PMS: it’s a bitch, right? Well, no… apparently not. According to some members of the scientific world, PMS is a myth. It’s a fabricated disorder. Sorry, women of the world, but supposedly we’re making it all up.
A few years ago, a study by the University of Toronto found there is "no clear link between women’s negative moods and the pre-menstrual phase of their cycles". After analysing 41 previous studies that tracked women’s emotional states through their menstrual cycles, they concluded PMS doesn’t exist.
This isn’t the first study to produce this result. In 2012, a New Zealand research team, led by Dr Sarah Romans on the University of Otago, reviewed 47 studies into PMS. Eighty five per cent of them found no link between a woman's menstrual cycle and mood. Surprisingly, nine per cent of the studies reviewed found the subjects' worst moods occurred outside their premenstrual phase.
So if it’s all a lie, why is it that 90 per cent of Australian women are claiming to experience at least one symptom of PMS during most months of the year? Why, then, do I seem to cry every single month for a reason that's entirely unclear to me? (Post continues after video.)
In a TED talk, American psychologist Robyn Stein DeLuca argues the PMS "label" allows women to express emotions they otherwise wouldn’t, and therefore we continue to perpetuate it.
“The near universal definition of a good woman is one who is happy, loving, caring for others, and taking great satisfaction from that role. Well, PMS has become a permission slip to be angry, complain, be irritated, without losing the title of 'good woman'," she says.
While this seems a bit convenient, DeLuca also argues the concept of PMS ultimately invalidates woman’s emotions. “When people respond to a woman's anger with the thought, 'Oh, it's just that time of the month,' her ability to be taken seriously or effect change is severely limited," she explains.
To further her point, DeLuca highlights that PMS is purely a Western concept and isn’t documented in outside cultures.
Jane Ussher, the professor of women’s health psychology at the University of Western Sydney, agrees, having done extensive research in her 2011 paper, ‘PMS as a Gendered Illness Linked to the Construction and Relational Experience of Hetero-Femininity’.
“Many behaviours get attributed to PMS when it’s inappropriate. Many outside of Western cultures experience premenstrual changes, but they don’t call it PMS. They don’t have the same notion of psychological pathology that we do in the west. So it has been a described a culture-bound syndrome,” Ussher explains.
So, because I have always believed in PMS and it gives me an excuse to express my emotions, is it possible I have been fooled into believing it exists? (Post continues after gallery.)
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Professor Jayashri Kulkarni of Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre in Melbourne contests this. She believes hormonal changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle do lead to a change in mood, and to deny this harms women.
“When women themselves have noted a change in mood across cycles, like anxiety and other symptoms, the problem they have is that they are not believed. They are accused of putting it on, or other derogatory things, which really doesn’t help them to get help," Kulkarni says.
She also explained the mythology of PMS being purely a Western concept.
“The descriptions are sometimes supressed in [non-Western] countries … they are less reported or less likely to be reported in countries where psychiatry and psychological issues are not at the forefront, and women’s issues are certainly not at the forefront," she argues.
While both sides express valid points, it should be noted the scientific community identifies Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) as a legitimate condition. This affects one to eight per cent of women, a far cry from those said to experience PMS.
While I am an avid believer in scientific evidence, I have to call bullshit on this apparent "PMS myth".
Sure, perhaps women (and men) can exaggerate the experiences of PMS, but not to the extent of making it up entirely. I’m positive, even without knowing what part of my cycle I’m on, the emotions I feel are not false and I am certainly not using PMS as an excuse to express them.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I’m going to go find some chocolate.
Do you experience PMS? Have you ever thought it was a "myth"?