Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

“Bleed All You Can Bleed”

January 31st, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Reel Grrls produced this animated vision of what watching television might be like in a world where Gloria Steinem’s classic essay “If Men Could Menstruate” wasn’t fiction.

(Via Lunapads twitter stream.)

Weekend Links

January 30th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Don’t Ask, Don’t Smell

January 27th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

female-minority-happy-military-wide-horizontalGuest Post by Emily Swan, Marymount Manhattan College

With the military’s history of suppressing minority groups, its new effort to conceal and terminate menstruation comes as no surprise. Hopefully, the menses will be able to come out of the closet soon enough.

I recently wrote a paper about menstruation in the military and was excited to see this recent post at re:Cycling. Researchers have suddenly become sensitive to the “devastating” effects of menstruation on women in combat and training, citing a potential link to iron-deficiency, among other things. (Might I add that, while the article identifies menses as the culprit, the actual data suggest no correlation between the loss of menstrual blood and the low iron levels of the participants.) Researchers have also conducted studies and interviews to determine the level of difficulty menstruation adds to a variety of physical activities and expose reported difficulty in obtaining, storing, transporting, changing, and disposing of “sanitary products” (Note the hygiene-promoting terminology). These reports have indicated a significant struggle with menstrual management, giving grounds to the military’s new encouragement for women to use continuous oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) to “temporarily” induce amenorrhea.

What’s happening here is not simply a conquering of the menses but an overpowering of women as a whole. The article about iron deficiency says it best, with its opening paragraph explaining the biological disadvantages of women: women’s lower levels of physical strength, inferior aerobic performance, and a number of other physical and mental “shortcomings” that include the ability to menstruate. It states, “the physical differences between genders in the military setting should be minimized as much as possible” (866). They’re not trying to make women more comfortable by stopping their periods; they’re using men to set the physical and mental performance standard for which women must strive. The failure of women to meet this standard lies in their very biology; the study directly blamed their femaleness as the source of this imbalance. It’s not, “Stop menstruating because it will help you.” It’s, “Stop menstruating because it will get you that much closer to being a man.” Oh joy.

The misogyny embedded within this move toward menstrual suppression does not discount the results of the studies; menstrual management poses a serious issue for most military women! In addition to the difficulty reported in transporting, obtaining, and storing products, another article relayed the troubling results of interviews from women of the Air Force, Army, and Navy regarding personal hygiene and field menstrual management.4 These interviews told of highly unsanitary bathroom facilities in combat environments, lack of privacy for the use and changing of menstrual products, and bathrooms that rarely contained receptacles for disposing of the products. The women reported collecting used products in Ziploc bags to either bury them in the secrecy of night or to keep them in their luggage until they returned to the U.S. Because of the hot, moist climates inhabited during deployment; the heavy, reused, and unwashed clothing; and the frequent lack of water or time to wash up, the interviewees reported constant awareness and humiliation surrounding menstrual odor. Most of the women also admitted hesitancy toward utilizing the clinic for menstrual health issues because they were made to feel that their menstrual symptoms were not worthy of care. They also reported that gynecological exams were excluded from their general deployment health examinations.

Instead of using continuous OCPs to prevent this natural biological process, better solutions could be found in a more positive attitude toward femininity and more humane conditions for menstrual management. These solutions lie in time allotment during training and deployment for menstrual product use, allowances for transportation and storage of products, better access to menstrual healthcare and products, more frequent gynecological exams, better education about the many different options for non-hormonal contraception and reusable menstrual products, and more sanitary conditions about which women can change and dispose of menstrual products. In English, if menstrual management is problematic in the military, don’t terminate menstruation, but give women a means through which they can better “command” their cycles. (Because, not to pull a Gloria Steinem, but if men menstruated, the armed forces would totally provide them with unlimited tampons and Midol free of charge, and conduct research on the physical and mental benefits of the menses to support male superiority during their time of the month.) Women provide many great assets to the military, and their menstrual cycles should be allowed to join the service, too. Make menstrual love, not war.

Have a Happy Period

January 26th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

In the spirit of Ms. magazine’s long-standing “No Comment” feature, I share without comment this e-card forwarded to me by a student:


How much blood is too much?

January 24th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved tranexamic acid tablets as treatment for heavy menstrual bleeding more than a year ago, but you probably haven’t seen much of this television commercial to promote the drug (brand name Lysteda). Matthew Arnold reports in Medical Marketing and Media that television network executives are put off by the ad’s explicit mention of “periods” and “bleeding” combined with the symbolism of fall red rose petals.

(The article appeared in the December, 2010, print issue of MMM, but online October 20, 2010.)

Weekend Links

January 23rd, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

Vintage FemCare Advertising

January 20th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

In my visual communication class this week, I used several femcare ads (along with a couple of cell phone commercials and other images) to illustrate Althusser’s concept of interpellation. My students got more of a lesson than they bargained for, as I ended up also talking a little about the history of advertising for femcare products. I mentioned but did not show this historically significant ad, notable to my students for the appearance of pre-Friends Courtney Cox, but more important because it was the first time the word “period” was uttered on television in a menstrual product ad.

It aired in 1985.


January 19th, 2011 by Holly Grigg-Spall


In the LA Times earlier this month, under the banner ‘oddities, musings and news from the health world,’ came a rewritten press release masquerading as one of the above that stated ‘Birth control pills using 24-day regimen may be more effective.’ Firstly, just from the headline, it is clear that this is one of those tell-us-what-we-already-know stories that only serve to reveal the amount of money wasted on research that concludes the obvious. If a woman takes a pill more days a month than she does not, then she’s less likely to forget to take that pill. Plus the more pills you take, the more days of the year, the less likely your body will find an opportunity to ovulate. The article, and the study on which it is based, attempts to suggest that 24-day regimen pills are more effective for other reasons. Other reasons like those pills – or should we say pill, as there’s only one this is referring to, without actually being named as Yaz – contain drospirenone.

Bayer, the pharmaceutical company behind Yaz, has long implemented an aggressive marketing campaign in the promotion of its now number-one selling product. However, it has never before been able to claim that Yaz was more effective as birth control than any other pill on the market. This is one reason why the adverts emphasize other benefits – that Yaz is acne-clearing, reduces bloat. Originally Yaz was also suggested to improve a woman’s mood all-round, and reduce PMS-related anxiety and depression. The FDA had Bayer change that message, so that now Yaz can only be said to improve symptoms of PMDD, although the definition and existence of this syndrome is still in controversy. Birth control pills are hard to market when, until now, they could all only be said to be as effective at their primary objective – preventing pregnancy – as each other. There was no way to differentiate. It’s similar to the way bottled waters must strive to stand out from the crowd. Different pills do use different progestins, and these cause different side effects, and so women are often encouraged to swap from one to the next in avoidance of problems from breakthrough bleeding to depression. The synthetic oestrogen used is the same for all, but at different levels. A study that suggests Yaz is better at doing its actual job – aside from all the other suggested benefits, many of which have been overturned over time – is a boon for Bayer.

And an important boon, considering sales of Yaz have dropped since drospirenone was linked to the deaths and injuries of many young women, and has become the centre of hundreds of court cases against the company. Not to mention the web-based uproar over the negative impact Yaz has had on many women’s emotional and mental well-being.

That the study, or at least its promotion, leans heavily on the drospirenone as the cause of this effectiveness, and not just that the pill is taken for 24 days out of the 28 day cycle, and inactive pills are taken during the break thus producing more of a ritual and habit to pill-taking, than those brands that have a longer break, or no inactive pills, suggests that either this study was funded by Bayer – it was undertaken in Germany, and Bayer is a German company – or that Bayer is manipulating the study and paying off the researchers. That the statistics state that Yaz has a 2.1% failure rate after one year in comparison to a norm of 3.5%, and a 4.7% failure rate after four years in comparison to the 6.7% norm concretes that this difference is down to the method of pill-taking and not the drospirenone. After four years a woman is more likely to forget to take a pill here or there, the drospirenone level and impact remains the same and so cannot be the cause of the change in rate from one to four years. Only the method can be taken into account here.

It’s easy to see how useful this is to Bayer. If a woman, after hearing of all the problems surrounding Yaz – the court cases and all – is trying to decide on a birth control pill, then it is much easier to choose a different pill if she knows they are all as effective as each other and this is her main concern, that she not get pregnant. If there’s ‘information’ available that states Yaz is more effective at preventing pregnancy than other pills, her decision will be harder. She will be more willing to risk the side effects she has read have been caused by Yaz. She will also be confused to hear that the component of the pill that is said to be the root of these issues, is the reason for the higher rate of effectiveness of Yaz.

This study is good PR for drospirenone. But in their desperation Bayer is getting more and more clunky and careless with their promotional techniques, and the one good that can come from this is that more women will be able to see that the pills are products and they are consumers and must be vigilant and critical in making their choices.

Great New Article about How Boys and Men Learn about Menstruation

January 17th, 2011 by Heather Dillaway

Since we’re often talking about the lack of attention to men’s attitudes about menstruation, I thought I’d post the abstract of a great new piece in the Journal of Family Issues, due out in February 2011! Kudos to Katherine Allen, Christine Kaestle, and Abbie Goldberg, for getting their great work published! Here’s the title and abstract for their work:

Title: “More than just a punctuation mark: How boys and young men learn about menstruation”

Parents, peers, schools, and the media are the primary contexts for educating young people about sexuality. Yet girls receive more sex education than boys, particularly in terms of menstruation. Lack of attention to how and what boys learn about menstruation has consequences for their private understanding about the biology of reproduction and also for social and cultural ideologies of gendered relationships. In this qualitative study, 23 written narratives from male undergraduates (aged 18-24 years) were analyzed using grounded theory methodology to explore how young men perceive their past and present learning about this uniquely female experience. Findings suggest that most boys first learned about menstruation in their families, primarily through their sisters’ menarche; menstruation is experienced—in boyhood at least—as a gender wedge; and most men described a developmental process of moving from a childish attitude of menstruation as “gross” to seeing themselves as maturing through the experience of an intimate relationship.

Where to find this piece: Journal of Family Issues, vol 32 (Feb 2011), pp. 129-56.

Here’s the link to the abstract page:

Happy reading!

Weekend Links

January 16th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling
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.