Posted in Features

Birth Control: The good, the bad, and the hormonal

With debilitating side effects, why do so many of us take the Pill?

birthcontrol_web

What is birth control?

The most commonly discussed form of birth control is the male condom. Male condoms are a thin sheath of material, typically latex, that slides over the penis to prevent sperm from reaching the vagina.

Close behind in popularity is the Pill. The Pill is a small maleate tablet which contains hormones to alter the body’s chemistry. Pills contain progestin and, in combination birth control pills, estrogen as well. It depends on which brand or type is prescribed. Progestin is a synthetic progesterone, and progesterone is a hormone that helps the uterus prepare for pregnancy. Estrogen affects the sexual development of females and regulates some metabolic processes.

But other than these two popular contraceptives, not a lot of people know what their options are. Other forms of birth control include female condoms, contraceptive sponges, cervical caps, diaphragms, implants, intrauterine devices (IUDs), patches, shots, the morning after pill, and vaginal rings. And those are just the methods for females.

There are also methods for males, but they’re far less numerous. In this article specifically, we’re referring to the female methods, and particularly the methods which alter the body’s chemistry. Not to say male contraceptives aren’t worth conversation — they certainly are — but currently women are the ones being the most affected by contraceptives on a hormonal, day-to-day basis.

Who takes birth control and what does it do for their body?

People with the reproductive organs necessary to carry a human child to term are the ones who are prescribed birth control. Generally, the people who get these prescriptions are also having vaginal sex with a person who has a penis, but it’s not uncommon to take it for health reasons. Because the Pill contains hormones which serve more than one purpose in the human body, preventing pregnancy is not the only reason it can be prescribed.

The main reason most women use birth control is to prevent pregnancy. No method is 100 percent effective, but some method is generally better than nothing. Of course there’s abstinence, but that’s not for everybody.

My old roommate took birth control for a while to help with her acne. It worked wonders: her face was as clear as a cloudless sky. But the side effects that came with her prescription were enough to have her welcoming back the acne. It was preferable to the killer migraines the pills gave her, which would interfere with her work.

My girlfriend takes birth control to deal with her menstrual cramps. They’re worse than the average menstruating person’s, and her doctor even designated abdominal migraines — and yeah, they’re as awful as they sound. One of her side effects is depression, a mental illness that research has discovered may be related to taking the Pill.

Other issues that birth control may help with include irregular periods, menstrual migraines, endometriosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome.

What are some of the side effects?

Some side effects include anxiety, nausea, weight gain, tenderness of the breast, spotting in between periods, headaches, and mood changes. These all affect different patients in different ways, and the severity of whatever side effects you experience will largely affect whether you continue to use them, as my girlfriend has, or if you stop, like my old roommate.

Will birth control give me depression?

Not necessarily. As mentioned before, a recent study from the University of Copenhagen found a correlation between the birth control and depression, stating that those taking the combination oral pill were 23 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression, while those taking the progestin pill were 34 percent more likely.

As many scientists (and my psychology professors, at least once a week) will tell you, correlation does not imply causation. However, it seems more likely that the depression stems from the use of the Pill (with the aforementioned mood changes as a listed side effect) than it is likely that people who are at a greater risk for depression opt to use the Pill.

So it’s not guaranteed that the Pill will cause you to develop depression, but it is a possibility nevertheless.

How can the side effects be minimized?

There’s no easy solution for this. Side effects will probably happen to people who take a form of hormonal birth control. However, because there are different types of birth control, and different brands and mixtures within those types, sometimes you just have to shop around to find the birth control option that gives you the best results with the lowest number of side effects.

It can be a long and difficult process — not to mention expensive if you don’t have insurance that helps to pay for your prescriptions — but if you can conquer all of the obstacles in your way, you can find a birth control method that gives you the results you want.

Is birth control worth it?

Only you can answer that question. Whether birth control is “worth it” depends on the user and what kind of trade-off they’re looking for. If birth control stops or at least mitigates some seriously violent cramps, but in return the side effect is a major headache, only the person using the birth control can decide if that’s an acceptable trade.

Just because it’s your decision doesn’t mean you have to go it completely solo. Ask others about their experiences with birth control, and do your research. Don’t forget, one of your best resources is the person who prescribes the methods for you; get your doctor to help you figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.

advertisement