For years, medical professionals and so-called experts have been advertising periods as optional. Thanks to the innovations of hormonal birth control, which now include popular choices like the pill, the patch, intrauterine devices, or other implants, not having a period has never been easier.
It’s also never been as profitable as it is now or as trendy. Everyone from your girlfriends to your favorite influencers, whatever the social media platform, is touting the freedom and convenience of a period-free life. One creator of a birth control delivery service describes making periods “optional” as her personal “crusade.” Gynecologists are quick to dispel any supposed myths around the necessity of menstruating – especially because the appeal in hormonal birth control is that it’s both widely accessible and reversible. That’s the general consensus from the medical community, at least.
But there’s something sinister and faintly predatory in these over-excited marketing campaigns from both doctors and pharmaceutical companies. For one, the market for the contraceptive pill is expected to reach a global value of $20.55 billion by 2026, and that’s not including other birth control means. Adult women choosing not to have periods is an extremely lucrative business.
Yes, We All Need Our Periods
But more importantly, we do need our periods. As a woman, your period is the first indicator of your health and well-being. We’re not talking about fertility or getting pregnant here, though that is important. Absence of a period or other symptoms, like a heavier flow or severe cramping, could be characteristic of larger issues at play, like a hormonal imbalance, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or endometriosis – all of which would be hidden by birth control, until we begin to suffer from its effects or we get off birth control and try to get pregnant.
If we’re suffering from painful periods and opting for birth control to eliminate those periods, we’d only be covering up one difficulty with another. We might believe we don’t need our periods because we fail to remember how it serves us.
Certified women’s health coach Nicole Jardim explains, “Your period, and more accurately your entire menstrual cycle, can and do give you all kinds of clues about your overall health and wellbeing. This is because having a healthy ovulatory menstrual cycle is necessary for optimal health, and a regular period is part of the deal.” A regulated and productive cycle helps produce hormones like progesterone and estrogen, which our whole bodies need for long-term health, not just pregnancy or periods.
It simply isn’t natural from a basic biological perspective to turn bodily functions on and off.
In a practical sense, a period acts to cleanse our uterus of endometrial tissue that our bodies don’t need anymore. It also prepares the uterus for potential implantation, if an egg has been fertilized during the ovulatory stage, which precedes your period, or prepares the uterus for another cycle if implantation hasn’t occurred. When our uterus doesn’t shed its lining (which doesn’t happen when we artificially stop our periods), our bodies become susceptible to endometrial hyperplasia, or an overgrowth of tissue. Endometrial hyperplasia results in thicker uterine linings, which has been linked to the overgrowth of cells – which can lead to cancer.
Your period should be seen as the perfect metric with which to gauge your health. But all health-related benefits aside, it simply isn’t natural from a basic biological perspective to turn bodily functions on and off. We need our hormones, and we need to ovulate. Ovulation and menstruation go hand-in-hand, and when menstruation is shut off, ovulation is shut off as well. This call and response system is delicate, but indispensable to our overall health. Using artificial means to turn off the intricate operations of our reproductive system could introduce an entire wave of unintended, negative consequences and side effects – all of which could be avoided if we address our cycle rather than ignore it.
Medical professionals may tell us that there’s no issue with completely skipping menstruation and ovulation altogether, but how is that possible? According to one MD, Dr. Susan Rako, “menstrual suppression is nothing but the largest uncontrolled experiment in the history of medical science.” All of us using hormonal birth control to quit our periods, whether temporarily or for good, are essentially guinea pigs.
Standing Up for Our Bodies
Many of us have had our fair share of painful periods, so not having one every month sounds pretty great. Imagine being able to go on a beach vacation and not feel bloated in your bikini or actually be able to go swimming. Imagine being able to have mess-free sex at any time of the month. Imagine not staining your favorite pair of underwear, or having your weight fluctuate and your skin break out due to PMS.
Not having a period sounds great because it’s the solution to the problem we’ve created for ourselves. Painful periods aren’t normal, and neither is premenstrual syndrome. Cramps that put you in bed for a day or more aren’t normal – these are all signs our body is sending us that something is off. You may very well be lacking in vitamins and other nutrients, or be suffering from a larger reproductive or endocrine issue, or even a fluctuation in neurotransmitters.
What’s more, hormonal birth control is a quick-fix solution, and though it’s billed as the answer to all our problems, it has its own host of side effects and symptoms that may or not be expressed to us beforehand. Sure, not having a period would be nice, but the tradeoff would be pretty clear if we suddenly began to suffer from depression and anxiety, mood swings, decreased libido, chronic headaches, weight gain, and blood clots.
We deserve better than painful periods, but we deserve better than artificial hormones and withdrawal bleeding too.
We also know by now that birth control has messy biochemical effects, specifically with regard to our brains. Hormonal birth control plays a significant part in how we view other people and how we choose our partners. This potentially has life-altering effects – imagine meeting a man while on birth control and later marrying him, only to wake up when you’re trying to have children and realize that you’re not even physically attracted to your husband.
Yes, periods are inconvenient and uncomfortable – but is this really better? We know that hormonal birth control, specifically the pill, has changed the course of civilization, but it remains to be seen if we’re better off because of it. What’s more, what does it say about our society and what we think of women if we’re encouraged to quit our periods purely for convenience’s sake, and this is the alternative offered to us?
We Deserve Better Than Band-Aids
No period, no problem, right? But there is a problem. We deserve better than “solutions” abundant in life-altering symptoms and side effects, and we deserve the chance to learn about and love our bodies.
Only in the modern world of five-second TikToks and short attention spans would something as grounding, as fundamental, and as life-affirming as a period be seen as a messy inconvenience. Periods are evidence of an incredibly complex and remarkable biological system, which only female bodies experience. They’re a trademark of both adolescence and adulthood, and womanhood as a whole.
It is possible to have pain-free, mess-free periods. Even if we’re struggling with maintenance, with finding the right diet and fitness routine, it is possible to find what works for us as individuals and to enjoy every day of the month. We deserve better than painful periods, but we deserve better than artificial hormones and withdrawal bleeding too. We deserve the best and healthiest version of ourselves, but that doesn’t come without work on our part along the way.
Playing Frankenstein with our own bodies and turning our biological functions on and off at will should be unthinkable to us. However inconvenient, everything that happens in our bodies – especially periods – exists for a purpose. What if we worked to understand that purpose and learned to embrace it, instead of dealing with the lasting effects of suppressing it?
Your body is the only one you’ll ever have – it’s the one you’re born into and will one day die in. This means that on a basic level it deserves respect and care. Standing up for your body means listening when it’s trying to tell you something. It also means avoiding seemingly easy solutions that put money in the pockets of corporations that will never care about your body the way that you do.
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