Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Weekend Links

October 31st, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

It’s Halloween weekend!


October 28th, 2010 by Heather Dillaway

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the words we use when we’re talking about menstruation or reproductive experiences more generally. I’ve been noticing lately that we use the word “waiting” quite a bit. I have a friend who is “still waiting” for her menstrual cycle to be “normal” again after her second child, and several other friends who are either “waiting” to figure out whether they will get pregnant, “waiting” to be done with their pregnancies, or “waiting” before they can have their last and final kid. I just had my basement waterproofed and one of the basement repairmen told me that his wife had been “waiting” ten months to get a menstrual period and that they were worried about her (this is information he volunteered after I told him I studied women’s health). I started thinking more about how the menopausal women I interview always talk about “waiting” to figure out whether they are really “at menopause,” or “waiting” to figure out if this is really their last menstrual period. Or how so many girls/young women who are sexually active are “waiting” to get their periods so that they can be relieved to know they are not pregnant. Or how women with painful periods, endometriosis, or migraines are waiting until those days are over each month. What does all of this reproductive waiting (waiting for menstruation, waiting for menstruation to be over, waiting for pregnancy, waiting for birth, waiting for menopause) mean?


In all of these instances of reproductive waiting, waiting seems a negative connotation and that seems to stem from the fact that we do not feel in control or in charge of this reproductive time. When I think of the other situations in which I might use the word “waiting”, the same holds true. I tell my kids to “wait their turn” and they don’t like it. And none of us really like waiting in line. Fast food restaurants, frozen dinners, and ATM machines are all in existence because we don’t have time or don’t like to wait. Phrases that we use like “worth the wait” also connote negativity about waiting. So, I finally looked up the actual definition of waiting. Depending on which online dictionary you visit, definitions of “waiting” include: “pause, interval, or delay,” “the act of remaining inactive or stationary,” or “the act of remaining inactive in one place while expecting something.” While some of these definitions do not automatically lend themselves to negativity, waiting is defined mostly as a passive activity that we are forced to participate in, perhaps against our will.

All of this makes me think further about whether women really dislike the waiting or the time that comes with menstruation or other reproductive experiences, and whether women really feel out of control as they engage in their experiences. Is this just a word we use or are we really impatient about menstruation and reproduction? When I think about alternative words that are sometimes used, like “tracking,” other words seem much more agentic in that they put women back in control of their cycles and other reproductive experiences. So, is it just the word “waiting” that has the negative connotation or is that word signifying some larger impatience that we have about reproduction these days? I have a colleague who writes about the “inconveniences” of reproduction and how, in so many ways, we try to avoid the reproductive waiting or reproductive uncertainties we face. For instance, instead of waiting to see when a baby is born, we might plan a c-section so that we can know when we’ll get that baby. Or, now we’re told that if we’re “waiting” more than 6 months to get pregnant that we should probably start taking fertility drugs to shorten our wait or get rid of some of that uncertainty. Or now we can find out that we’re pregnant a couple weeks after conception instead of waiting to see whether we menstruate a few weeks later. We attempt to cut out some of those reproductive waits these days. Menstrual suppression is at least partially popular because then women won’t have to be surprised by their periods or wait to know what bad day their period might fall on.

I think perhaps we do need to be more conscious of the words we use to describe our own and others’ reproductive events. Is “waiting” the correct word to use? Is “tracking” a better word to use because of the agency/active control it implies? Is “experiencing” a broader, less value-laden word to use? What do we really mean when we use these words?

Menstruation Can Lead to Shopping Sprees

October 27th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Kitty Holman

Yves Saint Laurent Satin Peep-Toe Shoes

Yves Saint Laurent Satin Peep-Toe Shoes

Make no mistake, there are some women who absolutely love to shop. And why not? Shopping has long been described as being a therapeutic activity because it has the uncanny ability to lift the spirit. After all, bringing home a new pair of sassy shoes can do wonders for a foul mood. But shopping can also be a detrimental hobby for women who are carefully monitoring their funds. This is especially true during the week right before menstruation. New research by Karen J. Pine and Ben C. Fletcher at the University of Hertfordshrine’s School of Psychology has shown that women tend to spend more money when they are later into their menstruation cycle than during any other time of the month. Their paper, “Women’s spending behaviour is menstrual-cycle sensitive,” appears in the January, 2011, issue of Personality and Individual Differences.

Menstruation affects women in an almost primal way. At peak ovulation, which is when the female body is the most fertile and therefore the most likely to become pregnant, women may find themselves unconsciously adapting their behavior to attract men, or potential mates. Many women change their dress style during this time in an effort to impress potential partners, which has been dubbed the “ornamentation effect,” according to researchers . The ornamentation effect typically occurs a week before menstruation, coinciding with Pine and Fletcher’s findings that women tend to make more indulgent and reckless expenditures during this time than any other time of the month. The research suggests that the two are connected, as women may make more self-indulgent purchases, typically of clothing or other “preening” items, because they are unconsciously driven to adapt their physical appearance to attract a mate. In fact, the researchers surveyed 443 women, all menstruating and between the ages of 18 and 50, and found that 48 percent of the women who admitted to impulsive and excessive spending did so when they were premenstrual, as opposed to the 34 percent who were menstrual or post-menstrual and the mere 18 percent who were in mid-cycle.

Another factor driving women to overspend a week before menstruation can be attributed to hormones. Immediately before menstruation, the female body is barraged with different signals in addition to the desire to attract a potential partner. Hormonal triggers can bring on mood swings and other irritability symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome, also known as PMS. These symptoms and the stress that they bring on can dampen a woman’s capacity for self-control, which can further explain why women tend to spend more during the luteal phase, the only time during the menstrual cycle when PMS occurs. If the unawareness of self-control is not one of the driving causes behind overspending during the luteal phase, then it is likely that justification is. Women may feel that they deserve to spend more during this time of the month as they are generally feeling uncomfortable and irritable, even if they understand that the expenditure is extravagant.

Whether excessive spending is caused by an unconscious need to preen, a lack of self-control in the face of PMS-related stress, or a simple license to indulge in shopping caused by luteal phase anxiety, otherwise money-smart women can find themselves more susceptible to making impulse purchases the later they are into their menstrual cycle. Those who wish to watch their spending and protect their funds from reckless behavior can simply avoid the mall during that particular time of the month.

This guest post is contributed by Kitty Holman, who writes on the topics of nursing schools.  She welcomes your comments at her email address

Weekend Links

October 24th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Here’s a sample of our late October reading:

And the Bad News about Hormone Therapies Continues to Accumulate…

October 21st, 2010 by Heather Dillaway

Yes, the hormone therapies prescribed for women in perimenopause and beyond have already been suspect. Especially after the initial Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) trial results in 2002 (but even before that), researchers documented the health risks associated with the use of hormones during menopause, especially combination hormone therapies (therapies including estrogen plus progesterone, such as Prempro). SMCR’s Jerilynn Prior has done plenty of work on this as has SMCR’s Paula Derry, and WHI researchers and spokespeople have had to come out about many of the health risks as well. Now, this week, we find out that not only is there an increased risk of breast cancer for women who use these hormone therapies but that, according to a New York Times article published on Tuesday, “Women who took hormones and developed breast cancer were more likely to have cancerous lymph nodes, a sign of more advanced disease, and were more likely to die from the disease than were breast cancer patients who had never taken hormones.” According to this New York Times article, this report is the first to reveal WHI death rates.

After the dust settled from the original WHI reports about the risks of hormone therapies, researchers and doctors often made claims that it was still okay for women to be on hormone therapies for an extended period of time. Instances of death (instead of just disease/illness) are now causing some researchers and doctors to come forward and say that it is no longer safe for women to be on hormone therapies for this amount of time. Dr. Chleblowski, an author of the latest study about women’s mortality, is quoted in the New York Times article as saying that women should not stay on Prempro for more than a year or two.

Bottom line, these drugs are dangerous for women. The older we get, the more we realize that illness, disease, and death are a normal part of life. I find myself realizing this more and more each day as I watch people around me get sick, die, or have to deal with the loss of loved ones. But illness, disease, and death caused by prescriptions and indirectly by doctor’s care (what is often termed iatrogenic illness or death) is just not okay – especially when more caution could be used. Sure, it’s happened all throughout history. Plenty of people died so we could have Aspirin, Viagra, epidurals, Coumadin, birth control pills, safe abortions, hysterectomies, and pacemakers, just to name a few.  But, as a doctor quoted in the New York Times article says, “The fallback is that doctors and patients should be deciding this on a one-to-one basis, weighing risks and benefits,” [but] “How do you do that when you don’t know what the risks are?”

We know that doctors are left in a precarious position, as are female patients, as they contemplate the use of hormone therapies….but what these articles and reports aren’t saying outright is that it is probably better NOT to use these drugs unless we absolutely have to. I was listening to Detroit’s NPR station driving home from work yesterday and heard even Dr. Susan Hendrix, a Detroit-based WHI researcher and doctor say, “maybe we can now just laugh at hot flashes,” instead of rely on combination hormone therapies to help us. At least that’s what she was inferring. We don’t completely understand all of the risks of combination hormone therapies but we know they include possible cancer and death, and delayed diagnosis of cancer as well (which means further death).  Since yesterday was “Love Your Body Day,” I think perhaps we need to love our bodies more by remembering that some of the signs and symptoms we experience (such as hot flashes and irregular bleeding in menopause, no matter how hard to deal with) are not life-threatening, are completely normal, and can be dealt with without drugs — because the alternative is not so benign. Why should women continue to worry about whether they’ll die by Prempro? It seems WHI results are beginning to get even clearer, and I’ll be interested to see whether rates of prescription decrease after this last report. I also wonder what the makers of Hot Flash Havoc might think of this.

Love Your Cycle

October 20th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

patelToday is Love Your Body Day, a program instigated by NOW to counter the media-fostered ideal of slender, white, long-haired, able-bodied, perpetually happy femininity. We here at re:Cycling are all about self-love, Health At Every Size, and fat acceptance, but we’d like to encourage you to celebrate your cycle while you’re basking in all that body love.

“The menstrual cycle is a window into the general health and well-being of women, and not just a reproductive event,” according to Paula Hillard, M.D., Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Pediatrics at Stanford University. You don’t have to “have a happy period” (as one femcare brand likes to say) to appreciate your cycle. Whether you welcome or despair the arrival of your flow each period, you can recognize menstruation as a vital sign of health, letting you know that your endocrine system is functioning as it should. Of course, symptoms of pain and excessive menstrual flow should be monitored, and can be treated with medications or lifestyle changes as warranted, to be determined by you and your health care professionals.

So as you’re celebrating your beautiful body and all it can do, share the love!

My Cycle Made Me Do It

October 19th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

g2241hormonesThis morning, ladymag The Stir posted an article titled, “5 Weird Things Our Menstrual Cycles Make Us Do”. Over the weekend, science site Live Science featured an article about the recent surge in ovulation-related research (with the unfortunate title, “Booty Call: How to Spot a Fertile Woman”). As a quick perusal of re:Cycling archives will reveal, these are only the most recent mass media reports of research on how ovulation and female hormones purportedly determine women’s behavior. Recent research has linked hormones and/or ovulation to women’s preferences for masculine faces, why there are so few women sushi chefs, fluctuating cholesterol levels, chocolate cravings, and competitive bidding in online auctions.

I find myself increasingly weary of such stories, especially when they’re uncritically accepted and advanced.  I’m not so naïve as to argue that there aren’t any biological differences between women and men,* but in isolation, hormones explain very little about human behavior. Ovulation is part of a complex endocrine system, which is part of an even more complex body, which exists in a social world with complicated, byzantine, ever-evolving norms, rules, and consequences for our choices. Why are overly simple explanations so popular? Is the current embrace of biological determinism a marker of a new backlash?

*I will argue, however, that most of those differences aren’t as important as they’ve been made out to be.

Weekend Links

October 16th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Respecting the Maori Menstrual Taboo

October 14th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Female visitors to Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand) are faced with a difficult moral dilemma regarding the taonga Maori collection included in an upcoming tour.

An invitation for regional museum staff to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of some of Te Papa’s collections included the condition that “wahine who are either hapu [pregnant] or mate wahine [menstruating]” were unable to attend.

Te Papa spokeswoman Jane Keig said the policy was in place because of Maori beliefs surrounding the taonga Maori collection included in the tour.

“There are items within that collection that have been used in sacred rituals. That rule is in place with consideration for both the safety of the taonga and the women,” Keig said.

She said there was a belief that each taonga had its own wairua, or spirit, inside it.

“Pregnant women are sacred and the policy is in place to protect women from these objects.”

The policy does not apply to the entire exhibit, but to a “behind-the-scenes” tour offered November 5. Visitors’ reproductive status will not be verified in any way, but women are expected to be honest about it and obey the request.

S.H.E. = Sustainable Health Enterprises

October 13th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Check out the new video about the latest developments from Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE).

(Previously at re:CyclingSHE featured in Marie Claire; Girls, Periods, and Missing School II: Breaking the Silence.)

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.