It’s pretty obvious that women are different to men. But even though we understand that women’s bodies are very different when compared to men, the male body is the “standard” that our healthcare system is based on. For example, it is standard practice for new drugs entering the market to be tested exclusively on men (or even male rats in animal testing). Testing specifically on women would add too much variability (so they say) so they just don’t do it. Outside of those years when women are actively reproducing, i.e. pregnant or breastfeeding, our fertility isn’t really considered to be that important.
Menstruation is very much considered to be a burden that is unnatural and inconvenient. To the point now that menstrual suppression, (taking hormonal contraceptives to suppress the natural menstrual cycle) is routinely recommended by physicians for pretty much any period related concern that a woman presents with. The underlying assumption of these practices is that the ovulatory cycle and the menstrual cycle do not play a significant role in women’s physiology unless we’re trying to conceive.
In his book “Is Menstruation Obsolete?” Elsimar Coutinho argues that “regular monthly menstruation is not the “natural” state of women, and it actually places women at risk of several medical conditions of varying severity.” He goes on to say that menstrual suppression by way of continuous hormonal contraceptive use has “remarkable health advantages” for women. 
He argues that regular menstruation is not only unnecessary but unnatural. According to his logic, women were historically pregnant or breastfeeding for the majority of their lives and therefore “modern women” are in a sense going against nature by delaying pregnancy and having fewer children. The solution that he proposes is for women to use hormones to suppress their cycles indefinitely. Did I mention that he was the creator of Depo-Provera?
Although this viewpoint may seem extreme when you look at the modern medical practices that govern how women are treated for period related issues modern doctors are actually following this exact ideology when it comes to the treatment of their female patients.
Our current medical system was built on a foundation and an assumption about how the human body works. The male human body to be specific. When experiments are done, when drugs are tested, and when protocols are developed they are developed based on the “standard” male body. Since doctors aren’t really sure why women menstruate in the first place the consensus seems to be that it has no purpose, so why not get rid of it all together?
Except that women aren’t men, and our bodies don’t work the same way that men’s bodies do. Our reproductive organs and our hormone cycles are exactly what makes us different. Our hormones govern how our bodies grow and mature during puberty and even in the womb. Our sex hormone cycle regulates at least 150 different bodily processes including our endocrine system, our immune system, our sensitivity to pain, the way we process, assimilate, and store vitamins, our sex drive, our energy levels, and much more. 
I bring this up because women are being sold on the idea that our menstrual cycles are optional. That it makes no difference whether we menstruate or not. If you had the opportunity to listen to last Friday’s podcast episode with Colleen Flowers, Colleen talks about the important role that the menstrual cycle plays in a woman’s health. A woman’s menstrual cycle is so central to a woman’s overall health that any disruptions in her health status often show up right there in her menstrual cycle. To the point that a woman can use her menstrual cycle as a diagnostic tool to identify specific health concerns.
When women chart their cycles using the Fertility Awareness Method they gain access to essential information about their health and fertility. In some of the most extreme examples, women have been able to identify cervical cancer in the early stages because they were able to detect abnormal changes in the quality of their cervical mucus production by charting their cycles. Many women have been able to identify thyroid conditions because they observed subtle abnormalities in their temperatures, and of course, women are easily able to identify menstrual irregularities like anovulation and PCOS by tracking their cycles and observing irregular ovulation patterns or the lack of ovulation altogether.
There is one important point that I want to make about “periods”. Periods are the visual marker of a much more significant event. Ovulation. Without ovulation, there is never true menstruation. It’s interesting that so much focus is put on periods. Probably because of the bleeding part. Since men don’t bleed in this way, and since men are the “standard model” that we are compared to, menstruation must be problematic. There must be something wrong with it, and it must not serve a purpose. Except, that as Paula S Derry very eloquently puts it:
We do know that menstruation is what naturally occurs when women don’t become pregnant, and that a menstruating woman is a healthy, probably fertile, woman—whereas unhealthy, malnourished, or massively stressed women are more likely to skip periods.Even if prolonged monthly menstruation were unnatural and unhealthy, this would not prove that suppressing menstruation is better. Menstrual suppression itself is unnatural. 
It is so interesting and crazy to me that a “fertility expert” can actually argue that a completely natural process that fully HALF of the global population experiences on a regular basis could be labelled as unnatural, and an artificial, man-made, synthetic hormone replacement therapy can be suggested in its place as if that were more of a natural solution for women.
Periods have been dismissed as an inconvenience, and somehow seen as separate to one’s health and well being. Which brings me to my initial point. Women aren’t actually men. Men don’t have regular menstrual cycles, but healthy women actually do. If a woman isn’t menstruating or ovulating regularly and she hasn’t yet hit menopause, it indicates that she has some sort of health problem. Healthy menstrual cycles are an important marker of a woman’s health, and they are not only relevant to women who are trying to conceive.
We need to stop pretending that our reproductive organs are only important for the few years that we plan to have children and start realizing the important role that our reproductive organs and hormone cycles play in our everyday life.
It is just as important for women who never plan on having any children to have healthy menstrual cycles as it is for women who do want children at some point. Our bodies are different to male bodies. You can’t separate our fertility from our health because they go hand in hand. It is part of the package. How about we start removing everyone’s left pinky finger because some scientist says we don’t really need it? Ridiculous right?
The arrogance and ignorance of our current medical system are apparent in the application of hormonal birth control as a blanket “solution” for every possible menstrual cycle related health concern. This is the exact reason why women are starting to seek medical attention from health practitioners who seek to help solve period problems by getting at the root causes of hormonal imbalance. It is becoming more and more obvious that you can’t shut down a woman’s ovaries without it having a detrimental impact on her overall health and fertility to some extent.
So what are your thoughts on menstrual suppression? Do you think there is a place for it when women are struggling with period problems?
Let me know in the comments below!
1. Is Menstruation Obsolete? | How suppressing menstruation can help women who suffer from anemia, endometriosis or PMS | Elsimar M Coutinho
2. Sweetening the Pill: or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control | Holly Grigg-Spall
3. Is Menstruation Obsolete? | Personal View | Paula S Derry
Agree completely! It’s the same in the uk. After I came off the pill I was waiting for my periods to normalise before ‘trying’ for a baby. For the first 5or so months they did. Then BAM no period for 6months! I was losing my mind. Went to the doctor to be told that it’s a shame I was trying to get pregnant or she would put me on the pill. When I said that it wouldn’t solve my issue she agreed! She pushed to try and send me to a fertility expert to try and get me pregnant! When I said no she was like, I don’t understand, if you don’t want to get pregnant go on the pill. There is no in between. Periods are only used to ‘get pregnant’ and issues are only addressed with the intention of getting me pregnant. I didn’t feel comfortable forcing a baby into a body that wasn’t right (there was obviously a reason I wasn’t menstruating).