Period Pain Must Be Taken Seriously — But It Also Shouldn’t Define Us

Elizabeth Yuko
Feb 23, 2016 · 6 min read

Welcome to the ‘period paradox.’

II t’s easy to view stories that treat menstruation as a serious issue — be it around funding for period-pain research or paid menstrual-leave programs in China — as wholly positive. After all, we live in a world where children grow up thinking menstrual blood is blue, legislators are silenced for using the word “vagina” during session, and, from a young age, we’re taught to speak about periods in euphemisms (“ladies don’t discuss that time of the month”). Judy Blume’s classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was published 46 years ago, but still serves as “Periods 101” for many girls — a testament not only to the timelessness of her writing, but also to how little this discussion has progressed over the past few decades.

All Pain, No Gain

Our culture of shame has enabled the medical community to dismiss what is, for many, the very real and even debilitating issue of period pain. Up to 90% of people who menstruate experience some type of menstrual pain, with about 20–25% experiencing moderate to severe pain. Yet all too often, doctors don’t prescribe or suggest anything beyond taking an extra dose of ibuprofen to treat symptoms of menstruation. The other two commonly offered remedies — the oral contraceptive pill or IUD — may alleviate severe pain for many, but don’t work for everyone; for some people, there are simply no effective treatments. And even if you are one of the lucky ones who respond well to hormonal adjustments, there is no guarantee that your insurance company will cover your “birth control” — regardless of its intended purpose. Surgery is one possible treatment for endometriosis — a condition where tissue similar to uterine lining grows outside of the uterus, resulting in severe pain — but for many of the 176 million people worldwide who suffer from the condition, even surgery does not alleviate the pain.

Up to 90% of people who menstruate experience some type of menstrual pain, with about 20–25% experiencing moderate to severe pain.

You Are Dismissed

There are myriad examples of our culture dismissing women outright because of their periods. The most egregious recent example of this was, of course, Donald Trump rebuffing Megyn Kelly’s debate questioning of him by remarking, “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” But the list hardly ends there. Menstrual symptoms have been used to justify keeping women out of everything from the military to the Supreme Court to the Oval Office. Being a complex, multifaceted biological process and something that affects most women at some stage in their lives, periods have been used as a lazy means of systemic oppression — an easy way to automatically disqualify people who menstruate from all manners of ranks and positions.

The Establishment

The conversation is much more interesting when everyone has…

Elizabeth Yuko

Written by

Health/Sex Editor @SheKnows | Adj. Prof. of Ethics @FordhamNYC | Bylines @NYTimes @TheAtlantic @WashingtonPost @RollingStone @MsMagazine @Salon @ESTBLSHMNT

The Establishment

The conversation is much more interesting when everyone has a voice. Media funded and run by women; new content daily.

Elizabeth Yuko

Written by

Health/Sex Editor @SheKnows | Adj. Prof. of Ethics @FordhamNYC | Bylines @NYTimes @TheAtlantic @WashingtonPost @RollingStone @MsMagazine @Salon @ESTBLSHMNT

The Establishment

The conversation is much more interesting when everyone has a voice. Media funded and run by women; new content daily.

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