November 3, 2009

First, sorry for the female topic, since most of the people I know read this are male. But it’s my writing and I’m a female, so it must be expected that birth control pills would eventually come up. And here it is!

The article was about whether women should take breaks from being on oral contraceptives. The answer is no. The two major concerns seem to be an increased risk of breast cancer and increased difficulty conceiving after being on the pill for a longer time. Apparently both breast cancer risk and fertility go back to normal after you stop taking the pill. Of course there are a few other potential health risks, but what kind of pill doesn’t come with that long list of side effects. And the whole deal with Yaz/Yasmin – well, I’m sure if they find anything, it’ll be all over the news given they’re such a popular brand.

Thing is, I’m still a bit skeptical about taking the pill for a very long time. It might just be my personal experience going on and off the pill (which I am well aware would be too much information for most everybody). It also might be that I just don’t like taking pills in general, so I’m pretty happy not having to take one every day. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take the pill if you have a frequent risk of getting pregnant – you should. I don’t have that concern (stupid long distance relationship). But, as Yaz has proven, the pill has whole bunch of nice side effects that help PMS and acne. And then there’s the fact you can time your period, which is also quite convenient. It boils down to the fact that there’s a lot of incentive to take it when you don’t really need it. And with women starting the pill earlier and having families later (if kids are even in their plans at all), I bet women are going to remain on the pill longer than they have in the last 50 years.


  1. It’s always tricky when it comes to the pill. On one hand, it’s a great, liberating tool that can really help in more ways than just being a contraceptive. On the other, I feel like increased breast cancer risk is a high price to pay. If, as you say, the risk drops back to acceptable levels after treatment ceases, then I worry a lot less and it becomes a trivial question of whether or not to take it.

    I support the pill on principal and, like you, I’m pretty sure that women will keep taking it for the foreseeable future.

  2. It’s tricky because I think some women have to take it because their periods are super irregular. Of course some abuse it and take it solely for the acne benefits.

    My wife doesn’t use it for the same reason I wouldn’t if I were a woman, she doesn’t like chemically screwing around with the body. I try to take as little medicine as possible without endangering my health. Everything you take degrades your body – my wife used to work with livers and taking medicine every day can do some pretty horrible stuff to it.

    Then there’s the fact that menstruation is a naturally cyclical event. There are hormones involved and, as we now know, those can affect everything from mood to brain function to affecting certain biological processes like, for example, red blood cell production. (I’m not saying red blood cell production is affected by birth control, but by hormones) I know the regular pill is supposed to give you a controlled period every month, so that’s ok. But those birth control medicines where you only have like four in a year – that’s just not right. It’s like if some medicine made you only urinate once a week or something. That’s just messing with things a bit too much.

    Dan made a good point about it being liberating, but I think that mostly applies to married people or long-time monogamous couples. After all, if you’re just having sex with random guys, he should be using a condom anyway to prevent STD transmission. And if he’s going to use one, what’s the point of being on the pill?

    I think part of the problem here is that the pill is the only reliable birth control fully in the woman’s control. So it does become a liberating act for her to not rely on convincing her partner to wear a condom. But, I don’t see where there can’t be continued innovation in this realm where someone could come up with something non-medicinal for a woman. We seem to have given up with the pill.

    And, there’s also the insidious part about this liberation. The woman can go off the pill without telling the husband and then get pregnant without him realizing what’s going on. The couple that does this certainly has some serious trust issues going on, but I know second hand of quite a few people being born that way (and third hand via TV).

    • You’re forgetting that:

      A. Guys are just as untrustworthy. Consider the guy who wants to get a girl pregnant and sabotages a condom, the guy who misuses a condom, or the guy who rapes a girl. None are under a girl’s control (although she can Plan B, but that’s a flood of hormones too)

      B. Everything has a failure rate. The pill can fail if you’re not good about taking it at the same time or you miss a day or just by accident. Condoms can fail too. Some people like to turn the probability to (0.1/100)^2

      C. There are non-medicinal contraceptives for women. They’re still being developed.

      Messing with the body isn’t always a good idea and there are always one-in-a-million cases where something bad happens or other way worse medicinal mistakes (like that one birth defect one that I can’t remember from the 70s), so it all depends on how comfortable you are with pharmaceuticals.

      • Very good points. May I counter with

        A. How likely is it for a guy to sabotage things? In the sense of – how often do you hear a guy saying “I want a baby, but the wife won’t give me one”. Although, I will admit this may become more likely as women insist on waiting later to have children to pursue a career. We always speak of the maternal clock, perhaps there’s a male one we just never got to in the past.

        As far as the rape, that would be an argument to have a girl on the pill from the moment she menstruates. I think it’s comparable to always wearing a helmet in case a brick falls on your head.

        B. True. Basically this is just an argument for using both. Makes sense, although there must also be a probability of both failing at once. I think the biggest chance of male contraceptive failure is misuse, but this can be treated by effective education. Not that abstinence only BS that the Bush administration pursued. I think that’s the realm of the church and parents and the school is society’s tool. Society needs to make sure its population has the right tools at their disposal should they choose to have sex.

        C. That’s good news!

        Yeah, in this case I’m not so much worried about the one/million chance of something happening. It’s more of the accumulated effects. For example, one thing I forgot to mention before with the breast cancer risk. Saying it lowers when you stop taking the pill is a psychological trick. Because you will never stop until menopause. So basically you have a high risk from age… 9 through 50? That’s pretty nuts. So you are increasing your changes of cancer for 40 years and then if you haven’t gotten it by then, you’re OK. It’s not like the Doctor can tell you, if you don’t go off this tomorrow you’ll get breast cancer. So it’s a false sense of safety that the risk lowers when you get off it.

        But, again, you DO indeed make very good points. I think I’ll probably council my children to make their choice individually. Danielle and I are fine with out choice – no kids in nearly five years without the pill. For others it might not work.

      • A. Agreed with Eric that it’s probably more likely the girl will want a baby than the boy. However, I mean the insidious part of this birth control isn’t inherently part of the pill. If a girl wants a baby that bad, there’s nothing stopping her from sabotaging condoms too. And I’ve definitely heard people argue for the fact that girls should get on birth control as soon as possible (specifically someone telling me about their 14 yr old niece who got pregnant).

        B. Actually read a study about how condoms are extremely effective when used correctly. But given how people actually use them, their average effectiveness is about the same as the withdrawal method. A bit worrisome. And using the patch, or the ring, or the shot really cuts down on having to remember to take a pill the same time every day, which should increase effectiveness.

        C. Um…there is a female condom. It’s just not as convenient as normal ones. And I believe they’re currently developing a male pill (but really, the girl’s still going to be the one to who’s more concerned about getting pregnant). While I’m not always thrilled about solving the problem with a medication, it’s clearly the way to do it. If you don’t want a baby, stop one of the parts you need to make it from going anywhere (in this case, the egg). Pretty much the only way to do that is hormones or procedures. I’m also still skeptical about the effects on fertility. I have heard mixed opinions on whether or not being on the pill actually hurts your chances of having kids once you stop.

      • Ok, my C wasn’t much of a counter response, I just realized.

    • So glad someone has something to say on this subject.

      But, the period you have on the regular pill is actually fake. When they first developed oral contraceptives, they felt it would make women more comfortable if they kept their time of month. It was purely a comfort decision, and not for health reasons. It’s a little bit different than urinating.

      • This is interesting – I didn’t realize that. See, my understanding of biology (w/o the pill) was that every month (give or take for women with irregularity) the uterus walls would thicken to prepare for the baby that might be born that month. Then, when there isn’t a baby, it’s all sent out.

        So I figured when you were on the pill since it was explained to me that it tricks your body into thinking you’re pregnant that the uterine walls would get extra thick – thinking there’s a baby there. And therefore the period day of the pill would be needed to get rid of that tissue.

        I imagine this tissue would also be full of capillaries to provide blood to the infant. This might be why I remember there being a higher risk of heart attack or stroke on the pill – but I might be remembering incorrectly.

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