Pumping Our Bodies with Hormones Shouldn’t be the Default

Known as the greatest breakthrough of the 20th century, the contraceptive pill has transformed women’s lives forever, giving them the ability to choose when or if to have children and reclaim control of their bodies. Becoming widely available through the NHS in 1961, and via planning clinics in 1974, by bringing contraception to the masses women were liberated not only sexually, but economically. Before the widespread availability of oral contraception, every time women had sex they risked falling pregnant, condemning them to a life of male economic dependence while raising their children. The pill therefore became a symbol of independence for women.

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While it’s important to recognise that the pill was a massive breakthrough in the 60s and 70s, it’s time to revamp the default contraception that women use. If we’ve gone from switchboard telephone systems to voice activated mobile phones in the same timeframe, we should have come up with new birth control methods with minimal side effects by now. 3.5 million women in the UK use the pill as their main method of contraception, meanwhile 41% of women only use it because their doctor or nurse suggested it. The pill has become the default, despite the adverse side effects it causes many women.

What are these side effects?  

Over a quarter of women don’t know what hormonal contraception is doing to their body. A study looking at data from over a million women during a 19 year period revealed that women between 15 and 19 who took oral contraceptives were 80% more likely to end up depressed.

35% said they felt that women were just expected to ‘put up’ with the side-effects of hormonal contraception.

Further side effects caused by the pill include:

  • Changes in mood, mood swings and depression

  • Breast pain or tenderness, breast enlargement

  • Fungal infections and cystitis

  • Migraine or headache

  • Feeling nauseous and vomiting

  • Stomach problems and diarrhoea

  • Irregular bleeding

  • Skin rash and acne

  • Hair loss

  • Changes in body weight.

And the list goes on. These side effects aren’t limited to the pill. Other forms of hormonal contraception such as the patch, implant or hormonal IUDs have similar side effects, meanwhile the non-hormonal contraceptive coil can cause intense cramps, pelvic infection and ectopic pregnancies.

Since the pill became widespread, women have been held responsible for contraception, and expected to deal with the effects that come along with it. In 2016 it was announced that a new male contraceptive jab was ‘96% effective’, but unsurprisingly the trials were halted early ‘when it was considered that the risk to the study participants in terms of side effects outweighed any benefits’. What were these catastrophic side effects?

  • 45.9% of men reported developing acne

  • 17% reported mood disorders

  • 16% experienced muscle aches

Sound familiar ladies? These are just a few of the side effects that women have been told to put up with since the 1960s. So why is it that women have to endure these side effects, if they’re considered too extreme for men? The contrasting standards that are set in the health industry for men and women are unacceptable. It’s symptomatic of the health care gender bias. A study revealed that:

“Medical professionals take longer to address women’s pain, and do less to address it when they eventually do, even when they have the same symptoms as men.”

Sexism has penetrated our labs, hospitals, pharmacies and healthcare systems. Women are expected to continue pumping hormones through their bodies while men are unaccountable for contraception because they might get a spot of acne.

What’s the solution?

For the time being, all that you can do is make sure that you’re using the contraception that’s right for you. The pill and other forms of hormonal contraception work perfectly well for millions of women. However If you feel like hormonal contraception is a cause of depression, mood swings, or any other side effects, why not opt for something non-hormonal. Speak to your doctor, to your friends, to the women in your life about it. Open up conversations about contraception. Be fully aware of what you’re putting into your body and understand the side effects that you might experience.  

And if you’re freaked out by hormones, here’s a handy list of alternative contraception methods:

Male Condoms: 98% effective (The ONLY contraception which men can take charge of)

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Female Condoms: 95% effective

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IUD’s / The Copper Coil: Over 99% effective

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The Contraceptive Sponge : 88% effective

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Natural Family Planning : Up to 99% effective

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Article by Chanju Mwanza