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Monday, May 21, 2007
So Sonja recently wrote a blog post in which she raised the question of cultural perceptions of a women's menstrual cycles. And before the men run to hide from the "TMI" post, let me say that that reaction is exactly what was being address and so stick around and deal.

In this post, Sonja discusses how "for centuries men have found women’s menstrual blood and the products they use to deal with it unclean and the butt of jokes." She writes, "Without menstrual blood, we would not have the human race for much longer. It is that monthly cleansing of the womb that allows pregnancy and prolonging our species. It’s high time we acknowledged that far from being unclean and a joke, it is what allows us to be and continue being. It is what makes us intensely feminine, female and other and beautiful."

Reading her thoughts there made me reflect on the general response I receive from guys regarding specifically female issues. They freak out and start making jokes (an immature response when the situation doesn't call for them) when the topic of menstrual cycles, breastfeeding, childbirth, or even bras are brought up. Why is this?

On top of that as a woman, I often find myself being self conscious about such things as well. I remember how in jr. high how it was the ultimate embarrassment for a guy to see a pad in your purse, but even now such items are treated with the secrecy of an illicit drug deal. We do our best to disguise "our time of month" (or what ever other euphemism you use). We panic if a bra strap shows or if a button comes undone. We refrain from actually talking about the gory details of childbirth - which is why first time moms have no clue what to expect. And don't even get me started on how breastfeeding is still a hidden taboo thing (but I love the t-shirt to the left). We seem to fear or hate our bodies as much as the men.

Is this a latent fear of all things feminine? It is too other for men to try to engage and understand? Is it part of the centuries old habit of despising women for the "weakness" of these things? Or is it even confined just to women or does our culture still accept the dualistic assumptions that disparage the physical body? And why do we as women continue to see the natural aspects of what it means to be female as something to be embarrassed by and hidden? Or is this just a Christian backlash to the world's objectification of all things sexual?

You are thoroughly invited to comment here. Men and women. No equivocating. No hiding. Just share your reactions.

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posted by Julie at 5:51 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 5/21/2007 06:21:00 PM, Anonymous sonja

    Hey Julie ... excellent questions. But first ... where can I get that shirt?? I sooo want one!!! Especially because the message goes right across the milk producing part of my anatomy ... LOL. I just love it.

    On a more serious note ... a lot of this makes me think of Anita Diamant's The Red Tent. On one hand, in that culture the women were separated and the blood was considered unclean. But ... on the other hand, during the time of menses, everything came to a stop for that week. The whole tribe halted and stood still for the women and there was a great deal of unity that they had in that. I'm not sure we've actually progressed very far.

    We still have all sorts of euphemisms (feminine hygiene products) and hide it (except for during the family viewing hour on television ... when tampons and pads and their respective absorbency are fair game). All of which seems to send mixed messages to all of us.

    I would love to be able to raise my daughter with a less conflicted self-image. She is 13. Some days I think I've done it. Then there are days like today when she announced that she won't wear shorts because of the fat blobs on the inner contours of her knees ... then I swear all hope is lost.

    Sorry about the rambling comment. I don't think it's our Christian-ness that has done nearly as much damage as our culture in general has. I think we're experiencing a backlash right now from the free love and feminism of the 60's and 70's that is harmful to women and to men in the long run.

  • At 5/21/2007 08:07:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Hey Julie, great post.

    When I had my first daughter, I used to get a kick out of breastfeeding right across from the soft porn section of Border's to try to make the men uncomfortable by making the breast-breast-feeding-baby connection.

    Now in church I struggle with wanting not to make people uncomfortable, esp. cause I'm relatively knew and I raise plenty of issues by nature, so I try to go in the back of the sanctually to nurse. That way if I'm causing someone to stumble on account of their voyeristic tendencies, it's just the pastor ;)

    I am blessed to be married to a guy who is not at all grossed out by bodily functions, including mestrual blood, but I personally have issues with my own period because I get bad pms and cramps; However, I discovered about a year ago that unprotected sex on the first day of my period eliminates 98% of my severe cramps. Of course there's a tiny chance of pregnancy even when menstruating, so I don't recommend this remedy to anyone who's deadset against having a baby, unless one partner has undergone a permanent both control procedure.

    Also, I'm pretty sure I'm done having biological kids, so I kind of wish I could pass my period/fertility onto someone else and just keep my youthful skin and libido :)

    On a totally separatee note, I understand contemporary practicing Muslims have a similar culture to that described in RED TENT, where the women are off the hook from responsibilities and yeah, they're technically considered unclean, but they get a vacation, so the attitude among the women I've talked with is, "who cares" and one Muslim mother gave this interpretation: 'The women just made the men think they're unclean so we can get a break.'

    Rambling thoughts from a postpartum, no-yet-menstruating woman :)

  • At 5/21/2007 08:47:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    I found that t-shirt at an Australian site - Lumpee Bumpee
    but I've seen them at various "alternative parenting" site as well as at Cafe Press

    and on sharing stories and stuff.

    In Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy, the women have magical powers but are unable to use them during their period. That time is of course when evil men can destroy them. (her books are very very feminist).

    and then there was the wonderful incident this morning. While I was in the shower and thought my 2 year old was playing nicely, she was actually unwrapping all of my tampons. She then threw all of them into the shower. lovely.

  • At 5/21/2007 09:53:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Ha! While we're at it...

    The other day I had just finished breastfeeding Avriana and went to give my almost-five-year-old daughter, Nika a hug while my breast was still exposed. Nika said, "Mom! I don't want to suck your boob!"

  • At 5/21/2007 09:54:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    T-shirts: you can make your own American Apparel T-shirt on customlink.com 23 bucks; free shipping.

  • At 5/21/2007 11:53:00 PM, Blogger Kate

    Surprisingly enough, my boyfriend is much less squeamish about these things that I am. He was brought up in a house with hippies who love science, so he doesn't seem to have any difficulty just talking about normal bodily functions as they should be talked about; without embarrassment.

    On a similar note, the women I grew up with in church had no problem talking about their birth experiences. Sometimes it got to the point that we young, unmarried women would tell them to stop or we would never want to have babies at all. ;)

    It is interesting, though, to think that perfectly natural bodily functions should be such taboo subjects...

  • At 5/22/2007 01:28:00 AM, Anonymous lisa

    I think that part of it is just the mystery of our physical difference. As humans, we have so very much in common, but then we have these major body function differences that we can't really understand totally because we've never experienced them. I don't why blood was/is considered unclean since there really isn't anything dirty about it. But we have a natural tendency to vilify that which we can't understand so I kind of get it why some times the reaction is "gross!" But you have to admit that women can do the same thing. How many women want to talk about nocturnal emissions? How many women even want to say those words? But then coupled with the normal reaction to mystery, there has certainly been a long history of sexist response to the things that make us female.

    And as far as breastfeeding goes, I'm a zealot :-) I breasfed anywhere and everywhere and never used a blanket to tent what I was doing because I thought it was goofy and clumsy. It always felt it was easier to just pull my shirt up a little and the baby covered my tummy anyway. I wasn't a rude, in your face breastfeeder trying to be a problem but I always kind of thought, "I've got boobs--get over it."

  • At 5/22/2007 07:28:00 AM, Blogger Marcia

    Jemila--I personally think that when one is done having biological children, there should be an option to deliver the uterus right on out after the baby. I haven't needed that thing in eight years, and I don't want it anymore!

    Anyway--this is sort of off on a tangent, but one of those Old Testament things I have a hard time getting my head around is why God would create woman with all of her menstruating ways, and then tell her she is unclean. ?? I mean, if I'd lived under that law, I'd want to say, Hey, this was Your idea.

  • At 5/22/2007 09:49:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    Marcia - Well in the OT, men who had an emission where considered unclean as well, but that taboo hasn't carried over to this day.

    Lisa - You talk about it being a mystery. Do we think that is really a good thing? We scientifically understand how our bodies function, is it good for them to still be feared?

  • At 5/22/2007 10:13:00 AM, Anonymous sonja

    I breastfed both of my children and got rid of the blanket quickly. It bothered both me and the child ... I realized that my shirt covered everything "scandalous" and the baby covered the rest. And I pretty much fed them whereever I was at the time. It's a natural function ... I kinda figured that the rest of us eat in most places so my babies could as well. I certainly wasn't going to feed them in the rest room ... that was just gross! Who wants to eat in a bathroom. The only time I retired to a quiet place was when the activity was disturbing to my child and kept them from eating. I wasn't militant about it, just sort of practical.

    In any case, this is a fascinating discussion.

    Julie ... what a funny incident with your daughter. Part of me is grieving the money wasted and time you had to spend cleaning it up. Another part of me is thinking that all those tampons might have looked like puffy white flowers to her in the shower. Or maybe not so much! Or maybe I can see it that way because mine are so far from 2 ...

  • At 5/22/2007 10:19:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Marcia, great point ala if God designed it, why then say it's unclean? One explanation I have heard about why menstruating women were considered unclean in the OT has to do with the Hebrew concept of normalcy. Since women were usually pregnant or nursing, it was actually outside the norm for women to be menstruating, and anything outside the norm tended to be considered unclean.

  • At 5/22/2007 10:36:00 AM, Blogger Kimberly

    We don’t usually get tv/cable, so it always amazes me when we pull into a marina that has cable tv access, how much women’s bodies are still objectified on television-particularly commercials. It only takes one Victoria’s Secret commercial to put me over the edge. Its hard not to be frustrated with all the women who perpetuate this view by allowing their bodies to be objectified on mass media. A friend of mine recently returned from visiting his girlfriend in Germany and related this story: A family outing was held in his honor at the local spa/rec center which resulted in my friend’s shock to discover that all family members were naked together. Grandma and Grandpa, little nieces and nephews, his girlfriends mother--all (dare I say) hanging out together around a steaming pool of water. After initially picking his US, conservative (in his upbringing-- but obviously a long way from that presently), Protestant jaw off the floor, he tells me it was actually no big deal. In fact, nakedness, and particularly women’s bodies, simply aren’t an issue there (they have their own issues). Openly breastfeeding anywhere is a non issue. Men are used to seeing women’s bodies, and its no big deal (or so he says) . I guess my question is: do you think this a more whole way of considering the body? Particularly a womans body?

  • At 5/22/2007 11:32:00 AM, Blogger LietoFine

    Hi everyone, This is my first post although I've been reading for a while...

    wrt blood being unclean, I always looked at it as disease control. Since we more than likely have better hygiene today (hand washing, water, soap, gloves, etc.) I don't see it as an issue.

    I was always embarassed as a teenager about my monthly cycle and pads because there were 3 girls in our house and my mom would buy in bulk when they were on sale. One pack didn't bother me too much, but 20+ was rather embarassing for a teenage girl.

    I think that most people have learned to not be happy with their bodies. I have a breastfeeding 1 year old and it's always amazing to me to hear the number of people who decide not to breastfeed their child because it's "icky" or have a ceasarean because they just don't want to go through with labor. God made us this way and God made us good. I don't think it's something to be embarassed about or try to avoid through science.

  • At 5/22/2007 11:49:00 AM, Blogger Janice

    Several quick comments:

    as far as men making jokes, you are right, it is immature, and I feel like that is a commentary on how we are raised in general in terms of how we approach things that our culture has deemed ‘not for polite conversation’ and those topics run the gamut from menses to finances to death and dying issues.

    I think there still are some ‘mysteries’ (or amazements) about how the human body works. Yes, we can medically explain body functions, but there is still a wonder about it all and I don’t think that necessarily translates into ‘fear’ as was linked by someone here (can’t recall who). SAy for example, those who subscribe to the trilogoy -- there is a lot of mystery in that, yet its not something we ‘fear’. Its just mysterious. That does however make people uncomfortable discussing it. Again, commentary on our culture and how we deal (or not) with things we don’t fully understand (or aren’t polite topics).

    As far as being unclean; well, face it, its not terribly tidy when you’re bleeding on the bedsheets, or hay/straw…Blood may not be ‘dirty’ but its also not a ‘clean’ experience to have sex while menstruating. In that way ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ might be seen more in terms of mechanics.

    Personally speaking, I’m not ashamed of menstruating but I do conceal my pads when I go to the restroom – to me its more about privacy and it being a personal situation than anything else. As far as I’m concerned its no ones business whether I’m menstruating or NOT at a give time, I choose not to flaunt either condition. I’m more open about some things in my life than other things. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing….I’m not embarrassed to BE menstruating, its just not something that’s been ‘open’ discussion – again, commentary on how we are raised maybe.

    My son still accompanies me into the bathroom – he’s 5 going on 6 next month. He knows about my pads, he hands them to me when they are out of my reach….and we’ve discussed it in the simplest terms and its a non-issue for him, but I don’t really want him running in to kindergarten and telling his friends, “Mommy’s got that blood in her pants again” and so I do sort of consciously underplay it.

    And in all truth, I DO view it overall in terms of just plain yuck and inconvenient. Truly, as far as mechanics, its dirty and yucky in my opinion. There, I’ve said it. Surely I can’ t be the only one. LOL. I mean the fact that a baby CAN result does nothing to change the fact that to me, there is nothing beautiful about the actual blood flow itself, mechanically speaking. Pads, tampons, overflow, sticky, mess…..those are the words that honestly come to mind.

    I’m not schocked by a bra strap showing, but if my middle button on my blouse was open all day I’d be horrified (for about 2 minutes) when I got home and discovered it. A few reasons. First, I’m not ‘proud’ of my present body condition, but moreover as I mentioned earilier, its private to me. Personal. I don’t think its about shame, I think there is a certain wisdom in viewing one’s body as prized and special and meant for certain eyes only. I know that’s not the prevailing current in our society and a lot of what has been taught in Christian circles stems more from a prudish standpoint. But I’d love to see a surge of girls being taught their bodies are special and wonderful and worthy of being prized and ‘kept’ and being able to differentiate between the beauty of being able to procreate and the reality of the mess of actual menses. Sometimes the dichotomy channel is wider than it needs to be, the ideas can co-exist. Yes, the overall picture is beautiful but can we be real enough to also say that taping a cotton wading into your underpants just plain sucks? (or the dumping the diva cup..or whatever you choose to use) lol I think that would have given me, and my 19 year old daughter a more realistic overall picture, one that we could have ‘owned’ as we moved into adulthood.

    OK, that turned in to a ramble, I’ll stop for now. J

  • At 5/22/2007 11:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    I was excited about getting my period.

    I also made tampon jokes and stuff. I was getting comfortable with the words - and the jokes were funny. Maybe it's the same for guys.

    As for breastfeeding. I tried to breastfeed my first, but things didn't work out. I didn't try with my second.

    When I did try though, I was conservative and would go to another room, and I'm not comfortable with another woman is uncovered while breastfeeding in the room with me.

    Breasts in our culture have been sexualized. I don't want to desexualize them - all the worse for me. However, I would like the ability to separate from it when in the room with a breastfeeding mother.

  • At 5/22/2007 05:17:00 PM, Blogger Kimberly

    I like the way you put it, Janice, that our bodies our prized and special and meant for "eyes only". Although Europeans may be more free in revealing their bodies, I'm not convinced that it decreases objectification and it certainly takes away from the mystery, beauty and value of something I think is meant to be seen by only a significant other.

  • At 5/22/2007 10:58:00 PM, Blogger Janice

    A side note; Lybrel was FDA approved today. The first oral contraceptive to totally elimate a woman's menses. Very interesting to see how many women will turn to that for the 'convenience' of not having to deal with the monthly flow when they have no desire for contraceptive or that desire is secondary. Wonder what that says about our view of menstruation.

    Kimberly, I wonder often about european countries that 'seem' to be so open about the naked body etc. I don't have alot of first hand knowledge of their intimate lives so I don't know how it might or might not affect the sexuality/objectivity issue.

  • At 5/23/2007 01:00:00 AM, Anonymous lisa

    Julie, no I don't think it's good particularly that it's a mystery. I just mean that even though we understand it scientifically, we still don't really know what's it's like to be the other gender so it remains a mystery at some level. And at that level, there has been a tendency to react strangely to what we don't know from our experience.

    One of my friends who has two teenage sons deals with dismantling the thing this way: she'll be in one bathroom and yell out to one of her boys "Hey! Can you bring me a tampon from the cupboard in my bathroom please?" I love the way she's just making the whole thing normal and getting them over it.

    And when I've been on backpacking trips where we 've rock climbed, the leaders have said "when you get to the top of the rock, yell the word you're most uncomfortable saying." I've heard a lot of people yell "VAGINA!" Now I'd like to hear people yelling "NOCTURNAL EMISSION!"

  • At 5/23/2007 08:53:00 AM, Blogger Lori

    What a great conversation! Thanks, Julie, for setting a spark to this [clearly] smoldering fire!

    Marcia, I'm with you on the uterine-removal theory. While I absolutely loved being pregnant and giving birth, I was done having children at age 28--that leaves an awful lot of years to bleed, for no purpose. While I'm thrilled that I could give life in such a distinctly feminine way, I find it a nuisance to menstruate now, as my role in life has changed. I now nurture life, rather than giving it, and would find this much simpler if I weren't subject to the hormonal swings that accompany menstruation.

    That said, I've been very intentional about making this a comfortable topic in our home, with both my 12-year-old son & my 9-year-old daughter. They learned to call tampons "plugs" when they were tiny, as it was a simpler word, and helped them remember what they were for. Every so often they'll ask for a refresher--now what was that again? Why do you bleed every month? And we go through the whole thing again. It's great to not fear "the talk" with them, as we've been having it ever since they could talk.

    This approach to menstruation specifically, mirrors our attitudes re: bodies generally. We've tried to be very matter-of-fact about all physical processes, as we are about everything else in life. It's just one more of the wonders of human existence. This has backfired a bit, as bathroom doors still don't get closed--even when we have guests. (who are more likely to care what they hear or see) We just grin and shrug, and continue the conversation.

    On the other hand, I share Janice's concern that we preserve mystery, as well. We've tried to communicate to our children that their bodies are treasures, and that the capabilities of their bodies are gifts from God. I tell my daughter that one day bleeding will mean she's preparing to be a mother--a role which she knows me to love. And I talk with my son about his distinctly male capacities, as well. Our most recent conversation was about the visual element of men's arousal, and how God has given him eyes that will one day love his wife's body, and so bring her joy.

    I think our most important contribution to our children in this arena is comfort with ourselves. We may all land at slightly different places on the theory, but in practice, a relaxed approach to these issues will be "absorbed" :) by the kids, and create an environment within which we can continue to explore these gifts of God.

  • At 5/23/2007 09:58:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Great comment, Lori. I appreciate and share your laid back approach that also includes valuing the treasures of our bodies as gifts to ourselvs and one another from God.

  • At 5/23/2007 09:59:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    A few thoughts -

    I'm more for the european view of the body - one that is comfortable with it and doesn't turn it into this wholy other thing that must be hidden. Being so fully ashamed of our bodies is a recent invention in Western culture. As society became richer and more individualized, women left the workforce were enshrined in the homes and their bodies became more of an sexual object (kinda interesting how that parallels the restriction of women's rights). In the past (and in many other cultures) families especially see each other naked. They share a room and often a bed, sex happens with everyone around, they use the communal chamber pot or outdoor pit, and babies are fed when they need to be fed (not when its easy for the mom to hide away). Sex was a wonderful thing, but it wasn't this hyped up alter of marriage. We are taught to place so much on sex as the center of our relationships - its mystery, its special, its connection - that we have given it more power than it deserves and caused a lot of stress for those whose sex lives don't meet the fairy tale expectations.

    Anyway - as for menstration being messy and gross. I fully admit that it is. But so is childbirth. We seem to have no problem claiming the wonders of childbirth - the 'miracle' involved, the glory of being a women with the ability to create life. But we take no such pride in the natural process of our monthly cycle (which is of course closely related!). it just seems strange to me.

  • At 5/23/2007 10:30:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    And sharing on kid's perspectives. I refer to my pads and tampons as my diapers to my toddler since she understand the concept of diapers. Well this has proved a tad problematic as we try to start potty training since she now things that big people wear diapers too. Just another good reason to switch to the diva cup...

  • At 5/23/2007 10:43:00 AM, Blogger Janice

    Its interesting to continue reading this topic, thanks all for the great insights.

    Its really intersting to me that we seem to often have this idea that if we 'hide' something we are ashamed of it, or if we declare it a mess its degraded somehow. I also think there is something to be said for the european approach to the body (though I dont find any need for random nakedness in families or sex in the open) and I think often the church goes to extremes in response to certain issues. It seems to be hard for people of faith to find the good middle ground.

    I personally don't declare the beauty of childbirth. I have often taken the approach that yes, its a wonderful thing, but its also messy. I rarely hear anyone out declaring the beauty of the afterbirth (placenta etc) that is massaged forth after the baby arrives. Its just not pretty. Neither, very often, is the woman in the throes of labor. And again, its one of those things that we don't talk about when we discuss childbirth. I'm all for an approach that encompasses it ALL...and I don't mind talking about it in its entirety, the good, the bad, the ugly, the beauty.

    However, take for example the idea of how much I love a good hamburger ~ to me, its a thing of beuaty done on the grill....but the fact that its dead cow, butchered and bled isn't something that often comes up around the table (well, actually it does in my house).

    Lori, our bathroom doors are often revolving or not closed as well so I can totally relate to that!

    I agree with the comment on the centrality of sex in the context of marriage and the idea of how much power its been given, that it really doesn't deserve. I do however believe in abstinence until marriage as the ideal. I don't think the concepts need to be mutually exclusive or that saying 'wait' should automatically give sex that power. I think its one of those areas that the church has gone to the extreme on rather than finding the middle ground that encompasses the good, bad, ugly, and beauty.

  • At 5/23/2007 11:00:00 AM, Blogger Lori

    Janice, I think you point out something important to this issue--the difference between "hidden" and "shameful". Our culture is so "out there" that we (wrongly, I believe) have come to assume that everything should be public. Rob's reference in SexGod to the celebrity couple who used the early days of their marriage as material for a TV Reality Show highlighted this decidedly American tendency.

    While I'm all for openness & honesty, it seems to me that some things might be better honored by privacy & quiet. Don't get me wrong, I'm not endorsing veils or cloisters, here! I just wonder what elements of our lives & relationships merit a special "set-asideness", out of respect, as opposed to shame.

    Any ideas what those elements might be?

  • At 5/23/2007 11:03:00 AM, Blogger Lori

    Another quick question--any chance we sometimes resent & hide these womanly things simply because we are unhappy to be women? Might our sensitivity about our physical "issues" reflect a deeper lack of comfort with our own gender?

  • At 5/23/2007 11:07:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    Janice - its interesting that you bring up hamburger. We as modern western people have so removed ourselves from the everyday working of life. We don't know where our food comes from, we get grossed out to talk about butchering a cow, and we try to change the bodies natural process through drugs. We have sterialized our world and removed ourselves from it. There are cultures that celebrate with a girl when she gets her period. there are cultures that do treasure the placenta for being a source of life (it is kept and buried to give life to the earth). I wonder if the further we remove ourselves from the natural world the more we start to despise it. Enjoying meat from a cow you raised, butchered, and cooked allows for a connection to nature that buying a frozen steak wrapped in plastic and styrofoam never can convey. Of course the first is messy and hard, but it seems to offer a more holistic perspective on life, the environment, and our relationship with the world. Perhaps our modern dislike of menstration dervives from our attempts to shelter ourselves from the natural world instead of celebrating and understanding it?

  • At 5/23/2007 11:34:00 AM, Blogger Janice

    Lori, I agree and will think on what elements..

    Julie, Yes, yes! I think you are REALLY on to something there. I will be giving this some thought in the days to come and will enjoy hearing anymore comments the ladies here have re: this.

  • At 5/23/2007 07:44:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    I personally think placentas are really cool. I saw my last two placentas right after I gave birth and the midwives explained how they functioned and I thought it was amazing!

    I had my second two kids at home, and I am all for a holistic perspective on birth. Labor is painful, intense, awe-inspiring, messy, practical and meaningful. The primal sounds I was free to make during labor in my very own house were very liberating empowering. At the same time, labor HURT, and I was very glad with my second labor that it shorter by 20 hours than my first. I'm convinced partly the second one was shorter because I embraced the pain, the process and the messiness and freed myself to be expressive about it much more than the first homebirth. I'm very grateful to have had the "uncensored" experience. I'm also extremely happy that my husband recently had a vasectomy and I won't be going through it again!

    As women I think we all have complex, sometimes paradoxical feelings about our bodies and female experiences (and probably everything, if you're anything like me.) I think having a variety of feelings at once is okay.

  • At 5/23/2007 08:35:00 PM, Blogger medium guy

    As a man, I post on this thread with humility and a small amount of trepidation!

    One thing that came to my mind as I read through these posts was remembering how many ancient, and some [rare and obscure] contemporary cultural groups worshiped fertile females as goddesses. I began to ponder on the dance between science and other modalities of knowledge - faith, belief, superstition - that inform our approach to procreation generally, and specifically the complementary anatomy (duh) and physiology of both genders. The goddesses of fertility, the homunculus theory [that microscopic formed people were the contents of men's sperm, set to implant inside the female "empty vessel"], and even the myths that were dispelled in my 8th grade health ed. class, such as having the woman wear high heels is not an effective means of contraception, the premise that one can observe how a pregnant woman is "carrying" to determine the baby's gender, the man curling his toes on ejaculation to ensure that a boy is conceived, and so on ad infinitum.

    I just think the soup to nuts of reproduction is fascinating - the thrill of intercourse, the pride and thankfulness [and being scared ----less] of becoming a parent, endless fascination with comparing self to others [are we having more sex than the neighbors?, is his penis bigger than mine?,] and the bottom line really is about being fruitful and multiplying, as it were. Although I wonder if God really wanted us to hit 7,8, 9, 10 billion given how we haven't been ideal stewards of the earth, to say the least...

  • At 5/24/2007 03:38:00 AM, Blogger Megs

    This wonderful discussion is reminiscent of these paragraphs from the short story I'm writing...

    Needing a rest, she leant against a tree trunk, the gnarled bark sticking into her back until she wriggled into just the right spot. She let her head fall back against the tree and gazed at the slowly swaying branches high above, mesmerised, contended and sleepy.

    A sticky, moist moment of ooze on her inner thigh ended her reverie. She dug into her little Tamil purse, feeling with her long fingers for a small, long, encased in plastic tampon. She felt the familiar, smooth cover of her passport, the four-leafed clover from Kezia, a half finished packet of gum, the coldness of her waterbottle, the smooth curves of her cell phone – and no tampons. Karmia clenched her teeth.

    She stretched her fingers under her pants to the niche where dry superficial skin turned to the soft moisture of the inside edges of her soul. The inconvenient light brown blood on her finger tips glistened momentarily in the sunlight. It felt warm and thin. She smeared some over her bronzed shoulder, entranced by the sensation of her smooth skin. With her other hand she got some more, and with both hands slowly traced a spiral pattern around her navel. “This is me,” she whispered. “Woman.”

    She wrapped her arms around herself, digging her fingers into the hardness of her pelvic bone and the softness of her pliable fat. She sat like that, hidden within herself, stroking her tummy, for a long, lingering moment. She arranged a little pad of green leaves to catch the blood.

    Dusk wandering beneath those trees felt sacred and magical.

  • At 5/24/2007 04:19:00 AM, Anonymous Lyn

    Great post Julie and lots of great comments. Jemila, tmi about to come, but I'm on my period at the moment and did have sex on my first day, and I have had a cramp free period. I think maybe you're onto something with having intercourse on the first day of menstruation! My daughter is 6, and she, as will my son, still walk into the bathroom whilst I'm in there. Whenever I'm on my period she asks why my diaper is all dirty! I explain away, but she obviously hasn't got it yet! I'll never forget when she was about three, and we went to the ladies room whilst we were out. She shouted out "Mummy why is there poo all over your diaper" I could have died!

  • At 5/24/2007 08:09:00 AM, Blogger Deb

    LOVE the shirt. LOVE IT LOVE IT!!!

    I figured that if women could go around in low-cut shirts with everything BUT the nipples showing, and no one said a word, then I could just a willingly, expose a nipple (briefly) to nurse my children. I might be "conservative" in some respects, but hey - it's God's design. If you have a problem with that, you need to remember Who created us as mammals.

    I'm long LONG past breastfeeding. My babes are 12 and 16. But I still defend the right for a woman to brfeastfeed her baby wherever they are. And no, I didn't use one of the "modesty shields" because it was like a flag saying "WATCH HERE! You MIGHT see a body part!" (And yes, when you have an older nursling, it often becomes a 'flag'.)

    I've felt that the very companies who many money on their "boob" commerce (Victoria's Secret, Hooters, Playboy, etc.) should be the first ones to support breast cancer research. But no. That would take breasts out of the erotic zone and into the health and wellness arena. You don't many money there.

    OK. Rant off. Sorry... :)


  • At 5/24/2007 10:57:00 AM, Blogger Janice

    Jemila, I too find the placenta and all things related rather interesting. :) But still 'messy' from one standpoint. I deliverd both of my kids in a hospital but was very free to be vocal...my 13 year old daughter was there for the birth of my son and I'm not sure but I think it traumatized her, it wasn't long after that she began saying she was going to adopt. :) I knew it would be a 'theatrical' event and I'm a less than 'easy' patient so I baked the staff a cake prior to heading off to the hospital! We all made it though and my mother cut the cord...it was a neat time. I wish everyone had such a great experience. :)

  • At 5/24/2007 11:15:00 PM, Blogger Happy

    Great discussion, ladies. :) Here's my own bit of tmi, from the perspective of a single virgin-type person...

    Some of you know this - I work as a nanny, and I currently care for three children who periodically drive me mad. A friend of mine - a guy who's on the pastor track and therefore tends to ask thoughtful questions - recently asked me one evening as we were hanging out (just the two us) in my flat, "So, Hap, do you still want your own kids someday?" I thought about it for a minute, and decided to be absolutely honest. "Maybe not the dozens I'd once envisioned, but I do want to have at least one. It seems only fair - something's got to make up for having a period this long."

    I think he was glad he hadn't taken that swig of water - but it was funny, and he didn't find it as awkward a confession as he might have. Tho the shock value was priceless. :)

    My friend Jenn, when we were in college, started something that I've continued (and it makes me laugh how many of my friends now do this) - just as a concession to the fact that you don't talk about your period in front of people, she started referring to her period as George (a little more subtle than Aunt Flo, I guess!) :) And I do it now, all the time - "George is here" or "George is in the building" - and all my girlfriends know exactly what I'm talking about. And then there's the fun of when guys hear you referring to George and want to know who he is: "Oh, he's this cousin - visits every 28-32 days, bit of a bloody mess, really..." :)

  • At 5/27/2007 08:29:00 PM, Blogger Anne

    Interesting discussion, though I'm a bit late to it. When I was a young my dad didn't want me feeling uncomfortable around him about menstruating so he made sure he was part of the discussion he and my mom explained it all. Actually my mother was much more nervous about it, but had to tell me early because my sister and I started our periods at 10. As a teenager I'd ask my dad to buy pads for me when he was going to the store and he never acted uncomfortable in the least. I appreciate now how open-minded and accepting he was - especially as he was born in 1922.

  • At 5/29/2007 10:41:00 AM, Blogger Lori

    Anne, what a tremendous gift your father gave you! The simple joy of treating our body (and its natural functions) as the simple, ordinary treasure that it is, seems an ideally healthy perspective. What a privilege to grow up in an environment like that!

  • At 5/29/2007 10:29:00 PM, Blogger Cliff

    I am late to this, too. I appreciate the post and am disappointed that I am, by my count, the second man to respond. Too bad. I'd like to try to answer your questions directly from my perspective:

    Is this a latent fear of all things feminine?
    I think that the notion of otherness and mystery plays a part, but I also think that the many men who don't joke or get embarrassed aren't being counted because they don't make a scene.

    Is it too other for men to try to engage and understand?
    I understand the mechanics pretty well and have been treated to my wife's “Yuck” perspective on menstruation for the entire 19 years I've known her. I don't know that she is all that interested in my engaging any further than acknowledging that it happens and its messy and she'd rather that we not have sex just then. I'd be interested to know how you would see men being engaged in this topic.

    Is it part of the centuries old habit of despising women for the "weakness" of these things? Or is it even confined just to women or does our culture still accept the dualistic assumptions that disparage the physical body?
    The feminine weakness thing is an interesting issue. As I have said, I get it and have done the CVS run for pads with the best of 'em. What I honestly don't get is why women seem to think that the run-up to their period is an excuse for bad behavior. You know what I mean, “I was PMSing when I said that. I didn't really mean it.” If you don't want to be treated as dangerously strange, why play a card that says in no uncertain terms, “I am different from you, and it makes me unstable.”?
    On the other hand, I have also witnessed the cramps and migraines that have sometimes been connected to my wife's period and I can only sympathize from the distance of masculinity. At those times I sometimes get just a sense of the motivation behind chivalry. It seems that we men, who don't suffer from these monthly pains, ought to be there to protect and care for our weaker (surely so, at those moments!) partners. Does this bother you?


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