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Dearest Monthlies, 

Welcome to Issue #9 of The Monthly. In this month’s issue we will be sharing a great tutorial on how to make your very own moon phase garland, discuss the rhetoric of menstrual “sanitation”, share a beautiful piece of art from textile artist Mayra Alpizar, answer a reader’s question about the Fertility Awareness Method, and introduce our readers to FAM teacher and period-positive activist Ashley Hartman Annis. It’s a jam-packed issue and we hope you enjoy! 

Happy Monthly,
The Red Rebels

Black Moon


I’ve often used the phrase “once in a Blue Moon” and I’ll bet you have, too. It is an expression often used to highlight the rarity of an event. It wasn’t until recently I actually learned where the expression comes from. When a full moon occurs twice in one month the second full moon is known as the elusive Blue Moon. Sadly, it has nothing to do with the moon’s color. Blue Moons happen about once every 2.7 years — the next one won’t occur until January 31, 2018, so mark your calendars. 

Recently, I learned of another astronomical phenomenon that involves the moon and it occurs tonight: the enchnting Black Moon. Even more rare than a Blue Moon, a Black Moon occurs when two new moons fall in the same calendar month. To make this Black Moon even more rare, it will only occur in the Western Hemisphere. Countries in the Eastern Hemisphere will officially be in October by the time the new moon rises in the West (8:11 p.m. EDT). The next time the Western Hemisphere will experience a Black Moon will be in July of 2019. 

According to Pagan rituals, a Black Moon is said to give powerful “success” energies to new projects, ventures or relationships. It is also said that the Black Moon is an ideal time for deep introspection where the hidden self can come out to be healed. However you choose to observe this rare Black Moon, we wish you a peaceful evening. As the cosmos would have it, we have just the ritual for that...

Moon Ritual 


In period-positive circles we often discuss the power the moon has on our cycles. It has been postulated that in the pre-industrial world women’s cycles would sync up with the phases of the moon (ovulating on the full moon and menstruating on the new moon). However, with the increase in artificial light and other environmental influences some women’s cycles have run amok. There is even a new movement known as “lunaception” that teaches women how to re-sync their cycles with the phases of the moon. 

Aside from being the prefect metaphor for a woman’s cycle, the moon is revered in many religions and cultures. Honored with festivals and rituals, the moon is an important part of our life here on earth. For this month’s moon ritual I thought it would be fun to post a project that pays homage to the amazing and beautiful moon cycle. The blog A Beautiful Mess has a great tutorial on how to make your very own moon phase garland, the perfect piece for any home that honors the power and beauty of the moon. Plus, what a great project to make for tonight’s Black Moon…have fun!

Taboo Trashing


First Kotex Ad, January 1921
 

Part of the copy reads: 

"New but tried and proved, Kotex enters universal service from a romantic background. For, although a women's article, it started as Cellucotton—a wonderful sanitary absorbent which science perfected for use of our men and allied soldiers wounded in France. With peace came an idea suggested in letters from nurses in France, regarding a new use for this wonderful absorbent, and early in 1919 our laboratory made the first sanitary pads of Cellucotton enclosed in gauze and placed them on sale in various cities"


Possibly the most stressed aspect of menstruation is the "sanitary" issue. It has become such an ingrained concept in the discussion of menstruation that even menstrual activists continue to use the word. Sanitary, by definition, is the act of keeping something pure, clean and free of disease. This implies that menstruation is impure, dirty and disease ridden if the proper precautions are not taken. Referring to menstrual care products as “sanitary” further perpetuates the stereotypes and stigmas that influence and affect the lives and health of girls. 

How we got here

The menstrual sanitation movement came about in the late 19th century with the pathologizing of the menstrual cycle. Gynecology and obstetrics were newly created medical fields that applied the same methods of other fields to the female body. Therefore, menstruation was often viewed as an "illness" that needed to be cautiously cared for. Something that needed to be "sanitized." This meant, in the eyes of medical professionals, homemade menstrual care products were no longer safe.

As a remedy, doctors began to send their female patients home with wads of gauze and bandages to catch their flow - bandages for a wound. Soon to follow was a new consumer market created solely to manufacture and sell menstrual “first aid” to women and girls - otherwise known as the first "sanitary napkins." Some even consider this the beginning of the relationship between medicine and consumerism. 

With scientific and medical endorsements of “sanitary” napkins, companies like Kotex created advertisements, like the one above, that validated the necessity for new sanitary menstrual practices and to sell their products. In its first marketing campaign in 1921, Kotex successfully branded itself the “new way” of caring for a menstruating body and demonized the “old way” of managing menstruation. It wasn't long before women and girls stopped using homemade cloth pads in exchange for manufactured, disposable "sanitary napkins." 

The Ripple Effect

For those who could afford it, disposable sanitary napkins began to grow in popularity, almost as if being able to purchase them was a sign of status. With increased use of disposable menstrual products, women and girls became further removed from their menstrual bodies. No longer needing to wash their cloth pads, women and girls were free from having to touch their blood. And with the invention of the applicator tampon in 1931, women and girls no longer need to touch their own bodies.

When women used cloth pads it allowed them to monitor their cycles more closely. They were able to recognize any changes in their menstruation from month to month because they intimately understood their blood flow. Now, we can use a tampon with an applicator and toss it in the garbage without ever having to look at it. We can pretend our periods don't even happen. 

Throughout history, menstrual taboos have evolved and changed but they are still very much a part of our society - in the United States and around the world. Aside from the fact that the use of disposable products expose women and girls to chemicals and toxins, "sanitary" products also widen the menstruation/body literacy divide and validate menstrual stigma.

So, from now on, let's drop the notion that menstrual care products are "sanitary", do away with the idea that menstruation is an illness, get comfortable with the fact that it's OK to touch our menstrual blood, and shut-down any taboos that tell us our periods are "dirty", "gross", or worst of all, "unsanitary."

Bloody Good Art
 


"Altar"

Applique and embroidery by Mayra Alpizar

“When I stopped menstruating I felt much nostalgia and sadness. I believe that happens to all women. We know that we are no longer fertile and that we closed that beautiful cycle of life - it was then that I conceived this work.”

Mayra Alpizar is a Cuban textile artist currently living in Spain. During her career Mayra has  studied at the National Art School in Havana and worked there as a professor of Fine Arts at the University of Matanzas. Rather than using traditional fine art mediums like paint, pencils or clay to convey her inspirations, Mayra uses fabric and tread. She has shown her work in over 20 group and nearly 10 individual exhibitions. Mayra has been the recipient of first prize in painting by TALKS Arts Hall Brigade and special prize in fine arts by Provincial Youth Fine Arts Hall, among others. Her works are currently held by private collectors in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the United States. 


 

Is there anyone who shouldn’t use the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) of birth control? 

Claire N. 
Minneapolis, MN 

This is an excellent question about what can be considered a highly controversial topic. The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) is one of the most empowering, safe and natural methods of birth control for women. FAM works by the user learning to chart and discern their body’s natural signs of ovulation (basal body temperature, cervical fluid and cervical position). Over time, a woman can learn to predict when ovulation will occur and then abstain from sexual intercourse during that time in her cycle, or use a barrier method, in order to avoid pregnancy. Used consistently and correctly, FAM has a near 97% success rate over the course of a year. With "typical use" FAM has a near 85% success rate over the course of a year.

There are many benefits to using FAM as a birth control method:

  • It is free to use (minus the cost of a thermometer)
  • Helps increase body-literacy and comfort
  • Hormone-free
  • No side-effects
  • Can help identify hormonal imbalances like PCOS/MRS
  • Can be used to achieve pregnancy

It is important, however, we are cautious not to place FAM on a pedestal over all forms of birth control because we risk inadvertently judging, demonizing and alienating women who choose other methods. With that said, highly recommend tracking your cycles, even if you don’t plan to use it as your primary birth control method. Your fertility signs can offer great insight into your overall health and wellness, can help you become more empowered in your healthcare decisions and save you from experiencing the growing number of serious side effects from hormonal birth control. Yet, there are a few situations in which it might be difficult to utilize the FAM method for birth control.

Here is a list of situations that might make utilizing FAM as your primary method of birth control challenging:

  • If you are within 2 years of menarche - It is not uncommon to experience irregular cycles during the first few years of menstruation. Because of this, it can be challenging to pinpoint when you may ovulate. 
  • If you cannot risk an unplanned pregnancy - While some unplanned pregnancies are welcomed, some are not. If you are not in a position to risk pregnancy due to age, income, relationship status, lack of access to healthcare facilities, etc., I would suggest using a non-hormonal backup method (i.e. male/female condoms, Copper -T IUD, diaphragm or cervical sponge).  
  • If you have more than one sexual partner - While you can still track your fertility signs (I recommend you do), I highly advise you use a barrier method of birth control (male or female condom) to protect against STI’s.
  • If you work erratic schedules - Whether you are a student, a freelancer, an ER doctor or a cocktail waitress, constant changes in your sleep patterns will make it very challenging to detect an ovulation pattern in your charts.
  • If you have recently stopped using a hormonal birth control method - It can take your body up to a year (or more) to re-regulate after stopping use of hormonal birth control methods. During that time your cycles may be unpredictable and can make it difficult to predict ovulation.
  • If you have a partner who is unwilling to participate or if you experience intimate partner violence and spousal rape* - FAM is predicated on a period of abstention or use of barrier method in order to avoid pregnancy. This must be heeded by both partners. 
  • Women with hormonal imbalances like PCOS/MRS - Consistent hormonal fluctuations due to endocrine disorders like PCOS/MRS can make it very difficult to detect ovulation patterns which makes it very challenging to predict if/when you ovulate. However, charting is a great way to better understand your PCOS/MRS or hormonal imbalance, just make sure to use a secondary birth control method. 
  • Women who are unwilling or unable to commit to the method - FAM is about precision. You must take your temperature at the same time every day after at least four consecutive hours of sleep, be comfortable inserting a finger into your vagina to feel your cervix and fluids and be willing to abstain from sexual intercourse or use a barrier method for up to 10 days each cycle. This is a commitment not every woman is willing to make. In that case, it is best to choose a method of birth control that is right for you. 

*If you are in immediate danger please call 9-1-1

If you or someone you know is experiencing intimate partner violence or spousal rape, please know there are organizations out there to help and support you. For anonymous, confidential and 24/7 support please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline:

1.800.799.SAFE (7233) 1.800.787.3224 (TTY)

Further Reading

Need to Learn About Everything Period? There’s a Game for That

Imagine you are 11 again. You have your sleeping bag under your arm, your cool new jammies in your overnight bag and you are all set to head over to your bestie’s house for a sleepover. You and your friends sit and listen to music, gush about your latest crushes and binge on soda and junk food. Conversation begins to wane so someone throws out the idea of playing everyone’s favorite board game, The Period Game: Learn How to Go With the Flow, where you and your friends turn a giant ovary…

Meeting Daysy: First Impressions Of A Fertility Monitor

I’ve never been one to get all excited about the latest technological gadgets. It took me forever to get an iPhone and my laptop is six years old (and still works great by the way thank you!). So when I first heard about Daysy a year or so ago I wasn’t particularly interested. I was familiar with the fertility awareness method by then and didn’t understand the necessity of adding a specialized piece of technology to the process. But as the months went by I continued to see articles and reviews…

Know Your Flow: What Your Period Says About Your Hormones

Symptoms experienced at different points of the cycle can tell us A LOT about our hormones and hormonal balance (or imbalance). The bleeding days of our period alone are packed with clues about our health, and one indicator alone is really all we need to look at: our menstrual blood…

Meet the Red Rebels

Ashley Hartman Annis, Fertility Awareness Instructor and Period-Positive Advocate

As a women and gender studies student and a fertility awareness teacher, the majority of my brain space on any given day is taken up by vaginas, reproductive justice, menstrual cups, anti-patriarchy/classism/racism/ablism/homophobic arguments, cervical fluid, birth control, and/or the social construction of sex. And did I mention vaginas?

Many of these passions have developed only over the last several years, but in some ways I’ve been on this path for a very long time. In 4th grade, for instance, my favorite t-shirt featured a softball appearing to burst through the shirt underneath the phrase: throw like a girl doesn’t mean what it used to, challenging the idea that “throwing like a girl” doesn’t mean throwing badly. These small moments of resistance throughout my adolescence developed into a more focused mission in my twenties: educate people, especially those with vaginas, about the menstrual cycle, sexuality, birth control, and empowerment.  

Right now, and for the past (almost) 4 years, my menstrual cycle advocacy involves teaching private classes on menstrual cycle charting for birth control. I love these classes. Women contact me from all over the country and tell me about their birth control and sexuality journey. I get to listen, I get to validate, and then I get to show these women what their body does every single month (information that we really should be given much earlier in our cycling lives) and how this transformational information can actually help them prevent an unwanted pregnancy. I get to tell them that cervical fluid is healthy, that the stretchy “stuff” on the toilet paper is totally normal, that their cycle is something amazing and, by extension, they are amazing, too.

This has not been an easy journey. On the one hand, the fertility awareness method (FAM) is not respected by most doctors and other health professionals. They think it’s too complicated to learn, they think it’s too simplistic to actually work (who spots a contradiction?), and they are deeply entrenched in a system that promotes pharmaceuticals (read: $$$) over self-knowledge and self-empowerment, especially when it comes to women, and especially when it comes to women’s sexuality. Additionally, because I am constantly talking about sexuality and gender, my own journey of sexual self-discovery and self-confidence has been brought to the fore. I’ve experienced many highs and lows as I try to empower other women while sometimes feeling disempowered myself.

However, as I round the bend into my thirties (a number that I actually look forward to, a number that makes me feel like a bad-ass) I feel a great sense of opening and possibility. I am about to (finally) finish my bachelors degree, and I have new ideas about what my advocacy and activism work will look like. I feel a great sense of belonging and ownership to Madison, WI where I live, and hope to reach out more in this community. I feel the desire to go deeper emotionally with my students, and am thinking about pursing counseling for women who want to use menstrual cycle education as a path to empowerment and self-knowledge. There’s also the possibility of opening a bookstore and stocking the shelves with period-positive, sex-positive material (among other things), inviting people into a safe space of learning and growing.

Regardless what actually manifests, my period-positive perspective and the insights I’ve gained from it will continue to influence me. Like the blood stain on my favorite cloth pad, this isn’t going away. 

Visit Ashley Hartman Annis's website
Instagram: @ashleyhartmanannis

We encourage you to get the most out of your subscription by contributing to The Monthly’s content. Have a question you want to ask? Know an amazing period-positive artist? Want to share a story about your experiences as a menstruating person? We want to hear from you!

Feel free to send us an email, tweet us, tag us on Instagram or message us on Facebook. We look forward to sharing this space with you and building our community together. 

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The Monthly is curated by Cycledork contributor Amy Sutherland






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