Your period is coming up and you’ve planned yourself a weekend in isolation under the covers, eating cake while watching TV shows about cake. Then you get a text from Greg—the dreamy dude from the farmer’s market you’ve been dating for a few weeks. His best friend was supposed to get married this weekend but the bride bailed and he’s giving his nonrefundable honeymoon tickets to Bali away. Any chance you’d want to go? All expenses paid? No pressure if you don’t. NBD. No strings attached.
Except tampon strings, you think to yourself. You text Greg back: “Sure, sounds fun. I’m breezy.” And then you panic.
You just skipped your period last month (for something way less fun than this, dammit) by transitioning into the next pack of birth control without heeding the placebo pill week, so this month might be a gusher. And you skipped it a few months ago for that reality dance show audition. That’s a lot of skipped period and now you’re wondering if you’re throwing your fragile reproductive system into disharmony because of all the inconsistencies. You'll need that reproductive system, after all, if this thing with Greg works out.
Is it safe to skip your period?
Yes, woman. Shut that shit down.
It’s 100 percent safe to skip your period for your getaway, says Sophia Yen, clinical associate professor of adolescent medicine at Stanford Medical School. In fact, she thinks it’s something women should be doing as much as possible.
“This ‘incessant menstruation’ is actually a modern construct,” Yen says, explaining that because women are having fewer children overall and having them later in life, we’re having more periods than we ever have in history.
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And if you’re already on birth control pills, that “period” that you’re expecting during your placebo pill week isn’t even an actual period. It’s withdrawal bleeding from coming off the hormone in the pill. The week of bleeding is actually a special design feature by pill co-creator John Rock. There’s no medical reason for it, but he thought the Catholic Church would be more cool with women taking it if they still bled every month. Thanks for that, John. Really.
Yen wants to educate women that their periods can be considered optional not just for weekend getaways but for the rest of your life, saying that long-term use of the pill (whether you're skipping the placebo week or not) can reduce rates of ovarian and endometrial cancer, helps prevent anemia, and improves women’s overall quality of life.
There was some research that came out in 2017 that reported a connection between the birth control pill and breast cancer, but the research did not take into consideration crucial factors that could be associated with breast cancer (lifestyle of participants, for example). “The study found only an association, and not causal proof you might obtain from a randomized controlled trial,” the New York Times reported. Yen points out that going through pregnancy has been shown to act as a protective factor against breast cancer, so naturally if one is taking birth control and not getting pregnant, they’re going to miss out on that protective factor as well—but that’s not the pill’s fault.
But isn’t skipping your period bad for your fertility?
“It does not affect your fertility in any way,” Yen says. She adds that most women who find they are infertile after coming off the pill didn’t realize they were already infertile before they started it, usually due to a condition called PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome). “A lot of women get on [the pill] young, or they developed [PCOS] while using the pill, so they come off the pill and can’t get pregnant and they blame the pill, when all along they had PCOS.”
What’s the best way to safely skip your period?
If you’re already on birth control, it’s easy to keep the red tide at bay. Just skip the sugar pills coming up in your current pack and move straight on to the hormones in next month’s pack.
If you're not on the pill, Yen says you still have multiple alternate emergency escape routes from the Lady in Red. First, she recommends you contact your gynecologist to see if you can get a prescription to start birth control pills right away. If you’re not ready to take the long-term plunge into freedom from menstruation, Yen says another option is to ask your doc for a progesterone-only pill (Norethindrone). “You could take it in high doses three times a day for five days, for weddings or special events.” (And by the way, a more long-lead option is the hormonal IUD, which for some women reduces or entirely stops monthly bleeding.)
If you just want to lessen the intensity of your flow, there's an over-the-counter option: “First-line treatment that women can try is 600 milligrams of ibuprofen three times a day with food for up to five days for heavy bleeding. It’s affecting Prostaglandin E in your uterus and causing it to not bleed as much. It can decrease the bleeding 30 percent,” Yen says.
What about natural methods of stopping your periods?
Apple Cider Vinegar? That one works for everything right? Or, I’ve heard spicy foods can delay your period, maybe? Or lots of gelatin? Someone said gelatin? Chia seed? Mango Bark? La Croix?
“No,” Yen says.
Just skip your period whenever you want? That cannot be a thing. Should we double check with somebody?
David Zepeda is an OB/GYN at The Women’s Specialists of Houston practice at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women. He concurs that it’s indeed a thing.
“It’s perfectly safe," he says of being on the pill, whether you take the placebo week or not. "All you’re doing is preventing ovulation, and thereby preventing the growth of the lining of the uterus that can cause bleeding. The uterus is not being affected at all like this. It only responds to the hormone stimulation that you give it. If you have a cessation of ovulation, the uterus is just dormant.”
So pretty much all the suffering you’ve gone through over periods your entire life has been completely unnecessary?
Pretty much. Have fun in Bali.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.