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How to Never Have Your Period Again

Many women don't realize how much they can control their monthly cycle.

When it comes to monthly cycles, I’m one of those women who was born lucky: four-day panty-liner periods and the occasional little backache that felt like an excuse to pamper myself with a warm bath or cup of tea—or a few more chocolate chips. That’s it.

I thought it was that way for everyone until two things got me to start asking questions: 1) my husband and I and our two daughters made a trip to Africa, where I got a glimpse of the things desperate moms do to manage their fertility; and 2) my daughters hit their mid-teens. I decided I wanted to understand more about women’s bodies and especially about  long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) that I’d heard could change the pregnancy risk from 1 in 12 each year on the Pill to less than 1 in 700 on the most effective method available.

I started reading and initiating conversations about contraception. One unexpected thing that came back at me was stories about periods: A young teacher had to excuse herself from the classroom so she could throw up because her periods made her nauseous; a neighbor had such heavy bleeding that it made her dangerously anemic; a friend had cramps that were as intense as early labor. Another woman went to buy groceries for her kids and had to change her tampon and pad twice just to get out of the store!

Who knew?!

Well, OK, it turns out that American women miss over  100 million hours of work annually from menstrual symptoms, so probably a lot of you knew, but I didn’t. What I also didn’t know was this: For 50 years researchers have been examining the health costs of our bodies gearing up every month to make a baby—and even questioning whether the number of cycles we have (almost 400 on average) is normal in historical terms. As research has accumulated and contraceptive technologies have improved, more and more medical practitioners are giving women with problem periods the option to reduce or eliminate menstrual bleeding.

In fact, they are giving women with normal periods the same option, because  not getting your period every month can sound  pretty great even to some of us who don’t suffer debilitating cramps and anemia and such. It also  may be healthier. From a quality of life standpoint, two thirds of women would rather ditch their periods, while one third  actually prefer the rhythm of the monthly cycle. From a health standpoint, the pros and cons appear balanced enough that many medical practitioners believe women should be fully informed about what is known at this point and allowed to make their own decisions.

Here are a few facts about women and periods from my earlier piece, “ A Brief History of Your Period and Why You Don’t Have to Have It:

  • Modern Western women have  four times as many periods over a lifetime as our hunter-gatherer ancestors and triple the number for women just 100 years ago. In other words, what seems "natural" now is very different from what our bodies have historically supported or have evolved to support.
  • Menstrual symptoms are the number-one reason young women miss school or work. In the developing world menstruation is  a factor in adolescent girls leaving school.
  • Italian researchers  found that menstrual symptoms and related absenteeism account for approximately 15% of the wage and promotion gap between men and women.
  • There are  no known long-term health costs of menstrual regulation or suppression in healthy women.

Deborah Oyer, a family planning doctor in Seattle who also trains medical students, residents and other practitioners, asks all of her contraception patients, “How often do you want to have your period? Monthly? Every three months? Or not at all?” Until she asks, many women don’t know they have a choice. It turns out, they have several. 

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