Real Talk About PMS: Your Period is Not a Malfunction You Have to “Cure”

by | Feb 28, 2020 | Uncategorized | 66 comments

Your Period is Not a Malfunction: How to treat your body well
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Why is it that so often, when we talk about menstruation, it’s seen as something bad that we have to fight against, rather than a natural part of our bodies?

It’s the end of the month that we’ve been talking about how to love your body, no matter its shape, if you’ve been through sexual trauma, or even in the postpartum phase.

And this week, while on Twitter, I was blown away by an amazing thread by Katie Ruth from Reflections of an Ezer (you may remember we talked about what an ezer is in a previous post on being a warrior), and I reached out to her and said, “can I please please please please run this as a guest post? Because my readers need to hear this.”

She said yes, and so here it is! I’ll post her first tweets, and then I’ll just post the rest as text.

For those who may be reading this via email, and for whom that may not come through, she writes:

Ok friends, I usually don’t respond or interact with TGC articles, but this latest one is so bad and so personal that I HAVE TO ADDRESS IT. This is going to be a long thread. Buckle up. And then she links to this post from The Gospel Coalition called: PMS, the Monthly Fight with the Flesh  

Then she says: First of all, I agree there is a lot that we don’t know about the female body and this has a lot to do with patriarchy (that’s another conversation for another time), but lack of understanding of basic biology in this piece is worrisome.

Female bodies are not malfunctioning at certain times of the month.

They are doing EXACTLY what they are supposed to be doing. For many women, this NORMAL function comes with symptoms and unwanted side effects due to a variety of reasons. Stress, varying hormone production, and anatomical differences cause each woman to experience their cycle differently. But I AM TIRED of the narrative that says that something is wrong with the female species because our hormones rotate cyclically. In fact, I think it is a super power that we have that if we learn to pay attention.

Our bodies literally have a built-in radar that signals seasons of creativity and production and days where our body needs rest and care. PMS is not a fight with your flesh. Let me repeat that: PMS is not a fight with your flesh. If anything, it is the very opposite. It is an opportunity to slow down and accept the body that we have.

All my life, I have struggled with severe PMS.

I have debilitating pain, fluctuating hormones, and irregular periods. Ever had a cyst burst? Let me tell you, it is not pain I would wish on anyone. I have had more ultrasounds and I have been hospitalized—multiple times. I have had surgery and tried many natural interventions. All this I say not for your sympathy, but so you can maybe start to understand why I think articles like this are so dangerous. All my life I have fought my body. Spoken unkindly to her. Been angry with her for constantly not living up to the expectations I have for her. My body is tired of me fighting, and this difficult struggle that I face is not a reflection on my spirituality. It is a reflection of a body that is imperfect, and needs loving care and medical attention.

My fight is not against my body, my fight is learning to love my body despite its imperfections. PMS is not just some issue with women not being spiritual enough at some points of the month, PMS is a physical process that literally alters the landscape of your body. To suggest otherwise is uninformed and dangerous to women who actually need help. If you struggle to function at certain times of the month, it’s not because you need to try harder.

It’s not because you need to “sin less”. Your body is sending you a message that it needs more support. By beating yourself up for your “lack of spirituality” you will only make your symptoms worse as PMS is exacerbated by stress and anxiety in most people.

Now, let’s talk about the confusing of the concepts of “flesh” and “body” in biblical discussions.

When the Bible talks about the flesh, it is usually in comparison with the Spirit. It is a discussion of spiritual realities. What is entirely unhelpful is the notion that because the Bible talks about the flesh, therefore our bodies are bad, irredeemable, and worth nothing. God places value on our bodies, despite whatever view you may hold on sin nature and the brokenness of the world. God created our bodies, God cares for our bodies, and one day God promises to redeem our bodies.

It is a lie that God cares only for the spiritual, & not the physical. We are whole people, & God cares for our whole person. Our bodies, just like our minds, hold important messages for us that we need to learn to listen to not just dismiss in the name of being biblical. Our hormones are large part of daily functioning, and in some sense they direct us in more ways than we are consciously aware of.

Most functioning decision are made at the cellular level and have nothing to do with a conscious choice you make. If your hormones are at certain levels, it is very likely that you will feel sad. This is a PHYSIOLOGICAL response, not a spiritual one. To pretend that someone should just white-knuckle their way through and pretend everything is okay is unhelpful. Anger, sadness, joy, and every other emotion are all gifts to us. They are not to be discarded or shoved down inside. They are to be embraced and stewarded.

Might I suggest that on days when your body is feeling overwhelmed and on edge, that you try something revolutionary? Actually, be kind to your body?

Maybe go to bed a little earlier, or spend some time reading a book? If your PMS is affecting your life, maybe self care looks like going to a doctor to discuss your options.

A trauma-informed perspective of our bodies understands that ignoring the messages our bodies are trying to give us only makes the problems worse, not better or fixed. You are not wretched because you bleed. You are loved. May your PMS lead you into love, not self-hatred for the body you have been given.


I loved that so much! Thank you, Katie. Some of the comments on that thread were interesting, too, and a few stood out to me, including this one by the amazing Ruth Everhart who has written the great new book The #MeToo Reckoning:

And this one, which makes a great point:              

                       

In Old Testament times, your period was actually a break for you! But today, we’re supposed to function as if we’re exactly the same, and no one can possibly know, or it’s a source of great shame.

As we finish the month talking about how to embrace the bodies we have, it’s worth thinking about how much shameful messages about our periods have impacted how we see our bodies. I don’t think we can truly embrace our bodies until we accept all that comes with being a woman.

So what do you think? Do we need to be willing to embrace our bodies more, even in their natural functions, and stop seeing these functions as somehow “bad” or causing sin? Let’s talk in the comments!

Katie is a thinker and writer. Growing up in the church, she experienced a lot of bad theology and trauma. Now she is passionate about pointing the church towards justice and providing better answers to theological questions. Katie has a bachelor’s in Christian counseling and works as an administrator by day. When she’s not writing, you can find her curled up with a good book, chatting over tea with a friend, or stretching on her yoga mat.
She blogs at https://reflectionsofanezer.com and is active on all the socials.
Twitter: @reallykatieruth
Instagram and Facebook: @katiesreflections

Katie Ruth

Reflections of an Ezer

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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66 Comments

  1. Ruth

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this. Spot on. Until we start recognizing that our hormone cycle is actually part of the incredible way women were created, I think it will always be a struggle to love our bodies. But we were designed at a cellular level to function cyclically, and *that isn’t a bad thing.* It’s possible to be aware of and work with our hormones, rather than seeing them as a bad thing. The best resource I’ve ever found to help me understand my own hormone phases was a book called WomanCode by Alisa Vitti. I can’t recommend every aspect of the book, but her scientific research and explanations of how our hormones function and how that affects our emotions, physical levels of energy, sexual desire, etc. was incredibly helpful and has revolutionized how I approach my health and awareness of my body over the past couple years.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I really, really wish I had figured some of this stuff out in my twenties and thirties rather than in my late forties when menopause was hitting! 🙂
      But maybe I can at least tell younger women about it…

      Reply
  2. Meredith

    I have pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which I describe as the hell-child of PMS, out-of-control brain chemistry, and trauma. On my bad days, the soundtrack of my brain is a bully voice whispering a continuous stream of abuse: “you’re worthless, you’re a failure as a wife, a mom, a person, you’re useless, you’re a burden, they’d all be better off without you, you’re pathetic.” At the worst times, I have black attacks in which a monster entices me with thoughts of cutting or killing myself. I’ve had multiple suicidal ideations.
    I left behind the toxic spiritual mentality of “you are nothing but a worthless sinner” a long time ago. And I STILL can hear the overtones of those old voices in the bully voice. Can you imagine what it would be like to be a woman with PMDD, still enmeshed in the mindset of The Gospel Coalition, reading that article and internalizing that the irritability, the rage, the despair, the inability to cope, are ALL HER FAULT because of her sinful flesh??! That it is her Christian duty to reflect on her own wickedness, and that her own body is her enemy against which she must fight? This kind of message is not only horribly toxic, leading to dissociation from the body and self-loathing, it is downright dangerous, pushing women towards despair and suicide. That this kind of mindset is being presented as “Christian” is the exact reason why people like me don’t know if they even want to be Christians any longer.
    A few months ago I wrote a post about PMDD and what it’s like. At the end I share three takeaways. The second one is this:
    2. If you have heard its voice, then know that the Bully is not your friend. It is not your conscience, and it is certainly not the voice of God. You are valuable. You are deserving of happiness. Your broken brain is not evidence of your own evilness; it is part of the wounds of the world, a world where things are not as they are supposed to be. God isn’t pretending to love you because you are a disgusting worm; God loves you because you are a beautiful creation, broken brain and all.”
    You can read the whole post here: http://meredithmuddles.com/2019/11/02/the-monster-the-bully-and-the-darkness/

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Meredith, that’s beautiful! Thank you. Yes, this idea that when we have negative moods we’re sinning and we need to conquer it is so dangerous, especially when you’re going through something like this. Thank you so much for sharing what you wrote! I think that will help a lot of people.
      Let me add one more nuance to the discussion: Framing things as “negative moods” or “bad” emotions makes it sound like there are only a few acceptable emotions, and these are the “normal” ones, and everything else is an aberration. So every time we don’t feel happy and energetic we’re somehow wrong or something is spiritually off, and we need to fix it.
      But that makes it seem as if anger and sadness and frustration are all sins. God, though, expresses the whole range of emotions. Jesus had the whole range of emotions! Our emotions are not bad. Our emotions often point us to realities in our lives that we need to see, or to unspoken needs that we may have. We need to stop seeing some emotions as bad and some emotions as good. Yes, there are times when our feelings can become destructive, and we do need to “take every thought captive”. But sometimes the situation warrants being upset or angry or disappointed or frustrated, and that’s not a bad thing.

      Reply
      • Meredith

        Yes! One commenter on a Facebook thread about TGC post had a really wise insight. She said that women’s emotions during the PMS cycle are actually a deeper honesty about what is bothering them and what isn’t working about their lives. She says, “we’ve been so socialized to make others comfortable that when we’re not under the influence of hormones, we push down the feelings that then inevitably come out when our mental defenses are depleted during PMS.”
        I thought that was a brilliant observation. What if PMS is really the innate honesty of our bodies?

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, I like that! Of course there are extremes, and part of treating your body well is recognizing when you need medical help, but yes, I think you may be on to something here!

          Reply
          • Anonymous Lady

            Can you do a post on those lies our brains tell us during PMS? I’ve struggled with self abuse thoughts a couple days a month for quite a while now, and I know it’s a result of childhood emotional trauma (the places I want to hurt myself correlate perfectly with the abuse). PMS causes me to revisit the toxic messages my abusive father raised me with. It hurts me and it hurts my husband to see me go through that, but he doesn’t know how to help me. I get to a point of blind rage against myself and don’t know what to do once it reaches that point. Any advice on this would be awesome, since I’m sure I’m not alone.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            That’s a really good idea. I’m thinking of doing a whole month on periods and cycles–maybe in June? Or July? I’ll try to put it in there!

        • Lea

          Meredith this is really a good point. I read an article that with anger comes HONESTY. Why are we so afraid of womens honesty?

          Reply
    • Maaheen Nasir

      Thankyou for writing on this Sheila and Meredith. This bully is affecting my relationship, and I don’t think anything makes him go away except rest and patience, and apologies later on. I don’t understand why my husband cannot get used to my PMDD mode. It would be so much easier if he could understand.

      Reply
  3. JOY

    Years ago I read a book by Jean Lush?Emotional Phases in a Womans Life. I actually “borrowed ” it from my mom. And she very wisely explained the ebb and flow of our emotions and physical strength during out cycles. It really helped me accept and appreciate what my body was doing each cycle. And helped us know when something was wrong when we were unable to conceive. And now years later I sit with 2 beautiful miracle babies and remember that the reason I am tired and more frustrated today is mostly due to being on the tail end of my period. Our bodies are fearful6and wonderfully made. And yes, sometimes it feels like they betray us, but they are still made by God.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly, Joy! And congratulations on your babies. That’s wonderful.

      Reply
  4. Kristen

    I just wrote about this for a college essay two days ago, how the female menstrual cycle has garnered so much stigma, ridicule, and shame through the years. Of course, I was referring to “secular” society as a whole. This Gospel Coalition perspective is a whole other ball game.
    Do I believe that we have a spirit, soul, and body? Yes. But not everything is a spiritual problem or a spiritual manifestation of some sort. This is what I found so exasperating about the church and belief system I grew up in. They spiritualized EVERYTHING. And sometimes, I guess that’s not too far off. But a lot of times, I think a bad day is just a bad day.
    I would say that this idea that PMS is a monthly war that women must wage against their flesh (which has so much more negative, spiritualized connotations to me than the word “body”) stems from the toxic view that some (not all—I’m trying to be more generous than I have in my previous posts) churches hold of women, that we were the first ones to sin, Eve originally tempted Adam, women are more easily deceived, etc.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think we instinctively feel that there is something shameful about being a woman. I do hope we can reclaim the fact that the female body is not an inferior male body; we were made in the image of God just as much as men were!

      Reply
      • Jane Eyre

        Women feel shame for being women because the physical state of womanhood is challenging. Actual puberty is awkward for both boys and girls, but on the other side of it, men are stronger then they ever thought possible; women still have menstruation, mood swings, and the main changes are weight gain in the hips and thighs, and becoming very attractive such that creepy men leer at them.
        Then there’s intercourse; mind-blowing for men, awful and painful for a huge number of women. Pregnancy is a pile of suck. Then when you’re out of the menstruation/pregnancy/getting leered at phase, it’s on to middle-aged weight gain and menopause. If you didn’t notice before, you now notice that all the movies have leads that are young women, even if the male romantic leads are all over the age spectrum.
        So is it any wonder that women feel ashamed of their bodies or of being women?
        Now, it’s a great thing that men are so strong: properly used, their strength protects their families and loved ones (and, in a pre-industrial society, provided food for the family). But as I said to my husband regarding pleasure during intercourse, it’s like God allowed men to retain 100% of the prelapsarian pleasure, but the results of the Fall are felt exclusively by women.

        Reply
        • Lindsey

          Perhaps that is a takeaway for some women (although – in general – women can have more orgasms than men per encounter), but I think that in some ways it is all that they have.
          I don’t mean on a power dynamic level, but on a personal one.
          Most men do not experience the same ability to feel their feelings and share them with friends that women enjoy. In a way, they are constantly shutting down a part of their heart in order to be “stronger than they ever thought possible”. For a large swath of men, sex is the only time in their lives that they can experience vulnerability in a “socially acceptable” way. So yes, they normally have an easier time physically enjoying themselves, but I also think that it meets an emotional need that women have fulfilled in deep friendships and self-awareness.
          Every person’s experience is radically different – I love being pregnant, never had to deal with leering men, constantly have to struggle with my body image in the wake of media lies, and I really enjoy sex with my loving husband. Your take on the plight of women didn’t resonate with me, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t your experience. I think that each and every one of us feel the effects of the fall in ways that are unique to who we are and the life we lead. Men too.

          Reply
          • unmowngrass

            This thread reminds me of the book Captivating, by John & Stasi Eldredge, and it’s companion book, Wild at Heart, and their take on the consequences of the Fall. Although first I want to make a sidebar that because God is only good, He’s incapable of actually ~cursing~ us with evil, but, out of compassion for our fallen state, knew that the only thing that would heal us was gazing upon His own loveliness (worship) and so had to “break our arm to get it out of the trap”, as it were, except it’s not our arm it’s our souls. In both cases the thing that was likely to become our source of pride. So they highlight that He struck men in their strength… that the ground would be hard and fruitless, that they can give all their best work and still have nothing to show for it. Women don’t have this problem with work. I mean, sexist workplaces may be a different matter but the actual work itself, we don’t have any direct thwarting. Because although we do work, we are not work; we know that we are more than the sum total of what we accomplish, in a way that I don’t think men do, actually, and so that is why men need Christ. John and Stasi also highlight that women were struck in their relationships. That where they have something to offer, their selves, the husbands (or men in general? Patriarchy?) will dismiss the offering and leave her alone and frustrated, and where she brings life, in other people’s lives, which is the thing she does because it’s who she is, it will also get choked and cause her pain in her relationships. A pain that men don’t feel, they generally have good relationships, because they do relationships but are not relationship? idk.
            I do recommend those books, and they have so so so much good stuff in. Check them out.

          • Jane Eyre

            Lindsey, about 10% of women are multiorgasmic, about 40% struggle with pain during intercourse, about 50% do not usually climax, and 10% cannot orgasm at all. Primary anorgasmia is almost unheard of in men.
            So… more women think that sex is a pile of crap than have multiple orgasms. It was not really designed for our enjoyment.

          • Lindsey

            Jane,
            I know from your previous posts that you struggle with pain during intercourse, and that your view towards sex is colored by your experiences.
            I understand how that goes, I really do.
            I am so very sorry that you have had to carry that burden in your life. I pray tonight that you are granted healing, and grow to experience the joy and pleasure that passion was designed to bring to women. Because it was designed for us as well (We have a whole body part that serves no other function but to bring sexual pleasure!). I haven’t verified your statistics, and honestly even if they are 100% accurate, it doesn’t change the design. We were designed for pleasure. Just as we were designed for health even though a multitude of people have lived their entire lives without being healthy.
            I know that life has not always been kind to you, and I know that the struggle, hurt and heartache feels so unfair. Please know that I am praying for you. If it could be any help, I’d like to recommend the book “It Wasn’t Supposed to be This Way” by Lysa Terkeurst. I’ve recently began reading it, and it is so profoundly helpful. Maybe you might find some benefit in it as well, if you decide to go that route.
            Either way, please know how loved you are, and how valuable you are to our Heavenly Father, to our Savior, and also to me – just another “blog buddy”.
            In Christ,
            Lindsey

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            That’s lovely, Lindsey! And I second everything Lindsey said.

          • Chris

            As Chris Rock once said “Women are human beings, men are human doings”

          • Lea

            Jane is it really 40% that struggle with pain during intercourse? Aside from the first time that seems crazy high.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            It isn’t that high, no. For the first time–yes, it’s likely that high (and even higher potentially). But chronic sexual pain is more in the 7% range.

  5. Ina

    I have relatively “easy” periods physically and they got even easier once I switched to cups and cloth pads, but emotionally I am an utter wreck. I love the perspective here and the idea that my body has built in rest times. I want to lean into that.
    I know that while my emotions seem irrational during my periods, my husband has often pointed out afterwards that what was bothering me that finally came out was legitimate- I had just been stuffing it down because I didn’t want to create a scene or complain. In some ways, my hormonal outbursts are a blessing because they prevent me from building up resentment for years!
    Though I do want to add that while I do NOT agree with the TGC article, I have noticed I need to be careful on my period because I am more likely to sin against my family at that time. I’m not proud of it, but the third cycle I had as a married woman I made my (very emotionally steady) husband hide in the bathroom to sob. I’ve had to be careful to accept the emotions that come but not use them as an excuse to be nasty.

    Reply
  6. Lea

    How fascinating that the author thinks the hormones ‘won’ because she experience emotions!

    Reply
  7. Anon

    I’m sorry, but did anybody actually read the original article? She’s addressing the “flesh” as our sinful desires, not as our bodies. She simply stated that PMS is a window into our spiritual condition month-round for both men and women. In regards to our bodies, she stated “We’re free to take things slower sometimes, because our worth in not in what we get done. We seek to bear with the weakness of others, and of ourselves (Eph. 4:2).” I think she would agree that we need to take care of ourselves during our periods. I think she’s just saying that we need to stop using PMS as a justification for our already sinful tendencies that are already in us. Please try to understand the original intent and graciousness of the author.

    Reply
    • Meredith

      Yes, I did read the article. It doesn’t matter what the author’s intent was- it is her job to communicate clearly and what she communicated was guilt, shame, a horrible view of the female body, and a warped idea of what sin really is. The article has the potential to be incredibly damaging to many vulnerable women, and TGC needs to own that.

      Reply
      • Anon

        Meredith,
        Authorial intent is incredibly important. It’s the difference between eisegesis and exegesis of Scripture. It’s the difference between feeling loved and desired when your husband says “you’re hot” and feeling objectified by him. I think too often we can read an article with a cynical predisposition and misunderstand what the author is trying to saying to begin with.

        Reply
        • Meredith

          This line of reasoning is what abusers use to gaslight their victims into thinking that it is the victims to blame for “wrong interpretation” rather than owning up to their own crap. Thus when Jared Wilson of TGC posted Doug Wilson’s horrible quote about marital sex being a place where “ A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts,” and the internet sphere appropriately backlashed against that, Jared tried to pull the “but I didn’t MEEEEEEAN that, it’s everyone else’s fault for not understanding MEEEEEE, poor me” card. Sorry. Writers don’t get to do that. It’s one thing if one person pushes back against what you’ve written. But in the past few days hundreds and hundreds of women have clearly stated all the ways in which TGC’s PMS post is misleading, damaging, and dangerous. At that point it is the author’s responsibility to take ownership of the fact that even if she didn’t MEAN to write a bad article, she did. And she should apologize and show herself to be teachable by listening to what women are saying, so that she doesn’t end up causing more damage in her future writings. It’s like Sheila apologizing for ever promoting Love & Respect. She didn’t MEAN to cause any harm to anyone. But she realized that by endorsing that book in the past, she may have unwittingly contributed to that. And she was willing to own that and apologize and renounce the book.

          Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi Anon,
      I did read the actual article, yes, and I didn’t want to comment on it at too much length because I don’t want to beat up on the author, and my main point was really to draw attention to this amazing thread, which stands on its own.
      I will say, though, that what really bothered me with the original article was the pairing of the idea of hormonal challenges with “the flesh”. For instance, she says, “If our hormones helpfully point toward what the Bible says about our flesh…” It’s the idea that our hormones are linked to something that is sinful. When the Bible speaks of “the flesh”, it doesn’t mean our bodies. It means a spiritual reality. Yes, we need to be vigilant to see that we don’t sin in any situation. But equating negative emotions with sin is problematic, as is saying this, “As such our hormones helpfully demonstrate how our sinful nature is part of us and yet not us: in Christ, the flesh does not define us, and it need not control us. ” Again, it’s equating normal things that happen to women as somehow demonstrating sin. We need to stop painting women’s natural cycles as demonstrative of sin. They’re not. Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made, and if we spoke instead about how hormonal fluctuations are God’s way of giving us a wide range of experiences–from surges of energy and creativity to times of introspection and a need for rest, that would be great. But instead, it’s portrayed as if there’s something inherently wrong with women, and we need to be fight more against sin, and it’s just not true.

      Reply
      • Anon

        Hi Shiela,
        Thanks for your response. I’ve read the article 3 times now, and I guess I’m just not seeing the same link as y’all are. It sounds like she’s stating that there’s an internal war going on between our “old self” and “new self” for *all* believers. I don’t think she’s demonizing women at all. She’s (humbly) presenting the idea that perhaps our hormones can be used as a tool we can use to remind ourselves of the “spiritual realities that are true every day for every believer, male and female.” She’s not saying we’re more sinful when we’re on our periods, she’s saying we’re sinful to begin with and sometimes our hormones help make that reality more obvious. A reminder to fight what’s already there, if you will.

        Reply
        • unmowngrass

          I read the article, after reading this comment thread, and it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected.
          I don’t think it’s saying the female body is sinful.
          I think what was intended to be the central thrust of the article got a little buried. But think back to the opening: are my hormones part of “me”, my inherant essence? Or are they separate from “me”, in that by being separate they can influence “me” the way that something wholly part of me could not? It’s both/and. In the same way as this both/and, both wholly part of “me” and also separate and therefore able to influence “me”, so also goes the life of the flesh, in every believer. … Obviously I have paraphrased here, but that, in my understanding, is the intended central thrust of the original article, and after that point is made, further referrals to the hormones are entirely allegorical.
          Now, having said that, saying that we will be redeemed from our bodies, from our hormones, in the Heavenly Kingdom, when our bodies and hormones are fearfully and wonderfully made in the hear and now, really is taking it a bit too far.
          Now what ~I~ think our hormones have to teach us about our nature, and where I thought the original article was going to go before I read it… When we get to our “edges” — when we’re hungry, tired, had no sleep, and yes, hormonal –we lose the ability to put mind over matter, and who we “really” are, comes out, no filter. And PMS is given to us to remind us that we need God to change our base nature (+/- how far we still have to go), because we are not strong enough to do it by ourselves. Which is actually a great way of looking at it, which I hadn’t before.

          Reply
          • Anon

            Good points. Thank you!

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I hear what you’re saying–but she’s also equating hormones with “the flesh”, and that’s problematic. And her set of responses for what we should do when we feel out of whack are focused on things like repentance and vowing to fight in the spiritual realm, rather than on seeking medical treatment when necessary, and even acknowledging that those moods aren’t necessarily sinful.

          Reply
        • Blessed Wife

          Yeah, that’s kind of what I got, too. I read the guest post, then followed the link to the TGC article expecting to find something wildly opposite and insulting- and instead found what I think were fair points in both. I came away feeling like people would spend a lot less time being unhappy if they spent less time feeding their outrage and more time honestly trying to understand each other.
          It is a fact that a few women are horrible people (and I wouldn’t say that if I hadn’t met some) when they are pregnant or at certain points in their cycle, because they don’t even try to check their crazy. Maybe those impulses are always there, and just harder to control when they’re in pain, having mood swings, or throwing up all day. I understood the TGC author to basically be saying “check your crazy: is this a window to the state of your spiritual condition?”
          And if we’re going to go off on people about how “the author has a responsibility to make their intent clear”, what do we then say to the people who think the writers of the Bible were talking about something other than our physical bodies when they use the word “flesh”?

          Reply
          • Anon

            This. Thank you!

    • Mikayla Flanders

      I enjoyed the actual article. It was uplifting and I felt encouraged as if it were a gentle call to action to be more aware of the right and Godly thing to do when loaded down by mind-boggling hormones.
      That being said, I think we need to respond with grace when we read articles that are mostly correct with only a bit that we disagree with or view as incorrect.
      I understand that “flesh” can have a negative connotation due to biblical proclamations concerning “the flesh”. But I think where some of us misunderstand is in thinking we are “the flesh”. She says that we can view our PMS as a fight against the flesh….where is she wrong? I get that it’s a negative viewpoint but we can switch it to a positive if we want: PMS is a chance to prove obedience to Christ by choosing God’s way even in the midst of temptation.
      Is there anyone here who says that the depression, anger, bitterness, etc that sometimes comes with PMS isn’t tempting us to snap, be mean, or slap someone? It is tempting! We get a real chance with PMS to show Christ’s love by being kind even when we do not feel like it.
      I think the fight over the word “flesh” is a fight over saving people’s understanding so they don’t have a damaging viewpoint that women are evil and more evil than others and we should just hate ourselves. And I think that is a horrible argument worth defeating…so why don’t we just address that argument and it’s associated trigger word (flesh) rather than get irate with some lady who didn’t mean to cause offense by accurately equating PMS with “the flesh”.

      Reply
  8. Anon

    Something that seems to be missing from this debate is that often, the emotions we experience are purely hormonal and have no basis in our experience. By this, I mean that I can burst into tears, not over ‘trivial reasons’ as the author mentions in her article, but for NO REASON AT ALL . I’ll be washing the dishes or vacuuming or walking the dog and suddenly the tears start to flow. Or I will suddenly feel an overwhelming sense of despair – not about any situation or person, but just the emotion, with nothing attached to it.
    I’ve learned now to tell the difference between emotions that are ‘real’ and emotions that are purely hormonal. And acknowledging that this sense of grief or despair is just the result of my hormones going crazy makes it a lot easier to cope with.
    I’m currently going through an early menopause, so instead of being able to work out when these feelings will come, they can hit me at any time. Menopause is tough enough by itself – if I had to regard these hormonal feelings as ‘sins’ that I needed to ‘fight’, it would make things far worse.
    BTW, while I agree that our periods are not malfunctions, the fallen world we live in can sometimes cause our bodies (including our reproductive systems) to malfunction. Extreme pain or difficulty should always be checked out medically. I suffered for years from agonizing cramps that would have me bent double and unable to speak. I was brushed off by both friends and doctors with ‘period pain is a fact of life – deal with it’. I was in my 30s before a doctor picked up on the abnormal level of pain I was experiencing and realized it was due to a serious hormone imbalance.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very true about causing us to malfunction! That’s why we need to treat our bodies well, which includes getting medical treatment. But seeing our bodies as “wrong” and “sinful” really doesn’t work!

      Reply
  9. Active Mom

    Several years ago I was forced to deal with a medical condition that I had always had and just thought it was something I had to deal with. Come to find out it wasn’t hopeless but was tied to my cycle. What was interesting to me is during my search for answers my wonderful obgyn told me that my cycle wasn’t my enemy. We just needed to try to learn about it. It was unique like me, so answers would take a little while to come by. It made me really stop and think. He believed that many health issues women deal with could be understood better or relief found if researchers and doctors understood women’s cycles better. When I asked why there was so little research considering half the population dealt with them he just smiled and said “because historically most researchers have been male. And for a long time there was the mentality that problems due to a women’s cycle fell under Eve’s punishment and women needed to just deal with them.” It was another example of unspoken sexism that has been passed down for generations.
    That conversation made me look at my body better but it also made me sad.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So interesting, Active Mom! So true, and I think you’ve got an awesome obgyn. That’s wonderful.

      Reply
  10. Jane Eyre

    I have been very fortunate in that, if I take care of myself, my periods are pain-free and manageable. But I need more iron, food, sleep, and water during that part of my cycle.
    Not a doctor, but I’ve heard that some problems during a woman’s cycle can be related to underlying health conditions (hormonal imbalances, endometriosis, etc.), and treating the underlying problem ameliorates PMS and, in some instances, improve fertility. So if things are really unmanageable, it’s probably a good thing to talk to a doctor – and find a good doctor who doesn’t expect women to bear “these things.”

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very true! I think that understanding how much caring properly for your body can help you deal with a lot of the negative things is so important. So let’s stop getting mad at ourselves and calling these things sin issues, and instead just learn to care for ourselves. Yes, we can react sinfully in any situation, but being hormonal is not a sin problem.

      Reply
      • Jane Eyre

        So true.
        Thought experiment: if a woman gets hormonal and suffers during her period, feels better than she ever thought possible during pregnancy, and then gets post-partum depression, are the first and the third the result of sin but the second one is not? What if we scramble up which hormonal swings cause problems and which do not? Does that change the answer?

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Now THAT is an excellent question.

          Reply
  11. Becky

    While I can see the original author’s point about needing to be more vigilant about attitudes when you know hormones are more of a factor, it sounds dangerous to equate it to warring against one’s own body. It’s already all too easy as a woman to feel that God made us “wrong” in our natural sexual response, since it’s so much more of a struggle for so many of us compared to men. Adding in that our monthly cycles (that God designed) make us weak and prone to sin just exacerbates that. While I do believe that sin breaks a lot and only God can heal it, how are we as women supposed to ever truly understand God’s love for us, when we’re also constantly being bombarded with the message even the way our bodies are designed is fundamentally flawed?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is the problem with the article exactly, Becky. You’ve encapsulated it perfectly.
      And, I may add, why must women get this special level of temptation–if it’s all about spiritual testing and temptation? Why is it only women? Or perhaps this monthly war against the flesh is not actually a healthy way to see it?

      Reply
  12. Ariana

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this article. It’s so encouraging. I haven’t read the other article, but I love the grace and truth presented in this article. Awhile ago I created a “Period Plan” that has things that might be good to put in place before my period comes (like freezer meals for my family and lighthearted books and movie ideas for me) so I can rest my body and mind. The one thing I added to the bottom of my “plan” was the verse John 1:16, “for from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” I don’t want to forget God’s goodness and grace during a difficult time of the month for me.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love that so much!

      Reply
  13. Rachel C

    Uggh..that Gospel coalition article made me cringe. I recognize that attitude though, and it is often applied to mental health issues as well in that it’s considered a spiritual battle rather than being a real physical or psychological weakness or sickness to respond to appropriately.
    I think that with hormone issues though, people tend to think in two extremes. Either, they think that since their hormones are physical, anything they do as a result isn’t their fault ever even if their emotions or physical pain made them lash out in anger or frustration at innocent people.
    Or, like the author of the coalition article writes, they think that their hormonal responses are so connected to the spiritual realm that everything they do as a result is their fault, especially if it can be construed as sinful like feelings of despair or rage.
    I’m still working through understanding all of this stuff, but I tend to think that the answer is somewhere in the middle.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’d agree, Rachel. I do think it’s somewhere in the middle. We’re still responsible for ourselves, always. But hormones themselves are not bad, and different moods are not bad, either.

      Reply
  14. Budgie

    This is a tough one for me as I’m one of the lucky women who hasn’t had too many challenges with her menstrual cycle. I rarely get cramps or pain. I’ve never missed work because of my period and I don’t think I really experience mood swings based on my cycle (though perhaps I do and just don’t notice). So I can’t relate to the gospel coalition post at all. I guess I would never blame my period or cycle for sinful behavior. But I haven’t experienced what some women have.
    It’s hard to say how much of our physical reality is exactly how God intended it. If pain in childbirth came about because of sin, it’s probably reasonable that the menstrual cycle was also impacted by sin. So it’s hard to say how normal PMS is. That being said, it’s part of our reality as women so we have to find a way to live with it.
    I’m kind of stuck – I really can’t relate to the poster who talks about falling into sin because of her hormones (it sounds a little like men who can’t help lusting because they saw too much skin). To me, a woman who is so out of control at certain times of the month really needs to get some medical treatment. At the same time, it makes me uncomfortable with the idea that our menstrual cycle is supposed to limit our day to day lives. We don’t hear this much now, but in the past, many men used the menstrual cycle and PMS to argue that women couldn’t be in positions of authority. It was a way to keep women out of government, out of positions in business, out of church leadership. Their hormones were just too volatile. But some of what’s been said here basically says this is normal. So which is it?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think there’s a far bigger issue in how we do public life in general. (I still don’t understand why the United States has no proper maternity leave policy, but that’s something for another day. I can’t imagine going back to work at 6 weeks, or even at 12 weeks. That’s a human rights issue to me. It’s so absolutely strange). And to assume that hormones means that a woman shouldn’t be in authority really comes back to what we think authority should look like in the first place. If we made more room for different perspectives and experiences, and stopped thinking everything had to be one way, we’d likely get further.

      Reply
    • Anon

      Our menstrual cycle isn’t ‘supposed’ to limit our day to day lives, but at the same time, there needs to be an acceptance that for some women, they do not have the same level of energy throughout their cycle.
      E.g. I tend to have a huge burst of energy about 24-48 hours before a period starts. I get so much done! And then I get hit by overwhelming tiredness. Trying to do the same on all days just won’t work for me. But being able to do more on the energetic days and less on the tired days means I get just as much (if not more) done, just in a way that fits with my own body’s needs.
      If you don’t really notice any changes during the month, that’s fantastic. But for many women, there are very noticeable changes, and they may find they can work & live more effectively by building this rhythm into their lives.

      Reply
      • Lea

        I see it like being a little tired or sick at certain times. I might be a little ‘shorter’ with someone when I don’t feel well, but is that really a sin? I have somewhat painful periods sometimes and it doesn’t cause me to fly off the handle, i’m just a bit more weepy and a bit less able to roll with irritation.

        Reply
    • Ina

      I want to clarify because I think you’re referring to something I said. I did not use the passive language of “falling into sin” or blame my hormones. In fact I said specifically that you can’t blame your hormones as an excuse. I have to be careful or aware of my sin tendencies (anger is my specific vice) and what my body is doing. This is no different than recognizing you need extra grace and patience after a bad night with a baby. You recognize that your family still deserves gentleness when you’re tired and grouchy. That’s all. I think everyone would agree yelling in reaction to your children is still wrong. I’m glad you don’t notice any changes at all, but I’d venture to guess that you are in a minority there. And, frankly, men are by no means exempt from moods based on their bodies and sleep cycles. I’ve met men quite prone to either anger or sadness based off the calendar or whether their baby has a sleep regression.

      Reply
  15. Wild Honey

    When I first showed signs of puberty, I remember most an overwhelming sense of *shame.*
    Now I have two young daughters, and I am trying my best, somewhat blindly, to normalize puberty and female-ness for them so that they are not ashamed of *how God made them.* Part of this is allowing them in the bathroom with me, even when taking care of period-related bodily functions (sorry if this is becoming TMI).
    My 4-year-old asked me what a period is. After thinking a minute (I didn’t want to explicitly associate it with babies and get her hopes up, she keeps hinting for one 🙂 ), I responded, “It’s something a woman’s body does to help keep itself healthy.”
    My periods have always been more inconvenient than anything else. But after experiencing burnout a few years ago, I’ve started taking them as a monthly reminder to just slow down. Only God is omnipotent, and he designed us humans (both men and women) to have limits and a need for sabbaths. I can’t speak for those with painful periods or extreme mood and hormone fluctuations, I can only imagine what you’re going through and wish I had an answer. But for me, my monthly cycle has come with a silver lining.
    While I agree that, for the average person and realizing that not everyone is “average,” there is a balance between experiencing an emotion and expressing it in a way that is productive instead of harmful. I really appreciate the comments above saying that PMS allowed them to finally express emotions that had been stuffed and were signals of a bigger problem. For me, this was the piece that was missing in the TGC article, that an emotion is not sinful in and off itself, and that taking the time to reflect instead of “fight” or ignore it can actually be more helpful than not.

    Reply
    • Anon

      I LOVE your explanation of periods to your 4-year-old! Simple, factual, positive and providing a great basis to build on as she gets older. I wish I’d had someone like you to explain things to me when I was a child.

      Reply
  16. Rachel

    Whew. This is tough, tough one for me. What a fraught topic. As a PMDD sufferer, I endure hell on earth more months than not. Many doctors don’t really know what to do with it, so we have to hope and pray that more research will bear fruit down the road (and more and more researchers are indeed working on it). Like other commenters, I have spent too much time in my past 100% spiritualizing my very physical disorder. There are reasons for doing so, mainly upbringing, but I won’t get in to that here.
    Like another commenter very shrewdly observed, the things that come to the surface during PMDD are things that are always there, but go way back down deep underneath the surface when I feel better. It’s just easier to ignore them when I feel good. But during the 7-10 days before my period, they can become a snarling, raging, hopeless mess. In some ways, I’ve grown to be thankful in a way for my illness because it’s forced me to deal with these issues with a wonderful counselor. Let me tell you, getting overflowing grace and compassion from her has made a big difference. When I’m not being simply told I’m sinning and need to stop, it calms my heart and makes me more able to tackle my problems head on. Hurting people just need to be acknowledged, perhaps over and over again so that they might finally believe they are seen and heard.
    But sometimes I DO act and speak in ways that are hurtful to my family during those times of the month. I have apologized countless times to them, which has been good for all of us. My husband loves and supports me 100%, but it’s still hard. Honestly? I am never more aware of my frailties than during these times. While I don’t see myself as some giant sinning loser just because I’m a woman and have wretched PMS, and while I don’t blame my physical and mental condition on myself at all, it has certainly made me more aware of my deepest issues and eager to pursue all forms of healing, which includes spiritual growth. But again, I never could have done it without my counselor, who lavished so much grace and empathy on me that it made me more able to confront those deep things that erupt during my PMDD. If not for that, and if not for my willingness to consider how deeply the fall has affected us even on a cellular level, then I wouldn’t have come as far as I’ve come.
    My heart goes out to anyone wrestling with this each month. You have my prayers. You are not defined by your illness.

    Reply
    • Rachel

      Just want to leave this C. S. Lewis quote here for anyone who might need to read it. The gist is, basically, let’s not judge each other solely by external actions. Some people are blessed with healthy bodies that rarely give them problems, so perhaps it’s easier to assume they’re spiritual giants, when really they enjoy good health, which undeniably makes life easier. Others struggle greatly with bad health and/or awful circumstances, which might overshadow good things in the heart. God sees the true heart, and all will be revealed at the last judgment.
      “The bad psychological material is not a sin but a disease. It does not need to be repented of, but to be cured. And by the way, that is very important. Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices. When a neurotic who has a pathological horror of cats forces himself to pick up a cat for some good reason, it is quite possible that in God’s eyes he has shown more courage than a healthy man may have shown in winning the V.C. When a man who has been perverted from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing does some tiny little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty he might have committed, and thereby, perhaps, risks being sneered at by his companions, he may, in God’s eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life itself for a friend.
      It is as well to put this the other way round. Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it. Most of the man’s psychological makeup is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us: all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises.”

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        That’s so insightful, Rachel! Thank you. I feel that I have been so blessed in so many things in life, and that I may fare rather poorly put next to the neurotic who is scared of cats. I think you’re on to something.

        Reply
  17. BJ

    I read the original article after reading this one. It’s difficult to know how I would have reacted had I found the gospel coalition one on my own, though I still think it would not have sat well with me. Whereas this article, without letting anyone off the hook for sinful behavior, didn’t seem to imply that hormones and the emotions that come from them are the sin itself, something we have to be wary of. Instead it promotes understanding and support, which I always appreciate about this site and the ones you sometimes link to!
    I have a painful period. Not unable to speak or ER level painful, but painful enough to render the day lost to a permeating misery. The first day especially, and I often miss work as a result or it starts at work and the pain gets debilitating and I have to go home. (If I could move around at my job it might be less painful but I’m stuck in a cubicle and there are weird rules against stretching because one of the other employees used to do Some yoga at her desk while working)
    I also have mood issues in the few days to a week beforehand that can sometimes feel severe but I’m sure others have it worse. Previous traumas I’m still working through have kept me fairly emotionally numb, but that loss of numbness happens in that same timeframe, making it difficult to handle things sometimes.
    Fortunately I have a husband who loves me and doesn’t discount my pain and tries to help. Though he does have ADHD so sometimes I’ll have to remind him what’s going on, lol.
    Maybe the intended message of the article did get lost. I was a little confused at where her finger was pointing and she seemed to contradict herself, though it’s entirely possible I misunderstood.
    However, I don’t believe that what women experience around their periods has Anything to do with sin. I think it has to do with biology.
    Also she mentioned that science doesn’t know why this happens
    From https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/period-pain-scientists-finally-work-out-why-menstruation-hurts-so-much-a7092981.html%3famp
    Apparently they do! Maybe inflammation is caused by sin! (Gasp)
    If it was related to sin, being that we’re all sinful, why wouldn’t every woman experience PMS? And men are not without sin, why would they NOT have it?
    Obviously we want to search for God’s grace and help with every hardship, not just the ones that “the fall” made us somehow deserve. (I don’t believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis, which is also why my view is different)
    But turning something innately biological that is not even referenced in the Bible (please let me know if I’m wrong and I’m talking PMS, not menses) into something someone else is going to use to hammer their wife or daughter or just any female they feel superior to, so that instead of understanding their situation and lovingly supporting them just seems like another way women have been failed and ultimately wronged by the so-called church.
    PS, your site is a HUGE help and inspiration to me. It’s people like you and your family and everyone who helps with this blog that help me to not give up hope that a “church” actually does exist.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you so much, BJ! I appreciate it.

      Reply
      • BJ

        Hellooooo,
        Please delete my previous post if you would? I didn’t realize how it came across with a withering sort of anger. I’m having a hard part of my journey at the moment and having difficulty with anger in relation to the teachings I grew up with and reading the other article was kind of a trigger. I’m very sorry.

        Reply
  18. lavender lady

    Best post ever! I wish I could have read this about, ohhh, 40 years ago! I am heading into menopause now (maybe? Hopefully?or is it a myth….) at age 55 and am only learning now that it is okay to embrace the ebb & “flow” (pun intended) of my cycle. Only learning now that one does not have deal with extreme pain every month, that it’s okay to rest as needed. I’m slowly learning that is ok, & even healthy, to talk openly about my cycle (Thank you to my daughter who sees nothing wrong with discussing it without shame. In the appropriate setting. She has no qualms about stating to her friends, male & female, when she is hurting/tired because of her period.) I have tried to hide it or at least minimize it with even my husband, for 35 years! I have been so ashamed of it and so ashamed because I’m so “weak” because I get a period.

    Reply
  19. regs

    Very interesting topic for us women, thank you for the helpful idea!

    Reply

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