No more periods, period.

Will contraceptives do away with menstruation?

Published April 20, 2007 7:59PM (EDT)

Today, the debate over just how attached women are to their periods hit the New York Times. Of course, the only reason the debate has even entered the public arena is that the Food and Drug Administration is expected to soon approve a birth control pill that would eliminate a woman's periods for as long as she takes the pills. But contrary to some expectations, the already-approved contraceptives that reduce the number of periods a woman has a year haven't exactly been hailed as liberators by the entire female species.

But don't women loathe their periods? That's the impression given by any number of commercials advertising tampons or pain meds; menstruation is framed as a monthly exercise in embarrassment, inconvenience and debilitating pain. That may be true of the experience of some women -- still, many women are resistant to entirely giving up their periods. In a poll cited by the Times, half of women looked forward to their periods as a confirmation that they weren't pregnant; a quarter of women said they "were attached to their periods as a natural part of womanhood."

Here's what complicates things: Technically, the periods women have while on oral contraceptives aren't "real" -- there isn't the usual release of an egg and transformation of the uterine lining. It's the set of seven placebo pills usually taken by oral contraceptive users that "induces bleeding that resembles a mild period but is, in fact, caused by unstable hormone levels," according to the Times. So pill takers are only superficially experiencing that "natural part of womanhood."

I am not exactly the type to keep a detailed menstruation journal or a lunar wall chart, but there is something vitally reassuring about having your period -- even when it isn't "real." Of course, if it's shown that there aren't any long-term health effects, women should be given the option to eliminate their periods. Still, the Big Pharma push to do away with periods does seem a little sad to me, particularly when considering researcher Linda C. Andrist's argument for period suppression: "We don't want to confront our bodily functions anymore. We're too busy."

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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