What is Menstrual Extraction?
Updated: Jan 8
Menstrual extraction is exactly what it sounds like: a method for removing menstrual blood from the uterus. The process works via a small vacuum and a thin, flexible tube. It's effective, safe, and yet most women in the US and UK have never heard of it.
Why not? We'll get to that in a bit. First let me give you brief history to explain how we got to this point.
Menstrual extraction (ME) came to light during the early 1970s, when a women's rights activist Lorraine Rothman adapted a prototype for a new, safer method of abortion to use as a method of removing menstrual blood from the uterus. Because Rothman did not have a license to practice medicine, she and other women started small groups in which they would teach interested women the technique, which they could then perform on themselves or each other.
The potential benefits were enormous. Women with irregular or heavy periods could spare themselves inconvenience and pain. However, there was also controversy. Because of its similarity to early term abortion tools, some believed “menstrual extraction” was really a way to hide (then illegal) abortions and not just a method to stop your period.
There was also the concern that women could accidentally cause themselves injury or infection by performing the technique without proper training. Although the risk of uterine perforation is low due to the device's design, many are still uncomfortable with the idea of performing such a procedure at home, without the supervision of a healthcare professional.
However, although it is legal in all US states, many doctors do not perform menstrual extraction, except in the most extreme cases. This leads us back to the original question, “Why not?”
Part of the reason is that the need for menstrual extraction is relatively small. Most doctors do not recommend (and will often refuse to perform) ME on a regular basis – for instance, to avoid having a regular period. And though ME can help alleviate symptoms of heavy periods, it doesn't treat hormonal irregularities that can cause Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or other conditions causing painful periods.
The procedure of stopping your period is helpful if a doctor suspects that a woman's uterus hasn't fully expelled all menstrual tissue, or if a woman's period is late without any signs of pregnancy. Otherwise, it's culturally accepted applications are limited.
By this point, you may be wondering if ME is a good choice for you. If you are interested in learning more and finding out if it could help you live a healthier life, discuss it with your doctor. However, bear in mind that the procedure is not well-known or popular inside the US. If heavy or painful periods are affecting your life, your doctor may be able to suggest other solutions instead.
As I said earlier, it would be hard to find a doctor willing to perform ME simply to prevent menstruation. While you can certainly look for a small group (the type of women's self-help groups that Ms. Rothman founded are still around today in certain places), you should also consider other ways to make your period more convenient, such as birth control pills, IUD, or of course, comfortable and leakproof period panties.