IF PREMENSTRUAL distress is largely a myth, do women who experience it usually have their blokes to blame?
Jane Ussher, professor of women's health psychology at the University of Western Sydney, says couples therapy is a potential treatment for severe cases of premenstrual syndrome moodiness.
''The notion that the majority of women are mad or bad once a month is a myth,'' she says.
But doubting the moody blood blues is a hard row for a female academic to hoe. After years of inciting female colleagues at conferences to anger by ''denying their experience'', Professor Ussher has carefully honed her argument.
Now it goes like this: clearly women experience physical changes and discomfort around menstruation. But although many women believe the hype, only a tiny minority - between 1.5 and 5 per cent - experience premenstrual mood changes that can affect relationships, such as depression, anger or irritability.
In an angrily received article for The Conversation, she cited a recent Canadian review of 47 scientific studies. It found ''only 15 per cent reported increased negative mood premenstrually''. In 40 per cent of the studies there was no association between mood and the menstrual cycle and 40 per cent reported negative mood in both the premenstrual and menstrual phase.
The fact that PMS appears to be an exclusively Western ailment adds to the picture of PMS as a cultural construct.
''What many women are doing is self-silencing for three weeks a month, trying to be good, trying to be nice to everybody, trying to cope,'' the professor argues. But in the fourth week, they have a ''socially sanctioned reason … to be angry''.
She says severe cases of monthly moodiness are more common among women in their mid-30s or older with multiple responsibilities, and in women with relationship difficulties, or whose partners provide little understanding and support.
Professor Ussher does not say men are to blame, only that in her experience of asking women about PMS over three decades of research, ''they would always tell us about their partners''.
A study by Professor Ussher and colleague Janette Perz of 15 lesbians and 10 of their partners found where there was ''partner empathy'', premenstrual changes were less distressing and the women were better able to cope.