Premenstrual Symptoms (PMS) as a Desynchronization Between Women and Society


  • Lilly Eleonor Ripke University of Vienna


Half of the human population experience a menstrual cycle that influences cognition, emotions and bodily feelings in a cyclical manner, a topic often overlooked in society and science alike. This can also be seen in the diagnostic categories of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)/ Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), where profound negative changes are experienced premenstrually. From this biomedical perspective, premenstrual changes (PMC) are seen as a pathology, caused by dysfunctional hormonal regulation.

Feminist and philosophical research, however, shows how societal and cultural variables construct the phenomenon and criticize the reductionist nature of the biomedical model [1]. Following that, the hypothesis is that premenstrual symptoms are signs of a different cognitive, emotional and bodily state rather than a dysfunctional state per se and that some of the suffering can be explained by scientific and societal disregard of natural menstrual changes and cyclical functioning of women, which causes a desynchronization between the inner state of women and the environment.

This is approached first theoretically, by reviewing the different disciplinary views on PMC and their shortcomings, to then construct an interdisciplinary view on the topic. Phenomenology and 4E Cognition serve as explanatory frameworks to show how environment (societal attitudes towards PMC) and biology (PMC themselves) co-enact each other in the experience of premenstrual changes [2].

Secondly, the topic will be further explored empirically in a phenomenological multi-case study, where co- researchers will explore their experience of PMC. Due to the reductionist and dysfunctional approach of the biomedical model, there is not much understanding for which cognitive, emotional and bodily changes actually happen in the premenstrual period from a deep, subjective, interdisciplinary and non-pathological perspective. Thus, the aim is to assess PMC in such a way: Using microphenomenological interviews, it will be explored which differences in the structure of consciousness can be found between the post- and premenstrual state. Moreover, since much of these changes probably include bodily processes not available in verbalized cognition, an embodied, arts-based method called ‚Body Mapping‘ [3] will be applied to assess differences in bodily and emotional expression between the states. This will be combined with narrative interviews to assess societal influences on the experience of PMC.

This study is explorative and thus the results are open. Ideally, it will be possible to glimpse into the complex co-constitution of PMC by societal, psychological and bodily factors. Another aim is to identify potential factors which impede the natural flow of MC and thus hamper synchronization processes. Also, acknowledging PMC as a natural process has consequences for our understanding of cognition, since most models of cognition disregard the cyclical experience of living, thinking and feeling in women.


[1] Caplan, P. J., McHugh, M. C., & Chrisler, J. C. (2015). The Medicalization of Women’s Moods: Premenstrual Syndrome and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. In The Wrong Prescription for Women. United States: Bloomsbury Publishing USA.

[2] Rodemeyer, L. M. (2020). Levels of Embodiment: A Husserlian Analysis of Gender and the Development of Eating Disorders. In Time and Body (pp. 234–255).

[3] Valenzuela-Moguillansky C, Díaz D, Vásquez-Rosati A, Duarte J. Inhabiting one’s body or being haunted by it: a first-person study of the recovery process of women with fibromyalgia. GMS J Art Ther. 2021;3:Doc05. DOI: 10.3205/jat000014, URN: urn:nbn:de:0183-jat0000140