Doctor Says Period Cramps Are Just As Painful As A Heart Attack, The Internet Reacts (20+ Pics)

People are finally talking about period pain, something that we, as a society, still don’t really understand or recognize. Period pain, like much of women’s reproductive health in general, is under-researched, misunderstood, often swept under the carpet and shrouded in taboo.

Looking beyond the sensationalist headlines (the heart-attack comparison came from a single doctor’s anecdotal evidence), the conversation raises all kinds of important issues and questions that we are long overdue in discussing.

For example, why is so little known about a condition that affects 20% of women to the point that they can’t go about their daily activities? Why do doctors take women’s pain less seriously? Why are women left with little option but to keep quiet, take a painkiller and get on with it? Would there be more research and understanding if men had to deal with it too?

Right now there isn’t really a prominent lobby pushing the need for further research, and there still appears to be a general media discomfort about using period-related words on their channels. There are such deep-rooted linguistic and societal links between the womb and the emotional over-reaction of women, even the word ‘hysteria’ stems from the Greek word for uterus. You could say that this has been going on for a while now. So if things are going to change anytime soon we really need to start talking about period pain, to normalize it and to get doctors to start taking it more seriously.

Ironically (or not), it took the revelations of a man for people to start the conversation. But talking about it they are. While some people are shocked by the headline-grabbing comparison, to millions of women this is old news, and they took to social media to share their stories. Scroll down below to check out some of the conversation below, and let us know what you think in the comments. Because after all, change has to start somewhere doesn’t it?

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Somebody Please Explain the Morning-After Pill to Male TV Writers

One of lifes more enduring mysteries is how an astonishingly small percentage of television writers understand the female reproductive system.

Black Mirrors fourth season hit Netflix last week, entertaining audiences with mini-movie-length meditations on all of the ways the tech-driven future will kill our bodies and souls.

This season is special. All six episodes feature a female lead, since women seem to be a newly-discovered demographic in entertainment.

But despite the deliberate effort to produce a show that is less pale and less male than most, one episode in particular has some women and public-health advocates rankled. (If you care about spoilers, now would be a good time to stop reading.)

Episode 2, entitled Arkangel, features a mother named Marie, played by Rosemarie DeWitt, who has a chip installed in her young daughters head that allows her to track the little girls movements and vitals. Complications arise as Sara matures, and boil over when Sara becomes sexually active as a teenager. In the scene that serves as the linchpin to the episodes bloody climax, Marie discovers, through her app companion to her daughters tracking chip, that the girl is pregnant. She drives to a drug store in the middle of the night and obtains Emergency Contraception, which she grinds up and casually adds to her daughters smoothie the next morning. Sara becomes nauseous at school, and the nurse informs her that her illness is due to the emergency contraception she took to end her pregnancy.

Black Mirror is a fictional show set in an imagined future, but none of the details of Saras pregnancy or drugging make any biological sense.

Pregnancy doesn't happen right after you have sex, explains Elizabeth Clark, Planned Parenthood Federation of Americas Director of Health Media.

And emergency contraception doesnt cause a morning-after abortion. Sperm can actually live inside someone's body for up to six days after sex, waiting for an egg to show up to be fertilized, Clark adds. The morning-after pill works by temporarily stopping ovulation so the ovary doesn't release an egg.

Emergency contraception wont work if pregnancy has already occurred and cant interfere with a pregnancy that already exists.

Further, the drug is most effective the sooner it is taken after unprotected sex, thus its availability over the counter is helpful to women who dont want to waste precious hours for a doctors permission. It doesnt make any sense, even in the world of Black Mirror, for Marie to hold the pills overnight and casually drop them in her daughters smoothie the next morning; that diminishes the drugs effectiveness.

Does it matter if nobody in the team behind ArkangelBlack Mirror creator and writer Charlie Brooker, episode director Jodie Foster, star Rosemarie DeWitt, the rest of the cast and crew and production teamcould pass a detailed exam on how pregnancy works? Of course not. But whats unfortunate about this particular mass flub is that their misconception mirrors the misconception contraception opponents rely on to justify restricting womens access to reproductive options.

Contraception opponents like the Catholic Church, the March for Life, Susan B. Anthonys List (a group that aims to elect anti-abortion politicians, a sort of Bizarro World EMILYs List), and others use emergency contraception and the abortion pill interchangeably, and by design. Belief that life begins at the moment of conception and not the moment of implantation means that anything that might deliberately interfere with the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus is the same thing as murder.

Conflation of emergency contraception and the abortion pilltwo very different medicationsreinforces that belief. Im not sure thats what director Jodie Foster would have intended.

Black Mirror is far from the first show to get it wrong. Back in 2011, The Walking Dead flubbed a morning-after pill plotline in a nearly identical way. When audiences pointed out the flaw, the shows creator Glenn Mazzara issued a flippant dismissal of their concerns.

We exercised our artistic creative license to explore a storyline with one of our characters, not to make any pro-life or pro-choice political statement, he said. We sincerely hope that people are not turning to the fictional world of 'The Walking Dead' for accurate medical information.

Seven years later, TV writers are making the same mistake, Donald Trump is president, and the Department of Health and Human Services is stacked with people who believe that myth. But sure, its just television.

Film and television have a unique opportunity to portray sexual and reproductive health care in medically accurate and nonjudgmental ways for millions of viewers, PPFAs Elizabeth Clark adds. With access to health care and sex education under constant attack, its more important than ever for us to see accurate storylines when it comes to contraception, abortion, and other sexual health issuesas well as a whole range of peoples authentic experiences.

Netflix and Black Mirror have not returned a request for comment.

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Unbound raises $2.7 million for womens sexual wellness

Unbound, a sexual wellness startup for women, recently raised $2.7 million from Founders Fund, Slow Ventures, Arena Ventures, SoGal Ventures and others. Founded by Polly Rodriguez of Women of SexTech, Unbound aims to empower women to own their sexuality.

“Raising money is always hard but it took an exceptional amount of resilience,” Rodriguez said.

Unbound’s bread and butter is three-fold: content related to sexual health, wellness and pleasure, individual sex toy products and a quarterly box of curated products. Unbound started as a third-party seller for sex products like vibrators and lubricant. In recent months, it’s been developing and selling its own in-house products. Down the road, the goal is to completely shift away from the third-party reselling business.

“The transition from selling third-party to predominantly your own products isn’t always the smoothest,” she said. “In the next year, ideally, most things will be made in house.”

Currently, the bulk of what’s sold on Unbound are vibrators. The company also sells bundled items, like a strap-on box, g-spot box, a kink box and menopause box.  Unbound expects to do around $2 million in sales by the end of this year.

At some point, Unbound will also expand into brick-and-mortar to be more experience-driven. Rodriguez envisions Unbound becoming something like Planned Parenthood 2.0, where people can get mammograms, pap smears and other “things women dread.”

“Female sexual health and wellness can become this thing we don’t dread,” she said.

Rodriguez decided to start the company after her battle with cancer and radiation-induced menopause. During that time, she said wanted to make sure she was taking ownership over her body and sexuality.

But the shopping experience for lubricant “mortified” her, she said. “It stuck with me as a terrible experience.”

In addition to empowering women and solving problems that are specific to them, Rodriguez wants to educate the public around women’s health and sex.

“People often assume that anything adult is all the same thing,” Rodriguez said. “Anything from hardcore pornography to very simple lubricants. One of the things our company and women of SexTech seek to achieve is to really provide more categorization,” Rodriguez said. “And it helps to decrease the stigmas and taboos associated with sexual health and wellness.”

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The Speculum Finally Gets a Modern Redesign

It was afternoon in the San Francisco headquarters of Frog, the design firm best known for its hand in creating the iconic look of products like Apple's original Macintosh computers. Hailey Stewart, one of Frog's industrial designers, had scattered an array of prototypes on a table. On one end, you could see cylinders of foam that looked almost like skinny vibrators, with handles that stuck out at different angles and sketches of levers and screw mechanisms. And on the other, the common speculum—the device used in routine gynecological exams to inspect the cervix. Stewart picked one up and cranked it open. "You're literally in the stirrups with that sound"—the device made a loud, painful sounding click—"and it's like, excuse my language, but what the fuck?"

Most of the designers in the room had never seen a speculum before. Some (the men) had never considered the contents of a pelvic examination—stripping off your clothes, laying on an examination table, and strapping your feet into stirrups, while a doctor pries you open with a cold, metal gadget. But Stewart hadn't gathered her colleagues just to explain what happens to women at their annual exams. She had a greater goal in mind.

For the past several months, mostly during down time and on weekends, Stewart and interaction designer Sahana Kumar had been studying this device. They'd wrenched it open and closed, studied the curve of the bills, read endlessly about its history. And now, she told the rest of the designers at Frog, they had taken on what was turning into a particularly ambitious project: redesigning the speculum for the 21st century.

The current design of the speculum, fashioned by American physician James Marion Sims, dates back to the 1840s. The device had two pewter blades to separate the vaginal walls, and hinged open and closed with a screw mechanism. Sims, sometimes called the "father of modern gynecology," used the speculum to pioneer treatments for fistula and other complications from childbirth. But his experiments were often conducted on slave women, without the use of anesthesia. So to say that the speculum was not designed with patient comfort in mind would be an egregious understatement.

And yet, the speculum today looks almost identical to the one Sims used more than 150 years ago. The most noticeable difference between the original Sims device and the one you can find in gynecological offices today is that instead of pewter, modern specula are made of stainless steel or plastic.

That the speculum is old is not, on its face, a problem. It's that the design is neither optimal for patients nor physicians. Doctors have to stretch the speculum's bills wide in order to see as far back as the cervix, and even then, it's not always possible to get a good look inside. (Some specula come with built-in lights, but the problem has more to do with tissue falling in than the darkness of the vaginal canal.) All of that pressure causes discomfort; one review of the medical literature found that some women even avoid the gynecologist because of the dreaded device.

Mercy Asiedu

In 2014, the American College of Physicians went so far as to recommend against pelvic exams, citing the "harms, fear, anxiety, embarrassment, pain, and discomfort" associated with speculum examinations. Those side effects impact gynecologists, too. "The more comfortable a patient is, the faster they can do their job, the more patients they can see," says Stewart. "There's actual monetary value to [patient] comfort."

It’s not that nobody’s tried to change things. In 2005, a San Francisco-based company patented the design for an inflatable speculum called FemSpec. The device was made out of polyurethane, the same material used to make condoms; a physician could insert it like a tampon and inflate it like a tiny balloon. It debuted to some fanfare, but ultimately flopped. As an article in The Chicago Times pointed out, most women never even got to experience the new speculum "because it is so new on the market that most doctors aren't using it."

"With a speculum, you just shove it in and expand it as wide as you want to get the visualization you want. With this, you have to put it in and gently move it around, kind of like a joystick." — Biomedical engineer Mercy Asiedu

Other do-overs have focused on more modest improvements. A prototype called the Lotus, created by a student at the Pratt Institute, kept the bill shape but curved it slightly for a more ergonomic insertion. The design also included a rotating handle to open the speculum bills vertically, and a hidden lever mechanism to prevent pinching. It seemed promising, but after appearing in a student showcase last year, it never turned into anything real.

In Oregon, a group called Ceek Women's Health has begun clinical trials for a series of new devices—including a sleeve, a speculum with narrower bills, and a speculum that patients can self-insert. Their goal is to create a variety of specula to serve a variety of patients, rather than recreating another one-size-fits-all tool. "For women who have a lot of tissue, women who have had more than two vaginal births or a high BMI, for women with a history of trauma or rape, for post-menopausal women who have vaginal atrophy—there isn't any product to address their needs," says Fahti Khosrow, Ceek's co-founder and CEO. Give physicians a whole new toolkit, she says, and they can better serve their patients.

Perhaps the most promising new design comes from Duke University, where researchers are testing a device that could circumvent the speculum altogether. Mercy Asiedu, a doctoral candidate in biomedical engineering at Duke, designed a tampon-sized device with a 2 megapixel camera attached to the end. "The speculum was originally designed for a physician to view the cervix from outside the body," Asiedu says, "but with current technology, you can easily view the cervix from inside the body."

Asiedu tested her prototype in a pilot study with 15 volunteers this year, the results of which were published in the journal PLOS One in May. Every single patient said the smaller device provided a better experience than the speculum.

The Duke study looked at patient satisfaction, and Asiedu acknowledges that physicians may offer more criticism of the device. The design emphasized comfort, modesty, and patient empowerment, not necessarily ease of use for physicians. "With a speculum, you just shove it in and expand it as wide as you want to get the visualization you want," Asiedu says. "With this, you have to put it in and gently move it around, kind of like a joystick."

When Stewart and her team set off to redesign the speculum, they knew what they were up against. Plus, Stewart says, "I hadn't even seen a speculum."

So before they started researching or sketching ideas out, Stewart and Kumar listed the things that had bothered them in gynecological exams. There was the noise (like a can opener), the temperature (freezing cold), the feeling inside (as if someone was stretching your insides like a rubber band). When they acquired a set of specula, one plastic and one metal, they realized they needed to change the aesthetics too. These things looked like medieval torture devices.

First, Stewart explored how to silence that ratcheting sound. She and Fran Wang, a mechanical engineer at Frog, investigated new types of opening mechanisms. No concept was too bizarre. What if, like a pufferfish, they used saline to inflate the device from the inside? Or what if they used air, blowing it up like an air mattress? They looked for inspiration in nature (cobra hoods), in machining (milling chucks), and in everyday objects (bicycle pumps); they studied how a tripod clamps open and shut, how ski bindings clip in and out, searching for ideas that might replace the old-fashioned screw mechanism.


Next, they considered new materials. Instead of constructing the device out of plastic or metal, they decided to cover the whole thing in autoclavable silicone—a material that wouldn't feel cold, could be easily sterilized, and would make insertion more comfortable. "On the metal speculum, there are pokey bits," says Wang. "Those shouldn't go near your delicate body parts! Having all of that covered in silicon, it prevents tissue from getting damaged. And also when you look at it, it's nicer."

They experimented with using three prongs instead of two, opening the device into a triangle shape. They tried shrinking the device to the size of a tampon, or borrowing design language from the vibrator industry. They put the device's handle at different angles, ranging from 90 degrees to 120 degrees, to find most ergonomic position for physicians. And then they 3-D printed a few different prototypes and put them in the hands of OB/GYNs and medical providers.

"The one they were really excited about was the one that opened up using three bills, rather than just two," says Stewart. The triangle-shaped opening gave physicians the same field of view without having to open the bills as wide, making the process less "stretchy" for patients. OB/GYNs also liked the device's handle at 110 degrees, which enough extra space between the physician's hand and the patient's body to eliminate the "last scooch" down the examination table. The silicon covering was a big hit, too. A button unlocks or locks the speculum with one hand, freeing up the other hand; a push handle eliminates the need for screws. Even more comforting, the speculum was totally silent.

Conferring with OB/GYNs made one thing very clear, though: The project wouldn't succeed with redesigned hardware alone. Stewart wondered why she felt more comfortable getting a bikini wax than she did seeing the gynecologist once a year, and the answer boiled down to the environment. One felt cold, clinical, and scary; the other, relaxing and personal, even if it was more physically painful. If they wanted to redesign the speculum, they had to redesign the entire experience.

Half a year later, the project has turned into something of a coup d'état on the modern pelvic exam. There's the speculum itself, still in development with the insight from several OB/GYNs who have signed on to help. There's a list of guidelines for physicians, which include simple but meaningful tips like giving patients somewhere to hang their clothes and explaining the components of the exam. "It's never going to be perfect," says Kumar. "So how do we at least prepare people emotionally for how it's going to be, and make them feel like they got some value out of it at the end?"

There's also a mock-up of an app, which would let patients fill out forms, ask questions, or follow a guided meditation before the exam. Kumar invented a gear kit—a stress ball, socks to cover your feet in the stirrups—to improve patient comfort, alongside the new speculum. The team also added Rachel Hobart, a visual designer at Frog, to help brand the experience. The result is called Yona.

For now, the Yona project is still an early-stage design concept. Stewart and Wang are still hashing out new speculum prototypes, while Kumar and Hobart refine the app and experience. They're working with their board of physicians to fine-tune the idea, to negotiate what's feasible and what isn't. And collectively, they're searching for partners who may have similar goals, like the tech-savvy healthcare service One Medical, who can bring Yona from concept into reality.

The trickiest part, it seems, is developing something that physicians will actually adopt. It's not lost on the Frog designers that other prototypes have failed after physicians bristled at the idea of investing in something new, either financially (the cost of purchasing a new device) or mentally (the time it takes to learn how to use a new device). Gynecologists have been using the speculum for over a century, and so far, it's worked. Why change now? "You could create the most beautiful, most unique, most user-friendly device, but if a doctor doesn't want to learn how to use it, your patient's never going to see it," Stewart says.

But Wang says that's mostly a matter of getting the product out there, showing physicians how great it can be for them and for their patients. She knows the traditional speculum works fine for most gynecologists. "It passes, but it's not great," says Wang. "But we're working on making it better. When you give [physicians] the option to choose a better one or a worse one, then they're going to choose the better one. But they might not know that until they get that option."

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Birth control app Nurx now delivers to the contraceptive deserts of Texas

About half the counties in Texas dont have the number of public clinics required to meet the contraceptive needs of the population. So Nurx, an at-home birth control delivery app, decided to give women in the state the option to get birth control whenever they want and without ever needing to step into a clinic or even physically see a doctor.

Starting today, those in the Lone Star State will be able to tap the Nurx app and get contraceptives delivered straight to their door.

While Texas isnt the only state with a giant contraceptive desert, or an area withoutat least 1 clinic to every 1,000 women in need of publicly funded contraception, it is certainly the biggest area of land in the United States not meeting these needs.

And with Trumpcare looming, and Trumps recent Religious Freedom order, which allows businesses to deny birth control coverage based on religious reasons, many women could lose access to their publicly funded birth control pills and even more publicly funded clinics could go under, leaving a large and vulnerable population wide open to other, possibly dangerous methods of preventing birth.

While there are plenty of birth control delivery services out on the market, such as Maven, The Pill Club, Lemonaid and BirthControlBuzz, I had a hard time finding any that delivered in Texas (get at me if you do). Thats not to say they wont at some point, as each of them could easily open up shop in this area, but it does seem Nurx,which is not a free birth control delivery service, but does provide the pills at a reasonable cost, may havediscovered a goldmine of people in need, for the time being.

For instance, a little more than half of all pregnancies in Texas were unplannedin 2015, costing taxpayers $2.9 billion that year. However, according to a Guttmacher Institute report, the total gross public savings from preventing unintended pregnancies would have been $2.14 billion if women and couples could be empowered to prevent them. Couple that with the teen birth rate in Texas, which sharply declined by 56 percent over the last two decades, thanks in large part to contraceptives, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Couple that with an additional estimate of more than 19 million women living in these contraceptive deserts nationwide and its easy to see adding these types of services could save money at the state level by removing middlemen and increasing access, as well as provide a lucrative area for Nurx and other birth control delivery apps to tap.

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