Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

The Period Fairy

February 28th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Readers who have been with us for a while may recall meeting the Period Fairy last fall. She was greeted with mixed reactions at re:Cycling, but she’s back, now with swag! Fans of the Period Fairy can now order t-shirts and coffee mugs with her likeness and slogan, “Irritating Women Since Time Began”. She’s also started her own blog.

Full disclosure: The Period Fairy’s creator just sent me a t-shirt, gratis, and they are quite nice. I was NOT asked to promote the site or the merchandise.

Red is the New Black

February 27th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Stains (TM)

Introducing Leak Chic.

Chella Quint celebrates Fashion Week, recently ended in London and New York, with clot couture.

StainsTM. A removable stain to wear on your own clothing as you see fit. A fashion statement that really says something, and that something is, ‘Screw you, Madison Avenue. I’m taking this one back. I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve and my blood on my pants. I’m gonna reclaim the stain, reclaim my blood, and reclaim my period.’ Because people, I’m telling you red is the new black.

Read more at Adventures in Menstruating.

Saturday Surfing: It’s Link-a-rific!

February 27th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Some recommended reading from the past week in ladyblogs:

Feminine Protection for Your iPad

February 26th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

iMaxi quilted carrying case for the iPadThe iPad is not even available yet, but there are already iPad accessories on the market.  Be the first on your block to get the iMaxi – the Apple iPad Case with Protective Wings.

With its durable vinyl outer layer and plush, quilted-cotton sleeve, the iMaxi helps keep your iPad clean and dry. Plus, the iMaxi’s Velcro-latched, advanced wing design wraps snugly around your device, so your iPad always stays where it should. Best of all, it shields it from all those unsightly and embarrassing data leaks that would make any motherboard worry!

But hurry and order – the red iMaxi is already sold out!

[via Jezebel]

Pain Don’t Hurt

February 25th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

A small study recently published in the European Journal of Pain found that women’s sensitivity to pain does not appear to be increased by the menstrual cycle. The study did not assess perceptions of menstrual pain, but measured pain sensitivity to cold pressor, heat, and ischemic pain at different points throughout the cyle: the early follicular, late follicular, and luteal phases. Men were also tested three times, controlling for number of days between testing sessions. The researchers found that the phase of the menstrual cycle did not affect women’s pain sensitivity, nor did it affect gender differences in pain. (Contrary to popular belief, research indicates that in general, healthy women are more sensitive to pain than healthy men.)

Talking Back to Tampon Marketing

February 23rd, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

So last week (and yesterday on Twitter) I was griping about missing out on the panel discussion “That Not So Fresh Feeling: Marketing Embarrassing Products To Women” at HousingWorks in New York. Muchas gracias to Jessica Grose of Double X for taking video and posting them online. This one features all four panelists – Allison Silverman, Susan Kim, Sarah Haskins, and moderator Hanna Rosin. Allison Silverman comments about aspirational tampon ads: “I was struck by all the horseback riding. Things I would never, ever want to do when I was menstruating. I was surprised there was no person comfortably reading a book.”

More video available at Double X.

ETA 02/24/10: There’s additional commentary from some who attended the event at Jezebel and at The Pursuit of Harpyness.

Blood on the Page: Book Review

February 22nd, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Book Cover: The Bleeding of America, by Dana MedoroGuest Post by David Linton, Marymount Manhattan College

Dana Medoro, The Bleeding of America: Menstruation as Symbolic Economy in Pynchon, Faulkner and Morrison, Greenwood/Praeger, 2002. Pp. 198. $98. ISBN 0313320594.

One of the ways the taboos surrounding menstruation find expression is through absence.  For instance, until recently menstrual references in American novels were rare.  Contemporary writers, particularly women novelists such as Joyce Carol Oates (The Tattooed Girl, 2003) and Erica Jong (Parachutes and Kisses, 1984) and occasional men such as  John Updike (The Widows of Eastwick, 2008)  and Philip Roth (The Dying Animal, 2001), have more frequently used period reference to advance a plot or to symbolize something or other, but historically the menstrual cycle has generally been off limits.  Similarly, literary criticism has tended to ignore or avoid an examination of the social, cultural and psychological significance of the cycle within the literary marketplace.  There is, however, in the area of scholarship one significant exception.

In 2002 Dana Medoro published a seminal study of menstrual references and symbolic allusions titled, The Bleeding of America: Menstruation as Symbolic Economy in Pynchon, Faulkner and Morrison.

Here’s the way the publisher describes the book:

Working from the premise that the Puritan construction of America as a return to Eden endures into American literature of the 20th century, Medoro focuses on the rhetoric of cyclical regeneration, blood, and damnation that accompanies this construction. She argues that a semiotics of menstruation infuses this rhetoric and informs the figuration of a feminine America in the nation’s literary tradition: America, as a New World Eden, is haunted not only by the Fall, but also by the “Curse of Eve.” The book examines how 9 novels by Pynchon, Faulkner, and Morrison link variations on the figure of the menstruating woman to the bloody history of the United States and to a vision of the nation’s redemptive promise.

Since publication of The Bleeding of America, Medoro has continued to explore the rich potential of menstrual symbolism in fiction as part of a presentation at the Modern Language Association where she deconstructed the levels of meaning in the many bleeding occurrences in Stephen King’s Carrie and later on in her reexaminations of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.  Her work stands as an outstanding example of how deeply embedded are aspects of the cycle in every facet of cultural expression.

Will the new PMDD please stand up?

February 21st, 2010 by Chris Hitchcock

The American Psychiatric Association has pushed back their timeline for the 5th version of the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual. The new psychiatric bible was originally scheduled to come out in 2011, but has now been delayed to 2013 .

Initial drafts have been posted to the web page, but the controversial and provisional (that is, not yet officially accepted) diagnosis of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) does not yet appear ready for comment. Which is a shame, because traditionally SMCR and its members have had a lot to say about PMDD, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to consider and critique its new incarnation. Here’s a recent post as an example.

PMDD was first introduced in the DSM-III-R as Late Luteal Phase Dysphoric Disorder. The “late luteal” was meant to include cycling women who did not bleed, for example, those with a hysterectomy but preserved ovaries, but was criticized because “luteal phase” implies ovulation, and assessing ovulation was not part of the diagnosis.

Paula Caplan (e.g. this article) and other members of the SMCR were vocal in their challenge to the psychiatric label. Paula Caplan wrote a book about her experiences with the DSM process (They Say You’re Crazy), and the SMCR produced the following position statement:

June 2001 / Resolution #1: PMDD and Sarafem
Whereas the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research has since 1977 been the pre-eminent organization that focuses on scientific research on the menstrual cycle;

Whereas there is no empirical evidence that there is premenstrual illness that is separate or different from other forms of depression or anxiety or responses to stressful life circumstances;

Whereas there is good empirical evidence the Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder does not exist;

Whereas the widespread use of Sarafem and related drugs results in both the masking of real causes of women’s suffering and the production of negative drug effects;

Therefore, be it resolved the the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research calls upon the Food and Drug Administration

a) to reconsider its approval of Sarafem for the treatment of “Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder” and

b) to enjoin Eli Lilly from airing or publishing advertisements for Sarafem to lay and professional audiences until such reconsideration is completed.

In the end, The FDA approved Sarafem (Prozac, re-colored lavender and repackaged, with a brand new patent and a new lease on life) for the treatment of this newly minted psychiatric disorder; a panel from the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products declined to follow suit, recognizing that PMDD was not a widely accepted diagnostic label in Europe, and concluding that

There was considerable concern that women with less severe premenstrual symptoms might erroneously receive a diagnosis of PMDD resulting in widespread inappropriate short- and long-term use of fluoxetine [Prozac].

Psychiatrists in the USA require an official DSM label to be paid by insurance companies for the services they provide to women with cyclic mood issues; insured treatment-seeking women in the USA require those who hold the medical purse strings to recognize their distress. And having an entry in the DSM meets both of those needs.

Here are some points that I think are helpful to start a discussion:

  1. We acknowledge that some women, at some times in their lives, experience significant increases in negative mood and physical symptoms around the time of menstrual bleeding, that for some these changes are extreme and seriously interfere with their lives, and that this experience needs to be recognized and treated.
  2. We challenge whether this constellation of symptoms properly belongs in a psychiatric diagnosis, because of the stigma and possible legal ramifications (e.g., child custody) that such a diagnosis may have, and because of the endocrine component of the experiences which may be less well understood by those trained as psychiatrists.
  3. Psychiatric treatment often amounts to adminstration of prozac (either directly, or repackaged as Sarafem), rather than an appreciation of the other aspects in a woman’s life (abuse, financial hardship) that may be contributing to her distress. Prozac may or may not be effective, and has significant (e.g. sexual) side-effects.
  4. We also want to clearly distinguish between the normal, non-clinical, changes that most women experience over the course of their menstrual cycle and the severe, debilitating symptoms that might be considered a clinical disorder demanding treatment. Population based studies (Ramcharan, Sveinsdottir) estimate the prevalence of severe premenstrual mood symptoms at 1-5%.
  5. There are other ways to approach treatment. For an overview and some practical recommendations, Diana Taylor’s book, Taking back the month, is a good start. A good start is to track; CeMCOR also has free tracking tools, and lots of information.
  6. This is a power-play on several levels (a) by psychiatrists, to stake out therapeutic territory (b) by pharmaceutical companies, who want a new market for their old drug, and who then use advertising to suggest that a woman frustrated by shopping carts might have PMDD. The FDA issued a warning letter about the offending ad, which was later pulled.

  7. PMDD is still a provisional category in the DSM as requiring further study.

PMDD gives women a familiar choice between being told our issues are “all in our head”, or being called crazy, with all the stigma that entails.

High Tide – menstruation positive art

February 20th, 2010 by Chris Hitchcock

In honour of the fabulous Laurie Anderson (whose Delusion performance I will be attending this evening), I wanted to share a link to her song Beautiful Red Dress from the Strange Angels album. It’s full of powerful imagery, and, as always for her, that bit of strange.

Cause the moon is full and look out baby –
I’m at high tide.

I’ve got a beautiful red dress
And you’d look really good
standing beside it..
I’ve got some beautiful new red shoes
and they look so fine
I’ve got a hundred and five fever
and it’s high tide.

And here’s a nice piece of rich poetry about menstrual cyclicity of mood:

Well they say women shouldn’t be the president Cause we go crazy from time to time
Well push my button, baby
Here I come
Yeah, look out, baby
I’m at high tide

I’ve got a beatiful red dress and you’d look really good standing beside it..

I always love the way she plays with words, and she captures both the power and the double-edge of being a menstruating woman, being a woman at all. What can I say, I’m a fan, and looking forward to tonight. I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday Surfing – It’s link-alicious!

February 20th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Here’s some recommended reading for the weekend.

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.