Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Literary Menstruphobia, Part I

September 1st, 2011 by David Linton

The taboos against menstrual sex are ancient and deep-seated.  Despite the well established fact that sexual intercourse during the period is not medically counter-indicated nor somehow debilitating to women and, furthermore, that some women find the experience more pleasurable than the non-menstrual variety, the prejudice lingers on.  What’s more intriguing is the ways and places that menstrual sexual phobias are made manifest.

According to several literary and cinematic biographies, two of the most revered figures in the English language critical and literary cannon may have been so traumatized by menstrual encounters on their honeymoons that they swore off sex for evermore.

In 1994 a British biopic named “Tom & Viv” offered up the sad story – we might call it an anti-romance – of the poet T.S. Eliot and his wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood (played by Willem Dafoe and Miranda Richardson) who eloped in 1915.  According to the IMDB summary, the film depicts how “her longstanding gynecological and emotional problems disrupt their planned honeymoon.”  In fact, what the scene shows is that Eliot is so appalled by his wife’s menstrual condition – the sheets are awash in the results of her heavy flow – that he nearly goes into shock.  His repulsion is so great that he has to leave her for a walk on the beach where he wades fully clothed in the waves to cleanse himself.

The entire film consists of little more that a series of scenes in which Viv causes one embarrassing emotional fracas after another in desperate attempts to gain the affection of her increasingly alienated, cold and aloof husband.  There is little doubt that hormonal imbalances are the cause of her instability as early in the film a close mother-daughter conversation conveys the fact that she is perpetually on the brink of yet another menstrual misstep.

Eventually, Eliot has his wife committed to a mental institution where she spends the rest of her life, even after she enters menopause and, we are told and shown, she has become calm and serene.

The YouTube clip that is posted from the film does not include the crucial honeymoon bloody sheets scene but, at over eleven minutes in length, it does display quite a few of the scenes demonstrating Viv’s hormonal flare ups.  Though the film might deserve a subtitle like “Beware the Menstrual Monster,” it does give Miranda Richardson an opportunity to chew up every piece of available scenery.

4 responses to “Literary Menstruphobia, Part I”

  1. nakedthoughts says:

    so menstruating and staining sheets is a “menstrual problem”

    that is a problem to me.

  2. nakedthoughts says:

    er “gynocological problem” not “menstrual problem”

  3. David Linton says:

    nakedthoughts raises an important issue, the concern for careful use of language in this area. Perhaps we might distinguish between “gynocological problem” as a medical issue and “menstrual problem” as a social issue resulting from culturally constructed values, beliefs, fears, etc. The discussion of “Tom & Viv” was meant to focus on the latter variety.

  4. Vulveeta says:

    nakedthoughts needs to get the stick out of her vagina

Readers should note that statements published in Menstruation Matters are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.