‘There is absolutely no medical need to have a period when you’re on contraception.’
I started taking birth control pills when I was 16. I don’t remember what my first prescription was, but I remember feeling bummed that I wasn’t prescribed Yaz?—?the “cool” pill at the time (years later, I remember feeling relieved that I wasn’t prescribed Yaz).
I spent six years on this birth control and in the beginning, it served me well. As time went on, I began to resent its inability to regulate my menstrual flow and lessen the severity of my symptoms. Sometimes I wouldn’t get a period at all. Sometimes I would suffer through two periods in one month. My bleeding was torrential and my cramps kept me sidelined during college classes.
After graduation, I was poised to move across the country to start a new job. At my last gynecology appointment, I confessed my period problems to my gynecologist. “You’re too busy for all of that,” she said (yes, she was saying I was too busy to have my period).
I was completely taken aback?—?I didn’t realize it was possible to opt out of my menstruation cycle. Before I could say “My uterus,” she prescribed me a new daily pill pack that had no placebo week. Unless I neglected to take my pills, I wouldn’t have my period anymore. According to my doctor, this was completely fine.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I also couldn’t believe that more women weren’t electing to prevent their Aunt Flo from visiting each month. I shared my new insights with close friends and not-so-close friends, and people’s answers were surprisingly similar: Isn’t that bad for you? Won’t that mess you up later when you want to have kids? Don’t you HAVE to have your period?
Periods by the numbers
According to NPR, the average woman spends 2,190 days (or six years of her life) menstruating. For some of us, that’s too much time to devote to bleeding?—?especially when you consider the number of school and work obligations a woman could miss out on as a result. A 1987 study detailing the “degree of limitation experienced during menstruation” reported that primary dysmenorrhea (menstrual pain) “has been estimated to account for 140 million lost working hours annually in the United States alone and is considered the greatest cause of lost working days among young women.”
A 2009 study published in the American Economic Journal reports that women under 45 are absent from work more than their male counterparts and that their absences typically occur on a 28-day cycle (hmm). The study claims “increased absenteeism induced by the 28-day cycle explains at least 14 percent of the earnings gender differential.”
Women already make less money than men and?—?thanks to our periods?—?we’re losing out on additional income due to cycle-related absences.
The implications of having a period are even more staggering for women in underdeveloped countries. School-aged girls in Nepal suffer from a lack of access to feminine supplies, which inhibits their ability to attend school during their menstrual cycle. For impoverished women, having a period is cost prohibitive (the Huffington Post estimates a woman will spend upwards of $18,000 on period-related items over the course of her lifetime). Economically speaking, there are very real reasons to end an experience that only affects half the population.
The health stuff
“There is absolutely no medical need to have a period when you’re on contraception,” Dr. Elizabeth Micks tells NPR. Micks, a Seattle-based OB-GYN, is one of many doctors offering patients options to suppress their cycles using methods like hormonal injections, IUDs, arm implantation devices, or continuous oral contraceptives.
The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals claims there are no known risks to suppressing your cycle. In fact, forgoing your period offers a myriad of benefits, including “a reduction in menstrual migraines, endometriosis and acne and an improved sense of well-being.”
Then there’s the fact that modern women get our periods early and often. Per Jezebel, today’s women experience “four times as many periods over a lifetime as our hunter gatherer ancestors and triple the number for women just a hundred years ago.” This is partially because young women are menstruating up to ten years earlier than our predecessors (this increase is largely attributed to advancements in food).
And speaking of children, surpressing your period until you’re ready to conceive will not hurt your chances of becoming pregnant. “Even if a woman hasn’t had a cycle in five to ten years, there’s no evidence that suppressing menstruation hurts future fertility,” Dr. Paula Hilliard of Stanford University Medical Center told NPR last spring.
“Even if a woman hasn’t had a cycle in five to ten years, there’s no evidence that suppressing a period hurts future fertility.”
Of course, there are reasons why a woman would choose to keep her period around. Menstruation and religion are historically intertwined, and for some women, the idea of suppressing a cycle or choosing to use contraception can be a difficult decision. For women with reproductive issues or for women trying to conceive, a period serves as a helpful physiological alarm clock. Other women enjoy having a period as a reminder of their unique experience as a female on this earth.
Personally, I feel like a strong, powerful, feminist woman when I have autonomy over my body, my time and my wallet. Opting out of my period reminds me of my womanhood, because my body and my experiences are my choice to make.