This month on Wednesdays I’m talking about birth control! And today I want to spend a whole post dedicated towards The Pill, because it’s such a common method.
When I say “The Pill”, though, that’s a bit of a misnomer, because so many different hormonal formulas count as “The Pill”. Some have estrogen; some do not. Some are mostly low-dose progesterone; some are high dose. Some women react really well on one sort of formulation and horribly on another. As I print comments, then, these can’t be taken as indicative of EVERY formulation of “The Pill”. But since I can’t comment on every one (and most women don’t know what they’re on anyway!), we’ll just look at it in general.
Also, the issues with The Pill revolve around the hormones that the Pill uses to stop ovulation. (There is some controversy, too, about the possibility of ovulating when on one of these hormonal methods, but then the environment in the uterus has changed enough that the fertilized egg can’t implant). Other birth control methods also use hormones (like the patch and the shot), and so their effects would be the same. The ring and the hormonal IUD are also hormonal, but the hormones are more localized and so some of these effects aren’t experienced as much.
For the purposes of this post, I’m dealing mostly with The Pill, because that’s become the “go to” method for so many women when it comes to preventing pregnancy, but I wanted to make it clear that other methods also function in similar ways, and so would likely have similar effects.
First, let me tell you my own biases. I freely admit I am really, really biased against the Pill.
When I took it when I was first married it destroyed my libido, and it made me really moody and angry. When I took it a few years ago to relieve some bleeding problems I was having, in the first month of starting I got blood blisters (I thought I had a bed bug infestation!), blood clots, and a 5 pound weight gain, after staying at exactly the same weight for quite a few years. Other family members also find that The Pill has triggered weight gain and caused terrible moodiness and depression, even after trying different formulations. In several cases, after being stick thin for most of their lives, family members have started The Pill temporarily and gained weight, and never recovered their metabolism. It’s had lifelong effects.
What do Readers Think About the Pill Overall?
On the poll for my Instagram stories, as I currently write this (the poll is still up), 32% reported liking it while 68% reported hating it. When I asked open-ended questions on Facebook, 74% of women reported negative experiences with The Pill, while 26% liked it. (I didn’t include those who gave mixed reviews, or those who were against the Pill but didn’t report any personal side effects). I don’t think my numbers are scientific, though, because people who are negative are more likely to comment.
Between Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and replies to last week’s email, I had over 250 women’s stories. I’m overwhelmed and can’t include them all! So I’m just going to summarize the broad themes.
Because I’m biased against, I asked people who loved The Pill to send me in stories, and I’m going to include them first.
Women Who Loved the Pill
Women Saying: “Worked Great for Me!”
Had tons of these types of comments. I’ll run two of them here, but there are tons more at this Facebook post:
I was on BC pills for years and had no issues. On the contrary, my skin cleared up beautifully, I wasn’t prone to mood swings with my periods anymore, and the only weight I gained was in my bust (so no complaints there lol).
Another woman said:
I’ve been on the pill for about two years as haven’t had negative side effects. I used to have extremely heavy, irregular periods, and now they’re moderate and consistent. My libido’s maybe shifted around, but it hasn’t decreased.
Women Saying: “The Pill SAVED my hormones”
For many women, The Pill cleared up problems with their periods or endometriosis:
I was on the pill for about 65% of my 21 year marriage. I had no side effects, no weight gain and no decreased libido. We have had a happy, healthy and active sex life the entire time. The pill actually helped me with some of the side effects of PCOS. After delivering my second child and then going back on the pill I actually lost all of the weight I gained from the PCOS. My younger sister didn’t ever start her period and had to be given a shot to kick start it at 17 and then immediately put on the pill to regulate it. She also has PCOS and the pill was exactly what she needed to get her body functioning properly and then she had no problem getting pregnant.
Another echoed her success with PCOS:
The Pill is the only thing that works for my PCOS. I have zero negative side effects. It has given me predictability, clear skin, lack of hirsutism/acanthosis, and so much self-confidence! Plus not only I have not gained weight due to it- I have lost some!
Another woman said:
I was put on the pill at 19 for ovarian cysts that ruptured and were extremely painful. The pill fixed the issue and I was on them faithfully until I married at 23. I went on to have 3 healthy girls with no issues and no side effects.
Read the Facebook post for more positive ones (that were all pretty much along these two veins).
However, most of the comments I received were negative, and people tended to have different reasons for not liking The Pill, so I’ll have more to post here to sum up the problems. (But remember–there were a lot of good comments, too!)
Women Who Hated the Pill:
Women Saying: “The Pill made me feel physically lousy.”
I had numerous commenters talking about nausea and migraines. One woman wrote:
I was so nauseated and sick on the pill… I might as well have been pregnant.
Many had the same experience:
The pill gave me morning sickness no matter when I took it or what kind I took.
And then there were the headaches that many reported:
I had to take them in my early 20s due to PCOS, but started having migraines for the first time in my life and was told to stop taking them and never take them again due to risk of stroke.
Another woman said:
Horrible Migraines, several every week. They were so bad, I felt like I was dying. Went off of them because of a friend’s advice and migraines went away.
(Note: if you get migraines when you’re on The Pill, that may be a sign that you’re someone who is at a higher risk of stroke with The Pill. Talk to your doctor, please! This could be serious.)
We also had reports of other health issues, like gallbladder problems, gut problems, and especially blood clots (by many commenters; I had that too):
I had a horrible experience on the pill. My emotions were crazy and all over the place. After being on it for only about 3 months (at 21 years old), I developed three blot clots in my right leg.
Women Saying: “The Pill gave me long-term health effects.”
One woman said:
I was extremely regular before starting it and The Pill completely unbalanced my hormones. I now have severe PCOS and while on the pill, my moods changed so drastically that I was suicidal. Only 5 months in, I quit cold turkey and almost immediately felt myself again. But it caused me some serious medical problems I’m still dealing with 4 years later.
Another echoed her:
I was ok the pill as a teen and it destroyed my cycle too. I also have PCOS and have so for 17years. Its never going to go away.
And then so many also mentioned weight gain:
I gained 15 pounds in what seemed like overnight.
Women Saying: “The Pill killed my libido.”
This is the most common complaint I get about The Pill from people randomly writing it to me. Here’s what a woman said last week:
When I stopped taking the pill my libido went way up, too, and a few months later I finally achieved penetration for the first time (vaginismus) and O for the first time (One and a half years into marriage!)
Here’s another common one:
No sex drive! When I finally got off the pill- I thought, ” wow, is this what desiring your husband feels like?” I decided I would not go back on it.
This one kind of sums it up:
Let’s just say the Pill was an EXTREMELY effective birth control method. No libido, no baby.
Women Saying, “The Pill made me so moody and depressed.”
A woman who loved the fact that Pills could help you control WHEN your period came eventually stopped them for this reason:
It causes mood swings, and I’m fairly certain that it ‘put me over the edge’ into (relatively mild) depression a few years ago, which had absolutely disastrous effects on our marriage.
So many echoed her (and I’ll just include a bunch of them):
- I never had any emotional issues prior to using the pill. Afterwards I had crazy mood swings and eventually a depressive episode.
- I had horrible mood swings with this pill. The first week after my cycle would be fine but each week after would get worse and worse. I remember locking myself in the bathroom, crying for God to help me be nice to my children.
- I can feel myself being angry and out of control but I can’t do anything to stop it. Kinda like watching me from afar.
- It was horrible. I cried all the time, was so depressed, gained weight. My husband practically dreaded coming because I was so messed up. Lovely for your first year and a half of marriage.
Several women even said it made them physically aggressive:
I was on the pill before I got married. (PCOS) my dad took them away because I was violent.
Here’s another report:
I became emotionally unsettled. I could go from 1 extreme to the other in a short time. I would be depressed and not know why. When I was aggravated once I became physically combative(not at all in my character).
And here’s a scary one:
I stopped taking the pill when I turned around with a knife in my hands and screamed at my husband through clenched teeth that I didn’t care anymore….
Women Saying: “The Pill messed up my fertility.”
I had a lot of these comments–women saying that The Pill triggered infertility or miscarriages, and many more who got pregnant when on the Pill. I decided not to include these because, in the case of infertility and miscarriage, they weren’t trying to get pregnant beforehand, so it is hard to know. I do believe these women; I’m just trying to paint a not-as-bad picture as possible to be fair. (And even when I do that, there are lots of negative effects!)
What I have found, too, is that a lot of people on The Pill who think they have no side effects are actually experiencing many of them without realizing it.
Especially if you went on The Pill before you were married (which I did), you may not recognize the side effects when it comes to libido. And if you have other changes in your life, or other stresses, women often blame moodiness and depression or anxiety on these things rather than realize The Pill’s hormones may be exacerbating the problem.
I get so many comments like this one from last week’s post:
After my first child, I used BC pills. I had lighter periods when I had always been super heavy and had super clear skin. After I quit taking them to get pregnant with my next, I realized that the pill was what was making me have NO libido and much less pleasure. No wonder we were both miserable, sex wise.
I’ve been married 16 years and have always loved bc pills. The problem that I recently discovered with them is that they lowered my libido drastically! After researching, I discovered that women 43 and older only have a 1% chance of conceiving so I decided to just take my chances. Sounds crazy but it’s been the best decision bc having a higher sex drive has completely transformed my marriage!!
Or there’s this:
I started the pill in grad school when I was super stressed and depressed and my periods were getting irregular, but I realized that even after I graduated, got married, and had a great job, I was still depressed. I felt nothing all the time. Got off the pill and was back to my happy self.
Finally, a few more considerations about The Pill that I want you all to be aware of.
The Pill is the only method where you’re incumbent on “Future You” to make sure you’re not pregnant.
Here’s the problem: The Pill only prevents ovulation if you take it at the same time every day. And sperm can live and inside you for up to 5 days.
That means if you get a really bad stomach flu and can’t keep your pill down, or you get in a car crash, or you are traveling and your purse is stolen or for any other reason you can’t get to your pills for 48 hours, you can become pregnant even though you were taking your pill when you actually had sex. When you have sex, you can’t know what’s going to happen in the next 48 hours.
You can’t control now what you did in the past, and you can’t control right now what will happen tomorrow. All you can control is what you are doing right now. And the birth control pill is the only type of birth control that takes away the “right now” factor of preventing pregnancy. Using barrier methods? You either use it correctly at the time, or you risk pregnancy. You have complete control. The Pill relies on future you, and future you isn’t always under your control.
The Pill actually has significant environmental effects, too.
Women using the pill release hormones in their urine, which is then released downstream into the environment. In concert with pesticides and chemicals like BPA, the pill acts as a potent endocrine disrupter in frogs (it causes sex changes and birth defects) and the active ingredient in the pill causes behavior changes in fish. There’s some concern that the low levels of hormones that are now in our drinking water are affecting us as well.
If I had one thing I want people to know from this post, it would be this: The Pill does not have to be the default method for birth control.
Some people have a great experience, and some people have a horrible experience with lasting effects. But you just can’t know which group you’re going to be in until after you’ve started taking The Pill.
I think that’s really risky.
When you actually look at the percentage likelihood of getting pregnant with perfect use, the condom actually scores better (it’s more than 99% effective, versus The Pill at 98%), and the diaphragm is almost as high (88%-96%). We don’t have to alter our bodies.
If you choose to, I understand, and I think that’s entirely your choice. I just want to make sure that it’s an informed choice. Don’t do The Pill because it’s “what everyone does”. Use it only after you look into other people’s warnings, and then decide for yourself that you still think it’s the best option.
Later this month we’ll be looking at the different methods of Natural Family Planning, and how to make them work for you.
And now I’ll leave the comments open again: What do you think of The Pill? Did you know that there could be these kinds of side effects? Or did you sail through with it and loved it? Let me know in the comments!
Our Birth Control Series:
- A Round-Up of The Pros and Cons of Different Birth Control Methods
- Birth Control Should Be a Shared Responsibility (Guys, Don’t be Selfish!)
- The Pros and Cons of The Pill (this one!)
- How to Make Fertility Awareness/Natural Family Planning Work for You (coming soon)
- How to Decide What Birth Control Method You’ll Actually Use