Advertisement
Roche
Roche

No More Periods - Period

Human nature and the end of menstruation.

By | June 1, 2007

For decades, fertility research has successfully decoupled sex from reproduction, forever altering women's position and power in the developed world. Among all methods of contraception, none is as well known or influential as 'the pill.' Now, its power has been kicked up a notch, and the pill is poised to do what some say will disrupt the very nature of the XX sex. This leaves us with one question: In the next step of the evolution of women's contraception, should we eliminate the last major physical manifestation of the reproductive cycle, menstruation?

The birth control pill contains hormones that stop the release of an egg, which in turn prevents the buildup of the uterine lining. Bleeding occurs on traditional oral birth control (21 days of hormone pills, 7 days of placebo) only because of the interruption of the hormones during placebo days. A newer oral contraceptive, Seasonale, reduces the period still further, with only seven placebo days every three months. But the newest, continuous low-dose contraceptive, Lybrel, stops the period entirely.

No one disputes that eliminating menstruation could free women from a variety of uncomfortable or even dangerous symptoms, from severe pain and cramping to emotional swings. For some, these symptoms have a profound impact, but not necessarily one viewed as cause to eliminate periods altogether, until recently. Now, the message is clear and direct to the consumer: In the 21st century, women who are not seeking pregnancy need not waste time and energy with menstruation.

What happens to human nature if the period comes to an end? In one example, Canadian researcher Christine Hitchcock told the New York Times she worries about products that "turn your body on and off like a tap." Her concern was, in part, about the unknown consequences of stopping menstruation entirely, a concern shared by others who have asked whether the long-term side effects of such medication can really be predicted to any reliable degree. Other opponents of the end of the period argue vociferously that doing so is unnatural. Menstruation is not a "sickness," they say - it gives woman a sense of identity, and eliminating menstruation in a mammal that does not show estrus will profoundly alter the very nature of human nature.

Paradoxically, the concept of "what's natural" is one that supporters also use to justify the new contraceptives. On the Seasonale Web site, Patricia Sulak, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Texas A&M University System Health Science Center - College of Medicine, argues that it's not natural to have as many periods as modern women do, since previous generations had more children and breastfed longer. "Today we're having hundreds of periods in our lifetime, whereas a century ago we were only having a few periods. One might say that that's not natural; that's not what we were designed to do."

But these are preposterous arguments. The question is not whether stopping menstruation is natural. The question is: Is it safe? Menstruation isn't what defines a woman, since women are still women after menopause, and menstruating women often live with ailments that stop their periods. Menstruation is something that happens to women, just like sweating and headaches; consequently, arguing that no-period contraceptives alter human nature is no different than saying the same about antiperspirants or analgesics.

It is a stretch to suggest that menstruation will be considered a disease, and it certainly makes sense to conduct research aimed at improving women's quality of life. One could also note the billions of dollars spent on feminine hygiene products that serve no procreative purpose, or the environmental consequences of making and disposing of billions of pads and tampons. The real issue here is women's right to make choices about their reproductive systems and sexuality, and even about what risks they are willing to take with either, just as when the FDA first approved the pill in 1960. Period.

Glenn McGee is the director of the Alden March Bioethics Institute at Albany Medical College, where he holds the John A. Balint Endowed Chair in Medical Ethics.gmcgee@the-scientist.com

Advertisement

Comments

Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

December 26, 2008

my views are similar to those reflected in the artcile -\n\nHowever, I think what is concerning in this debate is the potentality of the biological female body to adapt to a state without menstruation from persistent and perpetual exposure to regressed menstruation brought on by contracpetives, such as the pill, depo, etc. This state being one of a bioogical female born without the mechanisms of menstruation, fertility and that reproductive functioning..... and without that... then where shall our species be?
Avatar of: Sarah Baran

Sarah Baran

Posts: 2

December 26, 2008

This topic came up in my senior seminar on aging. The book we were reading for the class had a great article that basically said a lot of what this article covers (minus the newer medication ideas) and went further into the history of menstruation. In discussions, it seems like education about the pros and cons of not having periods would be very valuable for people. A lot of women I've talked to about this subject were very uncomfortable with the idea of missing their periods. They see it as a security blanket, which I think is taught to us during our teenage years. People see their period as the sign that they aren't pregnant and are relatively healthy. While I understand this perspective, I'm not in agreement with it. One gets accoustomed to missing their period. I was on Depo Provera for a number of years and after the first 6 months of taking the shot, I didn't have a period until about 6 months after I quit the shot. It's very nice not to have to think about one's period. Now, if I'm a few days late, I tend to freak out. Before, it was expected that I wouldn't have one. So, I'm pretty pleased that there is a new alternative to the shot (which has been gaining a worse reputation based on research) in which the period can be avoided.
Avatar of: douglas nusbaum

douglas nusbaum

Posts: 3

December 26, 2008

Is no one familiar with the work of Margie Profet?\n\nhttp://www.chester.ac.uk/~sjlewis/EM/Texts/Text8.htm\n\nShe may be wrong, but she did not get a quarter million genius award because she was a good waitress\n\nAccording to her argument: the myriad bacteria that are found in and around the genitals of men and women hitch rides on sperm, thereby gaining access to the uterus and fallopian tubes. The uterine wall sheds each month so it can cleanse the system, washing away the contaminants that could cause infection or infertility. \n\nMaybe in our cleaner world this is no longer a problem, but someone should at least consider it.
Avatar of: James J Brannon

James J Brannon

Posts: 1

December 26, 2008

Connie Willis in her -- might I say -- seminal Hugo and Nebula awards-winning 1993 story, "Even the Queen" examines the sociological implications and consequences of widely-adopted menstruation-cessation treatment, including the third-generation's predictable rebellion toward a back-to-Nature movement.\n\nIt's well worth the read now that the technology's advancing to catch up with her fiction.\n\nJJ Brannon
Avatar of: vetury sitaramam

vetury sitaramam

Posts: 69

December 27, 2008

There are no treatments without side effects. Why a pill? Why not hysterectomy? That way, both uterine and cervical cancer will disappear. Just like indiscriminate use of pencillin (I was told) halted rheumatic heart disease in the post-war West, a lot of good may come if we release the medical profession of ethical constraints requirng some justification for surgical interventions. I was given a insider view of gynae practices in India where many caesarians and hysterectomies are unwarranted, but they make a good buck for the practitioner! It appears that the number of intacts uteri exponentially decrease as you approach a city from its rural surrounds!In the USA, dominated by the market economy, it perhaps always has been the game. Except that the pharma companies also make money.\nOnly side effect we see of this is increase in rural indebtedness. So much for scientific reasoning for intervention.
Avatar of: Sudhir Bhatia

Sudhir Bhatia

Posts: 3

December 27, 2008

Well.. this is great I agree in totality that its the womens' prerogative but freedom from the unnecessary is progress and even part of the evolution.. as "the day after pill" besides men would love it too... and they won't have to go fishing.
Avatar of: LESLEY WESTON

LESLEY WESTON

Posts: 1

December 27, 2008

It's been a standard joke among women for many years that if periods happened to men they would have been stopped long ago. Until recently there were very few women researching in this or any other field, but now there is a way for women (to whom periods do happen) to fix this problem - so it's been done.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

January 5, 2009

I will only address one issue of the many that are relevant to this article: The joys of not having a period. One surefire way to end having a period is to have one's uterus removed. This not only ends periods, but completely removes the risk of getting pregnant or ever getting uterine or cervical cancer. It also removes any other complications that can happen due to the uterus which often, especially after chilbearing, can cause physical problems for women.\n\nRemoving the uterus is not without risks, of course. However, since the procedure has been done of so many women for so many decades, the risks are well understood.\n\nOf course, once the uterus is removed, a woman no longer can bear children. But, for women like me who have enough children and/or are at the age when they don't want or need to be having any more, the uterus is only so much extra baggage. \n\nA woman will still be "feminine" even without a uterus since her ovaries are still intact and doing what they always did. Other than the fact that, without a uterus, the eggs are deprived of any means to be fertilized or place to implant and grow into babies. \n\nHaving my uterus removed (in my upper 30s and after having four children) was one of the best decisions I ever made. Living without a monthly period was wonderful! Being free of the problems that were caused by my partially prolapsed uterus was wonderful as well.\n\nRather than go on hormones, which drastically chage one's metabolism and which we don't yet know the long-term effects of, I suggest women consider hysterectomy if they are done having children and want to be free of monthly periods.

Follow The Scientist

icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube
Advertisement

Stay Connected with The Scientist

  • icon-facebook The Scientist Magazine
  • icon-facebook The Scientist Careers
  • icon-facebook Neuroscience Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Genetic Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Cell Culture Techniques
  • icon-facebook Microbiology and Immunology
  • icon-facebook Cancer Research and Technology
  • icon-facebook Stem Cell and Regenerative Science
Advertisement
Advertisement
Mettler Toledo
BD Biosciences
BD Biosciences