Hormonal birth control. Just the word stirs a whole lot of feelings in people across the board. On one hand, it represents feminist movements and revolutionizing females in the workplace, but now that it has been integrated into our society and bodies for some time, we need to take a better look.
An estimated 60% of women of reproductive age are using some form of contraception. Of that, about 72% are using a nonpermanent method, primarily hormonal options (1). That means that a huge portion of the population are on these relatively new medications for long periods of time, perhaps all of their reproductive years. This isn’t to be taken lightly. But before we can understand the implications of hormonal birth control, we need to consider the reasons that people go on it in the first place.
Have a conversation with almost any young woman these days, and she will most likely say that she is either A) on hormonal birth control B) was on it from a young age or C) was the only one of her friends who wasn’t on it. So why are so many young people being put on it, oftentimes before they even start having sex? Some of the most common reasons people claim are cramps, “irregular periods” (periods can take years to regulate after menstruation begins), acne, contraception of course, and sometimes because “everyone else is on it”, or simply because their doctor just handed it to them.
For some, hormonal birth control does offer real relief from conditions like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (2) and Endometriosis (3). These are serious conditions for which hormonal birth control can be beneficial for. But what about people who just go on it for one of the other reasons listed above? Turns out, it may not be as harmless as we thought.
While various forms of hormonal birth control work slightly differently, they essentially suppress our natural hormonal cycles and artificially replicate them. Some of the side effects of hormonal birth control are immediately recognized or felt. The most common being weight gain, acne, fatigue, mental fog, mood swings, depression, decreased sex drive, nausea, headaches, and sore breasts. For many, they have been living with these side effects for so long, that they don’t recognize the impact HBC has had on them until they are off of it. We hear stories of women who had been on it since they were 14 go off in their mid twenties, and all of a sudden lose 10 pounds, and feel a significant shift in their overall mental health and well being.
While the long term side effects of HBC are largely unknown, some studies suggest that they increase a user’s risk of various forms of cancer. They also increase the risk of a woman developing a blood clot. These are dangerous, as they can potentially lead to stroke and heart attack (4).
The other risk of HBC that doesn’t get talked about enough, is the false sense of security it gives. HBC does not protect against sexually transmitted infections. However with so many people having “unprotected sex” because they believe they won’t get pregnant, they then increase their risk of contracting an STI. There is also a false sense of security around pregnancy itself. While not common, HBC is not foolproof, and you can get pregnant on it. Take the pill for example, while some leave more room for flexibility, others must be taken at the same time everyday. So if a person were to miss their pill one day, they could potentially get pregnant. Getting pregnant while on HBC increases the chance of birth defects, miscarriage, and eptopic pregnancies.
Hormonal birth control works by, you guessed it- affecting our hormones. Hormones are more than just about puberty, sex, and having babies. Our hormones are the catalysts that make everything in our bodies happen. From sleep, to mental health, to metabolism, our hormones are powerful, and when we interfere with them, especially on a long term basis- there may be consequences. There is a beautiful natural balance that nature has created for us to be healthy and thriving. HBC throws off this balance, and dis-harmonizes us. One of the biggest themes of widespread hormonal birth control is a disconnection from our bodies and our cycles. With so many young women being put on it from the time they get their period, they never get a chance to understand how their natural cycle works.
With so much fear around periods, cramps, and all things reproductive cycle- it’s easy to see why we have worked so hard to suppress our periods. But this suppression of our nature is just that- and keeps us from being as fully and wholly connected as we are meant to be.
It’s important to balance gratitude for the widespread availability of birth control, with an understanding of the reality of the effects it has on our bodies- and our well being. So how do we find a balance between autonomy over our reproductive cycles and choices, without compromising our health? Well HBC is not your only option.
Stay tuned for a break down of non hormonal birth control options. Take back your cycle, and take back your life!