An honest look at the ways women are taking care of their minds and bodies in 2018.
Is it that time of the month? Time for bloating, breakouts, cramps, cravings, and a MOOD as dark as the latest Childish Gambino single? As women, we’ve learned to accept the monthly inconveniences and discomforts that come with menstruation. We’re taught that menstruation is “natural,” and we tend to view “natural” as being synonymous with “healthy” — but is it? Do we have to suffer through a period each month for the sake of our health? Some doctors are saying no and arguing that skipping periods (with the help of medications like hormonal birth control) actually has its own set of health benefits… and other upsides too.
“As doctors, we’ve gotten it into people’s heads that you have to have a period every month and yes, you should have a period every month if you are not on medication,” says Dr. Sophia Yen, co-founder of a new birth control subscription service, Pandia Health, and a trailblazer in the #PeriodsOptional movement. “However, we now have the technology to prevent you from having to have a period every month. If you are on the IUD with hormones, the birth control implant, the birth control injection, the birth control ring, or the pill, then you do not have to have a period.”
Yen argues that monthly menstruation, from puberty to menopause, hasn’t even been the experience of women throughout history.
“In the old days, we’d get our periods at 15 years old and have three periods a year because we didn’t have enough nutrition to have it every month,” she explains. “Then we’d have eight babies and exclusively breastfeed for 18 months [without a period]. Now we have our periods at 12 years old, every month, we only have two babies, and we only breastfeed for zero to three or six months. So we bleed a lot more than is necessary or ‘natural.’”
According to Yen, not only is it safe to skip periods (the risk, she says, is limited to an estrogen-related loss of an inch or two in your full adult height if you start skipping as a teen), but it’s even beneficial.
“You decrease your chance of endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, and anemia [by skipping periods], because every time you have an unnecessary bleed, you are sloughing off the lining of your uterus and re-building the lining,” she argues. “Every time you re-build, you put yourself at risk for cancer. And if you are popping out eggs, you are harming the outside of the ovary and it has to heal and, again, risk cancer.”
Other pluses, says Yen, can be attributed to a leveling in your hormones, meaning better control over diabetes, an improvement in acne, and lowered likelihood of seizures.
Something else to consider: control over our periods is a further step in having autonomy over the reproductive process in general. Various forms of prescription birth control have given women the freedom to decide when and if they want to start a family. They also give us the ability to decide when and if we menstruate. Not to give any kind of support or credence to the dumb idea that people who menstruate are any less capable than people who don’t, but if you’ve ever missed out on a day (or three) of vacation, an important celebration, an exam, or a big event at work, the upside of skipping your period is immediately obvious. Fewer periods = less FOMO.
And there’s a bigger picture to consider: being absent for a single social event or a day of work or school might seem like NBD, but when you tally up all the things we might miss out on (or show up at feeling less than our best), you begin to wonder what the cumulative effect could be. Are our periods putting us at a social, economic, or career disadvantage? Why should we let them if we don’t have to?
“The only reason we bleed,” says Yen, “is because we didn’t get pregnant that month. The only reason to build the lining of your uterus and pop out an egg is to make a baby. And if we aren’t trying to make a baby from age 12 to 26 on average in the US, or 35 for those of us that had decided to go to more school, focus on their career, or just want to wait, then why bleed every month?”
Of course, the ability to skip a period is tied to the access women have to various types of birth control. Under Donald Trump, that’s being rolled back at a scary-fast rate as a proposed amendment to Title X threatens to block an estimated 20 million American women from accessing affordable birth control. Ultimately, birth control medications are about choice: the choice to have a child or to not have one, and the choice to menstruate or not to. Either way, it’s something to think about when women head to the polls this November.
Do you feel comfortable skipping your period long-term? Let’s talk about it on Twitter.
(Images via Marjan Apostolovic/Shutterstock and Dr. Sophia Yen)