Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Menstrual activism still booming in Sweden

October 12th, 2015 by Editor

Guest Post by Josefin Persdotter: We just can’t get enough! 

As I have written before on this blog, Sweden has experienced what you might call a “menstrual revolution” since about the summer of 2013 as a multitude of menstrual-related initiatives, organizations, and businesses started and thrived, and menstruation became more of a talkable subject in media. But lately I’ve begun fearing the energy might have withered. I’ve thought people would soon be fed up with the menstrual headlines. Surely there must be a backlash.

I am glad to report I seem to be very mistaken!

Photo by Clara Henry, taken at The Gothenburg Book Fair, September 2015. Used with permission.

Every September, my home city Gothenburg hosts one of Europe’s biggest literary festivals the Gothenburg Book Fair: an autumnal pick-me-up for Swedish readers and writers. As many Swedish authors do, video blogger and menstrual activist Clara Henry released her new book Yes I menstruate, so what? (Ja jag har mens, hurså?) in time for the fair. Sadly I couldn’t go see her in the bloody flesh, but I followed her activities online. That’s been a real pleasure.

Henry was one of the earlier activists of this ongoing national “wave” of menstrual activism and interest. By somewhat of an accident she starting to talk about menstruation on her YouTube channel in 2012 and nowadays it’s a recurring feature. She is one of the leading public menstrual ambassadors and activists in Sweden, particularly for teens. The twenty-one-year old has more than 350,000 subscribers, most younger than she is. She’s talking about menstruation not only on YouTube and her many other social media outlets, but she’s also invited to talk on public radio, television, podcasts, newspapers and magazines.

Her recently published book seem to stir the same, or even more, enthusiasm and interest of the public as her fellow authors+activists of national menstrual bestsellers such as Kunskapens frukt and Kvinnor ritar bara serier om mens of last year (2014). A year ago the nation seemed surprised. Now it’s notably more mainstreamed but the interest has far from faded.

The line of fans that wanted a signed copy of Henry’s book at the book fair was apparently the longest one at the whole fair. The 1000 copies she’d brought sold out in no time at all, and apparently it went straight up to the national best-sellers list of the online bookstore Adlibris at its release. She gave a heart and tear-felt “unpacking-video” of her book in a video on her facebook page where she said:

“It’s so dammed important! I wish I’d had it myself, when I was young – or younger – and that I’d learned about menstruation – ‘cos I didn’t! That made me be ashamed of my menstruation. I like learned that menstruation’s something disgusting and that I am disgusting when I menstruate. (…) It’s my personal experience – and I experienced menstruation as being disgusting. And the sick thing is that almost everyone [who menstruate] I’ve talked to share this experience! Why is that!?”

In my terminology (see further my thesis on European menstrual activism 2013) I would call Clara Henry a “menstrual talker.” She counters the menstrual mainstream through speech acts; she’s defying menstrual silence. She makes menstrual noise for the sake of the noise itself. Share ‘cos it’s not been shared. Talk ‘cos it’s been silent. When one thinks of how long it’s been silent it would have been a shame to see the public interest of menstrual culture fade after only a couple of years.

Happily Clara Henry’s book is not the only menstrual-themed cultural entity enjoying current popularity. Ja jag har mens, hurså? is joined by MENS, a critically acclaimed menstrual play now on a re-continued tour around the nation, as well as a new original menstrual musical playing this autumn at the highly distinguished Royal Dramatic Theatre.

Thus I report that through activists such as Clara Henry, menstruation stays in the public venues of Sweden, and its even been welcomed into national cultural elite establishments. Also, Norwegian public radio interviewed me some weeks ago to ask what’s been going on in Sweden (if you understand Norwegian listen here), reporting there seems to be a kind of menstrual awakening there as well. The menstrual countermovement seems to be spreading!

Josefin Persdotter is a menstrual activist and artist, founder of MENSEN and a PhD-Student in (menstrual) Sociology at Gothenburg University, Sweden.

A cha cha about menstrual products, and other menstrual poetry open mic originals.

August 31st, 2015 by Editor

#SMCR2015 Plenary Session Video Presentation

Menstrual Poetry Open Mic

Menstrual educator and activist Chella Quint, center, teaches the audience the Menstrual Products Cha Cha at #SMCR2015 Open Mic.

The 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston concluded on Saturday night, June 6th, with a menstrual poetry open mic. Local slam poets joined SMCR members for an evening of spoken word performances about menstrual realities: big, small, old and new. Performers explored the multiple dimensions of our messy, wondrous and vexing bodies, our sexualities, genders, health and our feminisms. The event was hosted and kicked off by Janae Johnson, a Boston area spoken word poet, teaching artist, educator and winner of the 2015 Women of the World Poetry Slam.

Click on the arrow, sit back and enjoy a unique, free-wheeling, all-welcome evening of spoken word performances.

Videography provided by courtesy of Robert Lewis.

Menstrual Prose Poem from #SMCR2015: “My feet flow through each cycle.”

July 20th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

On June 6th, 2015, at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at the Centre for Women’s Health and Human Rights in Boston, conference participants celebrated with an Open Mic evening of Menstrual Poetry to close out #SMCR2015. This is the last in a series of posts at re:Cycling that aims to give a broader audience to some of the poetry performed that evening.


Flow – by Rosie Sheb’a

Sustainable Cycles cyclists Rachel, Olive and Rosie in Atlanta, Georgia, en route to the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research conference held in Boston, June 4-6, 2015.

Flow. My feet flow through each cycle. Every revolution takes me further into the cycle. Life cycle. Bicycle. Upcycle. Recycle.

My small wheels move along the road, a mirror to the larger wheel of which I am a tiny, insignificant, and yet pivotal part. My essence is essential to the whole. The microcosm of my womb reflects the entire universe!

I look at my legs powering my bicycle across state after state. I watch as I bleed and listen to my body as my ovulation is reflected by the road. My menstrual cycle is a perfect replica of the seasons, of the stages from egg to caterpillar, to pupa, to butterfly. The Earth rotates around the sun, just as my pedals rotate around my crank shaft, and foot by foot, mile by mile, I move forward. We move forward. Propelled by our destiny as cyclists. Life Cyclists.

We cycle, and millennia of oppression melts away. We are part of something immense. Individually, we are just a tiny cog in the giant clock of evolution, but together, we can say menstruation. Period. I bleed. You bleed. We were, are and will be bleeders. Without our blood, life as we know it would not be. Cycling, together, we conquer fear. We surmount shame.

Sustainable cycles? It’s a pun about bikes and periods, but it’s so much more than that. Our message is clear. Love your cycle. Love the cycle. Take care of yourself, and you take care of the planet. Learn about your body, and you will be empowered.

I watch a teenage girl ride her bike through the streets of Philadelphia. Will she have knowledge of her cycle?

I see an old woman on a park bench in New Orleans. Who is learning her life lessons?

A middle aged dame in Texas tells me she doesn’t like “that word” and I wonder. Does her daughter know her – Period?

A transgender man tells of his forgotten tablets and using soft leaves to soak up his accidental summer-camp flow.

So many perspectives from so many places and we’ve only just scratched the surface. So many lessons to learn from our neighbours. Collectively, we have a purpose.

Learn to love. Love to grow as our cycle continues. I watch a playground of children. What world can we envision for them?

A world where we know our bodies? Where we can be ourselves without fear?

A world void of hatred?

Who knows. I am but a tiny wheel on the cycle of life.

Yet one small action can trigger a revolution.

One cycle. One. Cycle. We are in it.

Where do you want to go?

Rosie Sheba is the owner/director of Sustainable Menstruation Australia and rode from Austin to Boston with Sustainable Cycles to present at #SMCR2015. She has a background in evolutionary biology and ecology. Rosie sees positive relationships and experiences of the menstrual cycle as the keystone for the evolutionary survival and success of humanity.

Menstrual Poetry from #SMCR2015: “Blood dried, but mysteries remained.”

July 16th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

On June 6th, 2015, at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at the Centre for Women’s Health and Human Rights in Boston, conference participants celebrated with an Open Mic evening of Menstrual Poetry to close out #SMCR2015. This is the fourth in a series of posts at re:Cycling that aims to give a broader audience to menstrual-themed poetry.  


His First Period – by David Linton

Returning to the cave,
Arm gashed by claw of tiger, back scared by spear of foe,
Noting first the scent, then, adjusting to the dark,
The small red spots across the rubble, the rivulets down her leg,
Dried in the hair of her calf, glistening maroon,
Reflecting dimly the light of the smoldering fire.

Blood! Blood!!

Clutching his club and bending to grasp a stone
His eyes dart and nostrils flare
To find the intruder that had caused this flow,
The foreign beast, standing or crawling, on two legs or four,
That had drawn life’s fluid from his cave mate’s groin.

No sound of scurrying feet or padded paw,
No smell of body or of musky pelt,
No furtive move or change of shadows’ shapes.
While she, fresh fluid flowing still, detecting his concern,
Bared her teeth and lowered eyes
In gestures of welcome and ease.
Hair still on end, nostrils twitching, breath coming short,
Club slowly lowered and rock dropped to the floor,
He neared her by the fire, knelt to sniff the odor,
Reached to touch the matted nest of hair.
Pulling back his red smeared fingers,
He held them to his nose,
Touched them to his tongue,
Stared at the thick crimson,
Familiar and yet strange.

It did not clot and close the wound
But seemed to make it pout with berry-colored ripeness,
Unlike his that oft turned yellow and seeped foul stench.
Nor did she seem to ache or fear a loss,
The kind of ebb that brought down antlered giant,
Snarling beast, or timid runner in the brush.
The kind of ebb that slowed the pace or brought to end
The holder of the spear, the builder of the fire,
The hunter of all prey.

In unaccustomed calm they huddled near the heat,
Their hairy shoulders touched,
Their gnarled fingers felt each other’s grasp,
Blood dried, but mysteries remained.

David Linton is an Emeritus Professor at Marymount Manhattan College. He is also Editor of the SMCR Newsletter and a member of the SMCR Board. His research focus is on media representations of the menstrual cycle as well as how women and men relate to one another around the presence of menstruation.

Menstrual Poetry from #SMCR2015: “I looked up menstruation in the dictionary.”

July 13th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

On June 6th, 2015, at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at the Centre for Women’s Health and Human Rights in Boston, conference participants celebrated with an Open Mic evening of Menstrual Poetry to close out #SMCR2015. This is the third in a series of posts at re:Cycling that aims to give a broader audience to some of the poetry performed that evening. 


You Menstrual Me – excerpted from the June 6, 2015 performance by Emily Graves


Balloons 1I told you I got my period,
And you said I could tell you once every 28 days.
But no more.

I traced the word menstruation
In the air, to see if anyone would give me a dirty look.
And they didn’t! Mostly.

I traced the word menstruation
On the computer screen.
Just to test it out.

I traced the word menstruation
For a whole hour
And I only got to the letter “r.”

I told you I had my period
And you asked
If I could get off the intercom.

I looked up menstruation in the dictionary.
I turned to the right page and made my way down,
but I couldn’t look.

I looked up menstruation in the dictionary.
But I panicked at the last minute,
And I looked up men instead.

Today I looked up the words
Gold, sky, and bliss in the dictionary
And they all said, “See also: Menstruation.”

I told you I had my period,
And you dug a hole
In our kitchen.

The class was ticking circles
But my little hand
Tucked into my underwear.

Without a tell
I bluffed. I sat over the
tattle trail.

The class did not hear
my underwear’s

With a tiny tattle,
My jeans
Tell all.

I told you I had my period
And you asked
If there was any new business.

I searched for the word menstruation
on the bathroom wall.
But it wasn’t there.

I searched for the word menstruation
On my computer
But every file was called that.

I searched for the word menstruation
in my friend’s new updo.
It was written all over.

I searched for the word menstruation
on the midterm.
I think it was all of the above.

I searched for the word menstruation
In aisle 3.
But it was with the pickles.

I searched for the word menstruation
at the bakery.
But they had puns instead.

I told you about my period,
And you said,
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.”

I’ve wondered
if you menstruate too.
Can I ask?


Emily Graves is an Instructor at Louisiana State University in the Communication Studies department where she teaches speech and performance.  She is interested in historiography, and in the performances of objects and language. Emily uses performance art as way to address the embodied and the discursive elements of menstruation.

Menstrual Poetry from #SMCR2015: “She who dreams the world awake”

July 9th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

On June 6th, 2015, at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at the Centre for Women’s Health and Human Rights in Boston, conference participants celebrated with an Open Mic evening of Menstrual Poetry to close out #SMCR2015. This is the second in a series of posts at re:Cycling that aims to give a broader audience to some of the poetry performed that evening.


Who is Witch? – by Giuliana Serena

Red Witch by Giuliana Serena


She who sweeps the space, lights the candle, calls the circle, stokes the fire, fans the feathers, stirs the cauldron.

She who straddles the hedge, the edge, of culture and the wild, bridging the divide.

She who holds holy the mysteries of existence, practicing reverence.

She who brings forth the transformation of consciousness at will, as medicine for the people.

She who soothes, and comforts, and holds those in need.

She who chants and drums, and dances the spiral dance, raising the power, and giving it back.

She who keeps the old ways, and manifests new ones.

She who says yes, and no, with discernment.

She who knows all and nothing.

She who seeks knowledge, sitting at the feet of death, and of birth, as teachers.

She who dreams the world awake, drinking deeply of the divine.

She who journeys, and conjures, and sings over bones.

She who navigates the depths of the river beneath the river.

She who celebrates, feasts, and makes love with abandon.

She who walks the wisdom path, who carries the vast fertile ocean within, who cycles, who flows, who bleeds on the earth, then holds her wise blood inside.

She who draws down the moon, and the light of a thousand, thousand suns.

She who embodies the magical nature of the cosmos, the transcendent feminine force.


She who is Woman; Maiden, and Empress, and Maga, and Crone.

She who is rooted and grounded, present, aware.

She who is her authentic self, without apology.

She who is.


Giuliana Serena is a ceremonialist, Rites-of-Passage facilitator, menstrual cycle educator, and founder of Moontime Rising


Menstrual Poetry from #SMCR2015: “Existence ain’t real without blood”

July 7th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

On June 6th, 2015, at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at the Centre for Women’s Health and Human Rights in Boston, conference participants celebrated with an Open Mic evening of Menstrual Poetry to close out #SMCR2015. This is the first in a series of posts at re:Cycling that aims to give a broader audience to some of the poetry performed that evening. 


together we bleed – by Iris Verstappen

“The Crimson Wave” by Jen Lewis

existence ain’t real
without blood
on moonless nights
on moon-full nights
we celebrate


and we celebrate the blood
that has been given to us
to give back
give back
to our mother earth
who holds
the tender soil in which our ancestral roots
take rest


we are the bloodline
that connects
generations of women giving
the life
we are living right now
and together

we are the sisters
the guardians of the blood
the blood keepers


cherish the blood
honor the blood

Iris Josephina L. Verstappen is a menstrual awareness educator, doula & ashtanga yoga teacher from the Netherlands who is passionate about empowering people to make informed choices about their bodies on all levels.


Women’s Reproductive Health journal explores postmenopausal hormone therapy

June 17th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Free access to Women’s Reproductive Health, the journal launched by the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research in 2014, is available to all SMCR members. To become a member of the society or to obtain a subscription contact  For media, submission, and other inquires about the journal contact editor Joan C. Chrisler at


Guest Post by Joan C. Chrisler

The spring 2015 issue of Women’s Reproductive Health contains our first special section: on postmenopausal hormone therapy. The section contains a thought-provoking anchor article by menopause expert, psychologist Paula Derry. It is followed by short commentaries by a multidisciplinary group of menopause experts–a physician, a sociologist, an anthropologist, and a nurse. This set of papers would make an excellent reading assignment for a women’s health course, and it is sure to generate class discussion. The issue also contains two other research reports: one on women’s experiences with gynecological examinations, and the other on the relative absence of mentions of menstruation in novels aimed at adolescent girls because publishers are worried about challenges by parents and school boards that could hurt sales. The issue is rounded out with three book reviews.


Women’s Reproductive Health

Volume 2, Number 1 (Spring 2015)

Special Section on Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy

Evidence-based Medicine, Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy, and the Women’s Health Initiative – Paula Derry

The Science of Marketing: How Pharmaceutical Companies Manipulated Medical Discourse on Menopause – Adriane Fugh-Berman

Medicalization Survived the Women’s Health Initiative…but Has Discourse Opened up? – Heather Dillaway

Animal Models in Menopause Research – Lynette Leidy Sievert

Lost in Translation? – Nancy Fugate Woods

A Multi-method Approach to Women’s Experiences of Reproductive Health Screening – Arezou Ghane, Kate Sweeny, & William L. Dunlop

The Censoring of Menstruation in Adolescent Literature: A Growing Problem – Carissa Pokorny-Golden

Book Reviews
Investigating the Ubiquitous: The Everyday Use of Hormonal Contraceptives – Marie C. Hansen

Menstruation’s Cultural History – David Linton

WomanCode: Caveat Emptor – Elizabeth Rowe

Joan C. Chrisler is a professor of psychology at Connecticut College and the founding editor of Women’s Reproductive Health. Her special areas of interest include PMS, attitudes toward menstruation and menopause, sociocultural aspects of menstruation, and cognitive and behavioral changes across the menstrual cycle.

Experiencing Menopause: Sexuality, desire and literary exploration

April 27th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Three paper presentations on Menopause at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston will explore sexuality and the menopausal woman, as well as personal menopausal experiences as collected in a literary anthology.

1. Sex and the Menopausal Woman: Resisting Representations of the Abject Asexual Woman
     Presented by Jane Ussher and Janette Perz, Centre for Health Research, School of Medicine, University of Western Sydney 

Drawing on qualitative research conducted with women at midlife, and those who have experienced premature menopause after cancer, we argue that sexuality can continue to be a positive experience for women throughout adult life and into old age.

Medical discourse has traditionally positioned the menopausal transition as a time of sexual atrophy and loss of femininity, with hormonal replacement as the solution. In contrast, feminist critics have argued that women’s experience of sexual embodiment during menopause is culturally and relationally mediated, tied to discursive constructions of aging and sexuality, which are negotiated by women.

This paper will present a critical examination of women’s experiences of sexuality during and after the menopausal transition, drawing on in-depth one-to-one interviews we have conducted with 21 women at midlife, and 39 women who have experienced premature menopause as a consequence of cancer treatment.

Theoretical thematic analysis was used to identify three themes across the women’s accounts: ‘Intrapsychic negotiation of sexual and embodied change’; ‘Feeling sexy or frumpy: Body image and the male gaze’; ‘Indifference or desire? The relational context of sexuality during menopause’. Through this analysis, we challenge myths and misconceptions about the inevitability of sexual decline at menopause, as well as normalise the embodied changes that some women experience–whether menopause is premature, or occurs at midlife. We argue that sexual difficulties or disinterest reported by women during and after menopause are more strongly associated with psycho-social factors than hormonal status, in particular psychological well-being, relationship context and a woman’s negotiation of cultural constructions of sex, aging, and femininity. However, sexuality can continue to be a positive experience for women throughout adult life and into old age, with many menopausal women reporting increased sexual desire and response, as well as re-negotiation of sexual activities in the context of embodied change. This undermines the bio-medical construction of menopause as a time of inevitable sexual atrophy and decay.

2. Writing Menopause: Creating an Anthology
     Presented by Jane Cawthorne and E. D. Morin

The editors will discuss their process of envisioning and creating a new literary anthology that considers the diverse experience of menopause from various points of view. The anthology is composed of new works of poetry, short fiction, interviews, creative non-fiction, and cross-genre pieces, along with several previously published creative works that were chosen to round out the collection.

Although the editors make no claims that this work is in any way definitive, their focus instead was to create a venue for more stories and to encourage a richer vocabulary about this important transition within a literary context. The editors have observed that few literary representations of menopause exist. They will explain how they arrived at wanting to create this collection, as well as the submission process, the criteria used in accepting submissions, and how the shape of the collection shifted organically with the nature of submissions received. They will reflect on what types of submissions they would not accept, what they think the volume says about menopause, and how their own ideas about menopause were changed during the process. A few excerpts will be read.

3. Sexuality and Post-Menopausal  Women:  Desirability and Desire
     Presented by Maureen C. McHugh, and Camille J. Interligi,  Department of Psychology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Ageist cultural messages portray old bodies as ugly, asexual and undesirable (Calasanti & Slevin, 2001; Furman, 1997), and yet not engaging in sufficient partner sex is viewed as a sexual dysfunction.  How do contradictory cultural messages about the sexuality of older women impact their sense of themselves as sexual beings?

Aging threatens women’s sense of themselves as women, as sexual beings, and as sexually desirable (Clarke, 2011). Ageist cultural messages convey the cultural value placed on youthfulness and portray old bodies as ugly, asexual and undesirable (Calasanti & Slevin, 2001; Furman, 1997). Stereotyped as experiencing physical and sexual decline, and viewed as asexual, older women’s sexual interest may be deemed inappropriate. Yet not engaging in sufficient partner sex is seen as a dysfunction (McHugh, 2006).  Who says how much sex is enough? How do contradictory cultural messages about the sexuality of older women impact their sense of themselves as sexual beings?

Limited research on older women’s sexual desire and desirability reflects an androcentric bias. Research has rarely addressed appearance concerns, or the embodied nature of older women’s experiences (Clarke, 2011). Research on older women’s sexuality has emphasized sexual declines, diseases, and dysfunctions.  As the research on older women becomes less ageist, heteronormative and androcentric, we increasingly recognize the complexity and the contextual nature of women’s sexual desirability (Clark, 2011) and desire.

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

March 27th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

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.

NOTE: This post was edited for clarity, and the graphic added, on March 31, 2015. 

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.