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Lybrel: Is no more periods a good idea?

Updated on May 24, 2007

Most of the roughly 12 million American women who take birth-control pills do so to prevent pregnancy. Others rely on hormonal contraceptives to curb acne or regulate their monthly periods.

The first birth-control pill meant to put a stop to women's monthly periods indefinitely recently won FDA approval. The form on birth control, called Lybrel, it's the first such pill to receive Food and Drug Administration approval for continuous use. When taken daily, this pill is said to halt women's menstrual periods indefinitely and prevent pregnancies.

"Women who use Lybrel would not have a scheduled menstrual period, but will most likely have unplanned, breakthrough, unscheduled bleeding or spotting," Dr. Daniel Shames, a deputy director in the FDA's drugs office. "The bleeding can last four to five days and may persist for a year." Women who take other low-dose pills have reported similar issues. This is said to reduce over time as your body becomes adjusted.

University of New Hampshire sociologist Jean Elson pointed to advantages for what she characterized as a small number of women who suffer extraordinarily during menstruation, but overall she said the pill left her with mixed feelings.

"For women in that situation, I certainly can understand the benefits of taking these kinds of medications, but for most women menstruation is a normal life event -- not a medical condition," University of New Hampshire sociologist Jean Elson "Why medicate away a normal life event if we're not sure of the long-term effects?"

I recently read the following speech from Jean Elson and it really left me thinking, I thought she had some great points to add and wanted to share it with you, I welcome your opinions on it:

"Menstrual manipulation appears to be another in a long line of attempts to medicalize women's natural biological life events. The process goes something like this: Some women have problems with a natural body function, like menstruation or menopause; a biochemical treatment is devised; these problems are generalized to include all women who experience that natural body function; and medical treatment is then marketed to all women," Elson says.

"The rationales for using extended-cycle birth control therapy to suppress menstruation include ‘hygiene mess,' embarrassment, expense, interference with athletic performance and ‘traveling problems.' I am certainly an advocate for making women's lives easier, but I question whether it's appropriate for women to ingest additional hormone medication for what are really social, rather than medical, problems," she says.

"Extended-cycle birth control therapy may have value for a small number of women who experience extraordinary menstrual problems. For most women, however, menstruation is a normal life event, not a medical condition," Elson says. "Employing hormones to curtail normal menstruation strikes me as a very odd mix of feminism and medical authority - women are offered the opportunity to control their own bodies, but what are the real implications?"

"Our cultural beliefs and social arrangements make menstruation more troublesome than it could be. Women would be spared embarrassment if they weren't taught that menstruation is dirty and shameful. They might not find their periods so inconvenient if schools and workplaces provided opportunities for people to rest. And rather than viewing monthly menstruation as a disability, we might celebrate it as symbolic of women's emancipation from the continual pregnancies that disabled earlier generations," she says.

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  • Maddie Ruud profile image

    Maddie Ruud 

    11 years ago from Oakland, CA

    This issue fascinates me, especially considering that amenorrhea (or loss of menstruation) is one of the primary symptoms of anorexia. Everything, including medicine, seems to be pushing us in that direction. Somehow, I'm not convinced that stripping us of our femininity is the right road to equality.

  • Jennifer Chait profile image

    Jennifer Chait 

    11 years ago

    Interesting, very. I always wonder about this because I hear many women talking about it. I've read so many op's on this topic and some keep saying -- periods are not necessary at all. But, I guess it comes down to why were we formed this way then. It seems unnatural to alter body events. At least to me. Of,course I don't agree with most technology -- choosing baby gender, anti bacterial soap, maybe I'm just behind the times. Good read.

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