The advent of hormonal birth control measures such as the pill gave rise to generations of women more effectively able to plan their families, but a second compelling use for the medications has emerged in recent years -- manipulating menstrual cycles.
Using the pill to schedule or even stop periods is not an entirely new phenomenon, and a version of the medication marketed specifically for this purpose (called "Seasonale") has been available for some time to women using hormonal birth control.
It's long been known that skipping the pill's "inactive week," which is not even a true menstrual period, will allow a user to be period free for several cycles. Forms of birth control such as Nuvaring and the patch can be used in the same way, eschewing the week in which bleeding occurs -- a feature some suggest exists to assure women they are indeed not pregnant at the end of every cycle.
Over the past few years, however, the practice has become widespread -- and a new study indicates that more women than previously believed to have been doing so are manipulating their menstrual periods with hormonal birth control.
A study on the practice of skipping periods was recently published in Contraception, the official journal of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals and the Society of Family Planning, and researcher Christopher Minson of the University of Oregon says gynecologists may need to be proactive in examining a patient's menses manipulation as many women are receiving information through friends or the internet.
"These findings emphasize the need for health care providers to carefully interview combined hormonal contraceptive users on how they are using their method -- for example, many women may be skipping pills to extend their cycles ... With a greater understanding of the issues, health care providers may be able to more effectively engage in conversations with college-aged women and educate them about available options."
More than half the women in the study cited convenience as the main factor in skipping periods or altering menstrual cycles deliberately with hormonal contraceptives.