“My mom and I have been fighting about my birth control lately. She says I should “take a break” from the Pill because it can cause you to be infertile, but it’s my main form of birth control. If I go to a doctor I’ll get a “use a condom” speech, but I’ve been with my partner for 2 yrs. Is the Pill safe?”- Anonymous
You are not alone. Many young women trying to get on or stay on birth control have had the exact same issue. We’ve finally reached adulthood, but our parents still think they have a say in our sex lives. I’ve seen it many times and have experienced the feeling myself. As soon as a girl mentions she wants to go on birth control, cries of “You’ll get fat! You’ll get acne! You’ll go crazy!” and “You’ll never have kids!” come from all angles.
Yes, possible side effects of hormonal birth control include weight gain, mood swings and changes in complexion. For some girls, these side effects can be so extreme that they need to change pill brands or birth control methods, but for many the Pill has no effect on weight, can regulate anxiety and decrease acne better than anything out of a dermatologist’s office. Everyone’s body reacts differently to the Pill, so there’s really no telling what will happen until you take it, but the way I see it all of these symptoms are better than an unexpected pregnancy.
One thing the Pill can’t do, however, is stop you from having children when you do decide you want to. The infertility myth was debunked this past January in a blog post for the birth control information site bedsiders.org by Tina Raine-Bennett, MD, MPH. Dr. Raine-Bennett is the director of a family planning and STD clinic for adolescents and a professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco.
“All reversible birth control methods will help prevent pregnancy while you’re using them, but none have long-lasting effects on your ability to get pregnant when you stop,” Dr. Raine-Bennett writes. “That’s why women who use the Pill but accidentally forget to take it for a few days can get pregnant that month.”
The European Active Surveillance Study on Oral Contraceptives (EURAS-OC) study also backs this up. For two years, over 2,000 women were monitored in their efforts to conceive after stopping the Pill. Within one cycle of stopping the Pill, 21 percent of women were able to conceive. For women who used no form of birth control the rate were 20 to 25 percent per cycle. Twelve months after stopping the Pill, 79.4 percent of women in the study were pregnant. Of women who used the Pill for two years or less, 79.3 percent got pregnant after a year of stopping. Women who used the Pill for more than two years also had no difference in conception rates, with 81 percent getting pregnant after a year of no birth control.
Dr. Judith Reichman, the TODAY show’s medical contributor on women’s health, took a look at the study and said, “These numbers are pretty much the same as for non-birth-control-pill users. In other words, prior use of the Pill seemed to make no difference to future conception.”
Dr. Reichman noted that the old wives’ tale of the Pill causing infertility may stem from the fact that birth control is often prescribed to regulate menstrual cycles. For women who have issues with irregular cycles, stopping the Pill may continue that irregularity and make conception difficult. This is the fault of nature, not the Pill.
So, Anonymous, unless you’re planning on getting pregnant in the next year, you should definitely not “take a break” from your pill. If you go to a doctor, I’m sure they wouldn’t be worried about your eggs going rotten. However, that condom talk is still important.
The Pill is 99 percent effective if taken correctly, according to Britain’s National Health Service. But “taken correctly” means more than just popping the Pill whenever. For the highest efficiency rates, the Pill needs to be taken at the exact same time; Every. Single. Day. Missing the window by five minutes won’t get you knocked up, but as a rule a one hour window is perfection, two hours is good, and after three hours you need to be more careful. Missing your window and forgetting to take your pill isn’t the end of the world, either. Just take it as soon as you remember, but try not to drastically miss the window too often. Otherwise, symptoms like nausea and mood swings can rear their heads, according to Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood also notes that, the Pill can be less effective for women who are overweight. Their site lists the antibiotic rifampin, the antifungal griseofulvin, certain HIV medicines, certain anti-seizure medicines and St. John’s wort as medications that can decrease birth control effectiveness. Other antibiotics and antifungals do not affect your birth control, contrary to the other wives’ tales floating around. Having diarrhea and vomiting around the time of taking your pill can also decrease effectiveness.
Even after avoiding these medications, being a perfect pill taker can be extremely difficult. That’s why backup methods are so important. Not to say you or your boyfriend of two years would cheat and give each other an STI or a STD, but these things can exist within a person without symptoms for months or even years. Even monogamous couples should still be getting STI and STD tested regularly, including the time while they are in a relationship.
Of course no one is perfect with condom use either. Going “bareback” is incredibly common for couples who don’t find themselves at a big risk for STIs and STDs, but getting in the habit of using condoms can make your sex life a whole lot easier.
Whether your mother is more concerned about your fertility or the fact that her baby is growing up, know that you’re making the right choice to get protected. “Grown-ups” tend to think scaring their kids with horror stories of pregnancy, disease and side effects will stop kids from having sex. All that does is make everyone’s lives more stressful and makes young couples guilty about the sex they’re going to have anyways. Be prepared for possible side effects of your birth control, but know you’re making the right choice in protecting yourself from a pregnancy you don’t want right now.
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Photo courtesy of Bedsider.org
Selene San Felice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org