Rebecca Elia's Blog

All about Feminine Health, Healing, and Greece

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bring on the FLOW!

Elissa Stein (in collaboration with Susan Kim) has done the unimaginable. She has written a book about the cultural story of menstruation—the good, the bad, and the ugly—a book that will be released on November 10th.

It seems that the still somewhat predominant view, voiced most recently by REDBOOK, that menstruation and a book about it should best be ignored, has not dampened public interest. After centuries of suppression and abuse of the feminine, including the demonization of the menstrual cycle, I, for one, am excited about the debut of FLOW. As a gynecologist who firmly believes in the power and wisdom of the body’s natural cycles, I am even more thrilled that such a book is seeing the light of day (or should I say night?)

We are in for a rare treat today, as Ms. Stein has agreed to speak with us about her latest creation.

[Rebecca Elia] Tell us about how you came to write FLOW.

Elissa Stein: Years ago, my period stopped. I was both too terrified and embarrassed to say anything to anyone for over a year. When I finally went to a doctor and all checked out, he handed me a pack of birth control pills, patted me on the knee, and said “Honey, we just need to jump start your hormones.” But I didn’t want to be on the pill. Even worse, no one bothered to figure out why my period stopped in the first place. From that point I’ve wanted to put something out into the world that would help women feel more comfortable talking about menstruation without that deep-seated shame we’ve been raised with.

[Rebecca] If you were given the opportunity to deliver one message to all American girls and women regarding their menstrual cycle, what would it be?

Elissa Stein: THIS IS NORMAL! You’re not going through anything every other girl and woman on the planet hasn’t gone through.

[Rebecca] When researching for FLOW, what fact or bit of information surprised you the most?

Elissa Stein: I had no idea how negatively menstruation had been viewed throughout history. In the Bible, menstruating women are considered unclean. Ancient Greeks thought menstruation was an efficient way for a woman’s body to get rid of “poisoned” blood. The New York Times was against women being given the right to vote because menstruation adversely affected their ability to think. This normal, natural cycle was vilified for thousands of years and, so sadly, we’re still trapped in that mindset.

[Rebecca] Do you have a daughter? If so, what have/will you teach her about menstruation?

Elissa Stein: I have both a daughter (11) and a son (8), who’ve been living with menstruation as a constant topic of conversation for almost three years. They are remarkably open, accepting, curious, and honest about it all. They will go out into the world with such a different mindset than most. When enough people treat menstruation as nothing more, nothing less than what it is, we’ll have made great strides.

[Rebecca] In your opinion, what one step can we take to support women now?

Elissa Stein: Educate. While researching FLOW, it was astonishing at how many old wives’ tales and rumors persist. And when we live in a society that shuns open conversation, they’ll continue to fester.

[Rebecca] What is your greatest hope for FLOW?

Elissa Stein: I want FLOW to start conversation. To encourage women to re-evaluate how they think and feel about their bodies and their cycles—too often we accept negative messages hammered into us by the media and advertisers, instead of looking inside and figuring it out for ourselves. By chipping away at that age-old stigma and shame, we can work towards acceptance and understanding.

Thanks Elissa! I am really looking forward to the arrival of FLOW. We have been waiting for this book for a very long time!

You can pre-order FLOW through Amazon or at Elissa Stein’s websites: and

You can follow Elissa on twitter at: @elissastein or on Facebook.


  1. Wow, great post, and I can't wait to read the book!

    I don't really remember ever being ashamed or embarassed of my period. I remember in middle and even high school, boys were sort of terrified of that aspect of their lady-friends. It gave us girls a sense of power and sophistication to have knowledge and experience that the boys around us were clearly freaked out about. Now I know that the flip side of this coin is that men blame every "negative" behavior that women display on menstruation, and THAT is really offensive to me.. periods are not an excuse to disregard a woman's legitimate thoughts and feelings by chaulking them up to hysteria. That sort of mind set has been around for way too long.

    Wondering if you have ver read The Hidden Malpractice by Gena Corea. It's dated, but its a great source for learning about the history of women's medicine, and how it formed the latent sexism within it.


  2. Thanks for your comment, Caroline.

    I haven't read "The Hidden Malpractice," although I have certainly lived through it. I will try to find it. Interestingly, it was published during my last year of medical school.

    I'm very excited about Elissa's book, especially because it addresses so many issues that I have observed (in my medical practice) and am currently writing about, such as what is really happening during our cycles and how this relates to our feminine power.

    Spread the word about FLOW!

  3. Shame on Redbook! They might just as easily have said women would be better off going shopping instead of reading the first frank book on the subject of depression.

    I recently read a funny, thought-provoking memoir called "The Year of Living Biblically," in which the agnostic author spent a year experimenting with following the bible as literally as possible. Among the many restrictions he faced: he was not supposed to sit anywhere where a menstruating woman had been sitting. One day, he came home to find he couldn't sit down anywhere in his apartment, because his wife informed him she had sat on every chair. I thought, "You go girl!"

    Great topic, thanks!

  4. Rebecca - great interview, I am inspired to buy the book today. I have my own issues with menstruation and doctors not interesting in helping me figure out what is wrong, I am glad someone has written a book in this vain. I will also be blogging about this - and linking to your interview on Nov 10 - the day of the book launch in support of this book!

  5. Cara,
    Leave it to you to make me matter how controversial the topic (even one that shouldn't be)! Love the anecdote!

    I'm really glad, too, that Elissa persisted in getting this book published. Thanks for linking to this post on Nov 10th. You may have started something. Perhaps others can do the same--in support of women and FLOW!


    In my family if you got your fucking period, you'd say, "I have my fucking period". As I discussed menseversation with my friends, they never referred to periods as "periods", they would say things like, "I'm on the rag" or "it's that time of the month", or something of that nature. There was always, it seemed, a degree of shame associated with something so normal as menstruating.

    I can't wait for FLOW to debut. I think it will make women feel more comfortable about discussing their periods PROUDLY.

    Excellent interview, Rebecca and Elisa!


  7. Katie,

    Glad that you liked the interview! Maybe after FLOW, no one will be referring to menses as their “fucking period” anymore. Wouldn’t that be an accomplishment! I almost feel sorry for your poor period, Katie!

  8. We said "period". I used "fucking" to illustrate that periods weren't cloaked in any degree of shame. It was a very natural, beautiful thing.

    In fact, in the Jewish tradition, a woman is slapped across the face. When my parents slapped me, they cried tears of joy -- it was a great moment and something I'll never forget.

  9. I was slapped too and remember it well---but didnt' slap my daughter and have a feeling that's a tradition as forgotten as the sanitary belts we wore to hold up the pads. OMG. Loved the interview; can't wait to read the book.

  10. When I got slapped, it was a light, loving slap from my ma. Both my parents were there and they were crying tears of joy. I do love the tradition. I suppose it's a person's individual experience of that tradition that matters most.

    Darryle, you know my ma :)

  11. Rebecca: Yours was the first interview with Elissa that I read. I know she was very excited about it.

    I hope your site visitors will also enjoy listening to's audio interview with Elissa. She shared an amazing amount of information with us, as well.

    Julia Schopick