New Birth Control Products Block Periods
Women have long been manipulating hormonal contraceptives to skip or block menstrual periods. For young women with a world of choices, even that monthly curse, the menstrual period, is optional.
Thanks to birth control pills and other hormonal contraceptives, a growing number of women are taking the path chosen by 22-year-old Stephanie Sardinha.
She hasn't had a period since she was 17.
"It's really one of the best things I've ever done," she says.
A college student and retail worker in Lisbon Falls, Maine, Sardinha uses Nuvaring, a vaginal contraceptive ring. After the hormones run out in three weeks, she replaces the ring right away instead of following instructions to leave the ring out for a week to allow bleeding. She says it has been great for her marriage, preventing monthly crankiness and improving her sex life.
"I would never go back," said Sardinha, who got the idea from her aunt, a nurse practitioner.
Using the pill or other contraceptives to block periods is becoming more popular, particularly among young women and those entering menopause, doctors say.
"I have a ton of young girls in college who are doing this," says Dr. Mindy Wiser-Estin, a gynecologist in Little Silver, N.J., who did it herself for years. "There's no reason you need a period."
Such medical jury-rigging soon will be unnecessary. Already, the Seasonale birth control pill limits periods to four a year. The first continuous-use birth control pill, Lybrel, likely will soon be on the U.S. market and drug companies are lining up other ways to limit or eliminate the period.
Most doctors say they don't think suppressing menstruation is riskier than regular long-term birth control use, and one survey found a majority have prescribed contraception to prevent periods. Women have been using the pill for nearly half a century without significant problems, but some doctors want more research on long-term use.
The new methods should be popular. A non-scientific Web survey for the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals found at least two-thirds of respondents are bothered by fatigue, heavy bleeding, "really bad cramps" and even anger. Nearly half said they would like to have no period at all or decide when to have one.
For some women, periods can cause debilitating pain and more serious problems.
Two recent national surveys found about 1 in 5 women have used oral contraceptives to stop or skip their period.
"If you're choosing contraception, then there's not a lot of point to having periods," says Dr. Leslie Miller, a University of Washington-Seattle researcher and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology whose Web site, noperiod.com, explains the option. She points out women on hormonal contraception don't have real periods anyway, just withdrawal bleeding during the break from the hormone progestin.
Still, surveys also show most women consider monthly periods normal. Small wonder: Girls learn early on that menstruation is a sign of fertility and femininity, making its onset an eagerly awaited rite of passage.
The period is "way over-romanticized," says Linda Gordon, a New York University professor specializing in women's history and the history of sexuality.
"It doesn't take long for women to go from being excited about having a period to feeling it's a pain in the neck," said Gordon, author of "The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America."
She says caution is needed because there's not enough data on long-term consequences of using hormones continuously. Gordon notes menopausal women for years were told that hormone drugs would keep them young ?until research uncovered unexpected risks.