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the end of menstruation? April 20, 2007

Posted by sindhub in birth control, Female Power, in the news, menstruation, oral contraceptives, the pill.
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I saw this article on the front page of the New York Times this morning (it’s also linked to in the news in the sidebar).  It’s about a new birth control pill that’s being developed that could eliminate all periods, as opposed to current birth control pills which have some placebos so that women still have their periods about four times a year.  This article not only showed some troubling aspects of how pharmaceutical companies and the FDA work, but it also brought up some interesting ideas about ‘natural’ female qualities.  I also thought that the actual article itself could’ve used some more research and better word choice in order to be more accurate, but I’ll save that for the end of the post.

Some of the women quoted in the article were opposed to the prospect of a pill that eliminated all periods, because instead of completely hating their periods (as has been traditionally thought), they have a love-hate relationship with their periods–they see menstruation as a sign of “fertility and health,” but recognize that it can also be very unpleasant.  The California-based Red Web Foundation, which “celebrate[s] the period as a spiritual or natural process” is apparently very bothered by the idea of a pill that eliminates all periods, because its mission is to celebrate menstruation and eliminate negative attitudes towards it.  A quarter of women surveyed in some survey also apparently felt attached to their periods as “a natural part of womanhood.”  I thought this was very interesting, and it reminded me of the discussion we had in class about male versus female power.  Within that paradigm, the new pill would mean that women would basically get to ‘be like men’ since they wouldn’t have to worry about pregnancy at all, and because the symptoms that accompany menstruation wouldn’t show up and slow them down.  On the other hand, women might be losing their ‘inherent’ female power, which is derived from the ‘earth’/blood (which is a symbol of the continuing lifeline)/fertility.  This comes back to the whole ‘earth goddess’ thing.  I just thought that this was a really interesting parallel.  It’s also closely tied to the conflict between a medical system that’s based on pills and having as little to do with your body and bodily fluids as possible, versus one where women are more ‘in touch’ with their bodies and which may use more herbal/’natural’ remedies.

As for the troubling aspects of the article.  An alarm first started going off in my head when the author writes that the viewpoint of menstruation as something natural and not to be messed with is why “some already available birth control pills that can enable women to have only four periods a year have not captured a larger share of the oral contraceptive market.”  While that is probably true in many cases, it fails to mention that a) some insurance providers don’t pay for or help pay for any method of birth control (and some of them even support things like Viagra; and b) some really religious pharmacists refuse to give out birth control pills to certain women.  Just the fact that there is no mention of these two factors (and I’m sure there are many more) makes me wary.

The article also uses the medically unsound term true menstruation to refer to the shedding of the uterine lining when an ovary hasn’t been implanted in it.  The article also completely fails to mention the fact that oral contraceptives help women cope with/recuperate from certain medical conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, anemia, and dysmenorrhea, and so it fails to explore how having no placebos in the birth control regimen would affect women who are taking the Pill for these reasons.

Finally, I’m just bothered by the fact that, much like when the original Pill first came out, no extensive research on the side effects of this new version has been done.  I’m pretty sure that a birth control pill for men, on the other hand, first started being researched at least five years ago and is still being researched.  It seems to me that women are the ones expected to give up a ‘natural’ part of themselves, and also endanger themselves, not men.

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