The pill is 50, but not everyone’s celebrating
For women of my mother’s generation, the contraceptive pill represented freedom, protection, liberation and ultimately, the ability to decide what direction you wanted your life to take.
But on the eve of is 50th anniversary, I’m not convinced that you’ll find many women over the age of 25, who would be prepared to see the tiny little pill in the same way.
Because for a variety of different reasons, the pill has stopped making lots of women feel particularly good.
Dr Christiana Northrup wrote in the Huffington Post recently :
“The pill is the most-studied medication in history. Unfortunately, because it’s made from synthetic non-bio-identical hormones, it has more side effects than it should!”
I’ve just reached my thirties and of all the women I know in my age group that still take the pill, there’s a good number of others, who’ve willing tossed their packets in the bin and never felt more in control of their bodies.
Dr Deborah Bateson, a senior medical coordinator with the Family Planning NSW, said while it’s still our most preferred method of contraception, with 30 per cent of women choosing to take the pill, discontinuation rates are also very common, across all stages of the reproductive cycle.
So what accounts for the change?
Amongst my own peer-group, it’s the side-effects. Feelings of nausea, headaches, unusual moodiness, even a reduction in libido.
Price can also be a deterrent. Unless you take the more “traditional” forms of the pill, that I’m told cost between $5-$6 a pack, you can be forking out upwards of $30 per month for the “newer” generation of pills that may also have more “non-contraceptive” benefits for acne-prone skin or heavy periods.
And then there’s the genuine feeling of having “lost touch” with your own natural cycle, not to mention the fear of the effect prolonged use might have on your ability to fall pregnant.
Dr Christiana Northrup again:
“Many women still don’t have conscious dominion over their fertility, don’t appreciate their fertility cycles and aren’t in partnerships that respect these cycles either…We can use [the pill] to manipulate our menstrual cycles, avoiding periods altogether or on weekends. In short, it fits our cultural ideal.”
When I put these concerns to Dr Bateson, she agreed, that in her own experience, while some patients choose to discontinue the pill, as a step towards planning for pregnancy and wanting to understand their natural cycle; other women prefer not to have artificial hormones in their body, or simply want to try something new when they decide to swap contraceptive methods.
Ultimately, she said, deciding whether or not you should continue taking the pill should come down to having access to the right information, and a good understanding of your own body:
“There’s definitely no one-size fits all…Some women can start taking the pill as teenagers and may find they can carry on with the pill for as long as they need contraception, with no effect whatsoever, on their future fertility,” she said.
“While others will always seek other options to the pill, something they don’t have to remember every day, or a method with no hormones, for instance. But whatever it is, there are enough alternatives out there to ensure you can find something that’s tailored to you.”
And for all the things we still don’t know about the long-term effects of taking the pill, its very existence continues to inspire us with choice, when it comes to the way we want to live our lives, and that’s something we shouldn’t take for granted.
If you have any questions about contraceptives or sexual health generally, you can call the Family Planning Healthline on 1300 658 886.
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