There is only one drug in the world so well known that it’s called “the Pill.” For more than forty years, more people have taken “the Pill” than any other prescribed medicine in the world.
Sex, pregnancy, and contraception have been hot topics for millennia. It wasn’t until the U.S. government approved the birth control pill in 1960 that the possibilities for contraception changed dramatically. The majority of women and plenty of men welcomed “the Pill”.
The birth control pill was the first medication ever designed for purely social, rather than therapeutic purposes. At the height of the popularity of the drug, U.S. Senate hearings focused the nation’s attention on potentially deadly health risks posed by the high-dose Pill. As a result of the hearings, pharmaceutical companies lowered the dosages and doctors advised women who were obese, smoked and had high blood pressure, or had a family history of blood clots against taking the Pill.
In the 1980s, the high dosage 10-milligram pill was removed from the market and biphasic and triphasic oral contraceptives were introduced. Today, women can get a prescription for a Pill containing 1 milligram of progestin, one-tenth of the original dose, and containing as little as 20 micrograms of estrogen.
From the very beginning, a significant number of women complained of discomfort from the Pill and switched to other methods. When women wanted to discuss the side effects with their doctors, they were often met with frustration. It was common for their complaints to be dismissed as exaggerated. In other cases, their ailments were just considered the price that women had to pay in return for such an effective contraceptive. The problem was compounded by the fact that female patients were not always informed about the potential for strokes, heart attacks, or blood clots while on the Pill. For the most part sharing, “the Pills” risk has become a part of the information provided by health care practitioners who prescribe the Pill.
If you take oral birth control pills or are thinking about starting them, you may want to read this, as there are some side effects of the birth control pill that your health care provider may not be telling you.
So today there are literally dozens of birth control pills available for use. Approximately 13% of women of reproductive age use the birth control pill. So, first, let’s talk about how the birth control pill works:
- It stops ovulation.
- It makes it very difficult for the sperm to get to the egg.
- It prevents the lining of the uterus from thickening.
And all these things together, make it really difficult to get pregnant, so let’s start by talking about some of the advantages of the birth control pill.
- It gave women the freedom to have sex without the worry of getting pregnant.
- It can reduce some of the pain that some women feel during their periods. About 20% of women suffer from significant pain during their periods and the birth control pill has been widely used to limit some of that pain.
- Additionally it can reduce the risk of developing the risk of certain cancers; such as ovarian and uterine (for those who may be more susceptible to those cancers).
So there are a few that many of us know and our health care providers have informed us of, such as blood clots. Especially if you’re a smoker; blood clots are a risk. Blood clots can lead to strokes, which is obviously a bad thing.
Some other negative side effects are: nausea, headaches, breast tenderness, and for many women I know from my friends & patients over the years, have described to me that the pill makes them feel absolutely crazy.
Now let’s move on to some of the side effects that your health care provider may NOT be telling you.
First is a decreased libido. It’s great that the pill can prevent us from getting pregnant, but if we don’t want to have sex in the first place then what’s the point?
Second, it reduces our ability to self-lubricate. I can’t tell you how many young women who are on the birth control pill say they need to use added lubrication during intercourse because they can’t self-lubricate.
Now, many of them think that there’s something wrong with them, when in fact it’s likely due to the side effects of the birth control pill.
Another side effect your health care provider may not be telling you about is that- it can reduce the size of your clitoris (or what you see of the clitoris or the head or glands).
Now you ask yourself, “Well how big is my clitoris supposed to be?” Well, if you look at the tip of a q-tip or cotton swab, that’s about the size of a normal clitoris (or at least the head of the clitoris).
So the birth control pill can reduce the size, and in some cases, make it hypersensitive or painful to touch. Now as we can imagine, that may make orgasm more difficult or painful.
Lastly another side effect of the birth control pill for some women is – It can cause a condition called ‘Vestibulodynia.’ Now literally Vestibulodynia means “pain of the vestibule,” and the vestibule is part of our vulva that is tissue that surrounds the opening of our vagina, surrounds the opening of our urethra and the tissue around the clitoris. Now if this tissue becomes hypersensitive or painful, it can make intercourse or any sort of vaginal penetration very painful; or even just to touch it can be very painful.
Why does the birth control cause some of these adverse effects in women?
Again it comes down to hormones. The birth control pill reduces our available estrogen & testosterone. And without getting into all the nitty gritty, basically our vagina and vulva, we NEED estrogen & testosterone for it to be happy & healthy.
So what are some alternatives if you don’t want to use the birth control pill or if you’ve been on the birth control pill and have had some of these side effects?
Well you could always use good old condoms. They work to prevent pregnancy and they work to prevent STIs.
Another alternative is an IUD or an intrauterine device. This is a small device that is placed inside your uterus. It can be hormonal or non-hormonal.
The hormonal option does not have the same negative side effects that the oral birth control pill does. So there’s a couple other forms of contraception that are good alternatives to the birth control pill.
One is an injectable, most commonly called Depo-Provera. Another is an implantable contraception.