Imagine Never Having to Have Your Period Again? The Truth About Menstruation
Seattle family planning doctor Deborah Oyer routinely asks new female patients, “How often do you want to have your period? Monthly? Every three months? Or not at all?” Until she asks, some don’t know they have a choice. Like every other aspect of reproductive health, menstruation is a fraught topic. A woman who is actively managing her period is in control of her fertility; in Judeo Christian folklore, she is cheating Eve’s curse. Even talking about menstruation can violate taboos. Consequently, most of us are astoundingly under-informed about a facet of womanhood that affects anyone who either has a uterus or loves a person who does.
For example, did you know that:
· Modern Western women have four times as many periods over a lifetime as our hunter gatherer ancestors and triple the number for women just a hundred years ago. In other words, what seems “natural” now is very different from what our bodies have historically supported or have evolved to support.
· In the 19 th Century there was approximately a five year gap between when females started their periods and age at first marriage; now the gap is closer to fifteen years, with many girls starting in grade school.
· Girls who start early are more likely to have painful cramps and heavy bleeding.
· Menstrual contractions can be as severe as early labor and can trigger vomiting or blackouts.
· Menstrual symptoms cause over 100 million lost work hours annually for American women; they are the number one reason young women miss school or work. In the developing world menstruation is a factor in adolescent girls leaving school.
· A woman can now choose to regulate her periods using either short acting contraceptives like pills or rings or a long acting method like an IUD or injections.
· Given an option, about one third of women would choose to keep their period; the other two thirds would prefer to ditch it.
· There are no known long term health consequences of menstrual regulation or suppression in healthy women.
· IUD’s (which are as effective as sterilization from a contraceptive standpoint) were recently approved by the FDA to decrease menstrual symptoms and endometriosis and are rapidly becoming a first-line treatment for many menstrual problems.
· A hormonal IUD reduces menstrual bleeding by on average 90% and many women have no period by the end of the first year –yet menstruation and fertility return within a single cycle after removal.
· Italian researchers found that menstrual symptoms and related absenteeism accounts for approximately 15% of the wage and promotion gap between men and women.
Over the centuries, many religious leaders have taught that women were made for childbearing, and some, known as complementarians, take this position today. Fortunately, few go as far as Reformation father Martin Luther: If a woman grows weary and, at last, dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing; she is there to do it. Complementarians are right in one sense: our bodies are optimized to produce the greatest number of surviving offspring, even if it costs us in other dimensions of health or wellbeing. In past centuries this meant a high level of mortality for women and babies. Historically, one woman died for every hundred pregnancies. When that is multiplied by a traditional number of pregnancies per woman, you get a maternal death rate close to ten percent, similar to what it is in Afghanistan today. Globally, half a millionwomen die each year due to complications of pregnancy and childbearing.