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Soc Sci Med. 2010 Oct;71(7):1324-1331. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.06.041. Epub 2010 Jul 29.

"More natural but less normal": reconsidering medicalisation and agency through women's accounts of menstrual suppression.

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Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, 23 Buccleuch Place, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Midlothian EH8 9LN, UK. Electronic address:


This paper revisits the concept of medicalisation and considers its value as a framework for understanding the ongoing development of new reproductive technologies, and their impact on women's reproductive decision-making. This evaluation is drawn from a qualitative discourse analysis of the public debate about the first extended cycle oral contraception (ECOC) to suppress menstruation in the United States of America in 2003/2004, and subsequent interviews with women living in Australia who had already extended their cycles without it being medically approved for widespread practice. Firstly, the debates about menstrual suppression are couched within a discussion of the ongoing usefulness of medicalisation as an analytical tool. It is posited that medicalisation occurs in a particular social and cultural moment, and is a dynamic process where dominant social relations can be both reproduced and challenged. Secondly, qualitative interviews with women about practices of menstrual suppression are used to explore the productive nature of agency in this particular medicalisation contest. Specifically, the ways in which these women engage with the discourses of 'risk', 'choice' and 'nature', as canvassed by menstrual suppression advocates, reveal accommodation and modification as much as resistance and contradiction. This paper suggests that if the concept of medicalisation is to have ongoing traction as a frame of analysis, such a critique must incorporate a generative discussion of agency.

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