PMS Is A Myth

Everyone, everywhere, knows that once a month, women become unbearable beasts. We rant, we rave, we cry, we sulk, and we rage. One minute, we’re happy in the wolf pack, and the next, we’re a fully blown werewolf. We have PMS.

But if you look for actual evidence of PMS, it’s just not there.  In 2012, researchers compiled every singled published study that tracked women’s moods and how it fluctuated over their menstrual cycle. And you know what they found?

Not much. Only 15% of studies found any link between negative mood and the period before you get your period. A whopping 38% of studies found no link between any phase of your menstrual cycle and negative emotions. The authors concluded that the widespread beliefs about PMS are not valid.

“Not true!” I hear you say. “I’m one of those werewolves!”. But hear me out. Yes, if you get your Google on, it will tell you that up to 85% of women report having PMS.

But “PMS” can be anything from feeling a bit bloated, to feeling tired, having a headache or feeling frustrated. People get these symptoms all the time. The symptoms of PMS are all very common–look me in the eye and tell me that you haven’t been “irritable”, “tense” or “unhappy” in the last week. It’s much more common to get uncomfortable symptoms on any day than it is not to–89% of us have had some kind of symptom in the last week alone. Over a third of us have felt tired in the last week, 38% of us have had a sore back, and 35% of us have had a headache.

Both men AND women get symptoms every day that you could lump in under “PMS.” The only difference is that when your period comes, you go “aha! It was my period all along!” rather than assuming any outbursts were due to the more pedestrian factors that have been actually shown to predict your mood–your physical health, and how stressed you feel. It’s easier to pin feeling angry on something you can’t really control (the perry-fairy) than it is to attribute your blues to staying up past your bedtime, or worrying over a looming deadline.

A small percentage of us (estimates range from around 3% to 9%) do experience symptoms before our period arrives that are incredibly debilitating, and that need medical treatment. But the fact remains that vast majority of us sail the seas of our menstrual cycle without it having a noticeable effect on our moods. We aren’t more irrational, we aren’t more irritable, we aren’t having more mood swings–we’re just more likely to blame our period.

So what does the PMS myth mean for us ladies?

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Firstly, it means that we need to accept more responsibility for batshit behaviour, rather than blaming it on PMS. We have all done it–PMS is the ultimate scapegoat for doing something completely out of line. Snapped at your boyfriend for having the sheer audacity to eat the last cookie? Must be PMS. Cried watching a bank ad? Definitely PMS. Lost the plot when someone was walking just a little too slowly in front of you? It’s not you, it’s the PMS monster!

It’s so tempting, and so incredibly easy, to blame any outburst on a fluctuation in hormones we can’t control, but it’s counter-productive. It does us and all womankind a disservice to portray ourselves as at the mercy of our menstrual cycles.

But there is a silver lining to debunking the PMS myth. For centuries, women have been muted by accusations that we are “hysterical.” If you are a woman, there is a 99.9% chance that someone has told you that you must be “on your period” or “have PMS” when you dare to get emotional about something. But the science backs us up–this is nothing but sexism, and an outdated myth.

View Comments (5)
  • Hooray, I get to be one of the minority with PMDD and “legitimate” hormone-induced mental instability. For the longest time, even while on anyidepressants, I only knew when my wildly irregular period was starting when I would have an uncharacteristic, unprovoked, irrational episode of feeling suicidal, like my medication stopped working only once a month. Once I noticed the link in events, it got a lot easier to handle.

  • I typically love reading Literally, Darling even if I disagree with points of view or find the topics uninteresting. But this piece enraged me, nearly to the point where I stopped reading altogether. But instead I’d like to petition that this piece be altered.

    Let me be clear. I agree with what (I think) is your main point: that as women we have a tendency to classify all emotionally-charged behavior or responses as PMS. Or to blame any aches and pains on hormones. I don’t deny that fact. You’re right about being honest about who we are and not making excuses for a way we react, blaming it on hormones. We all have a degree of control over ourselves, hormones be damned. And if this piece were all about that, I’d cheer you on.

    But I think claiming PMS is a myth is over the top. Frankly, I think you read one study and formed an immediate opinion without fully completing your research. If you had done a little more research you would find that the study you cite (which I only think I found via Google since the link you gave goes to a login screen) ignores neuroscience altogether, making no mention of how hormones influence the brain. It also doesn’t acknowledge the fact that each woman’s body is different and handles menstrual cycles in a different way. Also, your point that just because PMS symptoms happen at other times of the month makes them not real is just unspeakably bad logic, especially from a medical point of view.

    Taking such an absolute stance on an issue of this kind–an issue that many, many women struggle with–is outrageous and sure to alienate much of your target audience. I hope that I don’t see more pieces–half researched, detrimental to women–of this kind on Literally, Darling in the future.

  • I just came across this and had to respond..

    I sincerely hope PMS karma bites you. Writing an article devaluing a reoccurring condition many women struggle with “periods” & it’s effect on our lives, is appalling! I would have expected more out of you. This has no value to your intended goal of helping the world. Women suffer enough within the world of misunderstanding. The evidence is anecdotal, and has value in understanding the health concerns of women. Maybe your focus of study is quite different..

    • Amen, Oleo. I posted my reply months ago and sadly never saw any type of action on this article. Glad to see I’m not alone in my anger.

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