No matter why a woman is seeing a doctor—be it for a headache or for a broken toe—she can reliably expect to be asked the date of her last period within the first minute of her consultation. Because of the confused looks I get when I reply with “May 2012,” I started prefacing my answer with an explanation that I have a Mirena IUD, an intra-uterine device used for birth control that lessens periods for some women and eliminates them completely for others.
I fall into the latter category. Though most nurses and doctors move along after this response, a nurse recently looked at me in undisguised disapproval and asked, “But what about when you want children?” I told her that I would take it out when I want children. “But doesn’t it feel unnatural to not have a period?” she asked. I told her it feels great to not have a period. She shook her head and said, “Just seems strange to have a foreign object in your body like that.” I replied, “Yeah, like a baby.” She stopped asking questions at that point.
Though this particular nurse was especially harsh, she is hardly alone in her suspicion of birth-control methods that prevent women from monthly bleeding. Friends ask if I am constantly worried that I’m pregnant. Men I am not even exclusively dating wonder if I worry about infertility. The word “unnatural” comes up often. A brief look at the language used to talk about menstruation reflects how closely it’s tied to the concept of female identity. “You’re becoming a woman!” people exclaim to adolescents experiencing their periods for the first time. “Feminine products” is the euphemism of choice for pads and tampons at the drugstore though there are plenty of aisles worth of feminine-coded products available—razors, makeup, and shampoos marketed toward women with the design of helping them look “feminine.” (This focus on the “femininity” of periods also completely ignores the existence of trans men who menstruate.) All of these products have the purpose of eliminating or disguising those functions of the body that have been deemed “unfeminine” like growing body hair and sweating, just as menstrual products are designed to make the period as undetectable as possible. Periods can be painful and messy, and while they are considered a marker of female identity, there are also social pressures to keep them invisible on account of their “ick” factor. So there are some who find eliminating periods altogether to be their best option.