We’ve all heard murmurs and rumors of an eventual male birth control, but a recent report shows there might already be an effective one. A study co-sponsored by the United Nations proved a shot that upped testosterone in men was effective in preventing pregnancy with 96% of its users. However, the study was cut almost a year short due to side effects. Most of these side-effects were mood related, including depression and other similar disorders, but some also cited muscle pain, increased libido, and acne. Of course, this news comes at the heels of another study, one that linked depression to women taking birth control, and one that said that nearly 30% of women have stopped taking the pill due to side effects.
I’ve been on birth control for five years and I can say with confidence that most people who are also on birth control right now probably laughed at this recent study. It’s great, sure, but those of us who are on it know: it's not all that great. Mostly, it’s a gamble.
I’m on birth control for many reasons. One of them is that I had such debilitating cramps without it; I remember pressing my face on the tiles in my old job’s bathroom because I couldn’t stand up straight. That’s how bad it hurt. Face-on-the-bathroom-floor pain. Another is that I would bleed so heavily and unpredictably without birth control, that one time my mom had to rush home from work because I had almost passed out in the kitchen, trying to get to the door to let the delivery guy in. And yeah, I also want to have sex and not get pregnant. I’m not ashamed of wanting to be responsible.
For all those reasons, I love The Pill. I love that my menstrual cycles are regular and manageable. I love that I barely get cramps anymore. I love that I feel responsible for my sexual health. But I do not love the side effects, and I have a lot. I want to talk about the side effects more, because while I believe birth control is necessary and important to many women and non-binary folks and transpeople, we should also keep the conversation open to how it effects our bodies and our minds. Here’s what I’ve gone through with birth control:
1. . I Lost Control Of My Moods
Here’s something you should know: if you don’t like the birth control you are on, don’t be afraid to switch it. Make an appointment with your ob/gyn right away if you experience lasting side effects with a certain pill.
The first few weeks I began birth control, I found myself completely incapable of controlling my moods. I was sad for a few days, but it was a sadness that I couldn’t get out of. It felt like I was in a tunnel, where nobody could hear me and I couldn’t find my own way out. I felt anger, confusion, and no control over how or where or why I could experience these things. I cried at a party in the bathroom because somebody made a mild joke at my expense. I screamed at my mother on the phone because she had cancelled plans. I was angrier, sadder, and more frightened. For somebody who has anxiety, or for anybody who has any mental health issues, mood changes can really freak people out. Is it the birth control? Is it something worse happening in my brain? Am I cracking? I didn’t like the feeling of mood swings. And you know what? Even though I switched birth control after this, I still experience mild to moderate mood swings. It’s very scary to know that a pill can effect your mind, and this one does.
2. . I Spot
Although my periods come pretty much every 28 days to the HOUR, I do sometimes spot period. This is hell on my underwear, and hell on my budget, considering underwear is super expensive and I’m not that great at getting all the spots out yet. Why is cute underwear so expensive? Oh, whatever. I really want to wear comfy granny panties all the time, anyway. But it’s still kind of odd to consider your body as unreliable, that it can act out or do things you don’t want it to do, and that you don’t know when it will happen. So I come prepared! Now I keep pantiliners around in pretty much every crevice in my house.
3. . I Broke Out
I never really had acne until I started taking birth control. Now, I get cystic pimples once every few months and hormonal breakouts right before my period. At 28, I can find this super frustrating. I’ve managed to calm the breakouts with the right amount of Sephora and diet, (not as much dairy - so sad!) but for those of you that experience acne, know that you’re not alone. Some people get clearer skin from birth control, and I hope you’re luckier than me. But consider—it’s a mixed bag when you are messing with your hormone levels. You don’t know how you will react. Either way: invest in some face masks.
4. . I Experienced Dryness
This was the most frightening experience I had, and one that made me switch to the lowest estrogen birth control pill you can get. I started experiencing symptoms of menopause on the first pill I went on---which included vaginal dryness and hot flashes. I went to my ob/gyn and she did an ultrasound on me to make sure I didn’t have any cysts on my ovaries. Instead, she just found out that the pill was messing with my estrogen levels, so I got a new pill and the symptoms left. But I’ll say this: symptoms that you are embarrassed or confused about should still be talked about with your doctor. I thought my sex drive was lowering because I was stressed. I didn’t want to talk about it. But you can’t equate every body change with your mind or your current situation. You need to go to the doctor if you start feeling changes that are unusual...even if they are small or seem insignificant, too.
5. . My Body Changed
I didn’t gain weight with my birth control, but it’s harder for me to lose weight now—a couple of pounds don’t come off as easily with exercise and diet. My breasts are more tender, and not in the fun way that Karen from Mean Girls can tell when it’s raining. They hurt more. And they grew a bit. For women who are sensitive about their breast size, this can be a particularly uncomfortable change. I didn’t really enjoy the changes, and I especially didn’t like that I couldn’t control them.
There’s a lot of other side effects that come with birth control. Familiarize yourself with what they are, and decide if the benefits of the hill outweigh the side effects. If not, don’t be afraid to change or look for other options. I love being on birth control, but you don’t need a study to see they cause side effects. Don’t be afraid to consider if they are worth it for you.