To bleed, or not to bleed?

With period-ending Lybrel on the way, that is the question.

By Carol Lloyd

Published October 19, 2006 6:21PM (EDT)

Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice not to bleed!

Over on Slate this week, friend-of-Broadsheet Sarah E. Richards weighed in on new birth control pill Lybrel, which, pending approval next year, would permanently suspend your period. Just think: no mess, no pain, no buying tons of disposable highly bleached paper products destined for a landfill near you!

Richards acknowledges many of the perks of a period-free life, but in the end instead comes down on the side of preserving our blood rites as a safeguard against medical malfeasance. "No one knows the health effects for menstruating women of long-term continuous exposure," Richards writes. "Especially the risks of blood clots and breast cancer and the effect on later fertility."

What she says is all indubitably true -- a great majority of contraceptive innovations, from the implant Norplant (yanked from the market after lawsuits) to the Ortho-Evra patch whose high levels of estrogen may have contributed to blood clotting, leading to the deaths of a dozen young women -- have proved more Pandora than panacea.

Richards also champions the period as an emblem of our sisterly connections. She cites studies which show that women actually like their periods and those who don't are more ashamed of their bodies.

Well, perhaps this reveals me to be one of those self-hating bleeders -- but I don't give a damn.

Now, I'm about as crunchy as the 21st century urban woman comes -- don't shave, don't dye, don't skin-peel, eyebrow-shape or use birth control pills. One would think I would join forces with the female chorus warning against the loss of our moon time.

But if there's a pill that can bring back those bodily carefree days of my 12th year on earth (without causing the onset of menopause), show me the pharmacy window. It's not like I haven't enjoyed the fruits of a nutritious placenta: My two lovely children are walking testimonies to menstrual might. But doctors have long known that ordinary birth control pills, which tend to lessen menstrual flow, also reduce the risk of some cancers -- and some have theorized that suppression of the hormonal cycle altogether would reduce those risks even further. The scientific jury is still out on how modern women's continuous menstrual cycles (aided by fewer children and fewer breast-feeding years) affect our overall health.

Finally, it's hard not to see our current relationship to our moon cycle as an already artificially altered process. If you use regular tampons -- industrial products dyed with bleach -- then you're already introducing something pretty unnatural into one part of your body. Even without the risk of toxic shock and other tampon-related horrors, it's one more way that our bodies have become surrounded and suffused with chemicals we don't fully understand.

"Life without getting your period, though," Richards concludes, "would be life without one of the touchstones of the female experience: a sisterhood of shared empathy, tampons and chocolate, and laundry lessons passed from grandmother to granddaughter."

I'll keep the chocolate and the empathy, but the tampons? That's one touchstone of the female experience I'd gladly leave on the Walgreen's shelf.

Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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