Countless women around the world are prescribed birth control to help with a range of issues that vary from bad acne, to cramp relief, to contraception. However, women are often unaware of the extent of the affects birth control has over their bodies, and with there being such limited research and attention placed on women’s health, it’s no surprise that many may feel either clueless to the detrimental long-term consequences, or even backed into a corner due to a lack of options.
Nausea, migraines, severe weight gain, cardiovascular problems, depression, high blood pressure, and risks of cancer are only a FEW of the many side effects of the pill. If you were prescribed medication and was told that cancer, or even liver tumours, is a possible side effects, it would be interesting to see whether you would still be eager to take it, or whether you’d question it. So why are so many women receiving the pill as their main form of contraception, especially if there are so many negative effects on our bodies?
Well, several reasons. There’s a lack of general knowledge and awareness around the long-term effects for one thing, as well as overall women’s health. Most women don’t realize the true damage in the long run, though a lengthy list of side effects is provided, often doctors do not go into the details of why these effects may take place and how.
On top of that, there is a lack of options. In terms of contraception, birth control may appear the most ideal, whilst a certain stigma embedded within society, often places women in a position of sexual responsibility. Additionally, there is still a long way to go for research in women’s health; being so underrepresented in healthcare means that there is still much to learn.
Coming from a personal stance, when I was 13, I had my first period which I found to be a living hell. Six years down the line, it’s only gotten much worse. Every month I find myself throwing up, having migraines, fainting and being unable to walk or eat for a week straight.
Many of my symptoms point to conditions such as the likes of endometriosis (where tissue grows outside of the linen of the womb) however so many like me have found it impossible to get a true diagnosis due to the lack of research and funding into women's health. Thus, my only options, according to the NHS, is contraception in the hopes (and not certainty) that it provides pain relief. It is in these circumstances where I, like so many other women, may feel pressured to take the pill, even if they don’t necessarily want to, because of how limited our options are.
Birth control does not only have detrimental effects on the physical body but also, alarmingly, on the mind. Recent investigations have taken place, predominantly in the US, on how the pill can alter our brain structure. One study’s findings, published in 2020, found the pill to significantly change regions in the brain implicated in memory and emotional processing, as well as stress reactivity: concluding an increased vulnerability to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
To top it off, the pill does not only alter how you feel about yourself, but also can change the way you see things, and importantly, the way you see people. Many longitudinal studies have been conducted and have come to the realisation that the pill has the power to influence who you are attracted to. This must make us therefore question: are women in control of the pill? Or is the pill in control of women?
There is also looking at birth control from a feminist stance. When it was released, many people viewed oral contraception as a form of sexual liberation, however, it can also be seen, and still is, as an example of patriarchal control: why should birth control be females' responsibility in the first place? This was something questioned in the 50s, but it’s still just as relevant to this day.
Even in 2022, where males now have access to their own birth control pill, the embedded ideas of fertility as a woman’s issue and responsibility still dominate. Therefore, change, though occurring, is slow and rigid; we need more change within the way society perceives contraception, as well as change within the health system itself.
Birth control is not necessarily something to be feared. At the end of the day, it is every woman’s body and their own right to decide what is best for them. However, there does need to be more conversations and awareness around it so that we can attempt to fully understand the effects on our own minds and bodies.