I have been through four different hormonal birth controls in the past year, each one having varied effects on my poor, unsuspecting body. Life is hard enough as it is out there for a woman! We have to deal with lower pay, catcalls, degrading verbal abuse, sexual abuse, unrealistic expectations of beauty, and on top of all that, we also have to be responsible for every Tom, DICK, and Harry not getting us knocked up every time we wanna have a little fun (or a meaningful sexual relationship)? Ugh.
Yeah, yeah, there's condoms, but let's be realistic. More often than not, birth control is left up to the woman, because it's our bodies that can get pregnant, not men's. And over the years, science has given us multiple types of effective birth control, the most common of which remains the pill. A close runner up is the IUD, but (with the exception of the copper IUD) there's something that both of these methods have in common: hormones.
Hormonal birth control continues to be the most popular and effective method of birth control out there and, while it makes your sex life much less stressful, it comes with a LOT of side effects.
I spent a lot of time researching this issue as it has effected me personally for so long, and while I found endless articles, forums, blogs, etc. the best research I've done so far is actually asking the women who have had years of first-hand experience with hormonal birth control what their side effects were.
Kimberly told me:
I decided to get on birth control because my periods were pretty irregular and the cramps were HORRIBLE. My periods would last, like, seven days and would come every two to three weeks. Since I had a breast reduction, I was very skeptical because I had to be careful with the pill I chose and how much estrogen was in it. I started with Loestrin, which was amazing for a few years. My periods were only three or four days and came every three-and-half weeks.
After about two years, my cramps started to become unbearable again, so I decided to change. I went to Yaz. That was the single worst month or two of my life. I was so depressed. I locked myself alone in my room, didn't want to talk to anyone, and seriously considered dropping out of college and moving back to home. My mom knew this wasn't right, especially since nothing had really changed in my life to make me feel this way.
After calling the doctor and getting a consultation, they said it could be a side effect of Yaz, so I switched to a generic brand that I can't remember. I was on that for about two years until I started having really bad anxiety. I've always had a little bit of anxiety, but it progressively got worse, to the point where I would lie in bed and couldn't sleep, and I stressed about everything.
When it got to the point where my boyfriend was like "Something isn't right. You need to talk to your OBGYN," I knew that the anxiety wasn't just from me getting older and having the responsibilities of grown-up life.
For the past five years, I have been on a generic Loestrin brand and have finally had no issues. Yet.
Another woman, Tina, told me that she's tried a variety of pills, but all affected her daily life in the form of mood swings, depression, and anxiety. She finally decided to try an IUD instead and the results were much worse.
I tried Skyla. I dealt with acne, hair loss, weight gain (possibly my fault? ), and very bad cramping.
Another woman (who didn't want to use her name) didn't have sex until she was married. She got on birth control and completely lost her appetite for sex. After a couple of months of this lack of libido, she got off of it completely. She said her sexually appetite returned full swing and she orgasms every single time.
Another girl, Elizabeth, told me she got on it right before her wedding to avoid a period during her wedding and honeymoon. While on Loestrin, she began getting headaches every day and completely lost her libido. In addition she became depressed for the majority of time that she was on it.
Even making out was a struggle because I didn't care anymore. I had to make myself kiss back because it meant nothing to me.
She got off of it after one month of misery and took her chances with her period. Needless to say, things have gone back to blissful ever since. They are happily married now and enjoying a healthy sex life.
After speaking with several different young women, the responses were resoundingly familiar: weight gain, mood swings, depression, loss of libido, acne, hair loss, headaches, etc.
My own experience has been similar. I started on Loestrin, which gave me horrible headaches every day, along with acne. I began taking ibuprofen every day in order to function normally without the distracting pain. In turn, the ibuprofen ate away the lining of my stomach, and I am now on meds to prevent that from happening. I also had to get on migraine medicine that I take every day and I completely lost my libido.
I switched to a new pill, Vyfemla, and it gave me great boobs and clear skin, with a side of weight gain and still no libido. I then tried a third one: still no libido and even more weight gain and acne.
I have now decided to do away with the pill. It has been only a month and side effects can last up to six months if not longer. I impatiently await the day for my libido to come back with a year-long vengeance.
The perks of some birth control pills can sometimes negate some of the misery it brings. For some, perky boobs are a plus, as well as clear skin, and little to no periods. I also personally struggle with ovulation pain, and it does wonders for minimizing that.
The question is, what's more important? No pain, but also no libido and the assurance that an accidental pregnancy will never be an issue? Or the ability to long for sex, while enduring the fear of an unwanted pregnancy and that monthly week or so of pain?
I have chosen to endure the pain. I already have bad periods and terrible ovulation pain, but no libido is just worse. I miss that feeling of being unable to squelch my desire to have someone. Sexual complacency is my worst enemy, and the pill is a prescription for it.
Now I know there are other alternatives — the copper IUD, condoms, the pull-out method, etc. — I have issues with those, too.
With condoms, there's still about a 3% chance of pregnancy when used correctly, which is too high for me considering getting pregnant is one of my worst fears and Plan B just isn't in my budget. Neither are condoms, come to think of it. Also, I just massively prefer sex without a condom (although no mess to clean up is nice).
As for the copper IUD, every person I have heard from and overwhelming reviews I've read make it seem like cramps and periods get much worse. And apparently, it takes about three to five months of spotting and pain to get anywhere close to normalcy again. However, if you have very light periods to begin with, then this may be the way to go for you. A friend of mine who has always had mild/regular periods loves hers. Here's what she had to say:
The first few months after I got Paragard were wonky. My periods were a little heavier and more painful, but manageable with ibuprofen. Never had a yeast infection prior to getting Paragard, and in the last three years that I've had, it I get mild yeast infections maybe twice a year.
I randomly smelled strongly like copper for about a week shortly after I got it, but never since. That was weird.
For the first several months, I would spot a day or two before my period and I felt like my period was "slow" to come on, which lengthened it to five to eight days, but now my periods have been shorter than before — more like five or six days.
I'm generally a big fan. I love not needing a hormonal method and not having to think about it for a decade. It has saved me from a few oopsies with broken condoms when I was single. My boyfriend and I don't use anything else. No scares whatsoever.
The pull-out method is actually one of my favorites. I have talked to a lot of women who have opted for this method over pills and condoms for years. Sure, it can get messy, but that's what hot showers together are for. Women I spoke to who are not pleased with hormonal birth control said that they prefer this method and have never had pregnancy scares, but it reportedly has a failure rate of about 4%.
In my dream world, more research would go into finding other alternatives for male birth control rather than the females always having to do the grunt work and side effects. Maybe it'll happen one day when women run the world instead of privileged old white men. (Obama excluded of course. He is my best friend and Michelle is the mother I never had.) Le sigh.
I know that this is just one girl's anecdotal research and opinion, so I would love to hear any stories about your own experiences and any other alternatives you may use that I'm totally missing out on!