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what they don’t tell you about the pill

The pill has become one of the most popular forms of contraception with a range of reasons as to why people take it — to prevent pregnancy, clear acne, regulate hormones, have lighter and more regular periods. In this way, some might see it as a ‘miracle pill’ when, in fact, there is no such thing. Most pill users will be very familiar with the doctor consultation and the very long page of side effects provided in the pillbox (front and back, tiny font). This establishes the exhaustive list of various physical effects, most discussed in the medical industry such as weight gain, migraines, depression, blood clots, low libido, etc. What the doctors won’t tell you is how the pill can affect the brain, and how these effects aren’t serious enough to be prioritised in the medical field.

It is a women’s right to be fully educated about things like the contraceptive pill before they make the informed decision of taking it. Dr. Sarah E. Hill’s audiobook ‘How the Pill changes Everything’ does a wonderful job of discussing the pill’s effects on the brain and personality after her own well-thought-out research and case studies as a psychology PhD researcher. For example, in one case study, women who had pursued a relationship whilst off the pill and then started taking it, became less and less attracted to their significant other. She also discusses how the pill can make you lose interest in things you used to have a lot of interest in, such as music or appearance. Women who do not take the pill also feel more desirable when their oestrogen is most dominant, however women’s sex hormones stay the same when on the pill, potentially causing them to feel less physically desirable. Hill also researches the difference in priorities in career, sex, and love in pill-taking and non-pill-taking women.

Another interesting aspect she explores is the anecdote including her friend previously never taking the pill and never having any mental health issues. Although, as soon as she had tried a new pill, she instantly developed an anxious mania and depression she had never experienced in her life. She had attempted to go off the pill after this, and she happened to return to the way she was before. As a disclaimer, Sarah clarifies that this is unlikely to happen to everyone who takes the same pill, as even she herself had had very beneficial side effects in comparison to her friend. It is all to be taken with a pinch of salt, though I would recommend Sarah’s audiobook to anyone who is currently taking or looking to take the contraceptive pill, as they can affect people positively or negatively in a range of ways. Hill discusses such topics you would never expect the pill to have an effect on, but it does.

Some women take the pill because of experiences of heavy and excruciating period pains and are told that they will become almost nonexistent when starting the pill. Yes, this is true, I have first-hand experience. Though, one thing people aren’t told is that the pill is a very temporary solution to a potentially long-term issue: what happens when you go off the pill? Why were your periods abnormally excruciating in the first place and will this continue after dropping the pill? There have been cases of post-pill PCOS or simply going back to the position you were in before taking it. Even I, who could not take another month of being bed-bound, sick and having my period interfere with my daily activities, was desperate to resort to the pill as a quick fix. Doctors have the tendency to warn patients about the physical side effects, but the effects on the brain is an area of study most doctors aren’t educated about.

Since encountering Sarah’s audiobook, I am eager to educate myself in what this means for my post-pill self.

Aurora is a second year undergraduate English student at King's College London. She has a passion for writing poetry, as well as watching the sunset on the beach, learning about personal wellness and a love for specific fashion aesthetics. She cannot go a day without music or coffee.
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