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Seeking Input from People Who Have Actually Menstruated:

Commenter Triet writes, in the anti-menstruation pill post:

It's been amazing seeing my wife and other women deal with her first pregnancy. Immediately upon announcing to the world she's pregnant, my wife was part of the "in crowd." Every mother--whether she knew my wife well or not--could smile and talk about morning sickness, or finding out the baby's gender, or feeling bloated, etc.

So, it is not aesthetic. Humanity derives meaning from shared experiences, and deleting one of the most universal and central of all female experiences can subtract perceived meaning from people's lives. In that regard it is very important.

Humanity does derive meaning from some shared experiences — but not all. Shared experience that you bond over: pregnancy. Shared experiences that you don't bond over: hangnails, nearsightedness, tooth decay. Shared experiences that people sometimes seem to bond over, but that I'm sure they'd be much better off without: various illnesses or operations that some elderly people stereotypically discuss with each other, but which they'd be glad to avoid without any worry about lost "meaning."

My sense is that menstruation falls within the second (or, less likely, third) category of experiences rather than the first. To many women, pregnancy is a harbinger of their joy in becoming a mother, an affirmation of their fertility (something many women worry about before they become pregnant), a sign of a growing bond with their husbands, and more. Menstruation, it seems to me, is far removed from that: While it is part of the same system that may eventually lead to pregnancy, it doesn't have the directness of connection to a growing baby, it doesn't prove fertility in a way that would ease the woman's fears, it doesn't strengthen the marriage, and in general it lacks very little redeeming value.

But let's hear from some people who actually menstruate, and have been pregnant. When you menstruate, do you feel that you're part of the "in crowd"? If you chose to stop -- not because of menopause, which is a marker of age and of lost fertility, but voluntarily and reversibly -- would you feel "out"? Do you smile and talk to your friends about the cramps, the mood swings, and the like? Do you feel you derive meaning from the fact that you share menstruation as an experience with other women? Would you feel meaning subtracted if you stopped menstruating, because menstruation is so "central" a "female experience[]"? Do you find menstruation to be similar to pregnancy in any emotionally positive way?

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. For a Patronizing Response to My Post About Menstruation,
  2. Seeking Input from People Who Have Actually Menstruated:
  3. Pill That Ends Menstruation:
Somebody who menstruates:
Menstruation is, in my mind, rather like having a very bad professor. Is it a bonding experience? Sure; it can be. Especially if you live with the women in question, because then you all get cramps together. Yay! But it would be just as easy to bond over the common experience of taking a pill, and a billion times more fun.

The idea that this pill is bad for social reasons is like arguing that frats aren't as socially valuable if they don't haze their pledges.
5.23.2007 9:09pm
your mom (mail):
Menstruating does however sometimes indicate who is alpha female. When not on the pill, women have a tendency to sync up. whoever's cycle doesn't move is alpha. I wouldn't call it anything like pregnancy though. And I wouldn't suggest that Mr. V write any poll questions that are supposed to not bias the respondees anytime soon. This post seems like one big "ew women's periods are icky cooties why would anyone want anything like that? can't they just get rid of them so I don't have to think about them anymore"

I don't know that anyone has commented on the hygenic purpose they serve, that is, to flush and clean the icky men's cooties out of the system. Also, if the male is a boor, and the woman is in an arranged marriage, it provides an excuse not to have to touch the icky male for a week, thus strengthening the marriage.
5.23.2007 9:18pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Women OB-GYNs have been dosing themselves to eliminate periods for years. This is just getting rid of the sugar pills in the deck
5.23.2007 9:41pm
John (mail):
At root, all human interaction is tribal.
5.23.2007 9:43pm
random woman:
i suppose people used to bond over having polio, their kids dying of strep throat, or the chance of getting cholera, too, but i don't think anyone mourns those "shared experiences." while having your period once a month isn't quite that dramatic, at the bad end the physical pain can be debilitating (imagine being woken in the middle of the night because you're in so much pain from cramps! fun, but not so shared at 4am!). even when it's not, having your period is really not something i would miss. while i think it would be a bit weird to put pre-menstrual girls on the pill so that they never experienced having their period, i don't think those adult women who can take the pill (many really cannot because of the side effects) and choose to should or would be in anyway hindered by losing this particular "shared experience."
5.23.2007 9:51pm
crane (mail):
Those of us whose menstrual cycles are generally accompanied by debilitating cramps and vomiting would be happy to do without them.

I lost all inclination to value menstruation as "a central part of being a woman" once it became clear to me that it would leave me unable to function one day a month, and that the doctors I went to could find no cure for it. I can suppress the symptoms enough to function by taking lots of over-the-counter pain medication, but that's far from a perfect solution.


Do you smile and talk to your friends about the cramps...?


I don't think you realize just how much those chronic cramps can make a woman hate her reproductive system.
5.23.2007 9:53pm
anon-woman (mail):
wow... what a title to a post...

I've talked about this with my friends, one of whom is going on the new pill that suppresses menstruation (she'll be the guinea pig). The only advantage to menstruation is that it's a monthly "nope, not pregnant" reminder.

If (for various health reasons) I am capable of switching to that new pill, I'd consider the lack of a period a benefit; miss nothing about it; and stock up pregnancy tests from Costco.

My friends and I bitch about menstruation together; we don't smile and talk about it. And the various travails of men, families and life are more than enough to give us shared bonding experiences without the added ignominy of bleeding for five days without dying.
5.23.2007 10:06pm
Tracy W (mail):
I'm on Depo-Provera, which means I don't get periods at all. It's lovely. I have plenty of other things to bond over with other female friends.

Of course, I'm the opposite of Crane - I never had any period pains or cramps when I had periods - so I couldn't empathise with my friends who did suffer anyway. Sympathise yes, empathise no. (I hate the hassle of periods and the pain of getting menstrual stains out of clothing, which is why I enjoy not having them.)
5.23.2007 10:16pm
Alaska Jack (mail):
Regarding the above comments about synchronization, it's worth noting that some recent scientific work suggests that this phenomenon may be more or less the biological equivalent of an urban myth, largely having to do with statistical illusions and whatnot. (e.g., we notice when periods do synchronize, but don't notice or discount it when they don't).

Not taking a stand here. It's just moderately interesting.

- Alaska Jack
5.23.2007 10:19pm
someone who bleeds:
The only time I remember it as something even like something to bond over was when I was a pre-teen, and wanted to get mine, and wear a bra, so I could be like my friends who had gotten theirs and had to wear bras. (I soon realized that both were distinctly overrated.)

Unexpectedly getting your period and being caught without supplies will get you sympathy, but I don't think it's a bonding thing for most adult women. The exception to this is probably pagan women, who seem more inclined to see their periods as something to valorize because they're natural.
5.23.2007 10:27pm
ajf (mail) (www):
i've bonded plenty over myopia, thank you. there's the whole holding your hand flat at your nose and saying, "can you focus here?"

bonding over menstruation? only at summer camp, methinks. although i've heard some pretty odd conversations between women who use diva and its ilk.
5.23.2007 10:35pm
calmom:
What on earth is this topic doing in a legal forum? Although as someone who menstruated during the bar exam and had to put her sanitary supplies in a clear plastic bag to show that I wasn't writing any cheat notes on a sanitary napkin, I suppose it could have some connection.

A bonding experience? Puhleeze. Look men, would you want to spend five or six days every month with blood leaking from your body, sometimes coming on with little warning, and potentially putting a very embarrassing stain on your business suit?

Do older men who need Depends after their prostate operations, bond over the experience? Think about it.
5.23.2007 10:46pm
PT-LawMom (mail) (www):
Wow. Menstruation is a shared experience, but there is nothing positive or bonding about it. It's messy, uncomfortable and basically just a very inconvenient part of being a woman. Discussing it with another woman usually happens only when you need to offer/receive sympathy or share medical advice. I took Depo Provera for several years before I had my son. It ended my period and I didn't feel like any less of a woman. Nine months after stopping depo, I became pregnant and birthed a beautiful, healthy boy 10 months later. The atrocious post-birth bleeding took several weeks to end, at which point I tried other methods of birth control for the first year while breastfeeding and dealt with the unpleasant periods. When my son was 18 months, I had the Mirena IUD implanted and haven't had a period since. :) All this is to say that medicine ending a woman's period is by no means a new concept. I would wager that a significant percentage of the world's female population would be happy to lose this monthly torture ritual if they didn't have to worry about negative side effects or infertility.
5.23.2007 10:51pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
I just *love* when men tell women what the Essential Feminine consists of.

Men like that give women plenty to bond over -- no menstruation required.
5.23.2007 11:05pm
AnonLady (mail):
My period a bonding experience? Absolutely not. Pregnancy, yes; but menstruation? No way.

As for the synchronization "myth," I swam in college. At the beginning of the season, we were all over the map. By the end of the season, having spent 20+ hours a week together, at least three quarters of the team had Aunt Flo come to cheer us on at the league championships. But even though everyone was doing it, it still was not a bonding experience.

Despite all this, I'm not ready to get rid of her forever. After almost 25 years, it just doesn't feel right to kick her to the curb. Plus, I'm two-thirds of the way to menopause. Scary thought.
5.23.2007 11:05pm
Occasional Woman:

I have bonded with women over the unpleasant aspects of mensturating. But then my cycle was disrupted twice: once for a few months when I went off the pill(the withdrawal of progesterone sometimes does that, you can get a hormone spike to restart it); and second, for a whole two years when I had a thyroid condition.

I didn't feel any less of a woman when I wasn't menstruating, and I didn't feel any less able to commiserate with other women. They were concerned for my health, but not for my lack of a period. I didn't feel a sense of loss either. It felt strange, but so long as I was healthy or getting treatment I felt "normal." I am healthy now, and my cycle has returned--but I don't feel blessed to have it back, and I don't feel "more" of a woman.

I've been a woman the entire time.
5.23.2007 11:24pm
Elais:
It might be a bonding experience for a mother and her daughter if it is the first time for the daughter. But other than that, not exactly something to have warm and fuzzies about with women over tea.
5.23.2007 11:28pm
Bobbi (mail):
Five kids in eight years, obviously no period during pregnancy, but I don't get a period while nursing either. I suppose when this last baby is done nursing I will make the decision whether or not to go on the pill and be done with my period. It is pretty much aesthetic for me, my husband took permanent steps to prevent pregnancy, and I don't have PMS or any other symptoms when I have my period. My only concern is the studies showing a possible link to breast cancer and the pill. Look at the recent controversy over HRT, we rarely seem to get a straight answer about hormones, the pill, and cancer. Someone always has an opinion about what a woman should be allowed to put/ingest/augment in her body. sigh.
5.23.2007 11:48pm
ForestGirl:
Menstruation isn't a shared experience that you bond over unless you're 13. And even then I wasn't into sharing. I'd be glad to live without it except I'm betting this pill comes with the same side effects as old-fashioned birth control pills--it has some nasty effects on many women's (including mine) libido.

It isn't getting my period that makes me feel like a woman, but the delightful (hormonally induced) biological changes that happen for the other three weeks of the month. After quitting the pill after ten years, I can tell when I'm ovulating and it's fun. A remarkably increased sense of smell, tiny fallopian cramps, and of course, a remarkably increased interest in sex. I like sensing the biology of my body and it's worth the mess, and the cramps, and the unaestheticness of the other five days.
5.24.2007 12:52am
therut:
Sounds like the Toby Keith song "I want to talk about me". Really how silly or human can we get. I LOVE County as it is way ahead of this discussion even though most elite law schools would say it it low brow culture. Ya'll are just catching up. Us contry folk have had this discusssion a long time ago.
5.24.2007 1:06am
M-Kel:
"People who have actually menstruated" - wouldn't "Women" suffice?

Diction nitpickyness aside, I'm concerned about the health risks. That said, whomever said that menstruating is a bonding experience must have been doped up on cramp painkillers. As Professor Volokh pointed out, disease is part of being human, but that doesn't mean we don't try to prevent it. My periods were awful without birth control -- I had cramps so bad I sometimes couldn't walk. I've also manipulated pills to delay or speed up my period. But ultimately, I'd prefer the new BC pill that shortens your period to three days. That whole "you're not pregnant" thing is kind of relieving.

...and I really can't believe I'm posting this as a comment on the Volokh Conspiracy ...
5.24.2007 1:23am
M-Kel:
Ah, sorry, I missed the whole "been pregnant" aspect. I'm in my mid-20's, and that still seems to me to be more a reason for sorrow than getting one's period.
5.24.2007 1:24am
Judith M. (mail):
It takes a max of about six months to get over the whole mystery-of-life, I'm-a-woman-now thing, and then welcome your teener friends to the club. After that it's just decades of hoping you don't start bleeding at some inconvenient time -- and there are so many inconvenient times -- and washing out underwear, or wishng that once, just once, you could actually manage to go fly fishing in grizzly bear country when you didn't have your period.

In my experience, the only time women ever bonded over menstruation, or welcomed it, was when one of them was scared to death she might be pregnant, and all her friends held their collective breath in a sort of there-but-for-the-grace-of empathy.

I've had two (fabulous) children, which unlike menstruation, was profoundly life altering (so to speak!) in a good way. It did, indeed, bring me closer to other women, in both my own, and my mother's generation, who were enormously supportive and helpful from the time I became pregnant through those early, often exhausting, years of child rearing. All that pretty much came to an end, or course, when the kids started competing for the school play lead, or a spot on the team....

As for menopause, the hot flashes were a small price to pay for bringing the monthly tyranny of blood to end. Free at last! Gone fishing!
5.24.2007 3:44am
Fellow Menstruater:
I don't think the majority of women hate their periods as much as men seem to think. I tend to think it falls in the first category more than the second. Getting my period for the first time was exciting. I was looking forward to it. My mom took me out to dinner. Obviously the excitement has worn off, but I don't dread it, hate it or otherwise have any sort of intense emotions felt about having a period.

My general sense is that women really enjoy discussing in minute detail every aspect of womanhood and motherhood with other women. So I would think that there has been some level of bonding over menstruation. Although if women never menstruated I am sure they would fill the void with other things.
5.24.2007 4:21am
Mily (mail):
The answer to all of the above questions is no. Your first period is exciting because you think it makes you a grownup, but then you figure out how bad it sucks and start praying for an early onset of menopause. And while I can understand some trepidation in regards to using a pill to artificially stop menstruation, it can easily be argued that environmental factors contribute to premature menstruation (girls are hitting puberty earlier and earlier) which has its own attendant health risks, far worse than cramps. Also, anyone who is already on the pill for birth control is having a false period anyway. The makers of the pill included the sugar pills not for health purposes, but because they thought women would freak out if they didn't have to bleed every month. Or maybe they feared God's wrath for removing the curse. Either way, if you're already chemically altering your hormones, may as well not have to buy pills and tampons.
5.24.2007 4:49am
Gabi:
My thoughts:

a)Menstruation can be extremely painful and debilitating for some women.

My college roommate was a varsity athlete but when she got hers, she was in bed for at least a day. My sisters have the same symptoms. I got off pretty easy. I don't doubt that many of these women would get rid of it for relief.

b)Menstruation is inconvenient and messy and thus embarrassing like all bodily functions tend to be.

I've heard many arguments that this has more to do with the fact that since it's part of 'mysterious woman problems' it is made even more reviled, but I'm a bit skeptical. It's still both inconvenient and messy even if the embarrassment is induced through society or misogyny.

c)Menstruation - controlling or eliminating it - is another step toward control over one's body.

Since the Supreme Court seems to think we menstruating folk are too stupid to make choices (the paternalism of Kennedy's opinion still makes my blood boil), I'm pretty ready to embrace just about anything that gives me more control over my body. Will it have side effects? Maybe, but doesn't everything anymore?

d) A previous poster who noted that the sugar pills in regular birth control are technically unnecessary is correct. I had heard that they included a week of bleed to make it more acceptable to the Catholic Church and we all know how well that worked out...
5.24.2007 9:36am
Spartacus (www):
Disclaimer: I am not a woman, never have been.

But I have discussed menstruation pretty extensively with a number of women during my life.

I think it is worth noting that no matter how unpleasant it is, it is not a disease, and serves a natural function. Pregnancy can also be quite unpleasant, even downright miserable at times. That doesn't mean women shouldn't be able to stop their periods if they want to--this is really a "keep your laws off my body" type of situation, unlike abortion, which involves ending another (at least potential) life.
5.24.2007 9:53am
bloody dyke:
i will never give up my period despite the debilitating pain and nausea it gives me, but that's my choice. i feel as though adding these hormones to your body just isn't healthy and in the long term will only cause more harm. i've already lost one ovary, i don't want to f*ck anything else up.
5.24.2007 10:25am
Private One:
The fact that men are discussing this annoys me in the same way the phrase "we're pregnant" annoys me. Eugene, stick with law, please.
5.24.2007 11:08am
An0n:
Eugene's a very bright guy with interesting things to say about many subjects. I'd be very sorry if he "st[u]ck with law." If you're put off by the topic of a particular post, why not just move on to the next post?
5.24.2007 11:49am
Bionic Woman (mail):
May I just say that it's a pleasure to see women posting comments? I realize EV specifically solicited female input, but it's nice all the same. I know what the readership of this blog tends to think of diversity as a goal in other contexts, but I think that discussions would benefit from additional posts by women even when the topic is not menstruation.

And, in response to the idea that the absence of a period would subtract meaning from my life, let me suggest that for me, all it would subtract is moodiness, migraines, and the excuse to inhale a half-gallon of ice cream every 28 days.
5.24.2007 12:18pm
mkschoen:
The biggest thing that's surprised me about this is that men seemed shocked it's possible. Women have been doing this for years simply by skipping the placebo week. Just about everyone I know has used that trick to skip a period over a vacation, wedding, whatever. The reaction among many of my friends was "why would I need a new prescription for this; I'm already doing that."

In fact, the reason I'd consider using this pill versus the same one I had been using is monetary/convenience: my prescription coverage recently changed the rules, and won't allow you to refill the package before it's "supposed" to be used up, so I'd have to wait until the day before the placebo week to order a refill. This pill would eliminate that problem.
5.24.2007 12:39pm
Riverbend (mail):
It's important to recognize that different women have very, very different experiences with periods *and* with hormonal contraceptives. It's a painful irony (literally) that the most effective contraceptives also can have the most/worst side effects. Some women do great on the Pill, the patch, or Depo; I wasn't one of them and after many years of problems had to get off the hormones and resign myself to condoms. For me, Depo (which generally suppresses periods much like the new Pill does but can also just cause irregular bleeding) was the absolute worst: I had constant very painful vaginitis (also a problem while on the Pill), and bled heavily for a full six weeks when the stuff wore off--after nine months (it was supposed to be three)!! I don't have to reiterate what other posters have said about how much periods suck, mine are utterly horrible too, but for me the hormones were even worse. So yes, make the new pills available, but let's be sure to recognize that not every woman's body will tolerate them well and not treat women who have problems with it like they're some kind of irrational failures (seriously, some people seem to think that women who can't/won't "comply" with pill-taking instructions are just idiot airheads who can't manage to "take control of their bodies"). And I do think the concerns about possible cancers or other health effects down the road are justified as well, but I'm not sure this is a med we should refuse to make available for that reason given how long other birth control pills have been around. We do need to make very sure to track how well women do on it overall and make sure patients are thoroughly informed of potential problems as they are/may be discovered.

Check out Connie Willis' brilliant short story "Even the Queen" for a great SF take on this issue! :)
5.24.2007 12:48pm
markm (mail):
Even if menstruation was a bonding experience, so what? Air Force boot camp waa also a bonding experience, but I don't want to know anyone who would want to go back and do it again. I understand and salute those who volunteer for what amounts to boot camp+ to train for an elite unit such as Seals or Rangers, but for the bonding? That's nuts.
5.24.2007 1:33pm
eth (mail):
I do find menstruation to be a positive shared experience. It reminds me that I'm healthy and that my body is part of the cycle of life. (I know that's ridiculously cheesy, but it's true.) For me it's not a social thing, but sort of a private affirmation of my womanhood. I've considered taking a pill that minimizes or ends my periods, but have decided against it because of the positive feelings it gives me.

It also confirms once a month that I'm not pregnant. (Pregnancy would be a joyful surprise, but I'm still waiting to have children for a few years.)
5.24.2007 1:58pm
Falafalafocus (mail):
As a part of the species physically incapable of offering an opinion on EV's quesions, I must say, this topic is like an incredibly large automobile collision. I can do nothing to help it along and there are parts that make me want to run and hide, but I find myself strangly fascinated by the discussion nonetheless.
5.24.2007 2:09pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
slightly OT:

Friend of mine was annoyed when a girl mentioned to him that she was on her period (fine, that's great, we don't want to know about it) so he offered to tell her about the wet dream he'd had the night before.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Incidentally, I wonder if that's the best analogy. Obviously wet dreams aren't painful, but they're messy and gross, and no one is really interested in talking about them or hearing about them (I'm disgusted enough with this post, in which I've had to say "w__ d____" so many times I can't bring myself to say it again). Guys would be perfectly happy if they could quit having WDs without losing their potential fertility. No?
5.24.2007 2:09pm
Ismone:
I think it is a mistake to frame this just as a question about skipping periods. I realize that is what is supposed to be different about this new method of contraception (although as other commenters have pointed out, before this pill came out, we could still do it.) However, hormonal contraception interferes with the whole cycle and blocks ovulation, it doesn't just stop periods. For me, messing with my hormones ended badly. I am used to having a period--while it doesn't bother me, I don't exactly look forward to it. But I would miss, oh, ovulating and the hormonal changes that come and go over the month. I do think it is sad that most women's awareness of what is going on is tied to their period and its negative effects.

And as a PS, Joe, I don't know why the young woman of your acquaintance brought up her period, but that shouldn't be entirely forbidden or shocking. Yesterday, I had to tell a (female) coworker that there was a danger I might pass out--if there had only been guys around, I would have had to tell one of them. Also, sometimes we get hit with really bad symptoms for an hour or two, like roll up in a ball in your office bad. When that has happened, if a guy friend or coworker asks what is wrong with me (b/c I go really pale) I usually just say something like--'I know what this is, it will pass' or 'I'll be fine tomorrow'--but if they keep it up, I will explain either euphemistically that 'it's a woman thing' or directly 'it is my period.' If WD's, as you call them, caused that sort of inconvenience or visible discomfort, I wouldn't feel horrible if a guy told me that was what the cause was. No, going into graphic detail is not appropriate, just as it would be inappropriate for one of us to start rattling off how many tampons we used that day, blah, blah.
5.24.2007 2:41pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
Ismone,

I certainly agree that it's occasionally necessary to bring up uncomfortable personal phenomena like that, just as virtually every medical topic is a little uncomfortable. In this case, I believe, my friend was annoyed that it was brought up in casual conversation with no mitigating reason. I'm sure your male friends appreciate your euphamistic references. :)

HAHA I just remembered something that happened to another one of my friends. He was in another state visiting some girls we went to school with. One of them picked up her purse and left the room. "Where are you going?" he said. "To the bathroom," she said. "With your purse?!?!" he said. He caught on about .5 seconds after he finished saying that.
5.24.2007 2:56pm
Ismone:
Yeah, the only problem with the euphemism is they know *exactly* what it means. So I get away with being delicate, and they are still just as embarassed.
5.24.2007 3:04pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
I think of the euphamism as a parry that lets me escape without having my indelicacy publicly acknowledged. It's the lesser evil...
5.24.2007 3:12pm
theobromophile (www):
At least Prof. Volokh acknowledges that women know more about menstruation than he ever will. Sure beats having men speculate on all sorts of attendant laws and regulations regarding the new pill, which is really nothing more than than navel-gazing if you're biologically incapable of deriving a benefit from it.

I don't get cramps. I don't get mood swings or nausea. My chocolate consumption doesn't change. My iron level is great. So no, it's not a bonding experience -- unless by "bonding," you mean "death glares from the sisterhood."

Obviously, I get pissed off at the idea that we should medicalise a normal bodily function that lacks any sort of problem. Yes, "natural" things are not always good - I say this as a woman who got whooping cough as a teenager - but that does not directly translate into elimination of all things which are "natural." Generally, it's like alcoholism: it's a disease when it becomes a problem in your life and when you can't function normally because of it.

Should health insurers cover this new pill for women who want to use it out of convenience and not because of any debilitating aspect of their period?
5.24.2007 3:38pm
The Reverend Xenophon Fenderson, KSC (mail) (www):
Malcom Gladwell wrote an article on John Rock that described some research in regards to menstruation in preindustrial societies, which is apparently much less than in Western society (by about an order of magnitude). The article speculates on the causes and health risks of regular menstruation, as well.
5.24.2007 3:51pm
Triet (the med student) (www):
I know I am not female, but since it was part of my comment that spurred Eugene's second post on the subject, I feel like I should add a bit.

First, I disagree with the premise that

"Humanity does derive meaning from some shared experiences — but not all."

I believe it does derive meaning from all shared experiences, good or bad. Some may play a larger and more central role in a person's life, and the composite of experiences that people share changes from relationship to relationship, but we bond over the bad and the good, the trivial and the important.

Haven't we all complained off the cuff about stubbing our toe or having a hang-nail and someone else said "yeah, that sucks." Such a small and arguably insignificant thing has demonstrated another level of understanding between the two people involved.

And shared bonds that we may not want to endure still provide meaning to our lives. When my lung collapsed spontaneously as a high school student, I was introduced serendipitously to a girl in Minnesota who had the same thing. We became pen-pals and friends, bonding on many levels including the pain we suffered dealing with a collapsed lung. In addition to the bonding, I also gained a little more "meaning" to my life by realizing that I would be dead if not for some modern machines.

That said, I feel an equally important part of my comment was overlooked because all I did was link to articles in support of my feelings. Because each of us are made up of different experiences, of course some women will regard periods as a wonderful sign of womanhood and others as a burden gladly shed. In the Women's Health article, it says,

"Most women are open to less frequent periods, according to surveys, but some balk at the idea of eliminating them completely. "The idea of never having a period would be kind of weird," Lo says."

It also highlights some of the health issues that accompany estrogen+progesterone or all progesterone pills.

Ultimately, my last sentence remains the same:

"As a soon-to-be-doctor, I would never recommend such birth control without bringing up and discussing the social and emotional ramifications in addition to the physiological ones."

This is not because women should be persuaded out of this pill--no, not at all!--but that all women should be advised of the physiological changes and risks taking the pill entails, as well as the lifestyle changes (including possible absence of monthly menstruation), so that they can decide with their doctor if taking the pill is in their best interest for their health, lifestyle, and vision of who they are.
5.24.2007 5:40pm
Menstruating attorney here:
Throughout most of human history, women have not experienced monthly periods for most of their lives. If there were no birth control or baby formula, women would be pregnant or breastfeeding (which suppresses menstruation for up to 18 months if done with no or little supplementation) most of their lives.

As a professional with three kids, I thank God for brith control, breast pumps, nannies etc., but these "no period" birth control pills may be more "natural" than we think.
5.24.2007 8:15pm
JM Hanes (mail):
Triet:

Once you generalize that humanity derives meaning from any and every shared experience, your proposition basically becomes irrelevant to discussion, especially when it's equally obvious:

a) that meaning of some sort can also be derived without shared experience, as your own posting on this topic demonstrates,
b) that individuals routinely assign entirely different meanings to comparable experiences, and
c) that, in fact, there is a considerable tension here between the actual range of experiences being shared and the commonality that menstruation is presumed to represent.

I find it hard to square the "perceived" neutrality of your acknowledgement that "of course some women will regard periods as a wonderful sign of womanhood and others as a burden gladly shed," with your initial assertion, in its original context:
Humanity derives meaning from shared experiences, and deleting one of the most universal and central of all female experiences can subtract perceived meaning from people's lives. In that regard it is very important.
Now I'm a menopausal woman with two grown children who, I somehow feel compelled to say, doesn't fit any accepted feminist profile, and who believes in treating whole patients, but I couldn't suppress a groan over your repeated endnote:
As a soon-to-be-doctor, I would never recommend such birth control without bringing up and discussing the social and emotional ramifications in addition to the physiological ones.
I'll chalk up the unwitting condescension here to youth, and suggest that you pay your future patients the courtesy of keeping your ruminations on the subtractive nature and social raminfications of the decision at issue to yourself! There is simply no way you can inject questions about the symbolic, psychological, and social affects of womanliness without adding gratuitous, if not specious, judgmental freight to a decision which, per this discussion, women are perfectly capable of sorting out as they, themselves, see fit.

What you can do, however, is space out your appointments so that you needn't rush from one patient to the next, cultivate a relaxed demeanor, and make a concerted effort to assure the women you treat that they are not wasting your time should they have questions or concerns that they would like to voice.
5.24.2007 8:57pm
Joanne Jacobs (www):
I think it's fairly simple: Should women be able to choose to use a drug -- believed to be safe and effective -- that suppresses menstruation? I suspect most women would be happy to skip their monthly periods. Others will consider it unnatural or unwomanly or they'll worry about long-term health issues or whatever. I believe no woman will reject Lybrel for fear of missing out on female bonding, but if that's someone's reason, so be it. It's a matter of personal preference.

I may try it myself, though I'm so close to menopause it hardly seems worth it.
5.25.2007 12:34am
Anon menstruating atty:
In 2000, I read a very interesting article in the New Yorker about the birth control pill and why the pill has always been dispensed with a week's worth of placebos (which allow monthly menstruation). According to the article, the reason was to satisfy the concerns of the Catholic Church. The article reported that the pill could have been despensed without the placebos, in which case it would have eliminated periods entirely (as many women who skip the placebos know). The article went on to explain that breast cancer has been scientifically linked to the frequency of menstrual cycles during a women's childbearing years. The article explained that, historically, before birth control existed, most women were almost continually pregnant or nursing (and thus not menstruating) during most of those years. Based on this research, some scientists have concluded that taking birth control pills continuously, without the week of placebos, could actually reduce the risk of breast cancer over time, similar to the historical effect of near-continuous pregnancy or lactation. Back in 2000, reading this article made me extremely angry. Women should have been provided with the option of eliminating their menstrual cycles decades ago, without paternalistic interference by religious organizations (not to mention insurance companies who will not pay for more than one 30-day supply at a time). In any event, I highly recommend the New Yorker article to anyone who may be interested in reading more.
5.25.2007 1:19am
S Bentley (mail):
I was gloating to my friends when it looked as though I could go on hormonal birth control to stop my cramps.

Because cramps are a shared experience: if you yourself do not get them, then you know someone who does or did (did, mostly, thanks to various forms of the pill).

And no one wants to be part of the cramps crowd.

Besides, just taking the pill can be a different "in-crowd".

It's been said before, I'll identify myself by my personality, thank you very much, not by the fact that I bleed from my crotch.
5.25.2007 1:32am
VKI:
I would also recommend the New Yorker article. Among other things, a careful reading shows that the Catholic Church did not demand that women must have a period. One doctor, John Rock, made that decision, without any input from the Church at all. (Dr. Rock completely missed the point from the Church's perspective.)

As a menstruator, I would love to be rid of my unpleasant, uncomfortable, though never debilitating, periods. I've never missed a period when I wasn't pregnant, although I nursed some of my children exclusively. Certainly no suppression of menstruation for eighteen months - not even for eighteen weeks!

There are good and valid things to consider about the safety of hormonal treatments like the Pill, but a doctor who urged me to consider the social and emotional ramifications as negatives in my decision would definitely merit a raised eyebrow.
5.25.2007 12:36pm
Triet (the med student) (www):
JM Hanes:

When I talked about the prospect of having no menstruation, and said "In that regard it is very important," I was asserting that Eugene's position saying

But I don't see any justification for the feeling that it's not "right to sidestep" something that's "part of being a woman."

That seemed to me then and now a little too categorical. I felt there were times/situations where it is important to consider something someone considers "part of being a woman" even if it may not be medically relevant--because we often make decisions in our lives on things that aren't medically relevant.

And I'm sorry you groaned over my last comment, but you must have missed the point. How could I bring up any birth control pill without discussing the social and emotional ramifications with a patient? I have been taught repeatedly to do that in medical school and I believe it is a correct principle. If a woman came in wanting birth control, I am going to talk to her about ramifications such as:

1. Social -- do you know this birth control causes random spotting and bleeding? If your job or lifestyle puts you in situations where this might be inconvenient, then I might recommend a different pill.
2. Emotional -- do you feel a period is a part of being a woman you don't want to give up? If yes, then obviously I'm going to suggest a typical estrogen+progesterone pill. If no, then the new one might be right for her.
3. Physiological -- as with all progesterone+estrogen pills, this one carries with it an increased risk of blood clots, heart attacks and strokes. Typically estrogen+progesterone pills do not carry the increased risk of cancer that progesterone only pills carry.

Such a discourse in no way dictates condescendingly to a woman what pill she should take, but gives her the full knowledge so she can make an informed decision about what is best for her life.
5.25.2007 9:35pm
ajf (mail) (www):
thebromophile asked a question which i found interesting:

Should health insurers cover this new pill for women who want to use it out of convenience and not because of any debilitating aspect of their period?

my take on it:

seems to me that if a woman and her doctor decide a particular med therapy is appropriate for her, the "health insurers" ('treatment deniers' is a more accurate description, IMO) should cover it (provided it's in their formulary to begin with). regardless of whether the rationale is "convenience" rather than "debilitation."
5.25.2007 9:39pm