Your body, your choice: Why it’s okay to skip your bleed (and ignore the pope)
MAY 20, 2021
When it comes to birth control, it’s personal. At Tuune, we’re here to equip you with all the facts so you can make your own choices about your body. Today, we explain the strange history of the pill and the pope—and why your monthly bleeds actually have no health benefits whatsoever
When you bleed on hormonal contraception, it’s not the same as a period.
The idea that you should bleed came from Catholic gynecologist, John Rock, who believed if the pill imitated a natural cycle, the pope would be more likely to accept it (he didn’t).
60 years later, many medical professionals still don’t talk about this fact
Latest guidelines from The Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare state that “there is no health benefit” from the 7-day hormone-free interval (the bit where you bleed).
How often do you pull out your tampon and think of the pope?
Nope? Just us?
The reason we ask is… if you’re taking hormonal birth control now (or have in the past), the pope is actually partly responsible for your monthly bleeds.
It all started in the 60s when Catholic gynecologist and leading pill-researcher-aficionado, John Rock, began trialing the 7-day pill break on his patients. He believed it was time the Vatican stopped banning artificial contraception, hoping instead if the pill imitated a natural cycle with a ‘bleeding’ phase, then His Holiness would be more likely to accept it.
It was no half-hearted attempt. He even penned a book about it, called The Time Has Come: A Catholic Doctor's Proposals to End the Battle over Birth Control.
But the pope wouldn’t budge. So, Rock stopped going to church. He died aged 94, still reeling at the church’s refusal to change its point of view on the pill. But his idea stuck and people with cycles carried on with their monthly bleeds regardless.
Jump forward 60 years, and the latest guidelines from The Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare state that, in fact, “there is no health benefit” from the 7-day hormone-free interval.
If you look to the US as just one example, 60% of all women of reproductive age are currently using some form of contraception method. It means millions of people with cycles have bled once a month throughout their entire adolescent and adult lives when they haven’t needed to.
But the monthly bleed isn’t just a six-decade legacy of attempted pope-pleasing. There are other more recent views that influence the thinking around how we bleed.
Firstly, many think the monthly bleed is the same as a natural period—when in fact, it’s the result of hormone withdrawal. It may look and feel the same (if a little lighter), but it’s artificial.
One myth is that losing this bleed causes menstrual blood to build up inside of you. This isn’t true, as taking a continuous dose of hormones means your womb lining never builds up in the first place.
Some also fear that losing this withdrawal bleed is a sign of infertility—it’s not!
You may like having monthly bleeds, and that’s fine too. Ultimately, the choice is down to you. But there are many reasons why people with cycles are beginning to reconsider their relationship with their bleeds, including:
Pain: 84% of women experience menstrual pain, with 43% suffering every period.
Cost: 1 in 4 women have struggled financially between deciding whether to buy period products or meals.
But tides are turning. A growing number of people are using contraception to stop their monthly bleeds. Tampon sales have dropped by a quarter over the past 4 years, which many people attribute to this growing trend (of course, switching period products or opting for reusable alternatives will no doubt play its part).
Here are the different ways you can safely take hormonal birth control
The ‘standard’ regimen
If you take hormone pills for 21 days then take a 7-day break like Rock suggested, you follow the standard regimen. Typically, it’ll mean you get a withdrawal bleed within your break.
The ‘tailored’ regimen
This is when you extend the number of days you take your hormone pills. You either skip taking your hormone-free pills or avoid your pill breaks. By doing this, you can avoid your withdrawal bleed. These are the 3 most common ways to do it:
You take all 3 sheets of hormone pills in your pack back-to-back, i.e. you run your pill packets for 3 months without taking a break (63 active pills). When you do take a break, you take either 1 cycle’s worth of hormone-free pills or you stop taking your pill for 4 to 7 days.
You take your hormone pills back-to-back until you have an unplanned breakthrough bleed. When this happens, you either start taking hormone-free pills or stop taking pills for 4 to 7 days.
You take your hormone pills every day without a break, even if you start to notice breakthrough bleeding. You don’t take any hormone-free pills at any point in your cycle, and you take no breaks.
FYI, check out our full article on pill regimens for more details!
Your body, your choice
As we mentioned previously, if you take hormonal contraceptives and feel more comfortable sticking with your monthly bleed, then that’s perfectly fine.
At Tuune, we believe it’s important for you to have all the facts so you can then make your own choices. If your monthly bleed has always been something you dread, then don’t carry on with it for the sake of the pope. Change it for you.
Hermione Wright (she/her)
An NCTJ-qualified journalist, Hermione writes for national and local publications in addition to creating thought leadership for brands with a purpose. Passionate about telling the stories that matter, she helps our community make their own clued-up choices about their healthcare.
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Alejandra Elder Ontiveros, MD, PHD (she/her)
Ale is a PhysicianScientist with a doctoral degree in Development Biology and Embryology and is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar at UCSF. Ale believes that the union of academia and business can lead to transformative discoveries for women’s health.
Scientifically researched by
Hannah Durrant (she/her)
Hannah is a Biomedical Content Writer at Tuune, with a BSc in Biomedical Sciences from University College London. She is passionate about bringing together the scientific community and the general public by disseminating modern science via digestible, engaging and thought-provoking content.
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