"I deserve not to suffer and so does every other woman." Readers sound off about menstrual suppression.

By Salon Staff
Published December 1, 2003 8:01PM (EST)

[Read "Off the Rag," by Jennifer Fried.]

We shouldn't be treating periods as an unnecessary inconvenience to be eliminated. More than two years ago I made the mistake of taking Depo-Provera for six months and am still feeling the ill effects: tremendous weight gain, depression, lowered libido, breathlessness, dental problems from the calcium-leaching effect of Depo ... and the list goes on. I'm not alone either, take a brief look online and you'll see Web sites with thousands of angry women. Synthetic hormones are just another way of molding women into less "messy," more palatable creatures -- just like plastic surgery. Screw that! Don't let them medicate you into a Stepford wife!

-- Louise

Finally, menstrual suppression is becoming a topic of public discussion, and people are learning that you don't have to suffer debilitating pain, vomiting and weakness for a few days each month. I suffered for years this way. The doctors would say, "Oh, take some ibuprofen for a couple of days before your period," but that had no impact. None of them offered me period suppression. I had to learn about it myself and beg for it. I've been free for about four years now. It feels like I am now permitted to have about one extra month per year of health and actual physical functioning.

Maybe period suppression is an experiment. But the previous "experiments" with my health weren't working for me at all. Like all other medical treatments, this one isn't for everyone. But it has changed my life.

-- M.E. Mangan

I haven't had a period in six years. And I don't miss it. I suffered years of debilitating cramps, vomiting, dizziness and heavy bleeding five or more days out of each month for almost 15 years of my life because of endometriosis. Through high school, college and the years after, I usually missed two or three days of school or work each month. Not a great way to get ahead in the world. I got my degree but did not shine in college. Frequently, I would drop out of extracurricular activities after I missed key meetings or events because of my period. I was almost fired from the hotel job I held after college because of my cyclical absences. Only the human resources department's concerns about disability discrimination saved me.

Laser surgery and regular birth control pills made things a little better, but I was still out of commission a couple of days each month. When I decided to go to law school four years after graduating from college, I went to a new doctor and begged for help with my problem. She suggested Depo-Provera. I was a little leery about the weight gain -- and the possibility of never having my period seemed weird -- but I went ahead and tried it.

It literally changed my life. I missed one day of class my entire first year of law school, and I ended up graduating near the top of my class while working as a teaching assistant for several classes, being an editor on law review, and participating in other extracurricular activities. I guarantee you that would not have been possible without Depo-Provera. As for the side effects, I weigh less than I did in high school (likely because I don't spend days each month in bed), and my blood pressure is normal.

I have friends who are strongly against women's tampering with our hormones. In an ideal world, I agree. But I never want to go back to the way my life was with periods. Ever.

-- Susie Salmon

From the age of 9 to 27, I suffered from severe menstrual cramping, heavy bleeding, backaches and headaches, as well as PMS. Five days of each month my life was a living hell. I was told by my mother, school nurses, and well-meaning relatives that this was just a part of being a woman and I should wear it as a badge of honor. One aunt in particular told me to forgo cramp medicine and be a "strong black woman" and bear the pain.

After several years of missing school and work days, and planning my life around Aunt Flo, a co-worker told me about Depo-Provera shots and its wonderful side effect of stopping the menstrual cycle cold.

I haven't had a period in five years. Sex life: Wonderful. Femininity: Strong as ever. Regrets: Yeah, that I didn't find this stuff sooner.

-- Tracy Scott

Dr. Anita Nelson asserts, "What if guys had clumps of blood coming out of the ends of their penises? We would have come out with this a decade ago." She's wrong. If men menstruated, it would be seen as positive and manly. The guys who complained about it would be looked on as wimpy or girly. Men would flaunt the manliness of their periods, and feminists would see the whole thing as an affront to womankind. The only reason menstruation is seen as something to be avoided through the benefits of pharmaceuticals is because it is feminine and therefore inferior to what is masculine. Our society is sick, and the medical community will continue to produce "cures" for being a woman, and our women will continue to buy them.

-- Matthew Ryan

So, some people think not getting a period every month is bad for women? You know what's bad for me? Spending every fourth week in agonizing pain. That's what's bad for me. Spending a full week popping ibuprofen like candy just so I bear the pain does not make me feel "like a woman"; it makes me feel like a vicious bitch.

Assuming I menstruate from age 13 to 45, I will lose (roughly) 7.4 years of my life to the hell that is my period. That is not an option. Depo-Provera is the best thing that ever happened to me. I deserve not to suffer and so does every other woman.

-- Melissa

I found Jennifer Fried's article on menstrual suppression to be one-sided, focusing largely on the perceived benefits of menstrual suppression while completely ignoring many of the readily apparent downsides.

While I have never attempted extended menstrual suppression, I have used hormonal birth control to skip my period on more than one occasion, with varying degrees of success. The first two times I attempted this, my period was successfully "suppressed" at the beginning, only to resurface two weeks later (and thus a week before I expected it) in the form of breakthrough bleeding. While my third attempt at menstrual suppression was a success (in that I suffered from no breakthrough bleeding), it was a success that came at a price -- for much of the following month, I suffered from bloating and extreme mood swings.

It's not so much that I think there's something wrong with Seasonale and menstrual suppression, or that women are "meant" to have periods, but I think it's foolish to ignore the very real effects that excessive hormones can have on the minds and bodies of women. For many hormonally sensitive women, such as myself, the placebo week is more than just a time to have a period. It's an important break from estrogen and progestin that allows the body to avoid a host of unfortunate side effects.

-- Noa Gottlieb

Salon Staff

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