Let’s talk about birth control, shall we?

Tori Smith – Opinion Columnist

It’s a subject that most people, myself included, choose to avoid in most conversations, but it’s a topic that affects approximately 65% of women, according to the CDC.
For people who are unaware about the topic, welcome to Birth Control 101: An introduction into the scary world of women’s health.
To begin, it’s important to learn why women take birth control to begin with.
While it is most commonly used for preventing pregnancy, women also depend on birth control for reducing severe menstrual pain, menstrual regulation, and/or treatment for acne or conditions like endometriosis and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
As stated before, about two thirds of women aged 15-49 use some form of contraception. “The most common contraceptive methods are female sterilization (18.6%), oral contraceptive pill (12.6%), long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC) (10.3%), and male condom (8.7%),” according to the CDC.
Hormonal birth control (pill, Nuvaring, IUD, and implant) contain a small amount of human-made estrogen and progestin hormones. “This stops the body from ovulating, changes the cervical mucus to make it difficult for sperm to go through the cervix, and changes the lining of the womb so it’s unlikely a fertilized egg will be implanted,” according to WebMD.
Despite the protection from pregnancy and other benefits birth control provides for women, hormonal contraception introduces many drawbacks as well.
I first started birth control three years ago to help with menstrual cramps. After weighing all of my options, I decided to start on the pill.
My doctor warned me about a few side effects I might notice in the first three months, including headaches, acne, nausea, spotting, weight gain, mood changes, etc.
I wasn’t prepared to be suffering through some of these side effects for six whole months. While my menstrual pain was significantly reduced, I experienced cystic acne on my chin, massive mood swings, and painful stomach aches when taking the pill on an empty stomach.
After six months, I went back to my doctor to figure out a new plan. I didn’t want to go back to having such debilitating menstrual pain, so we started on a different brand of pill. This brand had a smaller dose of estrogen and progestin, worked better for treating acne, and was designed to help regulate mood changes in women with PMDD.
After switching pills, my acne cleared, I no longer experienced stomach pain on a daily basis, and my mood swings became less frequent.
That being said, I still experience a hand-full of side effects from time to time.
It’s impossible to avoid all side effects when it comes to birth control. Some more serious, longer-term side effects can include depression, migraines, high blood pressure, and blood clots.
Why, after 70 years of research, do we not have a better alternative? Better question, where is the male birth control?
Currently, the only birth control options for men are condoms or vasectomies. Despite up to 83% of men saying they’d take a form of male birth control pill, we have yet to see it.
There are a number of problems when trying to come up with a male birth control. Most of the trials so far have been injectables, which isn’t the most practical of methods. Secondly, some pills have the potential for causing problems in the liver, as well as other side effects like acne, weight gain, altered sexual drive, and mood changes. Sounds oddly familiar…
Before giving up all hope, there are a few trials still being studied. In 2012, a hormone-based gel, when rubbed over the upper arms once a day, lowered sperm count with minimal side effects.
In 2019, a study of 82 men determined a hormone-based pill called dimethandrolone undecanoate (DMAU) was safe when used every day for a month and had no serious side effects, according to WebMD.
Studies on both of these options are still ongoing. Birth control is an important tool for women’s health, but I believe we’re still far from having a perfect option.
Women have to suffer the many side effects that come along with hormonal birth control just to be in control of their reproductive health. While women’s health studies are continuously being underfunded and undervalued, we may be stuck with our side-effects for decades to come.

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