Rejoicing and Refusing the Contraceptive Pill - How Contraception Is Changing

The invention of the contraceptive pill and its legalisation and subsequent public availability during the era of the 1960s undoubtedly revolutionised women’s lives and feminism. For the first time ever, not only were menstrual disorders treatable, but women were able to have autonomy over their bodies and make crucial decisions about having children. Studies have shown that the pill allowed women to invest in their careers, which was apparent in the increased number of women in the workforce, but also in the rise in the average age when women got married and had children.

Science has since advanced, and so have contraceptives. There are now multiple different types of contraceptive pills, made up of different doses of the hormones which regulate menstrual cycles, as well as other options such as hormonal injections, implants, patches and coils. Hormonal contraceptives, such as the pill, can be used for other things than preventing pregnancy, such as regulating periods and reducing period pains. However, side effects relating to mental health problems and physical issues such as nausea and headaches, and even decreased libido, have also been found to be caused by hormonal contraception.

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And let’s be real - taking a pill every single day at the exact same time (or at least within a time frame of a few hours, depending on what pill you’re taking) can be a hassle. What once revolutionised women’s lives has now become a not-so-hassle-free option, at least when compared to contraceptives such as the implant and coil, which work long-term and do not depend on one’s ability to use perfectly.

It has been suggested that women are slowly moving towards these kinds of contraceptives, and even ditching hormonal ones completely in favour of hormone-free IUDs. I am one of the many women who had a terrible experience with hormonal contraception, and I am eternally thankful for modern medicine for coming up with alternatives.

 

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When I first went on the pill, I opted for the progesterone only pill due to a family history of women suffering strokes, and therefore my GP thought an oestrogen-free pill would suit me best. I vividly remember that after just one week, I was experiencing severe depression-like symptoms for the first time in my life. I had weird thoughts about not having any friends and being really lonely, while at the same time I recognised that those emotions felt alien; as if an external source was making me feel them, but they were not my own feelings.

I kept taking the pill for a couple of months, but my situation kept getting worse. I was crying every day, felt relentlessly numb and lonely, and had no energy to do anything. So I decided to stop taking it. Within a week of stopping, I felt as if a weight had been lifted off my chest, and the weird alien-like thoughts and feelings disappeared. I thought to myself that I had to find another contraceptive.

For the next year, I looked into different pills, patches, injections, everything. My GP recommended I get the coil, but informed me that my local clinic did not offer this yet, and directed me to the one (and only!) health care provider in Aberdeen which offers it. All appointments for a coil-fitting were fully booked for months in advance. I had no choice but to phone in and try and get myself an appointment. After a full year, and with the help of a pharmacist, I was able to get the copper IUD (by the way, best decision of my life!)

But, the lack of a wide range of contraceptives offered at GP clinics is a UK-wide issue, and stems from funding cuts in sexual health services in terms of training and resources. This means that most women and girls are still offered the pill. While I have heard of multiple success stories from friends on the pill, I have heard an equal amount of horror stories similar to that of my own.

Why should anyone have to go through suffering horrific side effects, when other options exist? Budget cuts to sexual health services are truly a measure which reduces women’s autonomy and freedom and can have health-related consequences. Not to mention the fact that we are seeing attempts to criminalise contraceptive-use, abortions, and outright refusal to provide services like these in many developing countries, but also in the Western world. Having a full range of options to choose from, no matter who and where you are, and finding something that suits your lifestyle and body best should be the norm in 2019.