Last year I wrote a post about birth control, I was in a place where I was unsure of what I wanted and how to handle the situation I was in, and had to make a lot of pretty serious decisions very quickly. Obviously this made any informative writing difficult and I decided it would be unwise to attempt to write clearly on the topic, even though it had shaken me up so much and I felt something needed to be said. Now these issues have arisen again and I feel that the obvious response is to write. I have revised this post 26 times before posting it, and received more of a negative response to conversations I have tried to have than I expected, but it is something that needs to be said, so here goes.
I am mainly looking into the contraceptive pill, implant and injection as these are the most common forms of birth control I am aware of. Of course all contraceptive methods, and medication in general, come with their own risks. This week, after a trip to the sexual health clinic to replenish my contraceptive pill, I have been reminded of the negative impact of birth control, and listening to a podcast this morning, also learned more about the impact of abortion women have to face on a scarily regular basis. Honestly, this has got to me.
I must first point out that many women do not suffer from any side effects, and that any medication you take will come with its fair share of risks. You risk your life just leaving the house in the morning, life is short and contraception and abortion is necessary (in my opinion) in today’s society. Women deserve to explore their sexuality in a world where sex is sold by men for men; where women are still seen as sexual objects rather than sexual beings, when in reality they have desires just the same as men. The consequence for such desires should not have to mean unwanted pregnancy.
With that said, the side effects to the contraceptive pill seem endless and are in many cases just an expected part of being a woman. As if the symptoms of periods weren’t enough already… The most common side effects include mood swings, depression, breast pain, fungal infections, migraines, nausea, skin rash and acne, hair loss, changes in weight and changes in blood pressure and libido.
Can I just exaggerate…. depression is a side effect of contraception. I’m just going to leave that there.
Changes in physical appearance and libido can be pretty irritating. Of course these are just a small sacrifice for not getting knocked up, but still something that could have a huge impact on your self-esteem and cause negative changes to your relationship. People have argued that many women don’t get any of these and we should just be quiet about it, however I have suffered from many of the above on a regular basis and I am pretty certain I am not alone in this; and it is still a taboo to talk about it, even a joke to some people; “I bet it’s just her time of the month.” However irritating, these side effects are something we all readily accept when we choose to take contraception, and while they bother me they are not the reason I am writing this post.
Moving on to the more serious stuff… These are the symptoms that are more dangerous to your long-term health such as painful swelling in your legs and face, jaundice, chest pain, difficulty breathing, severe migraines, numbness, impaired vision, dizziness, changes to breast tissue, pain during sex and severe stomach pain. These can be signs of a potentially fatal blood clot, an allergic reaction, problems with your liver or kidneys or even cancer. When I spoke to the nurse yesterday she asked about cancer in my family and quickly moved on; it was only when I asked her a series of repetitive direct questions she said the fact that some of my family do have cancer could be an issue, and if it was my mother who had breast cancer she would have refused to give me the pill. This was something that was kept from me for 9 months of using the pill and 6 years of using contraception. It’s saddening that there are women out there who don’t ask these questions and could be using safer contraceptive methods or are at least missing out on making an educated choice.
The pill contains the oestrogen hormone, which causes an increase in the risk of breast and cervical cancer, but also reduces the risk of certain kinds of ovarian, bowel and womb cancer. The oestrogen in the pill can however, cause thrombosis, the formation of a blood clot inside a blood vessel which can occur in veins or arteries and can cause blindness, stroke, heart attacks and can be fatal. Women who smoke, are overweight or have a history of blood clots in their family, are typically advised to take a type of contraception not containing oestrogen such as the injection.
The side effects of other types of contraception, such as the implant and the injection are generally similar to the pill with the addition of ovarian cysts which can require surgery to remove, viral infections and flu, tumours in the liver and high blood pressure. In addition to this, if you do become pregnant while using the implant, there is a higher chance of it being an ectopic pregnancy, where the fetus grows outside of the womb. This often leads to surgery, and can cause serious internal bleeding, infertility, and even death. How dramatic… but true. Contraception even without the oestrogen hormone can cause thinning of the bones and dental issues. I personally had my implant removed because of some of the above symptoms but mainly because my dentist advised it because of deterioration in my teeth. With the pill, the side effects can be resolved by stopping taking them, however with the implant and injection the side effects may occur until the contraception wears off or can be removed and potentially beyond this time, this could mean months of worry and discomfort.
With all this said, I am left asking, why is this the ‘done thing’? And what happened to the men’s contraceptive pill? Currently there are only two methods of male contraception; condoms and vasectomy. One a very unreliable method and is recommended as an additional method to women’s birth control, and one a very permanent method, not commonly used in young men, with only 50 million men worldwide having had the procedure.
“The goal of hormonal contraception research is to find a way of temporarily blocking the effects of testosterone so testicles stop producing healthy sperm cells. However, this needs to be achieved without lowering testosterone levels to such an extent that it triggers side effects, such as a loss of sexual desire.” – NHS.com
So… the male contraceptive isn’t being produced at the risk of men losing their libido? While women’s contraception has this effect as well as all others mentioned above? Wonderful. Another cause for the delay in male contraception is that men produce different amounts of sperm and so it is difficult to prescribe the right strength of medication. I am almost certain that women create different levels of hormones too and yet we are generally prescribed the same dosage.
I don’t know what I aim to get from this post, I am no professional who can make an impact on the research and production of birth control, I suppose my main problem with my experience of birth control is the lack of open information. This can be between friends, family, and most importantly from the medical professionals providing the medication. Argue all you like about doing your own research, I obviously know that to some extent it is our own responsibility to research the medication we are putting into our bodies, but Google is not an adequate substitute for a trained nurse.
If one person initiates a conversation on birth control in response to this post I will be happy. I’d like to end by just saying that women are wonderful, women are so strong to have to deal with all of these things and more, and I have so much love and respect for every girl and woman out there. Keep speaking up, making change and hanging in there.