Sweden’s Year of Menstruation – Is it the Menstrual Decade? Maybe the Menstrual Millennium?

Activism, Language, Media, Menstruation

Guest Post by Josefin Persdotter, Gothenburg University

As I write this, it is only hours until the acclaimed Swedish television program Kobra airs an episode about menstruation in art, and as a growing social movement in Sweden. They’ve interviewed none other than menstrual art and activism pioneer Judy Chicago. In the trailer she jokingly exclaims: “Oh, so Scandinavia’s discovered that women menstruate!” And it seems we have. Or at least Swedes seem to have. Sweden’s currently enjoying a kind of menstrual boom. Maybe one could even call it a menstrual revolution. From my (albeit very menstrually focused) horizon I see menstruation everywhere. During the last year it’s gone from (almost) total menstrual silence to it being in national newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, and naturally, all over social media.

I guess one could say it began last summer.  Feminist cartoonist and writer Liv Strömquist (bravely!) did a two-hour radio show about menstruation, depicting menstrual taboos in history, arguing that it ought to be a much larger part of culture. The show aired on prime-time when “everyone” was listening. Being a menstrual activist for many years, I listened with a pounding heart wondering how Sweden would react. Though I’m sure she got some internet hate and many negative comments, the reception from those who liked it seems to have been quite overwhelming for Strömquist, and quite palpable to everyone else.

Instantly, something changed. Just as I had experienced when I met people through my own activism, but this time on a national scale. People began to open up; they shared their own menstrual stories openly on various social media platforms. And they haven’t stopped.

To only name a few of the many amazing things that have happened since then: several menstrual art projects have enjoyed unprecedented attention in the media, menstruation-related diseases make the headlines in the tabloids, several other radio-shows have had menstrually-themed episodes, a menstrual documentary has been made and another one is in post-production, new books about menstruation have been launched and sold out in weeks (!), and on top of that two national organizations for menstruation and PMS respectively have been founded. Menstruation’s become something that’s publicly handled as a truly relevant and important issue.

I may exaggerate a little, but I don’t want to downplay it either,  as I really do think that something rather spectacular has happened. First I called it a menstrual spring, then it became a menstrual year, and now it’s going on year two. Could one dare to hope for a menstrual paradigm shift? Or might the public lose interest? I see no signs of menstrual fatigue, but quite the opposite. More and more people and institutions engage in menstrual issues publicly. The need to talk periods seem to be stronger than ever.

Sweden’s got a small population of about 9 million, speaking an equally small language. This has been a pain in the neck in my menstrual activism, until it wasn’t. I was quite jealous of menstrual activists friends who got to do their work in English or Spanish, having so many millions more that could like, comment, and retweet on social media. But now I’ve begun to think the small size might be a huge advantage. I think we have the size to thank for some of what’s happened. It might be easier to reach everyone, to become in some way part of the media mainstream and have a national impact in a small country like this. Sweden has only a couple of national newspapers, fewer television news shows, etc., compared to larger nations.

I post this to the international menstrual community wondering if I am witnessing something unique, or something universal? Are there currently similar menstrual surges elsewhere as well? And naturally: what’s it been like historically? What can we learn from eachother? What should we think about to make these changes last and become real shifts in the menstruculture?

Five Things You Should Know About the Three Vs

anatomy, books, Language

Guest post by Kati Bicknell, Kindara

Now I know in the title of this post I say “Five things you probably don’t know about your vagina,” but really it’s about more than your vagina. The V Book, by Elizabeth Gunther Stewart and Paula Spencer, is basically the owner’s manual for all people who have any of the following V’s — vagina, vulva, and vestibule. Don’t know what a vestibule is? Read on, my good friend!

I am a bonafide vagina nerd myself, and when I read this book I learned a BUNCH of things that I did not know. Here are my top five:

  1. So we all know (now) about cervical fluid, but did you know that it’s not the only substance produced by your lady bits to keep things running smoothly? Your vulva actually produces a thin waxy substance, called sebum that lubricates the folds of your labia! It’s a blend of oils, fats, waxes, and cholesterol. If it didn’t, your labia and everything else would be all friction-y and chafe when you walked, had sex, moved, did anything really. That blew my mind. Thanks, body!
  2. Have you ever wondered how the vagina is simultaneously quite small, (i.e., sometimes even putting in a tampon might be uncomfortable and “stretchy”) and also somehow stretches to accommodate a baby passing through it? I definitely have. Well, it’s all thanks to your rugae! Rugae are small pleats that allow the vagina to be both very small and compact, and then to expand to many times its original size when necessary. Rugae is kind of like ruching! You know, the process of using tons of fabric and then scrunching it so it becomes a smaller form. I’m wearing a ruched jacket at this very moment, actually. It makes you think, if you wore this dress to the prom, are you subliminally broadcasting “HEY! THIS IS WHAT THE INSIDE OF MY VAGINA LOOKS LIKE”?
  3. Vestibule! (I told you we’d get here.) Okay! So the vestibule is important enough to be included in the three V’s of the V book, and yet I was like, “where the heck is my vestibule?” Well, it’s the place in between your inner labia. Here it is on Wikipedia, with an image that is ***not safe for work,*** unless you work in the field of sexual health, in which case, click away!
  4. Labia (as in the labia majora and labia minora). This word is actually plural. If you are referring to only one lip it’s called a labium.
  5. httpv://youtu.be/9qFojO8WkpA
    Only in rare instances is a human female born with the hymen completely covering the vaginal opening. Most hymens are a little circle of very thin skin that partially covers the vaginal opening, but still leaves space for menstrual blood and cervical fluid to come out. Here is a hilarious and educational video explaining more about this. [Editor’s note: Many sex educators today call it the vaginal corona, not the hymen.]

And there is a LOT more info in that book. Tons. Go pick it up today and learn more than you ever thought possible about vaginas, vulvas, and vestibules!

Cross-posted at Kindara.com March 29, 2013.

Of Menstruators and Manhole Covers

Activism, Language, Menstruation

Feminists of a certain age may recall debates about changing sexist language, and the ways feminists were once mocked for insisting on replacing sex-specific terms such as policeman with police officer, fireman with firefighter, stewardess with flight attendant and the so-called generic pronouns he and him with he or she, him or her or they and their. When I tell you that students in my Cultural Studies class last fall asked why Althusser only wrote about men, it’s easy to think those battles have been won. But only about half of the 50 U.S. states have changed their official government documents to use gender-neutral language.

The fact that today’s young people do not understand the generic use of man is just one indicator of the power of language. It matters which words we use to name and describe our world; language both reflects and shapes the way we see the world and our place in it. As a feminist scholar of media and women’s health and sexuality issues, I’ve become increasingly mindful of how labels can be inclusive or exclusive. Anyone who cares about public health usually tries to use the most inclusive labels possible. That’s why blood banks ask if you’ve had sex with men who have sex with men, for example, instead of asking if you’re gay.

Much of my published research deals with media representations of menstruation, so it caught my eye last month when a prominent women’s studies professor posted the following remark on a very active women’s studies mailing list:

There is something a bit problematic going on in menstruation politics. It seems we are required, for sake of politeness to male-bodied transgenders, to pretend that men menstruate too.

She then quoted a paragraph from a book review that referred to radical menstruation and used the term menstruators rather than women or women who menstruate. (Full disclosure: I recognized immediately that the book had to be New Blood: Third-Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation by my good friend Chris Bobel, a brilliant ethnographic study of feminist activism around menstruation.)

I cite this example without naming the professor or the list because I am neither interested in calling out an individual nor shaming a group. I cite it because I want to talk about why it is important to write of menstruators, not merely a matter of politeness to transmen. (It should go without saying that politeness to transmen is also important.)

Menstruation exists at the crossroads of sex and gender, as Chris wrote in New Blood. It is a biological function, but like every other biological function its meanings are cultural, and the biology cannot be separated from the culture. The activists Chris interviewed emphasized two important biological facts often overlooked in our cultural interpretations of menstruation:

  1. Not all women menstruate.
  2. Not only women menstruate.

Some women don’t menstruate because of diseases, cancers, surgeries, pregnancy (although they may still bleed) or menopause. Other women don’t menstruate because they don’t have functioning uteruses, fallopian tubes or vaginas; maybe they were born that way or maybe they are transwomen. And yes, there are some people who don’t identify as women who do menstruate. Some of them are transmen. Some of them are intersex. Some may have fully functioning uteruses, ovaries and vaginas but may identify as genderqueer, transgender, third gender or something else entirely. They are menstruators, but they are not women.

Calling them menstruators is just like changing other biased language. It helps us tell the truth about our lives, and challenge both gender essentialism and biological determinism. It reminds us that our bodies do not determine our identities, and that we are so much more than merely bodies. Some of us are people who happen to menstruate, some of the time. Using menstruators instead of women also helps make vital health information available to everyone who needs it—not just women.

In Washington, the state where I live, the legislature just unanimously approved a bill that is the fifth and final installment of a multi-year effort to replace male-dominated language from the state code with gender-neutral language. Under the new code, penmanship will become handwriting, freshmen will be first-year students and watchmen will become security guards.

But they still cannot find a gender-neutral term for manhole cover. In a world where we can find a gender-neutral name for men who menstruate, they’re just not trying hard enough.

Cross-posted at Ms. Magazine Blog, February 11, 2013

Brassieres and Red Ribbons

Art, Language, Menstruation

Guest post by Karina Billini

In the beginning of my college career, I was given powerful advice: “In every class you take, apply your craft. Challenge it and challenge yourself.” From gay studies to Child Development, I have taken the opportunity of higher education to explore myself as a writer. So there I was in my last semester as an undergrad, taking the most spoken about course at Marymount Manhattan College—Social Construction of Menstruation. As a theatre and creative writing student, I haven’t had much explicit exposure to the social construction of menstruation. Yes, I have been exposed to it through Always commercials and even the opinions of my female friends, but never within my craft. The only thing I have been exposed to that is relevant to menstruation is The Vagina Monologues, which is not really much. Plus, I had NEVER stumbled across any menstruation-themed poetry. So, when my class was presented with the rubric for our final project, I decided to put together a poetry collection of menstruation-themed poetry and yes, even write my own for the very first time.

I have always liked a challenge, particularly one that deals with the legitimacy of my craft. In the academic world, poetry has always been seen as flowery. Many fail to acknowledge it as a potent social commentator. Poetry is not just about the aligning of words for lovely rhythm and vivid imagery, but to provoke the minds of its readers and be the voice for the growing unheard. Poetry allows the preservation of the human experience and all its aesthetics that can sometimes be drowned out by the stiff language and observations of theoretical work. For example, the poetry of Audre Lorde really spoke for women of color who were, at that time, written into invisibility within the mainstream movements for woman’s rights. I think about Langston Hughes’ poetry and how it beautifully and explicitly illustrated the struggle of African Americans. If poetry can help illuminate the menstrual experience and possible attack some of its negative social constructions, why isn’t there more menstruation-themed poetry? Why is it that when I Google menstruation-themed poetry, the results are so scarce? Why haven’t I written any poetry on menstruation?

As a female playwright and poet, I thought I wrote explicitly on the woman experience. I have dramatized attacks on gender inequality, given birth to strong female protagonists, and poetically sculpted what I thought woman should be. I have even let my readers become Peeping Toms to my womanhood, allowing them to read my struggle with the power dynamics of love, sex, money, and education. However, I never wrote about the major factor that played in all my experiences as a woman: my body. As I decided on my final project to be a collection of menstruation-themed poetry, I realized that I never wrote about this phenomenon that had such a tremendous impact on my shaping as a woman.

Why haven’t I? Why was I so brave and comfortable to allow my readers into the playground of my bed and the fallen country of my broken heart…..but not menstruation? Why was it second nature for me to script words like “sex” or “fuck”, but not “menstruation” or “vagina”? After all, I had spent most of my childhood waiting for my first period and will continue to revolve my calendar around my cycle for the rest of my menstrual life. I had secretly pocketed away my menstrual experiences in the manner that I slip neon-colored pads into my purse’s interior pocket. I had done it for the same reasons: 1) learned/inherited embarrassment and 2) maintenance of “lady-like” appearances (whatever that means). I was not writing, but being written, shaped, and formed by these societal norms.

For those reasons, I provided my writing friends and myself with the writing prompt to write a menstruation-themed poem. I placed the prompt on Facebook and encouraged my friends to let their inspiration guide them; I wanted them to write the good, the bad, the ugly….as long as it was honest. As expected, I did get a lot of immature (uneducated) responses to my prompt via Facebook. One individual exclaimed, “Dear god” while another individual asked me what kind of “school” did I go to. However, I had a stronger positive feedback. My writing friends, both male and female, were excited and willing to take on the prompt. I even had one friend who already had written a menstruation-themed poem prior to my prompt. When the prompt’s due date came along, I was handed extraordinary work that captured hot topics on menstruation that was covered in my social construction class. To my surprise, my fellow writers wrote about various things in regards to menstruation without ever really receiving a menstrual education. They questioned menstrual myths, promoted menstrual sex as the highest level of intimacy (which my female poets were so excited to discuss with me!), illustrated menstruation as a celebration of womanhood, and even employed lunar references. In the end, my writers expressed to me that this prompt has inspire them to continue writing menstruation-themed poetry.As for myself, I also completed my first menstruation-themed poem ever. Honestly, I don’t think I would’ve been fully ready to write if I hadn’t taken a class on menstruation. I now understand the advice that was given to me in the beginning of my college career. When I finally understood how heavily socially constructed menstruation was and how I was very much embedded in it, I learned how much responsibility I had as a writer. With menstruation and any subject, I have the responsibility to challenge their stereotypes, create new (positive) ideologies, and open up MINDS! Now educated, I have regained the power of my pen. Armed, I now have the duty to write menstruation out of invisibility. However, I must be honest about my menstrual experiences within my work. Not everything I write on menstruation will be hyper-positive or hyper-negative. In Brassieres and Red Ribbons, I speak about my menstrual experience. I get really strong and painful periods. On the first day of the month, I have extremely painful cramps that lead to fainting spells. And I always seem to get sick at the public bathroom at work! Brassieres is about that experience. Menstruation is illustrated as an obstacle in Brassiere, but it’s also an opportunity for the speaker to escape the chaos of adulthood and be alone with her body. This moment of menstruation allows her to finally let go of the superficiality of life and finally be naked (literally and figuratively.) Being educated in the social constructions of menstruation has done the same for me; it has provided me newfound nudity and liberation as both a woman and poet. Freed, I wrote this poem.


Brassieres and Red Ribbons

by Karina Billini

You are naked.
Hunched over in a bathroom stall—
your legs,
snow white and skinny,
stick out
just as Dorothy’s nemesis did
under that conjured-by-red-shoes house.

There’s no place like home.

You can’t afford
the forty-dollar cab drive
or another sick day
so just as before,
you cash out
your mother’s advice—
attempt to master mind over body
by fantasizing
of the last moment
your body was pre-menstrual.
You were twelve.

You stop caring
when cramps break
the seams of your trousers,
the buttons from your blouse,
and unstraps your brassiere
more skillfully
than any man has
in the playing field of your bed.
And for once,
the lights are on
and you don’t mind your nudity.
Your work clothes
are wrinkled and damped
by foreign liquids outlining
the floor’s teal tiles—
purposeless like feathers
during a bird’s wing moult.
You can’t make flight.

Only pain clothes you,
thick like tweed in late August—
You wipe away streams
from your swollen breasts
and remind yourself
you are your body’s keeper.


You wait
for the revolt to be over,
watching the blood
like red ribbons
you tied around your ankle,
six years old and secretive—
your mother
once discovered
and chopped up,

Why do you want to be a woman so fast?

Is Your Period A Sentence?

Advertising, anatomy, Language

My friend and colleague Patty Chantrill loves clever menstrual puns as much as I do, and recently snapped this picture of an area billboard from her car. I’ve edited the photo to try to highlight the sign, but there’s only so much one can do with a Blackberry in motion [clicking the image will show you a larger, slightly clearer version]. The sign features a photo of presumably female feet in high-heeled shoes, wearing a ball and chain, next to the words, “Does Your Period Feel More Like a Sentence? There’s Help.” This is followed by the name of a local women’s health clinic that shall remain unnamed.

Photo by Patty Chantrill

The clinic offers numerous treatments for heavy periods, including NovaSure endometrial ablation, a process of permanently removing the uterine lining with radio frequency, and HerOption cryoablation, which removes the uterine lining by freezing the tissue. I haven’t yet researched these procedures enough to form strong opinions for or against them, but I do have strong opinions about some of the other procedures offered by this clinic. They are providers of what their website terms ‘aesthetic gynecological surgery’, which includes such mutilations as labiaplasty, G-spot augmentation, vaginal rejuvenation, and ‘radiofrequency tightening’. Check out the price list for these crimes against womanity:

  • Labiaplasty: $4200 (surgery cost)*
  • Vaginoplasty: $6000 (surgery costs)*
  • Combined Labiaplasty and Vaginoplasty: $9400 (surgery cost)*
  • *IV sedation is done by a separately contracted CRNA and is $150 per hour.
  • Radiofrequency Tightening $999 (never covered by insurance)
  • Initial G-spot augmentation (hyaluronic acid, lasts up to 4 months): $100 for initial 30 minute consultation, $850 for initial G-spot augmentation itself (never covered by insurance)
  • Follow-Up G-Spot Augmentations (hyaluronic acid, lasts up to 4 months): $600 each (never covered by insurance)

May I recommend, again, Lisa Rogers’ documentary film, In Search of the Perfect Vagina? You can watch the film for no cost at all at either link, no insurance needed, and discover that you already have the perfect vagina.

Midlife Muddle — Own the Power of Naming

Hormones, Language, Menopause, Menstruation, New Research

Guest Post by Jerilynn Prior, M.D. — Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research

By “midlife muddle” I don’t mean the trouble concentrating or remembering names that sometimes occurs for all of us (but more frequently if we’ve wakened with night sweats and not gotten back to sleep). I mean the condoned and official confusion about naming of women’s reproductive aging. Let me show you why I am upset.


STRAW+10 staging system for reproductive aging in women

Stages of Reproductive Aging Workshop (STRAW) held a 10-year anniversary last summer. (As someone frustrated by not being “heard” at the original conference, I still think that the “W” in STRAW should stand for Women!) Despite that, STRAW+10 has made progress because at least some of the classification is now supported by population-based prospective data rather than based on what experts believe. The names that are now politically correct are summarized in the STRAW+10 Executive Summary1 and the diagram1 at right.


We in the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research have also had our say about nomenclature: “Naming Women’s Midlife Reproductive Transition”.  I wrote this (with revision and refinement by collective effort of SMCR members) because women keep getting left out of this naming business. For example:

  • a regularly menstruating woman with night sweats, heavy flow, and increased cramps could learn to call herself perimenopausal2 (not STRAW+10 Late Reproductive Phase -3b?!).
  • a woman who just finished her period can say, I’m in late perimenopause and have at least a year without further flow before I’ll be menopausal. Based on STRAW+10 she could be told that specific menstruation was her final menstrual period (nickname “FMP”) and the next day, according to STRAW+10 be told that she is now “postmenopausal”!!
  • a woman with sore breasts, irregular periods, and heavy flow could say, I’m in perimenopause. However, she may instead be told she is in the “Early Menopausal Transition.” Because she has heavy flow she is also likely to be prescribed the birth control pill (as is currently and commonly recommended). Usually she will not be told that The Pill will make her perimenopausal irregular flow worse—she may well start spotting in the middle of her cycle.3

This new and improved STRAW+10 still centers all of women’s reproduction on that mythical FMP. But to call the FMP “menopause”, as many women’s health experts do, is just unscientific. It takes at least a year without another menstruation in those of us over age 45 before nine out of ten of us will not get another period4. But one (out of ten) of us will get a further, normal period even though we’ve been that whole year without any4. We can tell that new flow is normal (in other words, does not need investigation for endometrial cancer) if we had cramps or bloating or sore breasts or moodiness—or all of these—that told us our period was coming.


So our new Naming position statement says don’t call it “menopause” until you’ve not had a period for a year. And do call it “perimenopause” if things are variable and changing even if you are still having regular flow2.  Three of nine changes can confirm for you that you are perimenopausal even if your flow is still regular:2

  1. Shorter cycles (25 days or less);
  2. Increased cramps;
  3. Heavier flow;
  4. Increased trouble sleeping—especially waking up in the middle of sleep;
  5. New or increased migraine headaches;
  6. Night sweats—especially if they tend to occur before or during flow;
  7. An increase in or new premenstrual mood swings;
  8. New sore, enlarging or nodular breasts; and
  9. Weight gain without changes in what you eat or the exercise you do.

If women can learn to call themselves perimenopausal, they will be saying they know that perimenopause is not the same as menopause—perimenopause is a midlife transition with higher and erratic estrogen levels. Menopause is a fairly stable life phase with normally low estrogen and progesterone levels that begins one year after their last menstrual flow.


Furthermore, by naming themselves accurately they will be able to tell whether a medication that is proposed for them has been tested and proven effective in perimenopausal women. Usually symptomatic women are treated with oral contraceptives (that are proven reasonably safe and useful for premenopausal contraception), or offered hormone therapy that has only been tested and shown effective for hot flushes/flashes in menopausal women.


So. . . I like the word, perimenopause and think if women understand and own it they will be on their way out of a midlife muddle.



  1. Harlow, S. Executive Summary of the Stages of Reproductive Aging Workshop +10: addressing the unfinished agenda of staging reproductive aging [pdf]. Fertility Sterility, 2012   doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.20012.01.128
  2. Prior JC. Clearing confusion about perimenopause. BC Med J 2005; 47(10):534-538.
  3. Casper RF, Dodin S, Reid RL, Study Investigators. The effect of 20 ug ethinyl estradiol/1 mg norethindrone acetate (MinestrinTM), a low-dose oral contraceptive, on vaginal bleeding patterns, hot flashes, and quality of life in symptomatic perimenopausal women. Menopause 1997; 4:139-147.
  4. Wallace RB, Sherman BM, Bean JA, Treloar AE, Schlabaugh L. Probability of menopause with increasing duration of amenorrhea in middle-aged women. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1979; 135(8):1021-1024.

It’s My Period and I’ll Have a Party If I Want To

Girls, Internet, Language, Menarche, Menstruation

Today’s post was created using the web tool Storify, and may take an extra moment to load in some browsers. If the page fails to load, please use your refresh/reload button


[View the story “Period Parties” on Storify]

Marked for Life

anatomy, Art, Celebrities, Communication, Humor, Language, Menstruation

CarewNorwegian athlete John Carew just revealed his new tattoo, which features wings and the phrase ‘Ma Vie, Mes Régles’. Apparently Mr. Carew believed that reads “My Life, My Rules”, but with an acute accent (é) instead of a grave accent (è), the actual translation is either ‘My Life, My Period’ or ‘My Life, My Menstruation’.

That’s frankly awesome.