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Embracing the Power of the Period

Chris Bobel is an associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston and the author of several books on the politics of menstruation. She urges women to reframe the way they see their periods and understand how they’re linked to overall health.

Chris Bobel

Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, University of Massachusetts

What questions should women ask their doctors annually in regards to their menstrual and reproductive health?

Genital, sexual and reproductive health is an essential topic to discuss with your clinician regardless of your gender identity or menstrual status. Some health experts refer to the menstrual cycle as the “fifth vital sign,” alongside heartbeat, respiration, temperature and blood pressure, because menstrual health is a window into overall health. So insist your clinician tunes into how your cycle works. And before you agree to a birth control method, ask lots of questions about possible short and long term side effects. You deserve both convenience and safety.

What are some steps women should take to improve their reproductive and menstrual health?

Learn to be body literate. Understand your fertility as well as your menstruation. Chart your cycle on paper or with an app to learn your own rhythms. And keep doing it because cycles change as we age. Consider using reusable pads, cups or absorbent underwear; they may help you understand your flow better and they are better for the planet.

Why is it important for women to speak up about their menstruation and/or reproductive issues?

When we resist the menstrual mandate of shame, silence and secrecy, we see our bodies as sites of power, pleasure and potential — not problems to be fixed by buying stuff. Honest talk not only normalizes menstruation but it also sets in motion smart and confident decision- making about a range of body experiences like having sex, giving birth, breastfeeding, treating illness and more. Refusing body shame is a radical act.

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