A Quiet Celebration of the Horny Menstruator

Media, Menstruation, Sex, Television

Guest Post by Lauren Rosewarne

Courtney Cox shocked America in 1985 when she became the first person to say “period” on TV. Period, at least, in the context of menstruation and not punctuation.


Tampax, 1985-style


Flash forward a couple of decades and this year the same daring word (along with a couple of other doozies) ruffled a few feathers in a Carefree ad. At least it did initially. The furore quickly dissipated and the ad now runs regularly, uneventfully, in Australia. We’ve seemingly learnt how to cope without the conniptions.


“That bit of discharge” ad, 2012


I daresay it’s the ingratiating of the Carefree ad – with its references to the bits of ladyhood ironically considered least feminine – into our landscape that’s paved the way for another revolutionary down-there-business ad going undetected. Undetected and surprisingly, unwhinged about.


Libra “Bootcamp” ad, 2012


The new Libra ad dares use the P-word again – sure, itself a euphemism but a) “menstruation” is probably too many syllables for a short ad and b) I’d still rather hear period than any other sanitised circumlocution.

The truly startling bit about the ad however, is the way female sexuality is presented.

For most of last year I was living and breathing menstruation while writing a book on it. My focus was on media presentations and sex n’ blood got treated to a whole chapter.

While there are signs that our culture has become more menstrually mature – we’ve evidently learnt not to dial 000 when discharge is mentioned on TV for example – some menstrual taboos remain. Menstrual sex is a biggie.

On one hand thinking of the menstruator as sexy seems outlandish in the context of film and television. A couple of wonderful Californication scenes aside, periods on screen invariably and inevitably disrupt sex lives and give women – and men – an excuse to restrict it to spoonin’.

On the other hand, feminine hygiene ads are in fact full of attractive ladies peddling products to help menstruators stay sexy all month long. In advertising, the idea of the bleeding woman as outwardly desirable is effortlessly detected.

A much more shocking – and far more insteresting – construct however, is the idea of the menstruator herself feeling sexy. By sexy here, I’m not referring to the way others see her – to her objectification – rather, to her being in touch with her own horniness at a time when women often feel – biologically or because society has coerced it – dirty and out-of-action.

“It’s like a crime scene in my pants” – No Strings Attached (2011)


The Libra ad involves a woman who, while initially reluctant because of her period, eventually joins her friend to perve on male boot campers.

Lecherous ladies in advertising are nothing new of course; Diet Coke has long been flogged with some mildly hideous Sex and the City-style male sexualisation:

Diet Coke, 90s style


Diet Coke, 00s style


My concept of feminism doesn’t deem women panting over men as something inherently progressive. It’s not the ogling in the Libra ad however, that interests me. Rather, it’s the act of ogling for the purposes of arousal while the woman has her period.

I can’t help but be charmed by TV offering us a horny menstruator.

While a niche genre, menstrual-themed porn – here, I refer to the indie material, rather than, say, the buckets-o’-blood-fetish stuff – hints to the idea that some women are, shock horror, actually randier during their periods. Mainstream pop culture and vanilla porn however, routinely give the idea a wide berth. As in No Strings Attached (2011), menstruation is apparently a time when a bloke is just not gonna get a look in.

Just as I’m delighted when I see a woman on TV who deviates from the young/thin/white archetype that pop culture so adores, equally happy am I to see an example of female sexuality presented as a little more complex – and a tad more messier – than what’s normally on offer.

A small win, but I’ll take it.

Republished with permission from The Conversation

Footloose and Pharmaceutical-Free?

Birth Control, DIY, Sex

Guest Post by Holly Grigg-Spall, Sweetening the Pill

At the West Coast Catalyst Convention for sex-positive sex-educators I was listening to a talk on definitions of sexual health when the birth control pill was brought up. I’d spent much of the event feeling desperately vanilla and so was pleased to be discussing something other than strap-ons and lube. The most popular forms of contraception – the hormonal kind – had been notably absent from all discussion that weekend.

Toys in Babeland window display, Photo by Joaquin Uy // CC 2.0

The speaker told the group that the pill is the leading cause of low libido and pelvic pain. She explained that studies had suggested the impact on libido could be permanent. The reaction of the audience was immediate and urgent – questions were fired out and it became clear that this information was news to most. A number of audience members seemed genuinely shocked. “What’s the science behind that?” one woman asked, but the speaker said she didn’t know.

Although the convention’s attendees had an intimidating level of knowledge when it came to sexual technique and sex toys, I discovered that once I mentioned I was there to develop a book and a documentary on hormonal contraceptives, many repeated the usual disinformation about birth control methods.

The speaker was right – the birth control pill is a leading cause of lowered sexual desire and pelvic pain. It’s also known to cause loss of lubrication, vaginitis, and vulvodynia. Other hormonal contraceptives such as the Depo Provera injection, implant, ring and Mirena IUD have been seen to have similar consequences. In fact, Dr. Andrew Goldstein, director of the U.S.-based Centers for Vulvovaginal Disorders and one of the foremost vulvodynia experts in North America, blames an increase in complaints of this kind on third generation low-dose pills.

The study the speaker referred to was conducted by Dr. Claudia Panzer of Boston University and it did suggest some women may see a permanent effect on their testosterone levels, and so their level of desire. There have also been studies on these methods impact on frequency and intensity of orgasm, showing both to be decreased. Not to mention the 50% of women who will experience general negative mood effects that surely impact on their interest in sex. Many, many other studies have shown a clear negative effect on libido whilst using hormonal contraceptives. So many that it’s become something of a joke to roll eyes over the “irony” of prescribing a pill for pregnancy prevention that stops you wanting to have sex anyway.

At a convention dedicated to the celebration of sexual pleasure, I was surprised to see this information received with such confusion. A sex-positive attitude is becoming synonymous with “set it and forget it” long acting hormonal methods of contraception. But it struck me that sex-positive advocates should be the biggest fans of fertility awareness methods. Here’s why:

The ‘Change of Life’ is More than Biology

Menopause, New Research, Sex
Photo by Ed Yourdon | CC 2.0

Photo by Ed Yourdon | CC 2.0

I hope my colleague Heather Dillaway feels at least at little vindicated when she reads this: A new study in the Journal of Health Psychology reports that social and psychological factors have the biggest influence upon women´s sexual behavior during menopause, rather than biological changes such as declining hormone levels. While most published research on menopause–especially about sex and sexuality with respect to menopause–is conducted within a biomedical framework, Sharron Hinchliff, Merryn Gott, and Christine Ingleton talked to women about their experiences. (Radical!)

They found that almost all of the women in their study had experienced changes in their sex lives, but they attributed these changes to external factors, such as caring for ill or elderly relatives, low sexual desire from their partners, issues of relationship quality, as well as to perceived changes in levels of hormones. (I appreciate the researchers’ qualifier of perceived changes, as most women never have their hormone levels measured.)

The researchers concluded that women go through many lifestyle changes at mid-life, only some of which are biological. Psychological and social factors, as well as the increasing medicalization of menopause, affect their sexuality just as powerfully.

Somehow, this study isn’t getting anywhere near the publicity of the ‘new blood test for menopause’ study received last week.

Why are there no female sushi chefs?

anatomy, Menstruation, Sex

As a native of the midwestern U.S., I know very little about sushi. (MuchSushi of it looks like what we call “bait” back in Indiana.) So I did not know that very few women prepare sushi in restaurants. This piece in Toronto Life explains why not:

Women’s hands are too warm to handle raw fish or sushi rice. Their perfume, makeup and lotions interfere with the food. Hormonal fluctuations wreak havoc on delicate Japanese food.

“Hormonal fluctuations” is, of course, a euphemism for menstrual cycle. Fortunately, men’s bodies have no hormonal variation and their hand temperatures are the same as their heart temperatures.

To be fair, the article does acknowledge that the number of women sushi chefs has increased in recent years in the U.S., and even in Japan – once women’s 10 p.m. curfew was lifted.

What do men know about birth control and periods?

Birth Control, Men, Menstruation, New Research, Sex

Here’s a hint: the title of the new study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy is How Misperceptions, Magical Thinking, and Ambivalence Put Young Adults at Risk for Unplanned Pregnancy.

The study [PDF] surveyed American singles ages 18–29 about their perceptions about and use of contraception. Twenty-eight percent of young men think that wearing two condoms at a time is more effective than just one. Twenty-five percent think that women can prevent pregnancy by douching after sex. Eighteen percent believe that they can reduce the chance of pregnancy by doing it standing up.

A staggering 42% of men and 40% of women believe that the chance of getting pregnant within a year while using the birth control pill is 50% or greater (despite research suggesting that the pill is typically 92% effective).

And many unmarried young adults believe they are infertile. Although available data suggest that about 8.4% of women 15–29 have impaired fecundity (measured as an inability to conceive or carry a baby to term): 59% of women and 47% of men say it is at least slightly likely they are infertile (19% of women and 14% of men describe it as quite or extremely likely.

In a very good short essay about the study at The Sexist, Amanda Hess links men’s lack of knowledge about contraception to their lack of knowledge about menstruation and physiology more generally, and illustrates with some telling anecdotes. There are a few more examples in the video at right, in which Amanda corners several men and asks them to explain how hormonal birth control works.

It all seems quite shocking, until one remembers that abstinence-only sex education that includes lessons about the ineffectiveness of condoms and other contraceptives has been standard in the U.S. since 1996. (See here for U.S. Government definitional criteria for abstinence-only sex education. At present, 22 states have opted out of receiving federal funding, so that they may provide accurate and comprehensive sex education.)

Menstruation, Menopause, and HIV

Health Care, Menopause, Menstruation, New Research, Sex

Menopausal women seeking relief from hot flash in front of electric fan.

POZ magazine and poz.com claim to be the leading publication and website in the U.S. about HIV/AIDS. The March 2010 issue has a great article by Suzanne Bopp about menstruation, menopause, and HIV. As with medical and cultural knowledge about HIV itself, understanding of how HIV affects menstruation continues to evolve. Irregular menstruation is a common complaint of women with HIV, but

“[Today] we have a better grasp of factors associated with abnormal menstrual cycles: substance abuse, AIDS, wasting disease—it relates more to overall nutritional status,” says Kristine Patterson, MD, clinical assistant professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. “If the body doesn’t have enough fat, production of estrogen and progesterone shuts down,” Patterson says. This can happen anytime a woman loses too much weight, and it is exacerbated by advanced HIV disease, which causes the body to burn calories more rapidly.

. . . .

Researchers do know, however, that female hormones affect the virus—and that sex hormones generally have an impact on immunity. “We know that where a premenopausal woman is in her menstrual cycle affects her infectiousness,” Patterson says. “Estrogen plays a role—not only in HIV and the interplay of HIV and meds, but also in [the likelihood of] women transmitting and acquiring HIV.” Estrogen’s role may explain why women progress to AIDS at lower viral loads than men.

Highly recommended. Read the whole thing.

Scenes from Vulvagraphics

Activism, anatomy, Art, Sex

If you’ve been with us for a while, you may recall that last fall our friend and colleague Alexandra Jacoby participated in Vulvagraphics: An Intervention in Honor of Female Genital Diversity, sponsored by the New View Campaign challenging the medicalization of sex. For the benefit of those of us unable to get to New York for this event, there is now video available of some of the exhibits and speakers.

[via The Red Tent Sisters]

Be part of the next edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves

Activism, books, Communication, Sex

Cover of OUR BODIES, OURSELVESOur Bodies, Ourselves is seeking up to two dozen women to participate in an online discussion on sexual relationships.

Stories and comments may be used anonymously in the next edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, which will be published in 2011 by Simon & Schuster.

We are seeking the experience and wisdom of heterosexual, lesbian, bisexual, queer and trans women. Perspectives from single women are encouraged, and you may define relationship as it applies to you, from monogamy to multiple partners. We are committed to including women of color, women with disabilities, and women of many ages and backgrounds.

In the words of the brilliant anthology “Yes Means Yes,” how can we consistently engage in more positive experiences? What issues deserve more attention? And how do we address social inequities and violence against women? These are some of the guiding questions that will help us to update the relationships section in “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”

The conversation will start Sunday, Feb. 14 (yes, Valentine’s Day) and stay open through Friday, March 12.

Participants will be invited to answer relevant questions (see sample below) and build on the responses of other participants. We’ll use a private Google site to post questions and responses.

Personal stories and reflections are welcomed, along with updated research and media resources. While we hope to use some of the stories and experiences in the book, names will not be published.

We hope the open process* will spark robust discussion. We expect new questions to arise that challenge us to re-work this section even more.

If you would like to participate in this conversation, please e-mail OBOS editorial team member Wendy Sanford: wsanford@bwhbc.org

In your email, please tell us about yourself and what you would bring to the conversation. We need to hear from you by Feb. 5 Feb. 3 and will let you know soon thereafter about participation. Thanks for considering this!

*We have thought a great deal about privacy. If you want to share a story or information, but do not want to participate in the private Google site discussion, please indicate that in your email. We may send you questions that you can answer on your own.

* * * * * *
Sample Questions
Participants can suggest other questions

How do you define — and express — intimacy?

What are you looking for in a relationship? What kind of relationship do you seek at this time in your life — monogamous, non-monogamous, long-term, short-term, one partner or more than one? How is this related to being a woman or to your gender or sexual identity in the society(ies) and culture(s) to which you belong?

What do you enjoy most about being sexual?

What are your experiences in a relationship that spans differences such as class, race, age, physical or mental ability, chronic illness, other?

How does it affect your relationships when you are with someone whom the world gives more or less power than you have — because of race, income, gender or disability?

What role has love played or not played in your relationships?

Describe a time when you realized that despite the romantic images you may have grown up with, a relationship you intended to stay in over time was going to be work.

What are some obstacles that can get in the way of our relationships? What images or stereotypes in popular culture add to the difficulties?

What helps? What books or other resources do you trust to speak honestly about relationships?

What is it like to be in a relationship with a man/with a woman when you don’t like some or all of your own body?

How have specific acts of sexual violence against you, or general societal/cultural acceptance of violence against women or LGBT people, affected your intimate sexual relationships?

If you have been in intimate sexual relationships with both women and men, are there special dynamics and challenges that you have noticed in each?

If you have experience with online dating networks, what would you want someone to know who was just starting to explore that venue? What are the safety issues?

[Re-posted from Our Bodies, Our Blog]