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The social and cultural meanings of menstrual suppression Repta, Robin Ashley

Abstract

This study investigated how women interpret and experience menstrual suppression, the long-term limiting of women's menstrual cycles using hormonal interventions such as oral contraceptives (birth control pills) or Depo-Provera injections. Asserting that monthly menstruation is detrimental to both women's health and their lifestyles, some physicians and health care professionals are recommending menstrual suppression to women. Critics argue that menstrual suppression is unhealthy and has the potential to harm women physically, emotionally, and psychologically, as menstruation is commonly regarded as a key aspect of being female (Chrisler, 2000). To date, the research on menstrual suppression includes clinical studies and psychological investigations of women's knowledge and openness to menstrual suppression. However, the existing research has not investigated the relationships between women's feelings about their bodies, their senses of femininity and sexuality, their lived menstrual cycle experiences, and their perceptions of menstrual suppression. Building on the extant research, this study used in-depth interviews with 12 women aged 18 to 36 to examine the meanings that women give to menstruation and menstrual suppression. My findings suggest that women's experiences and perceptions of menstrual suppression are complex and bound up with issues of sexuality, femininity, body image, and socialization. The majority of the women described menstruation as a nuisance, embarrassing, "gross", and also as a marker of womanhood. The women also argued that Western culture promoted negative views of menstruation, and they described how they made sense of these menstrual taboos. The women maintained that they would consider menstrual suppression for reasons of convenience, to please their sexual partners, and to feel more positively about their bodies. Reasons to avoid suppressing menstruation included fears about compromising one's health, worries about altering the "natural" menstrual cycle, and uneasiness with pharmaceutical products in general. The findings are discussed in relation to feminist theorizing about menstrual culture and body work. The findings from my research underscore the need for more thorough clinical research on menstrual suppression. As menstrual suppression continues to be recommended to women as a healthier option than monthly menstruation, it is imperative that we understand the effects of menstrual suppression on women's health and lives.

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