Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Media all over “end-the-tampon-tax” advocacy

January 30th, 2016 by Laura Wershler

As U.S. advocacy to end the “tampon tax” on all feminine hygiene products continues, Democratic politicians, including President Obama, dialled up the media conversation about the issue as 2016 got underway. Here’s a January timeline:

This tampon art piece might be considered a luxury item, but the real thing is not. Special Edition Playtex by Danielle Hogan, 2006. Used with permission. daniellehogan.com

This tampon art piece might be considered a luxury item, but the real thing is not. Special Edition Playtex by Danielle Hogan, 2006. Used with permission. daniellehogan.com

Jan. 5, 2016, Michele Gorman, NewsweekCalifornia legislators seek to end “tampon tax” on feminine hygiene products

Jan. 7, 2016, Josh Barro, The New York Times, The Latest Sales Tax Controversy: Tampons

So why shouldn’t tampons get the same tax break as other necessities? It’s a question that’s been debated in legislatures around the world, with tampon tax cuts adopted in Canada and rejected in France last year.

Jan. 8, 2016, Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon,  Time to end the tampon tax: Sales tax on feminine hygiene products unfairly penalize women

But while arguments over what makes something a necessity are open to debate, arguments over a fee that only affects one segment of the population are not. That’s what makes the sales tax unfair. And that’s a price women don’t deserve to pay.

Jan. 8, 2016, Sarah Larimer, The Washington Post, The ‘tampon tax,’ explained

It’s an issue that’s gaining more and more attention around the world. Canada’s tax on feminine hygiene products was lifted over summer, after thousands signed an online petition on the matter. In Britain, a few women staged a “tampon tax” protest while on their periods last fall.

Jan. 20, 2016, Sade Strehlke, Teen VogueWatch YouTube Star Ingrid Nilsen School President Obama on the “Tampon Tax”

As Ingrid and our president point out, however, periods are not optional for most women, and we shouldn’t be burdened with an extra charge when it’s that time of month.

President Obama sheepishly admitted that he doesn’t know why states tax tampons, but he suspects “it’s because men were making these laws when those taxes were passed.”

“I don’t know anyone who has a period who thinks it’s a luxury,” Ingrid responded. President Obama agreed, and said his wife, would probably agree with her too. “It’s something that’s part of our everyday lives, and is crucial to our health as women,” she continued.

Jan. 26, 2016, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, The NationWhy Are We Paying Sales Tax on Tampons?

Jan. 28, 2016: Haley Snyder, Huff Post PoliticsThere Will Be Blood–So Long As There Is Inequality

For a woman making decent money, a simple tax on tampons may be unnoticeable, but for someone who is poor who spends a larger percentage of her money on tampons, a “small” difference may strip away her ability to afford a product entirely.

Jan 28, 2016, Kerry Close, Money (Time Inc.), The Tampon Tax Could Finally Be Eliminated in These States

At home, there’s hope for women who live in the majority of states that still somehow consider tampons a luxury. The issue has been getting a lot of press lately, with even President Obama admitting he doesn’t understand why the tax exists.

When asked this month by YouTube personality Ingrid Nilsen why tampons are considered luxury items in so many states, the president replied, “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.

Meanwhile, the Change.org petition (No Tax On Tampons: Stop Taxing Our Periods! Period.) launched by Jennifer Weiss-Wolf and Cosmopolitan magazine needs just over 6,000 more signatures to reach the 50,000 mark.

Canadian Laura Wershler, SMCR member and editor-in-chief of re:Cycling, was proud when the Canadian parliament agreed unanimously to lift the federal tax on femcare products in mid-2015. 

Novel approach to the menstrual cycle: State of Wonder, Part 3

December 19th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

This post was originally published at re:Cycling on March 27, 2015. 

State of Wonder–Part 3: Wondering about menstrual cycle misconceptions in a fictionalized theory for extended fertility

In Parts 1 and 2, I wondered why author Ann Patchett chose not to include information about menstruation, femcare products and birth control that, logically, would have enhanced her novel’s inciting premise—lifelong menstruation and fertility—while retaining the literary integrity of State of Wonder. I believe just a few sentences could have accomplished this.

Now, I wonder about the menstrual cycle misconceptions that underpin Patchett’s proposed explanation for the extended fertility experienced by the Lakashi tribe.

The reader learns with Dr. Marina Singh, the novel’s protagonist, that the Lakashi women continue to menstruate, ovulate, conceive and give birth into their 70s because they regularly chew the bark of Martin trees found in the Brazilian rainforest. The bark is so effective there are no post-menopausal Lakashi.

The women chew the bark once every five days except when they are menstruating and when they’re pregnant, because the bark repulses them from the moment of conception. The researchers, led by Dr. Annick Swenson who has been studying the Lakashi for decades, observe the women chewing the bark and collect cervical mucus swabs to monitor their estrogen levels. They dab the swabs on slides for “ferning.”

“No one does ferning anymore,” Marina said. It was the slightly arcane process of watching estrogen grow into intricate fern patterns on slides. No ferns, no fertility.

Dr. Saturn shrugged. “It’s very effective for the Lakashi. Their estrogen levels are quite sensitive to the intake of the bark.”

Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle: Used with permission from Geraldine Matus, Justisse Healthworks for Women

Patchett perpetuates the myth that fertility is all about estrogen. Actually, fertility is dependent upon the cyclic ebb and flow of estrogen and progesterone. As the graphic illustrates, estrogen rises in the pre-ovulatory phase, peaks, then drops dramatically just before ovulation occurs. Post ovulation, estrogen continues to be produced but its effect on cervical mucus is suppressed (no ferns) by the substantially higher level of progesterone which acts upon the endometrium in preparation for pregnancy.

It would make more sense for the Lakashi to chew the bark more often during the pre-ovulatory phase but be repulsed by it post-ovulation as progesterone rises. How neat would that have been? The researchers could have pinpointed ovulation in their study subjects. Oddly, ovulation is not even mentioned.

Furthermore, if intake of the bark raises estrogen levels, chewing the bark every five days would interfere with the post-ovulatory rise of progesterone, throwing the hormonal interplay of estrogen and progesterone required to achieve and support a pregnancy out of whack.

Another issue: Marina is told that by chewing the bark “her window for monthly fertility would be extended from three days to thirteen.” What does this really mean? According to the scientific principles underlying the fertility awareness method of achieving or avoiding pregnancy, the fertile phase starts when fertile-quality cervical mucus is first observed and ends when three dry days have passed. The bark would increase the fertile quality of the mucus and the number of days fertile mucus occurs pre-ovulation, thereby increasing the chances for conception. But sperm can only survive five days, kept viable by the mucus that locks it in the cervical crypts until an egg is released. And that egg will remain viable for only 24 hours. Timing of intercourse still matters. The extended fertility explanation in the novel does not suggest the Martin tree bark has any effect on these accepted reproductive factors.

Am I being too picky? Perhaps. State of Wonder is, after all, a work of fiction. But I expect a seasoned novelist to have researched basic menstrual cycle facts so as not to pose an explanation for extended fertility that doesn’t pass scrutiny. Had Patchett consulted with a menstrual cycle expert, perhaps an SMCR member, she might have imagined a much more plausible scenario. In the actual book I read, there were no acknowledgements to those she may have consulted on the subject.

I loved State of Wonder for all it’s literary complexity that goes far beyond the details related to the menstrual cycle that I have wondered about in this 3-part series. But it’s been fun to explore how one novelist wrote about a subject I am intimately familiar with and to suggest how she might have done it differently.

Thank you Ann Patchett. Here’s to more menstrual mentions in literature.

Laura Wershler is a veteran sexual and reproductive health advocate and writer, SMCR member, and editor-in-chief of re:Cycling.

Novel approach to the menstrual cycle: State of Wonder, Part 2

December 17th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

This post was originally published at re:Cycling on March 6, 2015.

State of Wonder–Part 2: Wondering about missing femcare products and birth control references

In State of Wonder–Part 1, I mused as to why, in a novel revolving around the extended menstruation and fertility of the Lakashi tribe, only the menstrual cycles of the Brazilian women being studied are made visible to the reader. Why does author Ann Patchett ignore the menstrual cycles of the novel’s protagonist, Marina Singh, or the other female research scientists? If they are eating the tree bark responsible for the Lakashi’s extended fertility, their menstrual responses should be of interest to the author.

Failure to mention the scientist’s cycles points to another puzzling omission. There is no reference to menstrual-care products the women would have required while living in the rainforest for years at a time. There was opportunity to do so because a few key scenes are set in the store where research leader Dr. Annick Swenson buys all the provisions for the camp.

Marina must visit the store immediately upon landing in Manaus because the airline has lost her luggage. She has no clothing, no toiletries, none of the necessities for daily living. Why does she not purchase, visibly to the reader, tampons or pads? If not on her first trip to the store, then on her second as she prepares to leave for the remote research camp with Dr. Swenson? She obviously will need such supplies as her weeks in Brazil progress, and the timing of her cycle, as deduced by this reader, suggests she needed them while in Manaus or shortly after arriving at the camp.

I think Patchett’s reason for leaving out this menstrual-related information was not literary, but rather socio-cultural in nature. She tastefully shares the intimate details of the Lakashi women’s menstrual cycles, but can’t find a way—with even a few sentences—to convey this aspect of other female character’s lives? (Exception: Dr. Swenson, whose experiences I avoid mentioning to prevent plot spoilers.) Did she try? Did she resist? If so, why? What a missed opportunity. Marina’s interior dialogue makes it clear she is a still-menstruating woman wondering if motherhood will be in her future. How easy it would have been to use Marina’s need for tampons as a segue to consideration of her fertility.

Which brings me to another menstrual-related omission in the book. There is no reference to the birth control methods used by Marina and one of the female scientists who lives in the research camp with her husband.

Drs. Nancy and Alan Saturn are part of the research team in Brazil. Nancy is eating the bark, enhancing her fertility. Pregnancy is not an objective for this couple; they must be using contraception. The pill would be contra-indicated—a double whammy of exogenous estrogen provided by the pill and the Martin tree bark could have negative consequences. Condoms would break down in the heat. A Mirena IUD might not be at odds with the estrogenic bark, which has another critical medicinal effect the researchers are eager to access. Maybe a copper IUD? A diaphragm? Abstinence? Does it matter? Perhaps not, but why not be daring and tell the reader anyway? Surely the author must have asked herself these questions.

And what about Marina’s choice of birth control? At 42 she is in an intimate relationship with a much older colleague, the man who sent her to Brazil. Contraceptive use is implied but the method is, yet again, invisible. One can assume it was non-hormonal and not an IUD because of what happens at the end of the novel. But why not write one or two sentences along the way to convey this information? Isn’t this what good writers do, litter clues as a novel progresses to set up what happens later?

Ann Patchett chose not to mention the femcare products and birth control methods her characters used in her novel State of Wonder. I can’t help wondering: why?

Laura Wershler is a veteran sexual and reproductive health advocate and writer, SMCR member, and editor-in-chief of re:Cycling.

Novel approach to the menstrual cycle: State of Wonder, Part 1

December 14th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

As re:Cycling explores media representation of the menstrual cycle, we’ve chosen to republish a three-part series I wrote about how author Ann Patchett uses the menstrual cycle as a major plot devise in her novel State of Wonder. Part 1 was originally published on January 22, 2015.

State of Wonder–Part 1: Wondering about missing menstrual mentions in literature

In her novel State of Wonder Ann Patchett explores, among many broad themes, the question: What if there were a drug women could take to extend menstruation and fertility into their seventies? Not evident on the dust jacket, this storyline grabbed the attention of this menstrual cycle advocate.

Set mainly in the jungle of Brazil, the novel revolves around the decades-long research of Dr. Annick Swenson who has kept the location and progression of her research secret from the drug company funding her work with the fictional Lakashi tribe. When a male scientist sent by the drug company to find Dr. Swenson and deliver a message is reported dead, Dr. Marina Singh, a research pharmacologist, becomes the second emissary charged with finding Dr. Swenson and assessing her progress towards the promised drug.

Finding Dr. Swenson is a formidable task, but when she does Marina eventually learns the complex botanical explanation for the Lakashi’s extended fertility, as well as the justifiable reasons why the research location has been so scrupulously protected.

This literary novel, a satisfying read, powerfully renders the mystique of the Amazon jungle, conveying both the wonder and trauma Marina experiences there. For an insightful review of State of Wonder I’d recommend Lydia Millet’s. This series of posts is not a review, but rather commentary on the niggling details related to the extended fertility storyline. Spoiler Alert: Some plot points will be revealed.

After a few weeks in the jungle—the timeline is fuzzy—Marina is invited by two other female researchers to the grove of Martin trees where she observes Lakashi women of all ages scraping tree bark with their teeth, a practices she is told that begins at menarche and is the key to their lifelong fertility.

Marina learns the women chew the bark every five days except when they are menstruating and when they’re pregnant; the bark repulses them from the moment of conception. She is told also that although the women don’t all come to the grove on the same five-day cycle, they’re menstrual periods are “pretty much” synchronous so the researchers “get a few days off every month.” That is, days off from observing them in the grove while taking pin-prick blood samples and collecting cervical mucus swabs to monitor estrogen levels that Dr. Swenson has taught the Lakashi to do themselves with Q-tips. Dr. Swenson’s research team charts and studies every cycle of every menstruating girl and woman.

The researchers tell Marina they also chew the bark and invite her to try it. Here is where, in a story that speaks intimately about the tribal women’s menstrual cycles, I wondered why Patchett did not include even one sentence to acknowledge when Marina had her last period. (At 42 she has thought about her fertility and her prospect of having a child someday.) Because she scrapes the bark one assumes she isn’t menstruating, and she’s been in Brazil long enough–weeks spent in Manaus before getting to the jungle–to have had at least one period. Where is she in her cycle? This matters because of what happens later in the story. So, since menstruation is integral to the novel, why not mention it? And why don’t the other female researchers mention whether their cycles, too, have synchronized with the Lakashi’s?

In most novels, probably too many, the menstrual cycles of female characters are invisible unless they figure prominently in the plot. It made no sense to me that Patchett chose to make Marina’s cycle invisible. Even if readers can deduce this missing information, surely this is the wrong novel in which to require us to do so. Again, I ask, “Why?”

Laura Wershler is a veteran sexual and reproductive health advocate and writer, SMCR member, and editor-in-chief of re:Cycling.

What can we learn from women who share their bad experiences with Depo-Provera?

November 30th, 2015 by Laura Wershler
Photo by Laura Wershler

Photo by Laura Wershler

In September, 2015, I participated in a panel on advocacy journalism at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. As a journalism student there in 2010-2011, I became known as the women’s health writer, the one with a background in sexual and reproductive health. Although I’ve always thought of myself as a women’s health advocate, and in particular a menstrual cycle advocate, until then I’d never considered that my writing about these topics constituted advocacy journalism.

Asked to share examples of my work, I included the two blog posts I’d written for re:Cycling about the contraceptive shot Depo-Provera, posts that garnered over 1200 comments between them and demonstrated to me that when you give people a forum for sharing their thoughts and experiences about a reality that has not been broadly discussed or written about, you are undertaking an act of advocacy that serves an important purpose.

You can read the posts and the comments here:

Coming off Depo-Provera can be a women’s worst nightmare

Stopping Depo-Provera: Why and What to Do About Adverse Experiences  

 

To acknowledge and amplify the voices of the hundreds of women who shared their adverse experiences in response to my posts about Depo-Provera, I presented an analysis of their comments at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research in Boston, MA, on June 4th, 2015. As I said in my presentation, I believe the provision of Depo-Provera too often fails to honor informed choice or serve women’s health and well-being. I demonstrated this with comment examples organized under four main themes:

  1. Uninformed choice
  2. Lack of body literacy
  3. Feelings of fear, anger, regret, betrayal and solidarity and
  4. Frustration with health-care providers

I’ve recorded this presentation to make more broadly available what I learned from the women who took the time to share their experiences with Depo-Provera, both while taking it and upon coming off this drug. If you are considering using this LARC (long-acting reversible contraceptive), or have a friend or family member considering it, you may find it of value.

Laura Wershler is a veteran sexual and reproductive health advocate and writer, SMCR member, and editor-in-chief of re: Cycling.

#MenarcheMonth Redux: Weekend Links at re: Cycling

September 26th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

September has been #MenarcheMonth at re: Cycling, and as it draws to a close–just two posts left to come in the menarche series–I thought I’d collate the links to the full range of topics our contributors have covered this month.

I kicked it off by paying homage to one mom’s first period talk with her daughter from a 1989 episode of the hit TV series Roseanne. Watch Roseanne set the right tone with her daughter Darlene in #Menstruationmatters and it starts with menarche.

Menstrual designer Jen Lewis’s Ms. September–Menstruation Pin-up was titled Let it Flow #2.

In Weekend Links we featured first periods stories and a short list of people and organizations talking about menstruation on Twitter.

Dr. Lara Briden’s post about Why young teens need real periods–not the pill generated the liveliest response with 33 comments. If you haven’t read it yet, please do, and share your thoughts about what Briden, a naturopathic doctor, and other commenters had to say on the topic.

PhD student Saniya Lee Ghanoui examined menstrual health education films in The 1970s and the menstrual dance: Naturally…A GirlMight you have been shown this film in health class? There’s a YouTube link if you’d like to watch it again.

In A daughter raise with body literacy, Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner Lisa Leger told a unique story of how she taught her daughter about menstrual cycle charting from her first period and what she believes her daughter gained by having this knowledge.

Mother-daughter co-authors Sheryl Mendlinger, Phd, and Yael Magen, Esq., read a passage from their book in A poignant first period story from the book Schlopping. In a subsequent post Mendlinger shared what she learned from immigrant women about their menarche experiences in How do mothers pass on knowledge about menstruation to their daughters?

Suzan Hutchinson informed us about precocious puberty in What happens when a seven-year-old gets her period? Her piece makes clear that neither society nor our elementary schools are as prepared as they could be, or should be, to support girls experiencing early menarche.

Be sure to check out the final two post in the September 2015 #MenarcheMonth series.

Laura Wershler is a veteran sexual and reproductive health advocate and writer, SMCR member, and editor-in-chief of re: Cycling.

Weekend Links: Twitter is talking about menstruation—a lot!

September 12th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

The menstrual community on Twitter keeps growing. Individuals, social action initiatives, non-profits, menstrual product companies and other organizations are sharing information and talking about the menstrual cycle and the menstrual experience.

Here’s a short list of menstrual-related Twitter accounts you may want to follow:

@AuntFlo28 Tweets about menarche and promotes menstruation as something that should not be medicalized. She invites followers to take part in a poll asking at what age you got your period.

Via Twitter message (how else?) Kylie Matthews said, “I launched the poll as a way to gather data, but more importantly start conversations about #Menarche. For far too many women the experience was not a positive one. It is my hope that reflecting on one’s own positive or negative experiences (and ideally conversing with others!) will help move toward efforts to make things better for the next generation.”

Last Wednesday, Sep. 9, 2015, @AuntFlo28 co-hosted #Menarche_PCOS_Talk with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome advocate @PCOSGurl who includes menstrual information in her Twitter advocacy to improve education and outcomes for women with PCOS (or Anovulatory Androgen Excess).

@bpreparedperiod helps “women and girls go with the flo,” and offers resources and tips for parents to help them help their daughters prepare for menstruation.

SMCR member Chella Quint tweets @periodpositive where the goal is to be “funny w/o insulting menstruators of all genders, challenges taboos, reclaims discourse.”

Suzann @periodwise says on her Twitter profile, “Let’s end menstrual taboos right here, right now.” She tweets on all things menstrual, complemented by the Period Wise website and blog.

New on the Twitter feed is @LtsFaceItPeriod which launched the #LetsFaceItPeriod campaign on Sep. 1, 2015. You can read about the social action initiative at Lady Clever: Let’s Face It. Period Breaks Down Menstrual Taboos.

This is just a small sampling of those on Twitter talking about periods. If you follow a few menstrual communicators not mentioned here, please post their Twitter handles in the comments section and tell us a little bit about them.

Why young teens need real periods–not the Pill

September 8th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Guest Post by Dr. Lara Briden, ND

Photo supplied by Lara Briden

The onset of menstruation (menarche) is an important time for girls. It heralds their future fertility, of course, but it’s much more than that. Menarche is also when girls start to make female hormones for the first time.

Making hormones is not easy. It requires regular ovulation, and that can take a few years to become established. That’s why the early years of menstruation are exactly the wrong time to take hormonal birth control. Yet, unfortunately, that’s when more and more girls start taking it. According to a new study [1], this decade has seen a 50 percent jump in the number of young teens (12-15 years old) using medication such as Pills, injection, implant, and Nuvaring. These girls are at risk for many of the side effects of hormonal birth control including:

  • impaired bone density [2]
  • altered brain structure [3]
  • increased risk for depression [4]
  • suppressed libido [5]

Side effects occur partly from the synthetic hormones themselves and
partly from lack of girls’ own estrogen and progesterone.

Ovulation is How Girls Make Hormones

Ovulation is not just about making a baby. It’s also the main hormonal event in a menstrual cycle, and the only way to make estrogen and progesterone. When we shut down ovulation with hormonal birth control, we rob girls of the hormones they need for metabolism, bone health, cardiovascular health, mood, and more.

Girls who take synthetic pseudo-hormones via the Pill lose the ability to produce their own hormones. Pseudo-hormones have some similarities to real human hormones, but they also have many differences. For example, the progestin levonorgestrel causes hair loss, but the body’s own progesterone stimulates hair growth. The progestin drospirenone increases the risk of blood clots, but progesterone improves cardiovascular health. Ethinylestradiol, the synthetic estrogen in the Pill, impairs insulin sensitivity [6], but estradiol improves it. These synthetic hormones do not have the health benefits of the human hormones they replace.

Pill Bleeds Are Not Periods

Hormonal birth control is often prescribed to “regulate” periods, but that is nonsensical because a pill-bleed is not the same as a real period.

A real period is the end result of a series of important hormonal events including ovulation. In contrast, a pill bleed is a withdrawal bleed dictated by the dosing regimen of the drug manufacturer.

Newly menstruating girls often have irregular or heavy periods. That can make it tempting for doctors to suggest and for mothers to agree to give them hormonal birth control to mask the problem. But irregular and heavy periods are normal at that age. They occur because girls have not yet established regular ovulation. Hormonal birth control further suppresses ovulation, and that’s why it’s exactly the wrong thing to do. Hormonal birth control won’t promote future ovulation or menstrual regularity, and will probably make it even harder to ovulate in the future.

Better Treatment for Menstrual Problems

Teens have many non-hormonal treatment options for troublesome period symptoms.

Heavy periods: Teens will usually outgrow heavy periods after a couple of years. In the meantime, they can use natural treatments such as a dairy-free diet and the herbal medicine turmeric. Short term use of ibuprofen can also be helpful. I discuss these strategies in this article on Natural Treatment of Very Heavy Periods.

Irregular periods: Irregular periods are common in the first couple of years of menstruation and they usually do not require treatment. If periods do not start to become more regular, then please seek a medical diagnosis. The best treatment will not be the Pill, but rather it will be something to address the underlying cause of irregular periods. For example, the common hormonal condition polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) requires diet and exercise to normalize blood sugar. The Pill is not appropriate treatment for PCOS, contrary to what your doctor might say.

Acne: Teen acne responds extremely well to a dairy-free, sugar-free diet and to the nutritional supplement zinc. Natural acne treatments work more slowly than the Pill, but they’re a better choice in the long term because they’re a permanent cure. In contrast, the Pill’s synthetic estrogen will only mask acne for the duration that it’s used. As soon as the Pill is stopped, acne will typically return even worse than it was before.

Better Birth Control

For those teens who need birth control, there are a couple of good non-hormonal methods. The advantage of a non-hormonal method is that it permits healthy ovulatory cycles and hormone production.

  1. Copper intrauterine device (IUD): Unlike hormonal birth control, the copper IUD does not suppress ovulation or hormones. Instead, it prevents pregnancy by impairing sperm motility and implantation. It is also highly effective with a failure rate of just 0.6 percent. The September 2012 guidelines from American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) state that copper IUDs are safe for women who have never had children and for teenagers. This overturns a pervasive—but unfounded—opinion that IUDs should not be used until after childbirth.
  2. Combination condoms and Fertility Awareness Method: Teens should use condoms on every occasion of intercourse. In this way, they can avoid sexually transmitted disease as well as unwanted pregnancy. Teens can also learn to recognize their peak fertile days (charted according to fertility awareness-based methods), and then abstain on the those few days per month. Strategic, short-term abstinence will greatly reduce their risk of pregnancy in the unlikely event of a broken condom. Fertility awareness also teaches girls body literacy which is important for their future health choices. For Fertility Awareness information and a list of instructors, please visit Justisse Healthworks for Women.

Weekend Links are all about first period stories

September 5th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Let it Flow #2 by Menstrual Designer Jen Lewis. Photographer: Rob Lewis

All though the month of September we are exploring menarche at re: Cycling. Check out the kick-off post with a YouTube link to the 1989 episode of Roseanne in which mom Roseanne gives daughter Darlene first period advice that is still relevant today.

Last December The Guardian published a compendium of first period stories from readers. Sue Spillman ordered trial tampons from a magazine ad thinking it would be “easy and discreet.” Let’s just say that when the package arrived the cops got involved.

A few of the 10 First Period Horror Stories posted on Cosmopolitan suggests mothers could do a better job of preparing their daughters for menarche. Maybe I was lucky but my mother, a public health nurse, made sure I had the supplies I needed before I got my first period.

At Vice this past January, anonymous female comedians contributed their best (and worst) period stories. Most of them seem to be related to first periods. Here’s a short one that couldn’t have happened in my day:

Stephanie: My period started for the first time when I was 13 and happened to be at home. My mom was also home, but I was too embarrassed to go tell her, so I emailed her.

Several of these stories make me think we could do a much better job to prepare the girls in our lives for the experience of menarche, and provide them with more helpful guidance on how to manage the challenges that come with the onset of menstruation. I wrote about this in a 2013 blog post called How do girls learn about periods?

Gina Boothroyd shares a much different perspective in her poignant July 2015 piece for The Guardian: My autistic daughter coped with getting her first period much better than I did. Although her 11-year-old was “pleased and proud to get her period,” Boothroyd worries about what comes after menarche that her daughter may miss out on.

Laura Wershler is a veteran sexual and reproductive health advocate and writer, SMCR member, and editor-in-chief of re: Cycling.

#Menstruationmatters and it starts with menarche

September 3rd, 2015 by Laura Wershler

It’s Menarche Month at re: Cycling

Menarche (mə-NAR-kee) refers to the first menstrual bleeding or period, the onset of menstruation. This month at re: Cycling we will explore menarche from many points of view.

I think how we talk with our daughters and other important girls in our lives when they get their first periods truly will influence their experience of menarche. I don’t think you could find a better role model than the fictional character Roseanne, who, in an 1989 episode of the show named for its star Roseanne Barr, aces the first period talk with her daughter Darlene. Fortunately, this three-minute scene is immortalized on YouTube.

Roseanne walks in to her daughter’s bedroom to find tomboy Darlene bagging up her sports equipment. Darlene thinks her life as she knows it is over, but her mother makes a compelling case for why it’s really just beginning.

Re-watching this scene I love how Roseanne avoids the stereotypical first comment on a girl’s first period: “Now you can have a baby.” Yes, menarche implies fertility, but Roseanne, wisely, doesn’t go there at first. Instead, picking up Darlene’s baseball glove and ball, she tells her daughter “these are a girl’s things Darlene as long as a girl uses them.” My favourite bit is Roseanne’s reply to Darlene when she says, “I’m probably going to start throwing like a girl now anyway.” Roseanne, tossing the baseball in Darlene’s mitt, doesn’t miss a beat. “Definitely,” she says, “and since you’ve got your period you’re going to throw a lot farther.”

Roseanne is absolutely right. Menarche means that as a girl’s hormonal cycle kicks in and she starts to ovulate consistently her bones and her muscles will get stronger. When a young athlete or dancer gets her period, she needs to hear from the important people in her life that menstruating will make her stronger, that getting her period will ultimately make her a more capable athlete or a dancer who can jump higher and leap farther.

If a girl is into creative endeavours, then we can frame menstruation and its accompanying cyclic hormonal changes as a pathway to maturity. She’ll have more to write about, sing about, paint about as she gains access to deeper emotional experiences. Maybe your daughter or young niece likes to cook or play the flute. Tell her now that she’s got her period she’ll cook with more “flavor” and play with more feeling. That’s what Roseanne would have done.

This is not to suggest we ignore that menarche brings with it sexual and reproductive pleasures and challenges. We’ll discuss all of these aspects this month on the blog. Roseanne finds a neat way to reference the fertility that comes with menstruation near the end of the scene. I hope you’ll watch to find out what she says. With her “heart-and-soul” humor, Roseanne keeps it real.

This month on re: Cycling, Dr. Lara Briden, ND, writes about why ovulation is important for girls’ good health and why non-hormonal treatments for period problems are the best option for teens. Saniya Lee Ghanoui brings us her research on menstrual education films and endocrinologist Jerilynn Prior of the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research shares an estimated timeline for what is normal development in the years after menarche for both cycles and ovulation. You’ll also be able to watch and listen to mother and daughter authors Sheryl E. Mendlinger and Yael Magen tell a most original first period story as they read from their recently published book Schlopping.

Keep visiting the blog throughout September for all this and more. Share the posts with friends and colleagues, and, please, share your thoughts and opinions on these posts about menarche in the comment section. Menstruation matters–and it starts with menarche.

Laura Wershler is a veteran sexual and reproductive health advocate and writer, SMCR member, and editor-in-chief of re: Cycling.

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.