Dr. Katie Hasson (USC Sociology) will discuss how birth control pills that suppress mentruation have changed the definitions and understandings of this biological process.
Beginning in 2003, pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. introduced several new birth control pills that promised fewer periods – or even the end of menstruation altogether. While advertisements touted a new kind of birth control pill, menstrual suppression pills actually differed from existing birth control pills only in the number of consecutive days the pills were taken. The introduction of these “new” menstrual suppression pills changed the meaning and salience of women’s bleeding on and off the pill. Various actors worked across social arenas, including clinical research, federal regulation, and marketing, to redefine menstruation. Clinical researchers – with support from pharmaceutical companies – introduced new definitions of bleeding that distinguished menstruation from the “scheduled” and “unscheduled” bleeding that occurs when taking hormonal birth control. These definitions were institutionalized as FDA guidelines that now shape the development and clinical testing of new contraceptives. Further, marketing for menstrual suppression presented these new definitions directly to women, in ways that not only worked to change what women know about menstruation and their bodies, but also to revise embodied experiences of bleeding.