Period
photo: iStock

For most women, menstrual cycles wreak havoc on our body every month. The regular process in which the uterus sheds its lining when the egg doesn’t get fertilized is painful for most and excruciating for some. Lots of women wonder why they have to bear so much pain to keep the species going when men get off so easily. It simply isn’t fair.

What most women don’t know is that it’s not even biologically necessary for women to have their period every month while they’re on contraception. How many of us wouldn’t immediately take the option to do away with our monthly visitor if we knew that a) we had the choice to do so and b) that it’s not at all unhealthy. The birth control pill, which usually works in a 28-day cycle with a week of placebo pills that cause a regular bleeding every month, was developed by doctors who felt the Pill would be better received by the public and Catholic church if it seemed as if it didn’t mess with the menstrual cycle. The period-a-month illusion was just a scheme though because what’s really happening during that week of placebos isn’t actual menstruation; it’s your body bleeding from withdrawals of the hormones it receives the other three weeks of the month.

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Some women already hack the system by skipping that week of placebo pills and seamlessly continuing with hormonal pills to ward off their periods. It might sound unnatural and you might think that you’re jeopardizing your fertility, but there’s nothing unhealthy about having fewer periods a year or avoiding them altogether.

“If she is skipping menses due to birth control pills or other hormonal contraceptives, then this is not concerning,” said Xiomara Santos, MD, an OB-GYN at Orlando Health. “She is simply suppressing the hormones that are necessary to have a period. Many women prefer to skip menses on purpose for different reasons, including to avoid symptoms associated with them.”

Santos agreed that skipping a period is a legitimate way to bypass the aches and cramps that Aunt Flo comes carrying in. Aside from continuous birth control pills, hormonal intrauterine devices (IUD), arm implants, and hormone shots have also helped in suppressing menstruation. There’s no guarantee that any of these options will do away with your period entirely, but for most women, their flow will be lighter and less frequent. Not only are they wonderful for those of us who’ve had it up to here with these painful periods, but studies have shown that IUDs and the implant are more effective forms of contraception than birth control pills.

But some see getting a monthly period as a gauge on their reproductive health. Irregular cycles and missed periods - when no hormonal contraceptives are being used - could be indicative of a more serious underlying issue and should be monitored. So what options have those who prefer to keep their cycle as it is, but could pass on the associated pains and inconveniences?

“Management of menstrual pain, or dysmenorrhea, has remained the same for the past several years, with use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and hormonal contraceptives as first line therapy,” Santos said. “In the past several years there has been an increased use of the levonorgestrel intrauterine system as one of the hormonal contraceptives options to treat dysmenorrhea.”

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For women with endometriosis, a disorder in which the tissue that lines the inside of your uterus is found outside if it and is associated with severe menstrual pain, options include menstrual suppression, various medical therapies, and surgery depending on the severity of the condition.

Skipping a period here or there would not only cut women some serious slack in the pain department, but also in their wallet. Even though there are more eco-friendly alternatives to tampons and pads, like silicon menstrual cups (DivaCup, Lunette) and reusable pads, most women don’t want to get that close and personal with their bodies. We prefer to wrap it all up and dispose of it as quickly as possible, which is why the use of tampons and pads are so popular. But switching to reusable products is not only healthier because you won’t be exposing your body to toxins found in feminine hygiene products, but also better for the environment. Even underwear companies are jumping on board with panties that absorb menstrual fluid without leaking onto your pants. Thinx is the latest brand of thin and sexy “period-proof underwear” that not only keeps you dry and protected, but doesn’t feel like you’re walking around with a diaper between your legs. The panties look just like a regular pair of undies, but can absorb up to two tampons’ worth of blood.

Thinx is just one brand trying to make periods less shameful and shed some light and much-needed advancement in the typically-taboo subject because there’s also the non-physical pain of dealing with being on your period: buying packs of tampons and pads every month, the fear that you’ll leak through your bottoms, how we avoid wearing white pants and cute lingerie for the week, and sleeping with a giant maxi pad and on top of a towel so that you don’t wake up in a pool of your blood in the morning. There’s no denying that having your period is NOT glamorous. Some even cringe at the thought of being intimate with their partner during that time of the month, but it’s natural and it’s time that we stopped feeling ashamed over it.

When artist Rupi Kaur shared a photo series of the everyday situations women face while on their period, she caused a stir. First because Instagram kept removing her images of sleeping women spotting through their pajamas and later because women started coming forward and acknowledging that yes, it does suck to have to bear through this in silence. Periods might not be sexy, but it shouldn’t be a dreadful experience either. Hopefully the menstrual movement keeps gathering attention and speed so that women have more options to choose from and don’t feel as if they’re continuously receiving the short end of the reproductive stick.