What’s the Deal With Menstrual Suppression?

More and more medical professionals, researchers, reproductive health advocates and people who get periods are starting to weigh in on one of humanity’s great existential questions: to menstruate or not to menstruate?

OK, so maybe it’s not a question we’ve even heard before, let alone pondered for ourselves. But should we? We may not think of menstruation as a choice, but it is — and people have strong opinions about what is the healthier or more natural or more feminist choice when it comes to the possibility of maintaining regular periods, decreasing their intensity and/or frequency or cutting them out altogether.

A few weeks ago, NPR’s “Morning Edition” put out a story on the increased use of contraception to suppress periods. Long-acting reversible contraceptives, such as hormonal IUDs and implants, are gaining popularity among doctors and patients because they are easy to use and extremely effective in preventing unwanted pregnancy; they also, as it happens, may lighten or eliminate menstruation.

The pill also creates the option of skipping periods; many people use the pill to regulate or ease their period symptoms, but many also skip the typical “placebo week” altogether. (And contrary to common misconceptions, there is actually no medical need to have a period while using any kind of hormonal contraception.)

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Depending on your relationship with menstruation, it might seem glaringly obvious to you why someone would choose to have a regularly occurring period or it might seem glaringly obvious why someone would choose to suppress it. But the point that matters in all of this is that it should be a choice. People have a right to choose what to do with their bodies, and we can only fully access that right to the extent that we can also access accurate information about our options.

Like the choice to use contraception (and which contraception to use), the choice to terminate a pregnancy and myriad others, the choice to have a period is burdened with the taboos and misconceptions of our sexist and cissexist society.

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This is true not only for women like me who just don’t want the burden of buying tampons and avoiding wearing white. There are shift workers who cannot escape to the restroom, women in male-dominated jobs where they feel they have to hide their feminine hygiene products to prevent further alienation, sex workers for whom bleeding is more than a hassle and women with young children or otherwise unreliable sleep schedules who don’t need the stress of making sure they take a birth-control pill at the same time every day.

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For some, menstruation may be an important part of their relationship with their body or a necessary antidote to their fear or anxiety around unwanted pregnancy or even a spiritual experience. Others may have negative experiences with hormonal contraception or have medical histories that make them unwilling to mess with their cycle. These are all valid. For others, the cost of having a period — on their time based on their ability to go about their day-to-day life, on their bodies dealing with severe side effects or on their wallets due to the prohibitive cost of tampons and other menstrual products — is simply not worth it. Again, all of these experiences are valid. None of them make someone less in touch with their body, their various identities or nature.

Let’s bring periods into the conversation about a person’s right to choose — and let’s lay out the facts.

By Talia Baurer


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