Our Bodies, Our Choice: Menstrual Extraction
As more and more people make the choice to take charge of their reproductive health and practice autonomy over their bodies, we’re seeing a growing trend of gentle treatments that can be done in the comfort of their own home.
That’s where menstrual extraction comes in. What? Menstrual extraction , or ME, is exactly what it sounds like- manually removing menses from the uterus through the cervix, using a device.
You’re Extracting What?!
Menstrual extraction is performed in a comfortable, sterile environment by inserting a flexible tube called a cannula into the uterus with a plastic syringe to create suction, and a small collection bottle at the end to collect said extracted blood. The one-way bypass valve on it locks in pressure so that air can’t get sucked into the uterus. The whole process takes about 20-30 minutes.
Why would someone do this you ask? There’s a lot of reasons.
- ME gives people options. The equipment is fairly easy to obtain, it requires no cervical dilation or anesthesia, and can be done in the comfort of their own home.
- By ending their period early, people are able to avoid painful cramps, or be able to plan around a vacation or event.
- Early term abortion. Restrictions around abortion are growing stronger and stronger, and ME gives women a safe option, without having to go through the medical system.
- Within abortion clinics, this method is practice under the name Manual Vacuum Aspiration or MVA. Depending on the clinic and local laws, this is typically performed up until 12 weeks gestation, as opposed to a vacuum aspiration, which uses a small machine.
- Performing their own procedures allows women to get to know their bodies in a much more hands-on way. Learning these skills breaks down walls and stigmas.
An obvious concern is over safety. It’s natural to question something- especially when it involves sticking a tube and syringe up one’s hoo-haw! As long as the environment and equipment is properly sterilized, the risk is low, especially compared to the risks of using hormonal birth control or an IUD. HBC comes with potentially harmful side effects like blood clotting and mood swings, while an IUD comes with the low risk of a perforated uterus. People who are prone to infections may want to avoid ME, or only do it as a last resort.
The practice has recently gained negative attention in the media when two women were hospitalized for using an actual vacuum to perform the extraction. Please don’t try that at home. When done properly, ME has been used for decades (if not longer) for the reasons listed above.
Critics from the medical industry claim it’s not safe to do at home, but this seriously undermines women’s capabilities and understanding of their own bodies, while upholding systems of oppression. The women who are performing this procedure are not novices. They spend months, sometimes years learning the technique from other people in their communities.
Information is limited on menstrual extraction with people who have disorders like endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Your Body, Your Choice
In the face of abortion reform, ME gained traction in the U.S. in the early 1970’s. These feminists found evidence of the practice by digging through Russian and Chinese medical journals. By forming groups in homes and clinics, women were able to gain the skills to practice more direct control over their reproductive health. They were able to bond with other women over the incredible things their bodies are capable of, and the power they found in taking control over their bodily autonomy.
Even if someone does have access to abortion care through a clinic, it can be a tender time, that stirs up a lot of emotions. Being in a warm home in the safety net of other supportive women, seems far more preferable than a cold, sterile clinic.
Despite Roe vs. Wade giving constitutional protection to abortions in the U.S. in 1973, abortion access, and the people that are providing them, are being threatened every day. Making it even more critical that skills like ME stay within the hands of the people that need them.
Women and other people who menstruate need to come together. We need to talk about our periods. We need to talk about the ins and outs of our bodies. We need to learn in communities like the groups that worked to popularize ME in the first place. In a world where so many things are kept under wraps, we owe it to ourselves to gain and spread necessary knowledge about how our bodies function, and what we can do to support them.
Whether or not menstrual extraction is something you’ll be trying out, merely having the conversation puts the power back into the people’s hands. Amidst growing regulation of people’s choices over their own bodies, and abortion rights being stripped away- it’s crucial that we have this information. You can’t have options, if you don’t know what they are.
So spread the word, and let your fellow uterus-having-friends know that their body means their choice.
Natasha (she/they) is a full spectrum doula, reproductive health content creator, and sexual wellness consultant. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more pleasure, softness, and sensuality. You can connect with Natasha on IG @spectrumoflovedoula.