May 23, 2007

Stemming the red tide.

Why not? The pill that ends menstruation got approved.

Was it hard to come up with the title for this post? Yeah!

Is there some deep psychological/sociological/feminist angle to this story or is it obvious that everyone should obviously want to avoid something that's so inconvenient and annoying and that the only serious question is whether the pill is safe? We discussed this back here, based on a news story of the pill's pending approval. Some folks get into the idea that if something is natural and not an illness, it's wrong to do something to yourself to avoid it. As if there aren't a thousand examples a day of the use of artifice to avoid natural things that don't seriously injure you.

ADDED: There are some hilarious things at that second link. Scroll way down for slang from various foreign countries. I like the ones that convey political opinion. From Vietnam: wearing the red beret. From Spain: the Communist guest. From Russia: Japanese flag.

31 comments:

Paul is a Hermit said...

Safety is the only serious question.
Women should receive some monetary compensation for sitting/lying/standing through this, this, Red Beret (that's a good one) and if I were a judge they would receive it!

There should be a button somewhere to depress when an egg needs dropped and only then.

Galvanized said...

It's three factors that concern me on this subject:

I know that my opinion isn't the popular one here, but menstruation, like childbirth, is just part of being a woman. If another woman would want to escape it, then sure, she should go for it. But, not being punny, it just wouldn't feel right to sidestep it.

Secondly, we're a pill culture. We now have yet another pill for another condition. I think we're way too dependent on medications. The further one goes from what is natural then the more chance for negative effects. Also, just doesn't feel right to pop a pill for this reason. But then again, I'm in a minority that takes only about a handful of medication a year (knock on wood for not much reason to yet).

It seems that superfluous medicating is right up there with cosmetic surgery. I think that this pill is really a byproduct of our culture's quest to be aesthetically perfect, a spillover from magazine covers and television. So, yes, I do consider this a feminist issue, a suppression of sorts even if it is women doing it to themselves. I don't want my daughter to think that anything that occurs in association with being female is disgusting and should be eradicated. It's negating a not-so-pretty part of femininity. Maybe androgyny is what we're after?

The third is that there, as always, could be longterm effects that aren't known yet. Plus, it's more money for big pharm companies. That's all I need to know. Big business has made our culture pill-dependent, and we buy it up.

Hope this doesn't offend, but I can't be the only one who feels this way.

Adam said...

I think Jane Gault wrote a comment on this new pill a few weeks ago and made a very goood point. Everyone seems to be pondering a reason to continue getting your period once science has offered up a magic pill. She stated she would choose to continue her natural cycle so that she would always be sure she was not pregnant.

Think about it - without your period, it would be harder to tell if you had become pregnant (not all women are actually trying to become pregnant when they do become with child, and therefore are not performing pregnancy tests reguarly, nor do all women experience the sterotypical morning sickness, etc.) And the later one realizes they are pregnant, the fewer options one has to respond to it (i.e. the more developed the fetus is, the the harder it may become legally and emotionally to get an abortion). So I do not think continuing to have a period if ENTIRELY valueless. Just a thought from a non-female.

MadisonMan said...

I'm uncomfortable with giving this pill to my teen-age daughter. Aren't people supposed to take pills if there's a medical need? She's not anemic, so why bother?

George said...

I'd worry about taking a prescription drug every day for decades. Even supposedly 'safe' stuff like Tylenol can cause bizarre side-effects after prolonged usage....

...but then again I'm a guy....

Ann Althouse said...

Adam: On the pregnancy question, which came up in the comments to my earlier post too, the pill is a birth control pill, so I think it's a little obsessive to need this double check on your pregnancy status.

MadisonMan: "so why bother?" I note that you seem to be a man, so maybe it wasn't foremost in your mind that getting one's period is a bother, so the question isn't "why bother?" it's "which bother?"

But, like Galvanized, I am anti-pill. Personally, I would not take this thing, because I'm not sufficiently convinced that it doesn't have some side effects, and because, like any birth control pill, it changes your hormones. I don't think you should do that.

Bissage said...

The new drug is called “Lybrel.”

That’s pretty good; like, “liberate yourself from the tyranny of your period.”

That’s why those marketing guys get the big money.

I’d never make it in advertising.

I’d have called the new drug “Flownomo.”

"Ask your doctor if Flownomo is right for you."

MadisonMan said...

Ann, yes, the question is which bother. The daughter hasn't expressed too much indignation with Aunt Flo yet, however. And my natural anti-pill inclination is pretty big.

Joan said...

A concern I haven't seen discussed anywhere is women using this pill to suppress problem periods, and therefore ignoring the underlying conditions which caused the problem periods in the first place. Hypothyroidism is only one condition that causes heavy menstrual flow. Left untreated, it can have very serious consequences, including heart disease.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is another condition that is often treated with oral contraceptives. PCOS is caused by a hormonal imbalance and is usually linked with insulin resistance. Throwing OCs at PCOS addresses the symptoms (no ovulation, no cysts), but doesn't address the underlying problem at all. Ignored or left untreated, insulin resistance can progress to full-blown Type 2 diabetes.

There are times when medicating to stop the flow may be a good idea, but I would be wary of going years without a period. The lining of a sexually mature woman's uterus wasn't designed to hang around long-term, which is why current protocols for women with irregular cycles specify giving them progesterone to force a cycle every three or four months. What changed to convince doctors it's OK to never cycle at all? I don't get it.

Bruce Hayden said...

Obviously, I have no personal stake here, not being a woman. But if I were, I would worry about the long term effects of this. The human female is likely designed to utilize this mechanism for one or more reasons, and we may not know all of them yet.

I might suggest here that there may be somewhat of a parallel with hormone replacement to push off menopause. Of course, all women would love to prevent the ravages of that malady. But then, it turns out that there may just be tradeoffs - like increased chances for some types of cancers.

That said, there seems tjavascript:void(0)
Publish Your Commento be a certain part of the female population for whom the "red tide" is truly debilitating. And for them, the tradeoffs may be beneficial for them.

Bruce Hayden said...

Joan seems to have made my points with a lot more authority and knowledge.

amba said...

Having been fairly late to start periods and being impatient and worried about "becoming a woman," I never minded it and even kind of welcomed it. It is much more of a nuisance to some than to others, and how much of this is physical and how much a matter of attitude (often handed down in familie) we may never know.

Much like I don't like the idea of taking antidepressants if you're not medically depressed, it seems to me this would be a good drug for women who really suffer with their periods, and an unnecessary and potentially harmful drug for all others. There's too much we don't know about why thing work the way they do.

amba said...

Can't spell to day, sorrie

amba said...

It also seems to be another of those ways to make women more like men, presuming that is the norm, the ideal condition. I'm going to start sounding Catholic if I say that the birth control pill made women a lot more free to have "Sex in the City" sex "the way men can" -- without attachments or consequences -- and women seem frustrated by the fact that their psychology is not quite so quick to catch up.

amba said...

Efficiency. If you're a male, you suit the industrialized workplace better. No cyclical doldrums, unless you count hangovers, particularly after weekends with large sporting events.

JoeLaX said...

This post reminded me of the Onion's take on the menses from its recent women's issue.

http://www.theonion.com/content/node/36834

Meade said...

Today, the Pill is still often sold in dial packs and taken in twenty-eight-day cycles. It remains, in other words, a drug shaped by the dictates of the Catholic Church--by John Rock's desire to make this new method of birth control seem as natural as possible.

Joan said...

Fascinating article, Meade -- thanks for the link. But for all that, the writer is mistaken in equating John Rock's desires for those of the Catholic Church, which had absolutely nothing to do with the development of oral contraceptives.

I'm unconvinced about the relevance of these anthropological studies that show women in pre-industrial societies menstruating fewer than 100 times over their lifetimes, as opposed to 400 or so periods modern women experience. Or perhaps more specifically, I'm unconvinced that science can replicate the complex hormonal dance that occurs during pregnancy and nursing, which is what keeps those pre-industrial women from menstruating. The issue of calibrating dosages precisely for each individual woman would seem to be very, very difficult to solve.

Beth said...

I agree with Amba; it seems like a good thing for women whose periods are problematic, but otherwise, I wouldn't take it. Our periods are indicators of our general health, for one thing, so that would create a lack of information. I take birth control pills to regulate problems I was having, and obviously, as a lesbian, there's no other reason for me to take them. I'm glad that they allow me to have regular cycles, but I'm also a little disturbed by the fact that I won't know when I'm entering menopause, not without stopping the pills and seeing what happens.

The other concern I have has also been mentioned: we won't know the long-term side effects for a long while.

amy said...

Women have been taking the pill for 40 years. I'd think we'd have an idea about long term side effects by now. Birth control pills make it so a woman doesn't ovulate; the "period" a woman has while on the pill is simply withdrawal bleeing from the lack of hormones, it is not a "normal" period. There could be some kind of long term side effect from taking a full 28 days of hormones (without the normal one week break to cause something resembling a period), but its likely to be things we already know about, such as increased risk of blood clots and high blood pressure, which are already risks of the pill. This is not a new idea; ob/gyns have been telling patients for years how to adjust taking the pills to avoid bleeding at a inconvenient time. These articles are much ado about nothing (in my opinion). :)

blake said...

Bissage,

"Flownomo" isn't bad but a bit bulky. How about "Flonix"?

Zach said...

Maybe it is that I have read too much sci-fi, but this troubles me. I have a related question: would you take a pill that could allow you to never have to sleep? I think many, many people would take it if it were deemed safe, but it would have monumental social consequences and there would most likely be long term negative effects from not sleeping.

Synova said...

I don't know that oral contraceptives are all that safe either, really. Or maybe I just feel uncomfortable with them. I think I've probably only used them less than 5 years total in my life. The rest of the time I was either not having sex, reproducing/nursing, or counting on his vasectomy (seemed easier all round than a tubal).

And true, during the reproduction/nursing years I didn't have all that many periods, so maybe 12 in 8 years.

Not having a period from nursing isn't the same though, I'd think, since nursing causes contractions and the hormone thing and what-not.

But we're finding out stuff that just isn't acceptable to talk about so no one does, stats linking nursing to cancer and abortion to cancer (nursing avoids it, abortion causes it). And we're finding out that hormone replacement (after menopause or hysterectomies) is causing problems too.

Revenant said...

I'm uncomfortable with giving this pill to my teen-age daughter. Aren't people supposed to take pills if there's a medical need?

I took pills to control acne one year when I was in junior high. They weren't medically necessary -- acne isn't harmful at all -- but they certainly improved my quality of life. Similarly, people take aspirin for headaches despite the fact that headaches aren't actually bad for you at all.

Periods are an annoyance to most women. Anything that makes life unpleasant is worth eliminating from your life unless there's a pressing need to keep it around.

Now if someone would just invent a safe, side-effect-free pill that eliminates beard growth...

Carolynn said...

One of the joys of nursing my 10 month old baby is that my cycle hasn't returned.

As for side effects of the pill -- have read that it cuts down on folic acid absorption, and is therefore a risk factor for cervical cancer. Regular screening can help women in this country avoid cervical cancer -- but it might mean getting some of your cervix removed, which makes child birth more difficult. So treatable, but not pleasant...

Carolynn said...

...my comment about folic acid refers to the current bc pill, not this new one.

Fern said...

What about a period's role in removing bacteria and other toxins? I wouldn't take this pill. I would be too worried that there would be problems caused by not having a period for an extended length of time.

Fern said...

Adam: On the pregnancy question, which came up in the comments to my earlier post too, the pill is a birth control pill, so I think it's a little obsessive to need this double check on your pregnancy status.

The most common reason for getting pregnant while taking the pill is that the woman didn't take the pill properly. So it would seem that there is at least a minority group of pill-takers that need a backup confirmation that they are not in fact pregnant. According to Planned Parenthood, 8% of women will become pregnant during the first year of taking the pill. That number drops to just 1 percent if the woman takes the pill as she is supposed to. Assuming that some people are just lucky, and don't get pregnant the month they miss a pill, the number of women who need a backup method of determining whether they are pregnant is probably much higher than 7% of pill takers.

Camilla said...

I'm very uneasy about this. Partly for the obvious safety reasons, but also for a more emotionally-based reason I can't easily put words to. It just doesn't seem right somehow. I'm sure there must have been people who reacted the same way when the first birthcontrol pills came out.

Bruce Hayden said...

Another very belated thought. Recent studies seem to indicate that the average woman's brain mass and maybe IQ seem to vary a bit during her monthly cycle. My memory seems to be that they were at a minimum during menstration, but it could be reversed. This was a month or so ago, I think, but can't find any articles on it through Google, so may have been halucinating. I did find some articles on changes in risk/reward circuitry, but that wasn't quite what I was remembering.

But assuming (maybe rashly) that this is the case, that brain mass and IQ decrease during menstration, then might that be reason to avoid such? I do remember a suggestion that women try to avoid taking IQ related tests, like SATs during their periods, and maybe even to go on the pill for this purpose.

Michelle said...

If your uterus built up "toxins" and "bacteria" every month that had to be shed in a menstrual period, you would be in a world of hurt. You build up a uterine lining, not a big pile of stank that needs to be "flushed out" to keep it from falling out on your feet.

The pill keeps this lining very limited. And not having withdrawal bleeding while on the pill doesn't cause anything to build up. When the pill was designed, the only reason it was packaged in 28-day cycles was for MARKETING purposes. So that the women on it would be like the women who weren't on it. And so they would buy it.

Think of the risk of death or serious illness from being pregnant. Taking the pill without a break causes far less risk than pregnancy.

Just because "Joan" is unconvinced of anthropological studies stating that pre-modern women had far fewer periods because of near-continuous pregnancy and lactation, it doesn't discount the information.

The simple fact is that people, particularly women, don't like being told that what they think of as "normal", really isn't normal, and may not be all that healthy. The only reason you need a period is to start charting your temp afterward to get pregnant.

There's nothing particularly "womanly" or "feminine" about bleeding. Why do it if you don't have to?