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THE CURSE by Karen Houppert


Confronting the Last Unmentionable Taboo: Menstruation

by Karen Houppert

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-374-27366-9
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Who would have guessed that there are serious issues around menstruation, a bodily function that’s been around since Eve got tossed from Eden? This book makes them not only clear, but urgent. Dioxin poisoning, the psychological impact of secrecy and shame, and doubts about PMS are 1-2-3 on Village Voice journalist Houppert’s list. She takes on the $1.7-billion-dollar “personal products” industry with information that there is dioxin residue in the materials used to make most tampons. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are no “acceptable” levels of dioxin; moreover, dioxin, which may affect reproduction, has a cumulative effect. Since it is women of reproductive age who use tampons(one woman may use as many as 11,400 of them in a lifetime), the industry’s claim that the dioxin in tampons poses no health threat should be met with skepticism at the least. In the second section, Houppert discusses how and what premenarchal girls learn about menstruation, how much of the secrecy and embarrassment surrounding menstruation is related to young girls’ burgeoning sexuality, and how the decreased age of menarche has been blamed, unfairly, for a so-called “epidemic” of teen sex. Premenstrual syndrome’s new official status (in the current diagnostic manuals) as a disease is also disturbing to Houppert, who wonders whether the cluster of symptoms that define PMS are a disease or a reaction to frustration and stress in many women’s lives. Prozac may bring relief to patients, but it’s also a financial boon to drug companies and health management organizations. The book wraps up with notes on the positive (“girl-power” Web sites, a new type of menstrual protection due on the market soon) and the bizarre (a Museum of Menstruation run by a man). Provocative journalism—the kind that provides information on questions no one even thought to ask—on a subject that impacts all girls and women, plus their teachers and physicians. (b&w illustrations)