Rethinking the Pill


It seems any criticism of the pill is likely to be drowned
out in the anti-contraception and anti-choice noise. A new book by Jane Bennett and Alexandra Pope, titled The
Pill: Are You Sure It’s For You?
, reexamines the pill from a pro-choice angle.
Sophie Morris, in her review of the book in the Daily Mail, offers a fascinating dissection of what most of
us have come to think of as fundamental to our reproductive rights:

"In short
the benefit of having sex without the fear of pregnancy (or the hassle of
romance-killing condoms) is sold as a fair trade off to any of the many
side-effects shared by various brands of Pill – weight gain,
irritability-depression, anxiety, anger, loss of sex drive, migraines not to
mention rumoured links to breast cancer and fatal blood clots."

My girlfriend and I struggled to find a pill that worked
well when it became apparent that the one she was using caused debilitating,
mood-altering side-effects, but one that we could also afford. None are covered
by her insurance. After a few difficult months of experimenting, we finally
settled on Yaz, but not without wondering if maybe it would have been a lot
safer and easier to just use condoms instead.

I’m curious what you might think. Given all the side
effects, should we rethink the pill as a default contraceptive?

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  • derekp

    Even though people might not like it because a lot of Catholics use it, I think Natural Family Planning is kind of interesting. It’s a way of keeping track of a woman’s regular cycles of fertility/infertility and planning to have sex accordingly. The upside is that there are no hormones or side-effects like those with the pill. The downside is that you and your partner have to be periodically abstinent each month and be dedicated to charting your body-signs.  Women who have trouble taking the pill at the same time a day every day each month may not do well with this method. All in all if you are responsible and want a hormone free, barrier free way to control fertility, this could be a choice for you. It’s typical failure rate is 2-25%. That is worse than hormonal birth control but better than withdrawal. This Wikipedia article is the best I could find for an unbiased article on it. BTW, this is not the inaccurate Rhythm Method!

  • kay-steiger

    I can’t help but think this quesiton might become more complicated if/when we develop contraception for men. The way it is now, relationships are built on this idea that avoiding pregnancy is largely up to the woman (many couples — but not all — abandon condoms once they choose a monogomous relationship). She is responsible for finding a hormonal (or other) birth control that works for her. If men were asked to bear some of that burden, I wonder if Joe would have found himself taking on the responsibility of taking contraception since his partner couldn’t.

  • lineline

    Dr. Susan Rako wrote a book in 2003 entitled “No More Periods? The Risks of Menstrual Suppression and Other Cutting-Edge Issues About Hormones and Women’s Health.” Her book goes through all of the above mentioned issues, both with menstrual suppression birth control, and overall the health issues that result from changing a woman hormonal balance. This book is very accessible and I highly recommend it.

    I think this is a really important issue as there can be people against the idealizing of birth control who are feminist and pro-choice. I would never tell my future daughter she couldn’t be on birth control, but I am highly frustrated by the lack of conversation of how a woman’s body really does function and the lack of knowledge of what a health cycle looks like (and how to chart ones cycle, a la the fertility awareness method).

    It’s important to look at the history of birth control, how long-acting birth control has been associated with getting welfare and marketed to mothers and women of color, tested on women in third-world countries, and how all of this can play into a more inclusive debate within and outside of our community.

    I would also like to add the the excellent work of INCITE Woman of Color Against Violence, whom have raised awareness of this issue, especially with Depro Provera, see here: http://www.incite-national.org/index.php?s=82

  • tinliensolutions

    I think sometimes they abuse drugs contraceptives is not good, but actually we know what to expect during the measure seems even more perfect?

  • juliejulie

    First, I’m 39 years old.
    Second, I’ve been sexually active since I was 18.
    Third, I’ve never had an abortion.
    Fourth, I have one child, he’s 8, he was a planned pregnancy.
    Fifth, I stopped taking the pill when I was 21 because it made me ill, and I didn’t like the idea of putting all those chemicals and hormones into my body.
    Sixth, By keeping track of ovulation, using condoms when I’m fertile, and only having sexual relations inside monogomous relationships with people I love, I have had a positive outcome of family planning without relying on the pill and have avoided contracting STDs.

    If a particular method of birth control makes you uncomfortable, by all means, investigate something else!

    No matter what method you chose, family planning is important, and the pill isn’t for everyone, but with dedication, you can find something that will work for you!

    julie in memphis

    move feminism forward — take up the torch for men

  • kirsten-sherk

    Not unlike juliejulie, I’m in my late 30s, first had sex when I was 17, and I stopped using the pill when I was 18. I’ve never been pregnant. At the time, I looked around at my friends and I who used the pill, and realized that we all had significant, but very different, side effects, and I just thought, "That can’t be good…"  Why was I trying to force my body to do something unnatural, if it was going to cause me to gain 10 lbs, another friend to be depressed and yet another friend bad acne? I’ve happily used barrier methods ever since.

     

    My sister, on the other hand, has been devoted to her pill of choice for 15 years now. It’s easy and reliable, and it has served to make her periods more regular and less severe. (She has had two pregnancies, one planned, the other not.)

     

    What I take away is not that the pill is good or bad, or that to dislike the pill is a pro- or anti-choice position. What women need is the access to a range of options that suits their lifestyles, physiognomies and beliefs. And most importantly, we need to make all of these options affordable; if a woman can’t afford the choice that suits her, it isn’t really a choice, is it?

     

  • think4urself

    I have used the Pill since I was 18 with very few problems, I used it not just for protection from an unplanned pregnancy but also to treat dysmenophorea that I’ve had since I began menstrating at the age of 12, my periods became lighter and the intense cramping was greatly reduced. Then, despite being on the Pill, at the age of 32 I developed a cyst on my ovary that typically is treated with the Pill and since it obviously wasn’t getting rid of the cyst it had to be surgically removed due to pain and other problems the cyst was causing. I had the surgery in December and at my regular yearly OB/GYN visit in February I asked my doctor about other options, we discussed it and I decided to go with Mirena. After waiting til May for my insurance to decide they would cover the expense I had it inserted in June. I’ve have very little bleeding or cramping since it’s placement and my fiance and I are both very happy with the results. Mirena does include hormones but there are other IUCs (used to be called IUDs) that contain no hormones on the market today and they are good for several years, Mirena is good for 5 years. ~Never let others do your thinking for you~

  • progo35

    I really think that it depends on the individual’s reaction to that particular pill. I took birth control pills to prevent acne until a few months back, and I didn’t notice any problems. But, I also think there’s a lot to the argument that any time you can avoid altering your body’s rhythm with foreign influences like birth control pills, you are best to do so. I don’t have any friends who have had issues with the pill, either, so when I think of contraceptive health problems, I always think of IUDs, because my mom couldn’t have any more kids after using a defective one in the 1970s. If I were in the position of wanting to control my fertility, I would definitely consider the pill as a likely option, although I am intrigued by the natural family planning method-I think that might be fun to try!

    "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • progo35

    I really think that it depends on the individual’s reaction to that particular pill. I took birth control pills to prevent acne until a few months back, and I didn’t notice any problems. But, I also think there’s a lot to the argument that any time you can avoid altering your body’s rhythm with foreign influences like birth control pills, you are best to do so. I don’t have any friends who have had issues with the pill, either, so when I think of contraceptive health problems, I always think of IUDs, because my mom couldn’t have any more kids after using a defective one in the 1970s. If I were in the position of wanting to control my fertility, I would definitely consider the pill as a likely option, although I am intrigued by the natural family planning method-I think that might be fun to try!

    "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • progo35

    P.S.-I do think that it’s unfair to the woman to only use the pill-that puts the entire burden of managing birth control on the woman, and secondly, it’s always best to have a back up if you are trying to avoid pregnancy. My birth parents used the pill AND condoms during sex and I am still here!

    "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • ack

    I’ve been on and off of hormonal birth control since I was 18, through the pill and the NuvaRing. (The ring was great but is far too expensive for me to use long-term.) The pill has obviously increased women’s control of their reproductive lives and sexuality, but I agree with Progo that the burden can then fall unfairly on her to prevent pregnancy. Some men may pressure women to start using it so they can stop using condoms, which is incredibly problematic.

    My partner and I try to find a balance of responsibility. We are both financially responsible for my prescriptions; I pay two months, then he pays two months. He also knows he has no right to comment if I forget to take it and we need to use a backup method. I’ve also made sure he understands how it actually works! One of my friends has asked her partner to remind her to take it so she doesn’t feel like all the accountability is on her. It’s part of their daily routine now. I guess my point is that there are ways to equal it out, but it’s a negotiation.

    I’ve read about Natural Family Planning and I think one of the major advantages is the simple fact that using it creates a relationship with your body that most women don’t have. Kirsten (above) is right: women need a range of AFFORDABLE and ACCESSIBLE options so they can choose what works for them.