The definitive difference between men and women–biologically speaking–is the difference in our hormones. Sexuality is a spectrum and there’s no doubt about that, but when we’re discussing evolutionary biology, there is one fundamental truth: men are linear and women are cyclical. It is in our best interests–as a society–to support, not squelch, this cyclical nature of women. We are not the same on any given day of the month and it’s about time that we stopped casting shame for it.
While it was not an easy decision to make, I decided to quit hormonal birth control a year ago. I harbored a lot of fear that not being on the pill was equivalent to deciding to have children–something definitely not of interest to me!–but ample research revealed that this simply wasn’t the case. There were other options for me that had the same, very high rates of effectiveness if I chose to keep having sex, but without all the traumatic side effects that I was enduring on the pill.
There’s no doubt that hormonal birth control revolutionized society when it first appeared on the market in the 1960’s. It marked a new era of sexual freedom for women who were convinced that shutting off their natural hormones and replacing them with a carefully concocted blend of synthetics that made pregnancy nearly impossible was the ultimate form of liberation. Only, a closer look reveals something far more sinister.
I talk about this relentlessly, because there is abundant evidence for all the ways that hormonal birth control has been detrimental to us. It has caused widespread mental health issues in women, gender mutation in the environment and the ultimate, grueling truth: relationships built on a lie. While I know women in my personal life– and there are many in society at large–that will defend the pill to the death for the temporary relief it has given them from things like painful periods, acne or PCOS, the problem I have is that it is not and will never be, a panacea. It can mask problems, sure, and help you live a little easier for a while, but if you decide to come off that form of hormonal birth control at any time, the symptoms will unfortunately arise once more. Dealing with them head on (through things like diet and lifestyle) is always the most robust solution.
Allowing women to embrace their cyclical nature requires that we give ourselves permission to fluctuate in our energy levels and mood throughout the month. Unless he is physically or mentally ill, it’s pretty safe to assume that a man will be able to turn up in society and exhibit the same strengths and contribute in much the same fashion on any given day of the month. That’s amazing, but it’s just not how we women operate. We have some weeks when we feel hyper-focused and productive and others that require downtime. Supporting these changes–this delicate dance–is the very best way to maximize the benefits that can be obtained by realizing this cyclical nature.
Starting off at the top of the cycle, we see the follicular phase. This occurs just after a period, when your ovarian follicles are maturing and getting ready to release an egg. I live for this phase. It’s when I can do my best work, am most focused and have the most energy. If you need to schedule any kind of event that requires a lot of physical or mental strength, this is the time to do it. Start to get new projects underway, think about how best to progress at work or start training for that marathon you’d like to run.
Next up, we enter into ovulation, AKA the time that you are able to get pregnant if you are sexually active. At this stage of the cycle, one of the ovaries releases a mature egg, which makes its way down into the uterus. In the biological world, sexual signaling to indicate fertility is vital; it’s how males know that it’s time to approach a female and, well, make babies. But ovulation is about so much more than that, especially as we are intelligent creatures who don’t all want to have a baby each month of our lives! Ovulation is actually pretty well-concealed in humans, to the point that many women aren’t aware of when they are doing so. If you pay attention to your body though, you’ll start to recognize the signs. There is abundant evidence that we are our most attractive during ovulation and it is possible to make this work in our favor. Want to present your ideas to the board? Schedule the meeting during ovulation. Need to plan a big party and be on your best behavior as a social butterfly? Also an excellent time to do so.
After ovulation, we enter the luteal phase. This usually lasts for about two weeks and biologically speaking, is the phase in which the uterus is “holding its breath” to see if pregnancy is going to occur. Progesterone levels build and the length of this phase can serve as an important health indicator of what’s going on with you. In particular, your stress levels. If your luteal phase is very short, it could be that your body isn’t producing enough progesterone. This can often be blocked by stress hormone cortisol, so the best tactic is to amp up your self-care. This phase of your cycle is excellent for getting introspective and paying attention to how your body is looking and feeling and what you could perhaps start to do better to be more healthy and achieve that ever-elusive balance that we all strive for.
Finally, we have menstruation. This starts with PMS and ends as the bleeding lightens. At first glance, I know many of us moan and groan that we would rather just skip the monthly ordeal. However, periods are actually pretty interesting things that I’d like you to at least be a little curious and open-minded about. They are the only form of bleeding that we experience that is not a side-effect of injury. There’s something pretty powerful in that and many of the women I know–including myself– have found that choosing to embrace it as symbolic of the body “letting go” of what could have been can transform it into something very cathartic. Much like a new moon which symbolizes that letting go of that which no longer serves us to make room for new opportunities, treat your menstrual phase as “me time.” Rest and reflection will be rewarded by a surge of energy within a couple days as the follicular phase reappears once more and we can go and kick ass in the world again.
Instead of a world that tells us that to be equal to men, we need to become more like them, I’d like to see a shift towards allowing women to be truly themselves. Only then will we achieve ultimate harmony.
How do you embrace your cycle?
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