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I read somewhere that their periods attract bears

cmcgowan's picture

The quote used for the title of this paper is from the movie Anchorman when a man is trying to warn his friend about the dangers of women.  While the accuracy of this statement is questionable, it makes one wonder if a woman’s monthly period does actually pose a significant threat to the individual and/or society.

There are many men around the world that would testify to the mental and emotional distress caused by the female menstrual cycle. Stereotypes aside, many scientists today believe that menstruation could actually be harmful to women’s health.  According to Dr. Elsimar M. Coutinho, it is “unnatural” for women to have monthly periods.  I found Coutinho’s claim to be very intriguing because I have always believed menstruation to be the most natural of processes. Coutinho claims that women today have more regular and frequent periods than women a century ago, and that this is not healthy (2). Studies have shown that heavy and frequent menstruation can lead to complications such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, anemia, and insomnia. In addition, using tampons may increase a woman’s risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), breast cancer, and endometriosis (1,4,5).

Tampons not only pose a threat to women, but also to the environment. According to, the average woman uses as many as 16,000 tampons in her lifetime. A study conducted in 1998 found that 6.5 billion tampons and 13.5 billion sanitary pads are used annually (8). This adds up to a lot of waste. The Women’s Environmental Network says that tampons and sanitary pads are a major concern because of their slow biodegradability, and because there are often harmful pesticides present in the cotton these products are made out of (7).

So if menstruation is no longer necessary and it carries potential harmful risks, what can be done about it? Over the past few years, scientists have developed birth control pills that greatly reduce the number of periods a woman has in one year, or eliminate menstruation altogether. When I initially read about this, I was skeptical because I wondered if there could be risks and negative affects from trying to suppress menstruation. As I kept on reading, I learned that many doctors think this might be a great solution, however it is really too soon to tell because not much data has been collected on the suppression of menstruation. Birth control was only invented in the 1950’s, and only more recently have doctors researched using birth control to end menstruation.  As of right now there is not enough data to indicate whether it would be safer to allow or suppress periods.   Many scientists claim that there are no foreseeable complications of suppressing menstruation, however they exercise caution in making that claim (4).

I found it very interesting that within this topic I was able to recognize some of the themes that have come up in class discussions; science is not about finding and asserting that there is one right answer, rather it is a process of learning and continually making changes to hypotheses based on observations and experiences.






1. The Clarion Ledger Website.


2. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette Website.


3.  The New York Times Website.


4. The Canadian Women’s Health Network Website.


5.  The Keeper Store Website.


6. The Yahoo News Network Website.


7. The NetDoctor Website.


8.,175050.shtml Earthtimes Website. 


Serendip Visitor's picture

Cushing 1983

Arrived here from searching 'True about Bears and Periods'. (From link up maybe after this):

Cushing (1983) found that Polar bears alone show correlation. Actually more attracted in this study to used products than non-menstrual human blood. ((


No correlation observed/established for Grizzlies/Black bears.

Paul Grobstein's picture

menstruation and "naturalness"

Interesting indeed. Clearly menstruation is "natural" in the sense that it was occurring before doctors (or women, or anyone else) was thinking about it and trying to decide whether it was a good thing or a bad one. And clearly menstruation has different consequences now then it did then (and perhaps, as your paper suggests, may even have been somewhat different in its manifestations). So maybe its not only that science doesn't, at any given time, have all the observations but also that the thing being observed is itself changing?