More and more people who have periods are turning their back on the pill in favour of natural forms of birth control. It’s the subject of a new documentary airing this week called Davina McCall’s The Pill Revolution on Channel 4, in which she investigates whether women are being given the care they need when it comes to using the pill, and whether they know all the options available to them.
Since the pill was made available (to married women only) in 1961 in the UK, and then later to all women in 1967, it’s become the most commonly prescribed form of birth control and helped millions of women prevent unwanted pregnancies, among other benefits. But its suitability for everyone who wants to use birth control is increasingly coming into question. Potential health risks have always been in the shadow of the pill and continue to arise, plus its user dependent effectiveness is a turn-off for some, and given it’s been around for over 60 years, it’s not uncommon to have taken it non-stop for your entire adulthood without experiencing a natural period — a realisation that might inspire a break from it. Not forgetting there are side effects for some. So with more and more apps making natural contraception a more viable, and reliable, alternative to prevent pregnancy, it’s no wonder the pill’s popularity is potentially waning.
We polled the GLAMOUR office to get a sense of where people stand on the pill in 2023. Here’s our own personal experiences of the contraception.
I started the pill around 15-years-old in an effort to minimise the acne that I was beginning to experience and my painful periods. I was put on Microgynon 30, one of the most common brands of the contraceptive pill, and that was that. The pill helped to clear my skin more than any other prescribed treatments and my periods became much more manageable, so I was super happy and stayed on it solidly for around a year or so. I then went on and off of Microgynon 30 for the following seven years or so, with lots of breaks in between, and (thankfully) never suffered any of the widely reported negative side effects.
When I was 23, I went back on the pill, this time to Rigevidon, and had an awful experience. I felt really low, I was constantly snapping and getting wound up by minor things and it started to affect my relationship, so I asked to be put back onto Microgynon. The doctor suggested I try taking my pill packets back-to-back for a few months in order to level out my mood swings. I did so and found that my libido took a massive hit as a result (a frustrating side effect that I’m still trying to figure out almost a year later). At this point I had been taking the pill on and off for nearly 10 years, and wanted to give my body a break from the hormones, so decided to switch to the hormonal coil (which uses localised hormones, something I didn’t know prior) just before turning 26, and now I feel much better knowing what’s in my body won’t mess with my emotions or mental health.
I’ve had a really weird journey with the pill, I first went on the mini pill when I was 18 (when I first had a serious boyfriend) and suffered constantly with breakthrough and irregular bleeding. I ended up coming off it and not using any contraception through most of university because I didn’t know enough about my other options. I was then put on a combined pill Microgynon after graduation, but couldn’t get on with it as it would trigger headaches and migraines. I then used the coil for a year or so later in my 20s, but basically grappled with the fact that there wasn’t a pill I could make work with my body. I didn’t get on with the coil either – it bloated me to a comic and uncomfortable level – and so I thought I’d run out of options.
Around a year ago, my doctor let me try a low-level oestrogen pill called Gedarel – I had to increase the oestrogen dosage to prevent breakthrough bleeding, so it means my blood pressure has to be checked super regularly and I think it has got higher, which is scary as my mum suffers from high blood pressure.
It feels like there aren’t any risk-free or side effect-free pills for me, but I’m persevering with what I have for now. I’m also concerned about coming off the pill after a prolonged period, as many of my friends have talked about skin and mood issues. It feels like you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
I had been on the pill for 10 years, from the age of 17, when in 2008 I started having migraines. I’d never experienced them before, and the pain manifested itself as cluster migraines, particularly behind my right eye. After about two weeks of suffering on and off, I then started experiencing shooting pains up my arm and a lack of sensation in my fingers. Luckily a colleague encouraged me to go the doctor, as I had just put the symptoms down to stress. When the doctor looked at my records — I’d had circulation problems before and had given up a heavy smoking habit as a result a couple of years earlier — he noted I’d been on the pill consistently for over a decade. He then delivered the chilling words that have stuck with me ever since: “You are having the early warning signs of a stroke and are days away from catastrophe. You must stop taking oral contraception immediately and you must never take it again.” I was understandably terrified and had to have a week off work to let the migraines subside. I was referred to a specialist who told me frightening tales of young women who have had their whole lives ruined by being on the pill, suffering devastating strokes. I felt incredibly lucky that I stopped when I did and have never taken it since.
When I came off it, it dramatically altered my hormones and I then got acne around my chin and neck for many years, which only went away when I stopped eating dairy. The pill may have revolutionised women’s lives, but it’s something that is in my experience still quite risky. I don’t want to be a scaremonger, but I would always advise seeking medical advice as soon as you have any associated symptoms and always, always listen to your body.
I made the decision to go back on the pill as I wanted consistency in my moods! My cycle felt like a never-ending roller coaster of one week of fatigue, one week of over positivity, one week of pain and one week of recovery. My moods were never stable and it became exhausting having to readjust to a ‘new me’ each week. Normalcy felt impossible. Since being back on the pill I feel so much more at ease, and I feel like I know what to expect each week. My energy levels aren’t fluctuating either, so I can stick to a more regular routine when it comes to my work and exercise schedules. Another bonus is not having to guess when to go on holiday because I can ‘control’ my periods.
My years on the pill, or indeed any form of hormonal contraception, were pretty short-lived compared to some people’s. I easily obtained a Microgynon prescription in Sixth Form asking the Doctor for the pill, as it was the most commonly discussed form of contracpetion, along with using condoms, which we practiced putting on an intimidating fake blue penis in PSE lessons.
The side effects were minimal, though I recall bloating being an issue. However, in my final year of uni, after getting forgetful with taking the pill and ordering a prescription, I decided to come off it. Acne ensued after a zit-free teenagehood, but I persevered as I liked feeling in tune with my body and was happy to rely on condoms.
It’s now been nearly 15 years since I’ve used hormonal contraception and while I didn’t have a negative experience of the pill, I, personally, endorse going without it. Over the years I’ve learnt to decode the twinges at certain times of the month, read into what my libido, as well as the consistency of my discharge likely mean for the stage of my cycle. It’s pretty cool to know your body’s natural cycle, and I’m lucky not to have incredibly painful periods or health conditions that make going without hormonal contraception a tough option. I use Natural Cycles, and (surprise, surprise!) thirties-me started by being as bad at remembering to take my temperature as teen-me was at taking the pill. However, now I’m much more consistent and it helps me be even more aware and in tune with what’s going on reproductively across the month, and I’m confident to rely on it to tell me when I am and am not fertile. Read up on LH tests if you can!
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