What is the true purpose of periods? Many of us have reduced our idea of periods to mere function, a messy inconvenience whose only useful purpose is to reassure us that we are not pregnant, but there is so much more to our monthly menstrual cycle, which we are ignoring to the great detriment of all of us.
I recently read an article (1) by a physician on the benefits of taking the oral contraceptive pill continuously, rather than allowing for a monthly bleed, as has been done in the past.
The two comments which struck me were:
“There’s still a lot of misinformation out there that you need to have a period to be healthy. That’s not the case.”
“The important job is to reinforce the message that it (taking the pill continuously) is a safe thing to do. You don’t do your body any harm. In saying that, there are still going to be women who are reassured by having a period every month — and good luck to them.”
To read these comments from a woman who specialises in women’s health shows me how far we have strayed from the truth of what it means to be truly healthy in a woman’s body.
What is the purpose of the oral contraceptive pill?
The pill was introduced in the 1950’s as a reliable method of contraception, and has been embraced by women (and men) everywhere. It revolutionised female sexual health, and in fact society, as it allowed women to determine when or whether we would have children, and increasingly, when or whether we would have periods.
In many ways it has been a wonderful support for many, freeing us from the ‘barefoot and pregnant’ model of being a woman, and allowing us to carve out our own careers and lead independent lives, free from dependence on any man.
But in other ways it has come at a cost, for it has given us free and easy access to sex without apparent consequences, and without the need for mechanical protection with condoms, so that whatever comes with and through a man is deposited in our bodies, for us to deal with. This can include sexually transmitted diseases, carrying the consequences of infertility, in the case of chlamydia; severe illnesses such as gonorrhoea and syphilis; and even death, in the case of HIV.
There is now an expectation for women to be on the pill from a very young age, to allow themselves, and their partners, access to 24/7 sex without getting pregnant, no matter what the consequences for them personally. This has reduced the significance of the act of making love, with all of its consequences, to something that can be done with anyone, at any time, for stimulation and relief.
What does the pill do?
The pill works by altering our female hormones. By taking a small amount of synthetic hormone every day, we alter the biofeedback loop in the body that otherwise leads to the cyclical rise and fall of oestrogen and progesterone, which leads to ovulation, the release of an egg which can be fertilised, and then, if the egg is not fertilised, leading to menstruation. (2) When we are taking the pill we have a steady low level of hormones in circulation every day, rather than the natural cycles, the ups and downs, the ebbs and flows, of the natural menstrual cycle.
But a woman’s body is designed to ebb and flow, to cycle, to cleanse and clear, every month. And if we don’t allow and honour this natural rhythm, there can be consequences.
I took the pill from the ages of 17 to 35, and when I stopped, I was astonished at the difference in myself. I had thought I was just a miserable, moody person, and to my surprise and delight I found I was naturally light and joyful, and loved myself and life, without the synthetic hormones circulating through me. Most of us are on the pill from such a young age now that we don’t even know who we really are and how we really feel. We just think it is normal to feel low, even depressed and we settle for this, without questioning why we feel this way.
This is many years ago now, but young women I speak with today tell me much the same thing, that the pill seriously affects their moods and their sense of overall wellbeing. They just put up with this because they don’t know what else to do and they want to be able to have sex without falling pregnant.
If we are taking such a low dose of hormones that our body naturally makes anyway, why should this be the case?
The true purpose of periods
A woman’s body is designed to cleanse and clear every month. Our periods are a great blessing, for they allow us to release energies we have taken on during the month that do not serve us and to clear our bodies on a regular basis.
Our periods can serve as a moment to stop and reflect on how we have been living. If they are heavy and painful, they may show us that we have taken on too much, that we are not honouring our body deeply, and they offer us an understanding of that and an opportunity to move into the next cycle, living with a deeper level of love and care for ourselves.
Women are designed to cycle with nature. It is no coincidence that this periodic cycling occurs monthly, for it is naturally in rhythm with the moon. Our own personal cycles are naturally in sync with and reflective of the grander cycles within which we live, and they connect us to this grander rhythm of life.
We can override all of this beauty on offer for the sake of convenience and living life on our terms, but what are the consequences of this?
The consequences of overriding our natural periods
If we just keep taking the pill every day, and getting on with life in ignorance of our monthly cycles, so that we no longer ebb and flow and cycle with life, what happens to the energy that we would otherwise release every month? Energy is neither created or destroyed, so it has to go somewhere.
Energy that would otherwise be released during our monthly periods can build up in the body to the point where it may have to be released in another way, whether that be emotionally, or physically, and that may be in the form of a cyst, lump, tumour or other disease, for the body has to package up and clear whatever does not truly belong to it in some way. Whilst the pill itself can have side-effects, some of its effects may come from the energy we have taken on, that has not been released through the clearing that is offered by our periods.
The incidence of such conditions has been on the rise (3), and this may be reflective of the fact that many women are living in a much more ‘male’ and motion-driven way, and are no longer allowing themselves the natural monthly cycle of cleansing and clearing, which offers us a moment to stop and reflect on the way we have been living, to feel how this affects our bodies, and invites us to make true changes in our lives. This is to our own great detriment and, indeed affects all of us, for women being true to themselves supports men to be true to themselves too.
When we embrace the true purpose of periods again, that understanding will inform our choices around contraception and sexual health, so that the choices we make are honouring of and true for us, and therefore honouring of and true for all.
By Anne Malatt who has been a doctor for over 30 years and is a mother and grandmother, whose menstrual cycles and challenges with contraception are complete, but who is now witnessing and supporting them in her own daughters.
- Medical Observer online journal, “The switch from 21/7 to continuous oral contraception is long overdue“, Dr Terri Foran, 16 January 2018, retrieved 9th March 2019
- Hormonology, “How your hormones impact your moods, health and behavior“, retrieved 9th March 2019
- Gynaecological cancer statistics – Gynaecological cancer in Australia, retrieved 9th March 2019
Further Inspiration …
How we live as women impacts our periods, one woman explores life changes and their impact on her period
Not just an inconvenient bleed, ‘Do YOU keep an eye on your menstruation, or does it keep an eye on you?’
How we’ve been with our periods in the past, Angela explores her periods from youth to now