantages to using DNA tests to detect HPV. For example, the test is less specific, which means that there are more false positives in the results. This means more women have to return for further testing. In practice, HPV screening has a callback rate of about 25-30%, compared to a callback rate of about 5-7% for Pap smears, according to Dr. Mark Einstein, a gynecologic oncologist and director of clinical research at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

Health News Review points out that although the HPV test is more effective in the sense that it prevents invasive cervical cancer by detecting persistent high-grade lesions earlier and providing a longer low-risk period for older women, replacing Pap smears with it is not necessarily more cost-effective for patients, given the costs of the additional colposcopies that result from the higher callback rate from HPV testing.

Don’t Douche!

January 25th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Unassembled douchebag and accessories.Remember my rant about “vagina wash” back in November? No? I’ll wait while you read it.

Anyway, it’s not just a political rant: there are new data that indicate that douching probably causes bacterial vaginosis. A research team studying the association between douching and bacterial vaginosis published their findings in the February 2010 issue of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. The researchers were interested in determining whether the association between douching and BV is causal, or if the association exists because women douche when they experience symptoms of BV. They compared numerous personal hygiene practices with douching.

A longitudinal study of the vaginal flora of 3620 women – involving a whopping total of 13,517 gynecological visits – found that that only one personal hygiene behavior correlates strongly with bacterial vaginosis: douching. The researchers found no statistically significant correlation between BV and type of underwear (nylon vs. cotton); menstrual product (tampons vs. pads; pads and tampons vs. pads); use of pads or panty liners when not menstruating; weekly or greater use of hygiene spray, powder, or towlettes; or daily versus less than daily bathing and showering.

The researchers concluded that “[d]ouching, but not other feminine hygiene behaviors, is significantly associated with BV, providing additional evidence that douching may be causally associated with BV and is not simply a response to BV symptoms.”

So let’s reserve douche and douchebag to describe anti-feminist people and actions: douches are unnecessary, harmful to women, and sold to women in insulting ways.

No more Target: Women

January 25th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

We’re sad to learn that brilliant funnywoman Sarah Haskins is leaving Target: Women (and especially sad that she’s leaving before creating a TW about femcare products). But we still have her fine piece about how birth control is sold to us as period control.

Fortunately, the rest of her archive lives on, on the internet.

“Abortion is a matter of survival for women”

January 22nd, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

It was 37 years ago today that the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, in which the Court held that a woman’s right to an abortion fell within the right to privacy protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

In commemoration of that decision and women’s right to autonomy over personal reproductive decisions, I’m posting some of the newly released video of the late Dr. George Tiller talking about why he performed abortions.

Thank you, Dr. Tiller, for trusting women.

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.