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Oh, bloody hell.

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Submitted by Heather Corinna on Tue, 2005-12-06 16:00

Today, a Scarleteen user (thanks, puppysrcute!) posted the following at the boards: What do you think about this?

To which, I replied:
That, in general, we don't have the long-term, solid data to have any idea if this is wise or damaging to women, and until we do, I'm not (and Scarleteen by association) going to endorse it, even as an option for women who do simply want to choose it as preference, not as doctrine or by pressure to do so.

I think one can't dismiss that in a patriarchal culture it benefits...well, the patriarchy; all that's driven by it and benefits from the oppression it requires, for women's bodies to be more "manageable." More like male bodies. Even in that piece, that any woman "doesn't have time," for a normal body function says a whole lot about how very much this system doesn't work well for women sometimes. (Plus that gynecologist, changing her tampon every couple hours -- why the heck doesn't she know about something like the Divacup, which you can leave in all day? Is she a gynecologist practicing under a rock?)

We also know -- and do have evidence -- that menstruation is NOT frivolous. For instance, it helps flush the vagina of bacteria, as mentioned in that article, which becomes very relevant in modern times. And comparing how many periods a woman has now compared to hundreds of years ago -- whe the lifespan was considerably smaller, when childbirth carried high threats of death, when things like STIs were not as prevalent, when we didn't know about reproductive cancers and couldn't investigate them, is fallacious, as is presuming that how the body acts when cessation of periods is due to pregnancy, and how it acts when that cessation is chemical, would be identical or even similar.

Quotes like this?

The upside, however, is potentially enormous, says Miller. "Imagine the freedom to go swimming anytime," she says, "You can wear a skirt with no underwear. You can have sex without thinking about blood on the sheets. You never get anything stained. Every day your hormones are the same. Your breasts aren't tender, you don't feel ovulatory pains. It's a modern problem to have 13 periods a year for 35 years. I think the continuous pill is a modern solution to a modern problem."

Are just bloody (no pun intended) offensive to me. I can already go swimming anytime I want when I'm menstruating, with or without use of tampons, pads or cups. I can go without underwear whenever I choose, and being able to do so is hardly a huge issue in my life as a woman anyway. That's enormous? Going commando is supposed to be an ENORMOUS issue in my life?

I don't WANT my hormone fluctuations to be controlled by drugs, anymore than a man would (do we have pills yet or lobbies to control THEIR cycles? Gee, I wonder why not? So happy to see someone mention that for a change at the end of this piece). And BCPs can't do that anyway: exercise alone causes hormone fluctuations, and I get that daily. Sex does. My own brain chemistry does. A million things do: and the pill, no matter how used, cannot make all the hormones in my body be the same every day, and why would I want it to? That's just a patently false statement that makes that doc sound either seriously uneducated as to basic human physiology, or like she assumes everyone else is.

My sheets get stained from sex, from sweat, from my own ejaculate and that of partners even when no one is menstruating: that's some of why I WASH them. Without all of the typical mind-traps about menstruation doing the polka in my head, why would I give menses on the sheets any more or less thought or consideration than I would those things? Heck, my own ejaculate makes a way bigger wet spot. And I'm not so delicate a critter that the occasional ovulatory niggle or tender breast is painful: lordisa, I lost half a HAND as a kid, I box, I transport myself by bike, rather than car, I have stiffness or soreness sometimes just by having an active lifestyle. My breasts get tender with sexual arousal, for crying out loud; my uterus contracts with orgasm. Statements like this smack of a sort of Victorian, sanitized approach to women that sounds like a benefit to us, but is a pretty sneaky sell. My life has been so complex, so busy, so full of so many challenges and hardships: menstruation -- even during years for me where it was painful -- doesn't even make the list. In fact, I was put on the pill very young for menstrual pain (before we had things like Ibuprofen or a lot of easily-available natural remedies; before I could choose what I ate to make a huge dent in menstrual pain with simple dietary changes) and very gladly went off of it in college because I wanted my own body back, and found other gentler, simpler and less invasive approaches worked just as well without robbing me of it.

Moreover, it is not a "modern problem" to have 13 periods a year, save that now, women have more freedom to CHOOSE not to get pregnant if they don't want to. This wasn't a "problem" before, both because women didn't have access to reliable birth control AND because many women couldn't even say no to sex when they didn't want it. That is laregly why women back in the day were menstruating less often. I'd say having more autonomy to choose when we do or don't become pregnant, based on our wants, and when we do and don't want to have sex, is nothing close to problematic.

Our culture already tries to take so much of women's bodies-as-is away from us, and this just has always seemed like one more attempt to take more. Women's bodies have been blamed for a host of personal and cultural ills for forever and day, because it's always easier to "fix" women than to fix a culture which we threaten, which doesn't have room for us, or which we complicate by not being men. I'm missing the modern part of this blame game.

(It's also interesting to note that this is being pushed because of women menstruating earlier, rather than people investigating and looking to fix WHY, like the likely-contibutors of pesticides and preservatives and hormones in food, the limitation of which would make a huge dent in profits from some of the richest lobbies and businesses around, like the beef and dairy industries. Like increasingly sedentary lifestyles, and so forth.)

* * *
This has been an issue for some time now. I've read at least one lengthy book on the topic (from a for-it doctor, who oddly kept trying to prove his thesis by talking about ancient Greek medicine done at a time when the reproductive system wasn't even understood) and a lot of reports from all sides of the fence.

Absolutely, we know doing this can help some women, namely, those with severe mesntural problems due to hormonal irregularities, and the help it gives those women -- women with PCOS, for instance, even without long-term data, is safe to assume to do more good than harm. But we also see and know plenty of women on the pill for menstrual issues who aren't helped much at all, most likely because hormones aren't the issue. Things like diet and nutrition, exercise, their psychological approach to menstruation, interpersonal and social attitudes about menstruation, and their lifestyles are more at the root of problems, but again, addressing those issues is a far more contorverisal, less profitable, and less easy "fix." For young women, we don't actually even have any good data on what taking the pill at ALL does to their long-term health. Studies are just starting to come out on BCPs and young women, and already, we're seeking that bone loss may be a very real issue, and that's no small thing. Living until you're 85 in you're virtually immobile and breakable as glass at 50 isn't any real boon.

But this isn't about helping some women, many of these pro-cessation approaches: it's about suggesting, very dogmatically, that it is not natural or healthy for women's bodies to do what they natrually do; that women's bodies and lives would -- unilaterally -- be better if they didn't operate like... women's bodies. (And again, we don't have any broad or long-term data which supports that yet.)

That's a pretty dangerous premise to put out there, especially without long-term data about things like this, and a hasty premise that has been at the toor of a LOT of approaches which have, in the past, proved hazardous to women (even very recently, with things like Depo-Provera, Norplant and some types of hormone therapy for menopausal women).

The long and the short of it is: buyer beware. This isn't anything close to the first time that a group has suggested women would be better off with more homogenized bodies. We hear, see and experience some variation on this theme every day, and in many cultures, ours being at the top of this list, have for centuries and centuries. Who knows? Maybe in time the data will bear out that this IS safe, and maybe even that it is healhier for women, either for some groups of them, or even as a whole. But until then, it's wise to be cautious, especially with so familiar an approach, so anti-woman as some of the hard-sells for this are, when a profit is to be made, and when anyone is telling us that ANY one thing is better or necessary for all women.

(Original comments for this entry can be found here.)

Comments

Not everyone swims in pools.

Sun, 2009-05-24 11:02
Heather Corinna

...and I didn't say where I'd be swimming nor mention pools.

Personally, I'm allergic to chlorine, so anything to do with a shared pool is irrelevant to me. If I swim, I swim in lakes or oceans, and given all that lives in those bodies of water, no, I do not feel that menstrual fluids -- especially given how little fluid will tend to flow out when a woman is swimming -- are anything to be concerned about there.

I do agree that in a shared pool, different etiquette may apply, just like it'd be reasonable to suggest a shower before entering a shared pool. At the same time, if I wasn't okay with things like being exposed to runny noses and sweat, even if I wasn't allergic, I'd likely avoid shared pools, where even with all the chemicals, any of us are going to be exposed to body fluids in some way.

Swimming during a period and Infections

Tue, 2010-12-07 16:19
Anonymous

Firstly, a big thank you to Scarleteen for existing.

Given all that lives in those bodies of water, aren't you in any risk of contracting an uteral infection from said lake or ocean? I've heard that's how my grandaunt became sterile, by going for a swim in a pond in the wrong time of the month. Perhaps that's only what my parents have been telling me but if there's the blood, doesn't it also mean that there are essentially wounds present in the shedding uteral tissue? I can imagine that if a wound goes bad in there it would be pretty difficult to maintain hygiene and keep it form getting worse, especially if you're not able to go and see a gynecologist, which my grandaunt had no way of doing, growing up in Soviet Russia. Because of that, my parents were wary at first when I said I was swimming during my period, even with a tampone.

Then again, it just may be that the levels of pollution are higher in the water bodies around here than where you choose to swim, containing many more interesting bacteria cultures which might not be repelled by the uteral environment, in which case my grandaunt should have chosen better where to swim, or that she got her infection from another place.

Swimming without tampons is OK?

Sat, 2009-05-23 22:34
Anonymous

"I can already go swimming anytime I want when I'm menstruating, with or without use of tampons, pads or cups."

Are you suggesting that allowing menstrual fluids into the pool by not using a tampon or cup is not unsanitary or inconsiderate? If someone urinated, ejaculated, or blew their nose in the pool, wouldn't you have a problem with that? Semen, for example, isn't gross in and of itself, but it isn't something which should be shared indiscriminately and placed into a shared body of water used by others who you may not even know. What about showering before getting into the pool? People naturally have sweat and bacteria on them; should those be freely shared in the pool? These are basic matters of cleanliness and courtesy. Similarly, asking one to use a tampon or cup while swimming if one's menstruating is absolutely reasonable and the idea that it should be optional makes no sense at all.

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