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Claire Martens

Claire Martens

By Claire Martens

No one can deny that a substantial amount of sexual freedom came with the development of the contraceptive pill (and condoms, of course). But today I am feeling free because of the opposite; because I am no longer on the pill. Yes, for the first time in 12 years I am considering the fact that my body may start to synchronise my period with the women I work and live with, in the natural way in which this happens.

Admittedly, my “freedom” is limited, because I have rediscovered the meaning of “flow”, of period pains, acne and relative uncertainty. These were side effects which I had to consider in my choice, but I was worried it would be much worse. From the beginning of 2012 I have been afraid of what would happen when I went off the pill, whether I would not have a period for months, whether I would get really bad facial acne, whether I would get crippling period pains like I did in high school. It was only when I read a blog called “Sweetening the Pill” (http://sweeteningthepill.blogspot.com), which offers a guide on coming off the pill, that I finally took the plunge.

Getting my first properly flowing period, with pains for two days, was actually a wonderful feeling. It felt natural, it made me feel fertile and it made me feel like I was “me” again. There aren’t really any good reasons for me to feel like this, but I think it was simply a reaction to having put something foreign (and maybe even “unnatural”) into my body every day for 12 years. These feelings may be unwarranted, and possibly harmful to women who rely on the pill to give them control over their cycle. At the end of the day, taking the pill is an individual choice and the reasons for that choice differ.

And, of course, the important part is also that I have relied on the pill for safe sex. The thing is, not all the sex I was having was “safe”. Being on the pill gave me (and others) licence to do things that I possibly would not have done before. Having sex without condoms, for instance, even before having an HIV test, because the boy seemed “reliable”; sex with boyfriends before I may have been emotionally ready and before I had established trust with them; “bullied” into sex because the guy believes that being on the pill means the girl is willing to have sex. The person I went onto the pill for cheated on me countless times. You can only guess how I felt when I went for my first HIV test. In some ways then, being on the pill allowed the men in my life to stop acting responsibly, either in the prevention of STDs and HIV or for ensuring my emotional wellbeing.

There are more good reasons for not going on the pill in the first place, or like me, going off it. In my own circumstances, I was constantly on probiotics for two reasons; because I thought that the pill was contributing to candida outbreaks and because I assumed it was also contributing to digestive problems. Truthfully, I may be wrong about this because I seem to get different information from every doctor or nurse I have asked, so don’t quote me on that. However, friends have told me stories of their own problems with the pill; mostly to do with mood swings and their ability to be turned on. That the pill dampens your sexual desire is something I can relate to. Perhaps it is because I am nearing the age where I am at the height of my sexual appetite (bring on 30!), but I have never felt more “sexual” since going off the pill. Also, I am counting on my pill-free self to sniff out better boyfriends (because the pill apparently clouds your natural ability to smell, and therefore choose, your best mate).

Just before I finally stopped taking the pill, I e-mailed my friends. I wanted their support but I also wanted to hear their stories. One of my friends offered the alternative of the Mirena, which I had already heard about. Apparently it is safer than the pill because it has a much lower dose of progesterone. It also helps to prevent uterine cancer and it can help to stop migraines. My friend was also excited about the fact that, eventually, many women stop menstruating. While I see this as the alternative (if you can afford it), I am not so sure about how exciting it is to stop menstruating all together. Getting my period makes me feel normal – nature’s little way of telling me that all is happening as it should.

Do you think that the pill is liberating, or have you also experienced issues with it, both emotional and physical, which you think takes away some of that freedom?

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7 thoughts on “Is the pill ‘all that’?

  1. I don’t think that one can blame a permissive attitude towards sex on the pill. Women who are not on the pill make the same dangerous decisions in terms of protecting themselves, as well (although thanks for your honesty). I constantly have this ‘debate’ with a friend who is genetically pre-disposed to blood clotting & therefore can’t take the pill. As a result of her medically not being permitted to take the pill, she laments it as a major contributing factor to breast cancers, hormone irregularity, domestic conflict and so on- on the basis of very little scientific evidence. One must remember that the unilateral right the pill gave to women to control their own reproductive health was a right not welcomed by many men. It changed the status quo and allowed women to enter their ‘arena’. A stigma therefore developed around it- i.e. it defies the natural order of things and must therefore be wrong! The male GPs of countless friends of mine have advised against it for all sorts of reasons, none of which are premised on hard scientific facts backed up by study after study. Then there are the rumours about how the pill makes you infertile if you take it for too long and so on. I always want to ask, “What about my friend Sarah who was on the pill for 17 years and fell pregnant a month after going off it?”
    Besides all of the arguments around science, that tiny little pill has singularly allowed me to focus on finding a way to meaningfully contribute to the world and discover who I am before I have decide to have babies of my own. 60 years ago I wouldn’t have been allowed that privilege- it was reserved for males only. Hence the negative attitudes around it. Furthermore, I have to be on the pill to control my acne and its done wonders. Men don’t have that privilege either. I think that if we are going to make assumptions about the pill we need to back them up with hard scientific evidence and research outcomes- not word of mouth or feelings of ‘naturalness’- regardless of how great that may feel. Until such time as someone can provide me with this evidence as well as corroborate it, the pill will remain for me, the single best invention of the modern world.

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  2. Ever since my late teens, I have debated whether to go on the pill or not. Over ten years later, I still haven’t found any compelling arguments to get me to go on it. So I’ve never been on it (apart from the occasional morning after pills). I have gotten into countless arguments, hurdles if you will, with boyfriends and sexual partners because I expected them to use condoms but I didn’t want to be on the pill. Anyway I believe the pill messes with one’s cycle and one’s womb. It’s a strong feeling that I’ve had for years and it’s never gone away. So after reading your article, Claire, I feel like I have made the right decision to not go on the pill or on any other contraceptive.

    Look, the pill is liberating in the sense that you have less to worry about and to think about sexually. Is it worth it? For me no.

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  3. I was on the pill for almost six years, went off it six months ago, and only got a period again now. I was on in for bad period pains, and acne, and then started using it as contraceptive too. Some days I’m not entirely sure why I decided to go off it – I think it was partly the whole pheromones thing, and partly that I was worried about the long term effects it might have on my health, even if there isn’t hard scientific evidence yet, it might be something subtle that could take years to detect. But on the other hand I’ve become a bit tempted to go back on it – my skin is bad again, and the prospect of period pain and an uncertain cycle is quite daunting. On the plus side, my sex drive seems to be even better than before and I seem to have lost a few kgs. Although it is hard to say whether or not those are linked to the pill or just other things going on in my life. Maybe I should research it more. My GP seems to think there is no good reason to have gone off it. Oh well, I’ll stick it out for a few more months and see how it goes.

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  4. Thanks for the comment, Emma. Regarding your first comment, I am very loathe to say that my feeling of renewed naturalness is because I was swayed by ideas that men have put forward about the pill. Like I said, there is really no good reason why I should feel this – its a purely personal feeling that I didn’t think would matter to me, but it did. I have always advocated for the pill and was one of the first people I know who took the plunge. I have loved the “freedom” i gained from it, but I just wonder if that freedom isn’t flawed.

    I agree that the science is very shaky regarding the pill, but do you not feel a little concerned that women take something that alters them physically everyday and for years? What bothers me about it is just that, the science is shaky and like I mentioned, every doctor, nurse and friend I have asked about it have given me different answers. The fact that accurate, ready and easily accessible information is not out there concerns me. All I can comment on is the stories I hear, and there have been as many negative ones as there have been positive ones.

    My last comment is not in answer to your comment above, but something else I recently considered. I know that women take the pill for many other reasons, but when it is taken for prevention of pregnancy, surely it is as much the man’s responsibility as the woman’s. Some women may not be happy about going on the pill and they shouldn’t have to. Surely then, we have to talking about the freedom or unfreedoms of all types of contraceptives.

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  5. I agree with you, Emma. Granted, whenever my boyfriend and I are apart for more than a month (for holidays or work), I give my body a break and go off the pill. And if feels really good and natural to have a 4 day period with slight cramps. But of course that’s all subjective.

    The Pill (or the injection, etc.), for me, is the only option in a long-term committed relationship, because I just wouldn’t trust condoms to do the job. Condoms break, and it takes away any spontaneity if you don’t have it with you. When you’re single, on the other hand, I don’t see a reason to be on something that changes your body so much if you need to use condoms anyway.

    I guess the only thing that would be even better would be a Male Pill – in that way both partners could have a chance to be “natural” and give their bodies a break as well as taking responsibility for the rest of their lives.

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  6. Interestingly, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s “What the dog saw” and it has a chapter on the pill which details why the pill is actually “unnatural”. He explains that women today have possibly 300 more menstruation periods than women in more primitive days. Apparently this does increase the chances of ovarian cancer. Ideally women should limit the times they menstruate and taking the pill is not conducive to this, unless you decide to forgo the sugar pills and only menstruate every 3 months or so. Basically then, being pregnant is more natural than not being pregnant. Hmm, not too sure I like that thought at all!

    In reply to Emma’s post above, which is very interesting, I have only one thing to mention. I never said that my feelings were justified. I am also not so sure that my feelings stem from beliefs which I hold which are really patriarchal in nature. I am, like Emma, not swayed by beliefs that don’t carry a scientific basis. However, I am sure there must be good science out there somewhere. It upsets me to think that doctors can give us varying information about what the effects will be (something I have definitely experienced) because it means that we cannot make sound choices about something that is so important to us.

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