Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling Psychology & Community Services


No agreed upon definition for “PMS” exists. This study was designed to explore the conceptualizations of the expression “PMS” held by college students. It was hoped that results would inform not only assessment and treatment of premenstrual disorders, but also the debate regarding inclusion in future diagnostic and statistical manuals of the American Psychiatric Association.

Participants included 47 college students recruited from Freshman English classes at a small university in the Midwestern United States. Thirty female and 17 male participants were primarily Caucasian (43), single (36), and heterosexual (45). Each participant completed an in-class essay, an adjective checklist, and a questionnaire. The study was conducted within a social constructionist paradigm using a qualitative design and methodology.

Content analysis of student essays indicated participants often associated PMS and bad biology. Women also associated PMS with having a bad day, unpleasant mood changes, and feeling like a victim. Men tended to focus on their own inconvenience, and expressed resentment over a perceived a double standard in which PMS was used by women as an excuse for bad behavior.

Sixty-eight percent of participants claimed to be in a close relationship with one or more persons they believed had PMS. Ninety-three percent of females reported they believed they had PMS, yet only 20% reported seeking treatment. Participants most frequently selected “irritated”, “agitated”, and “annoyed” to describe a person with PMS.

It is argued that the expression PMS is used to describe not only the normal menstrual cycle, but also perceptions of luck, emotions, behaviors and social interactions. PMS is socially constructed in a such a way that women's biology is problematic, abnormal, and overwhelmingly negative. In addition, the expression PMS is used so broadly that its usefulness as a descriptor is questioned.

Clinicians are encouraged to carefully identify what clients mean when they complain of PMS, and offer differential treatment options depending on their specific complaints. Authors of future editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association should take great care to differentiate between the broad and descriptively useless expression “PMS,” and the diagnostic criteria for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.

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