What’s it like to not be pregnant and not to get your period at all?
For some people who menstruate, like Sarah, it’s a giant relief. She hasn’t had a period in over a year, which she considers “super-liberating.” Sarah originally started taking birth control during college to regulate pre-period mood swings, but after being diagnosed with endometriosis in her mid-20s, she chose to stop taking the placebo pills in her birth control pack, and now takes the same dose all the time, so she doesn’t menstruate at all, alleviating the pain caused by growing endometrial tissue.
Painful symptoms connected with periods are the main reason one might choose to suppress menstruation. Katharine experienced severe menstrual migraines and first stopped menstruating via Depo, then the mini-pill and then opted for an IUD to see if she could take a break from hormones. “The answer was no,” she said.” After so many years without getting my period regularly, getting it again was miserable.” Now, she’s back on the mini-pill and period-free.
Other reasons for opting out of menstruation? Menstrual products are expensive, and heavy periods can impede one’s quality of life. Alyssa called her doctor after bleeding through an expensive pair of pants and having to cancel a rock-climbing trip because of her period. “A week out of the month, I couldn’t live the way I wanted to,” she said.
A transgender man may also choose to end menstruation as part of gender transition.
So how does eliminating your period work?
Birth control can be used to regulate periods and symptoms to the point that you can get a period once every three months or even once a year. A continuous dose of hormones is used to suppress periods altogether. Alyssa chose to have an endometrial ablation, a procedure which cauterizes the uterus, since she didn’t want to use hormones to end her period.
If your periods are a nightmare, it’s a good idea to investigate why, and the answer to alleviating your pain might come in the form of menstrual suppression or at least regulation. But when is it a bad idea?
Dr. Jen Stagg, a naturopathic physician in private practice in Connecticut, advises that those with an increased risk of certain types of cancer and clotting disorders not suppress since hormones can exacerbate the likelihood of developing conditions or making them worse. “Many women like the reassurance of having a period to confirm they aren’t pregnant,” said Stagg. “There’s also evidence that experiencing natural cycles can be important for memory and emotional health.” Stagg also cited a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which linked hormonal birth control to a higher rate of being diagnosed with depression.
There are also risks associated with period suppression, which are the same risks as those that come with taking birth control pills: increased risk of blood clots, strokes and various cancers, particularly breast, liver and cervical. Getting pregnant after suppressing your period may also take a while.
When discussing periods, it’s important to acknowledge the role that period stigma plays in our daily lives and to consider what it might mean in the context of menstrual suppression. “I think for some women, period stigma is what prompts them to seek menstrual suppression,” said Stagg.
It’s impossible to be someone who gets their period and not experience to some degree the social taboo that comes with menstruation. We’re taught to hide our pads and tampons, that no one, especially men, should know when we’re getting our periods or when we have them, that PMS is a joke, menstruation is dirty and period sex is out of the question. Our motivation to suppress our periods might have to do with wishing to eliminate not only pain and inconvenience, but also, even if we’re not aware of it, the shame.
While menstruation continues to be stigmatized, so does choosing not to menstruate. In short, whatever we decided to do in regard to our periods, and by extension our bodies, is judged, so ultimately, we have to do what’s right for us. And while we’re at it, let’s talk about periods. A lot.