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No More Periods: Is This a Good Idea?

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Many of today’s newer birth control pills are specifically marketed for a new reason, other than birth control itself: menstrual suppression

  Returning Mother Nature’s Gift

Birth control pills stop women and girls from having menstrual cycles. They prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg and prevent the lining of the uterus from thickening. That’s why the pill results in shorter, lighter periods.

Traditionally, a package of birth control pills contains five to seven “sugar pills” (placebos) that don’t have the hormones (almost always synthetic estrogen and progestin) in them. While she’s taking the sugar pills, the woman has bleeding from her uterus. It’s not really a period, because the pills have suppressed the cycle; it‘s referred to as “withdrawal bleeding” because the woman‘s body is in withdrawal from the synthetic hormones. But now, certain kinds of birth control pills come without any placebos. Girls and women supposedly never have any days of bleeding (other than occasional spotting) while taking them.

The trade names of birth control pills marketed as menstrual suppression options include Seasonale, Seasonique, and Lybrel (also called Anya). Seasonale and Seasonique come set up so that the woman taking them has a period once every three months, or only four times a year. With Lybrel, there are no placebos and no periods. (In reality, many of the women who take these birth control pills for menstrual suppression do experience some breakthrough bleeding, especially during their first year of taking the pill. Other women find that instead of predictable cycles, the new pills cause them to have unpredictable and irregular bleeding.)

For girls and women with certain medical conditions, such as uterine fibroids, endometriosis, or severe cramps, periods can be very painful. For them, suppressing the menstrual cycle might be a good thing. Menstrual suppression has also been used as a treatment for perimenopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and night sweats. Girls and women now also have the choice of suppressing their cycles for convenience rather than for medical reasons. Is this a good idea for women with healthy menstrual cycles, or do these women need to have a monthly period?

  The Case for Red-Lighting Your Red Dot

Advocates of menstrual suppression say that if three weeks of hormone pills per month are safe, four weeks of hormone pills per month increases only slightly the risks associated with birth control pills. (All birth control pills slightly increase a woman’s risk of blood clots, stroke and heart attack, and may also increase a woman’s risk of cervical cancer.) They cite the fact that women have been taking birth control pills for more than 40 years, and the amount of estrogen and progestin in modern pills is much less than what women on the earlier pills received.

The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals also claims there are non-menstrual benefits to menstrual suppression birth control pills, including a reduction in migraines, a reduction in acne, and “an increased sense of well-being.” A survey by the ARHP suggests that most women don't have an emotional attachment to having their monthly periods. Only 8% of women in this study responded "yes" to the statement "Sometimes I enjoy having my period."

One reason women cite for wanting to suppress their periods is embarrassment. There is still a social stigma attached to menstruation that makes us uncomfortable talking about it in public. We worry about telltale odors and blood leaking onto our clothes. Though I was in an upscale home the other day where the decorations in the guest bathroom included a lovely silver bowl of tampons, this is the exception rather than the rule. For most women, periods are still our dirty little secrets.

Tampon use is also associated with a host of negative side effects. In the 1990s, some commercial brands of tampons were found to contain traces of dioxins, a chemical byproduct thought to be carcinogenic, detrimental to the immune system, and a possible cause of birth defects. Studies have also suggested a link between dioxins and higher rates of endometriosis. There is also a known risk of toxic shock syndrome associated with tampons; it killed thirty-eight women in a single year, 1980. Wouldn’t women really be healthier without having to use tampons?

  Keep, Keep Bleeding, Love

Although there are many researchers who say that menstrual suppression is safe, not everyone agrees. Some say that we need periods to get rid of the excess iron that we store in our bodies. This “iron theory” states that the reason for the elevated risk of cardiovascular disease in men and postmenopausal women is that having a monthly period protects the heart. For this reason, health care providers sometimes advise women who practice menstrual suppression to donate blood to prevent excess iron from building up in their bodies.

According to Dr. Susan Rako, another unintended side effect of menstrual suppression is lowering a woman’s body’s natural level of testosterone. Though much lower than the level typically seen in men, testosterone is necessary for female bodies, too, where one of its effects is helping to regulate sex drive. Some women who take the newer birth control pills report wanting to have sex less frequently and decreased sexual pleasure.

The National Women’s Health Network has expressed concern, not so much in that menstrual suppression isn’t safe, but that the way these products are marketed by drug companies and health care providers is misleading. The NWHN cites instances in which scientists have speculated that menstrual suppression might decrease the risks of breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers without studies to provide evidence for or against these claims. There have also been several claims that because women in earlier times had fewer periods (due to shorter life spans and frequent pregnancies, among other causes), it may be “unnatural” for women to have monthly periods.

Of course, the myths about the evils of menstruation have been around for centuries. The ancient Greeks held that the touch of a woman on her period “could blast the fruits of field, sour wine, cloud mirrors, rust iron, and blunt the edges of knives.” It was said that if a menstruating woman touched a beehive, the bees would fly away and never return. In early Christianity, menstruating women were forbidden to enter a church. In the Talmud it is said that if a menstruating woman walks between two men, one of them will sicken and die.

As quaint and even humorous as some of these old myths now sound, the concern about misleading information is a legitimate one. The portrayal of a monthly period as negative is especially important when it comes to girls. Girls who haven’t yet had their first period, or who have recently started having periods, deserve to have accurate information. The attitudes they have towards their periods at this early developmental stage may affect the way they think about their periods, their bodies, and themselves for the rest of their lives.

  Inside the Red Tent

Many women also feel that there is much more to the body’s natural menstrual cycle than just blood, cramps and a pissy mood. The cycle of our bodies connects us to the rhythms of nature, of the earth, and of the moon. In many ancient cultures, menstrual blood was considered sacred. Before our ancestors were able to see sperm under the microscope, they believed the blood in a woman’s womb held the magical secret to creating life. The cauldron, or womb, full of blood was an ancient symbol of the Goddess, retained to this day in the tradition that witches bear cauldrons. Old women were considered the wisest and most magical members of the community because they permanently retained their menstrual blood in their bodies. You don’t have to believe in witchcraft, though, to appreciate the positive aspects of menstruation. Some women feel energized when they bleed, and create “menstrual lodges” where they can get away from work and family while having their periods. In these lodges they may let their menstrual blood flow into the earth. They also focus on using their intuition, dreaming dreams, writing poetry, and coming up with creative new ideas.

Besides, as health care practitioner Geraldine Matus says, men’s ejaculations can be just as messy, embarrassing and inconvenient as women’s periods, yet men don’t suppress them!


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Contributor: Chilipepper

I'm surprised there aren't any comments to this.

My mother was one of those who enjoyed having monthly reminders that she was Female, and was devastated when she had a hysderectomy(?) in her mid-thirties. I, on the other hand, have hated the mess, the cramps (two notches short of labor, I was informed by my GYN), the mood swings, and inconvenience since I could remember, and I demanded to have my own equipment taken out as early as fourteen (my mother thought I was exaggerating).

Being a Goddess-worshiper, I understand the connections of the Moon Cycles and Women's Bleeding. It IS a sacred honor to be able to house the systems of creating and carrying Life ...

But there are those of us who do NOT want that honor and can willingly let go of our baby-making factory without regrets (hence the reason why I'm divorced because I did not 'change my mind' as my husband had hoped).

I'm all for the suppression of periods - if it means not turning into a Gorgon once a month, not feeling like I myself am giving birth every single month, not having to buy a new pack of panties every month, and keeps unwanted pregnancy down for the young - then I don't see the problems.

(There, that should start a discussion.)

Contributor: Jenn (aka kissmykitty)

While I love the idea of suppressing my period, I don't want the increased risk of blood clots and heart attacks, as both run in my family. I had a tubal ligation after I had my second child for the specific purpose of having "permanent", hormone-free birth control -- for that very reason. Smile

Contributor: Polyserena

I like what my body does through my menstrual cycle. I feel alive. When I went on hormonal contraception I felt dead inside. I would always look forward to the placebo or the 'off' times when I would have my period. I would start to "feel" everything again and sometimes it would be a real shock, but I was at least happy to have emotions back.

I'm on a copper IUD and there are limitations of that too. And I guess what works for some people doesn't for others. But for me, my cycle is so much of what makes me "Me". I'm not even particularly a Goddess worshipper, but I really think they were on the right track with that one. Menstruation can be messy and weird sometimes, but I see it as just something that comes with the whole package of a woman's cycle.

Contributor: Mari

I utterly DESPISE my period. I had heavy bleeding (meaning that I would ruin underwear and have to hand wash them to get the stains out), not too bad cramps, and INSANE mood swings. I mean, it wasn't that I was cranky for a few days. It was that my moods went on rollercoaster-of-hell mode. It was seriously screwing up just normal everyday things. It could be a weekend with nothing happening (I stay home all day on the internet, for example) and I would STILL go through three or four extreme moods an hour (really happy to way tired to depressed to raging).

Then there's that "whoosh" feeling when a really large chunk of blood comes out. *shudder* I hate that feeling so much. And I was never really "regular"; It just sort of happened. Sure, I'd get a week advance notice because my excretions would change, but other than that.. Sometimes it was the beginning of the month, sometimes it was the middle, sometimes it was the end.

Basically, as soon as I started my period, I started demanding that I get the whole thing removed. I was NOT okay with the suffering that I was suddenly forced to endure. Why had this horrible thing started happening to me? What had I done to deserve this? Apparently EVERYBODY (female) gets to go through this! It's nature's way of saying "YOU GONNA HAFF BAYBIEZ NAO!"

My mother kept insisting that I shouldn't get everything removed because "you might change your mind someday, and then it will be too late". Yeah. Riiiiiiiiiiight. Just make this pain STOP. And I hate being forced to wear one pair of panties for a week because I don't want to ruin more than one pair a month.

Then I started Yaz. The main reason was because I was noticing that my moods were screwing up my social life and classwork. Once a month, my schoolwork took a nosedive. So I started birth control. The moods went away. The cramps went away. The "whoosh" feeling from a really big clot coming out went away. It was... it was amazing. My body no longer controlled me; *I* was in control of myself. I was no longer subject to the whims of my hormones.

I understand the cycles of nature and appreciating them. I understand wanting to be in touch with the Goddess and your femininity. While I adore nature (I've been frequently called a tree-hugger), menstruation is NOT a cycle I am okay with. It's annoying, uncomfortable and messy. And the mood swings... Have I mentioned the mood swings? Because I had BAD mood swings.