it is a sobering realisation when, at age 24, you consider that you’ve never experienced normal day-to-day life (i.e. when you haven’t got your period) off the pill for the entirety of your adult life. it is more serious still when you consider the side effects of the magic pill.
as a teenager, the general whispered fear consensus about going on the pill was that it might make you fat. as an adult, especially one with often fragile mental health, the fear is significantly different. to what extent can my plethora of negative thought patterns be attributed to the daily dose of hormones that i pump into my body?
a doctor has never - in the 7 years that i’ve been self-administering an oestrogen/prostrogen combination once a day - made me aware of the effects that the pill could have on my general wellbeing. we all took that initial terrified skim through the prescription leaflet the first time we were handed those little strips - and read that seemingly unending list of things that might kill us as a result of wanting protected sex or acne-free skin or regulated periods. blood clots, cancer, stroke. the list goes on. but, in recent years, every blood pressure check prior to a new prescription of rigevidon has been accompanied by a casual suggestion of maybe considering swapping to a long-term reversible method of contraception. each time i politely decline, knowing that i cannot face the reduced quality of life that would creep up on me in the wake of withdrawing from the pill. and each time i genuinely believed this to be nothing more than a classic NHS attempt to save money on prescriptions and free up appointment times and, naively, make life easier for us by providing us with a way to continue to have peace of mind without having to remember to take a pill every day.
but what if, actually, the pill is just bad for us?
it’s not like i’ve been living blissfully ignorant of the potential dangers that come with the pill’s glorious relief. i studied neuropsychology, i can’t have been utterly naive to the effect of artificial hormone uptake. but the guardian published an article recently that called out the medical world’s tight-lipped silence on the very really negative impact that the pill can have on us, and the reaction of girls online broke my heart. comment after comment after quoted tweet after reply after tagged friend that made it all too clear that this is being prescribed to young women who have no idea, whatsoever, of its potential effects.
a terrifying number of girls seem to have been suffering with the mood disorders so commonly associated with continued use of the contraceptive pill and not realising the direct causal link until they came off it and went back to being themselves. this is nothing short of a travesty.
after the guardian’s apparently whistle-blowing article, almost every other news outlet - from the bbc to buzzfeed - ran stories on these ‘shocking’ findings. but the news isn’t shocking - or new. the study that copenhagen university carried out was, indeed, the most comprehensive of its kind - tracking more women (a million) for a longer period of time (13 years) than ever before - but the outcome of the research would not shock anyone even slightly clued-up on the subject. and, even so, the immediate defensive reaction from ‘experts’ (coincidentally most of whom were men) suggests that no level of empirical, conclusive research will be enough to prevent the gaslighting and mansplaining from individuals who will never experience what it is to ingest artificial hormones every day.
the research also highlighted problems in the experts’ go-to solution of long-acting reversible methods. the results showed that women taking the combined pill were 23% more likely to be diagnosed with depression, while the increased likelihood for those taking the mini-pill (progestin only, rather than combined with oestrogen) is 34%. and the long-acting reversible methods so vehemently offered as an alternative were found to increase this risk at a much higher rate than oral contraceptives.
i could argue til i was blue in the face about the inherent sexism of our society’s outlook on birth control. i could cite all the side-effects that the male contraceptive injection presented - mood disorders, acne, changes to libido - and point out that, while they caused the '96% effective’ treatment to be reconsidered, these are issues women have been struggling with while taking oral contraceptives since their inception. i could tentatively suggest that the medical community’s long-standing and archaic view on women’s health is no longer valid. i could put forward the idea that maybe, actually, we should no longer settle for being thankful that we’ve been gifted autonomy over our bodies by the generous men that rule us with such applaudable kindness.
but really, i just want us to be safe. i want us to understand the risks. i want us all to be informed. i want us to use the internet to our advantage. i want us to have done our research. and then i want us to decide what’s best for each of us. and once we’ve done all that then maybe, maybe, we can start a unapologetic revolution.