Thursday, May 6, 2010

Period vs. No Period

Warning: I talk about menstruation.  If you're all, "EWWWW, GROSSSSSS" about periods, then I recommend you not read this blog post.  I also recommend that you grow up a little.

On today, there's an article about whether or not it's okay for women to skip their periods.  Like most content on CNN these days, it's not a good article.  But it's an interesting issue.

I'm ambivalent about my period.  On the one hand, I find it extremely annoying.  Once every 4 weeks, I bleed for 4-5 days.  I don't like wearing pads (they're lumpy), I don't like wearing tampons (I'm prone to infections, and MAN, those things hurt when you pull them out and they're slightly dry!), and I don't want to buy cups.  I get cramps for the first day and a half, which is pretty uncomfortable.  Underwear and sheets are never safe, no matter how awesome and careful you are.  It's annoying!

On the other hand, it's not that big a deal.  I still can have sex (gross?  Eh, not really, just take a quick shower first).  I can still go to work and go about my daily life.  It doesn't last for THAT long, either.

So here we have the general sides of the debate.  I don't like having my period, but I'm not comfortable stigmatizing something that's been stigmatized for years just because waaaah, I have to wear a tampon.

The CNN article goes into the act of skipping placebos.  That is, women who use hormonal contraception can manupulate the hormones so that they don't get their periods.  For example, a woman on the pill can just skip the week of sugar pills and start a new pack (something I've done maybe once or twice a year since I started taking the pill 7 years ago), or a woman using NuvaRing can leave the ring in for 4 weeks instead of 3, and then go right to the next ring.  There are also birth control pills that are sold in such a way that there are three months of hormone pills and a week of placebos.

So it's possible to not have a period for months, instead of a few weeks.

Why don't I do this?  Actually, I don't do this because I like the birth control pill I'm on, and I don't want to switch to a different progestin.*  Additionally, getting my period is a great way to know I'm not pregnant.  Otherwise, eh, I'd probably switch and just not get my period.

But I hate both sides of the debate.

On the one side, there are the women who are just SO glad they never menstruate.  Look, menstruation?  Not the worst thing in the world!  It's like when the Boston area had a boil water order.  It's inconvenient and it's temporary.  Additionally, I can't help but think about the impact that patriarchy has on our attitudes about menstruation.  Menstruation is Othering--that is, if you menstruate, you're not normal.  You're not default.  So the world will not accomodate you.  That is, there will not be pad and tampon dispensers in every bathroom (or disposals).  And missing work because of severe menstrual cramps?  Take some Midol, or you're fired.  I can't pretend that menstruation as Other doesn't impact our attitudes about it, or about not having a period.

And opposing these period-hating women are the ones who cry out, "It's just not natural to not menstruate!"  First of all, if you're going to take this position, you should be arguing against the pill in general, not just the act of skipping a period.  That is, if you're all about nature, you shouldn't be okay with skipping ovulation.  So don't pick and choose.  Second, the only thing that happens is that your body doesn't shed the uterine lining after a month.  It sheds it after three months.  I hardly think the body is completely unaware of the continued presence of the lining.  Besides, considering the number of women with PCOS** who menstruate only a few times a year anyway (once I had my period only twice in a year), it's clearly not outside the realm of "nature" to not menstruate every month.  And it's insulting to imply otherwise.

So, where do I stand?  Look, I don't really CARE.  If you don't ever want to have your period again, then I suggest you skip it lots.  If you think it's important to get a period every month, then don't skip.  If you like to skip when your period would otherwise fall during an inconvenient time, then skip.

Just don't make it the law for every single menstruating woman to every walk the earth.***

* Birth control pills are made up of estradiol and a progestin.  Estradiol is produced naturally in the body, but it can also be produced synthetically; it's relatively equivalent to estrogen, and that's how the body perceives it.  Progestins are synthetic progesterones, another reproductive hormone.  There are tons of different progestins, synthesized in different ways from different initial hormones.  Many women prefer one progestine over another, and therefore prefer one pill over another.  I take Yasmin because of the progestine it uses (drospirenone).

** PCOS is polycystic ovarian syndrome.  It's a poorly defined syndrone that's mainly used to diagnose lack of femininity, as far as I'm concerned.  Symptoms and severity are highly variable, and doctors overly freak out their patients about it.  Many women who've been told they have PCOS have great difficulty conceiving, and many have wildly irregular (and heavy, long, painful) periods.

*** There are men who menstruate.  Many transmen certainly do.

1 comment:

  1. Serendipitously, Sociological Images just posted about the construction of monthly menstruation as "natural." From the end of the post:
    "But instead of discussing the medical benefits of fewer periods, they are marketed in a woman-on-the-go sort of way, as a way for women to 'take back' their lives by avoiding an inconvenience. Marketing the pill in this fashion has created push back by women who think this method this pill is all about suppressing 'natural' womanhood, but it is a falsely constructed version of womanhood to begin with."