The Military’s Elite Soldiers Are Afraid Of Women’s Periods

Navy SEALs are renowned for their courage, and yet many are petrified of PMS

Dec 14, 2015 at 4:24 PM ET

They may parachute into war zones and carry wounded comrades on their backs—but some of the U.S. military’s most elite troops are afraid of women’s periods. It isn’t the blood, of course, but rather the hoary specter of PMS that freaks them out.

This is according to a recent survey of members of the Special Operations Forces, which includes select groups like the Army Rangers and Navy SEALs. The report, released by the Pentagon in the wake of the recent announcement that women will soon be integrated into all combat roles, found that a whopping 85 percent opposed allowing women into their speciality. The chief concerns were around women’s physical capabilities and group cohesion—but a minority were worried about period-related mood swings. As the report put it, “Most of the concerns centered on perceptions that women may be more irritable or emotional during these times, or that women may be more limited in the activities during their menstrual cycle.” ISIS? Psh. But the teary-eyed cliche of a premenstrual woman? Terrifying.

To fully appreciate the retro nature of these fears, consider some choice excerpts from the report’s series of focus group discussions. “I think PMS is terrible, possibly the worst. I cannot stand my wife for about a week out of the month for every month,” said a male member of the Special Warfare Combat Crewmen. “I like that I can come to work and not have to deal with that.” A male member of the Air Force Special Operations Command said of women in the military, “Acting on emotions may be a problem. Judgment may be altered. The effects of combat may have a different impact during those times, I’m not sure.”

Luckily, science can help with his uncertainty.

In 2012, researchers analyzed 41 studies on PMS and found that only 13.5 percent demonstrated an association between negative mood and the premenstrual phase. In fact, 36.6 percent found no association at all between mood and a woman’s menstrual cycle. The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Gender Medicine, concluded, “These studies failed to provide clear evidence in support of the existence of a specific premenstrual negative mood syndrome in the general population,” the researchers wrote. “This puzzlingly widespread belief needs challenging, as it perpetuates negative concepts linking female reproduction with negative emotionality.” Some research has found a relatively small occurrence of PMS: A 2009 French study of nearly 3,000 women found that only 12 percent had moderate to severe symptoms.

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One of the 2012 study’s authors, Gillian Einstein of the University of Toronto, has also conducted separate research on PMS. In one study, researchers did daily mood surveys of a random sample of Canadian women for over six months. Researchers found no correlation between mood and the premenstrual phase in particular, although there were associations with different phases of the menstrual cycle. The study concluded that the results did not support the notion of PMS and that women’s moods are better explained by “daily physical health status, perceived stress and social support.” In another small study, she measured 19 women’s hormone levels throughout their cycles and collected daily information about participants’ moods. Einstein found that hormonal fluctuations do not “significantly” influence women’s daily moods.

“I personally think that premenstrual disorder is socially constructed, quite frankly,” she told Vocativ. Her skepticism applies equally to the impact of hormones on women in the military. “I don’t think if you just took a random group of women in the armed services that their menstrual cycle would make them any less reliable than men.”