It started off as a good thing, I suppose. In ninth grade my friends and classmates began taking birth control to improve their skin. I never had much of a problem with my complexion; fortunately, it’s always been even and blemish-free. Then, what began as a blessing became a presumption. My mother took me to my first gynecologist appointment when I was 15 because she was convinced I was having sex (I wasn’t). She was just being a responsible, helpful parent—but I saw it as a violation. That actually became a pattern in our relationship during my teenage years; her looking out for my well-being and me resenting her for it. But that’s how it goes with adolescents, no?
I got to the doctor's office and they questioned me about my menstrual cycle, sexual activity, the usual. I answered plainly that I was a virgin. The doctor asked my mom to step out and inquired again. She was comforting and understood if I was holding back information for the sake of saving face in front of my mother. But I wasn't. It all felt like a creepy overreaction. Again, in hindsight, everyone was just being especially sensitive to my feelings and helpful in the difficult pursuit of growing up. But, sigh, I didn't realize that until much later. I left without asking about birth control or any information for future reference. I had an uncomfortable pap smear and silently vowed to stay away from the gynecologist for as long as I could. (More poor teenage choices.)
When I did become sexually active, I didn’t begin taking the pill because I didn’t want my parents to know. In fact, I didn’t even tell them I had a boyfriend. So for years I relied on other contraception and didn’t really give it a second thought. I also saw the way various types of birth control affected my friends: weight gain, mood swings, and even depression. Honestly, I wanted no part in it.
Once I graduated from school and began living a more adult existence—dating casually and not-so casually—the issue of birth control became a hot topic in my brain. Like, perhaps it was irresponsible that I wasn't taking all the precautions available to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. But, by then, my issues with the birth control pill ran deeper than just the possibility of weight fluctuation. I really didn’t like the idea that I would have to pump synthetic hormones into my body on a daily basis. We know about possible side effects and everyone around me seems to be doing fine, but I couldn’t help but think If I’ve made it this far, what’s the point? And I feared I could have an atypical response.
I found myself at a turning point. I could either ensure myself the peace of mind and just get a prescription, or I could keep on without it. I've used period and ovulation tracking apps like Clue (it's a great way to get to know your body, even if it has nothing to do with contraception), and I've thought about getting an IUD. It seems like a really great option, but I'm squeamish about that stuff, and, ultimately, I don't know how comfortable I'd be with it. So I did some research.
First of all, I wanted to know just how effective it really is. I've heard of women getting pregnant even when they're on the pill, so I looked into it. According to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, only 0.1% of women experience an unintended pregnancy. So, approximately one in every 1000 women get pregnant during their first year on birth control. When you put it like that, it's not so small. But, it's still minuscule compared to the statistics that come along with not taking anything at all.
Another thing I didn't know: There are two types of pills. Combination pills contain both estrogen and progestin, while the other is just progestin. That's the pill that is said to have fewer side effects. But, still, there are side effects. The most common include spotting, nausea, breast tenderness, headaches, weight gain, decreased libido, and mood changes. While they don't sound great, those symptoms are pretty close to what happens during a particularly bad week of PMS.
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When it comes down to it, it sounds like it wouldn't be the worst idea to try the pill for myself—to at least see how I feel once I'm on it. Of course, I'll definitely book an appointment to discuss these concerns with my regular gynecologist.
Now I'd like to open it up to you. What do you think I should do? Any sage advice or experience with the subject? Let me know in the comments below.
For more candid conversation about contraceptives, read our very honest discussion about birth control.