I just finished reading a wonderful and hilarious book, Bonk by Mary Roach. As the name may suggest, the book is about sex, well, sex research to be specific. I’d recommend this book to pretty much anyone who is open to finding humor in the more bawdy and intimate aspects of our lives. We’re all human, we all do it, and frankly, sometimes its pretty darned funny! So anyway, after giggling throughout most of the book, I came to a part which nearly made me cry in outrage. No, it wasn’t about sexual abuse or violence (that would have REALLY made me cry), it was a short section on something that is unfortunately near and dear to me, The Pill.
On the surface, The Pill is a wonder-drug. No babies, no acne, regular and lighter periods. For all of these reasons, I, and millions of women like me, are on The Pill and have been for some time. I have personally been on it for about 10 years (and I’m only 27). I started it because NOTHING else would clear up my skin as a teenager, plus my cycles were infuriatingly irregular and unpredictable. Little did my 17 year old self know that in 10 years, I would feel like a slave to these tiny pills. Due to medication that I am on that can cause severe birth defects, I HAVE to be extremely vigilant about not getting pregnant. My partner and I both feel that condoms are not a reasonable alternative due to their propensity for misuse as well as our simple desire not to have to use them. And after condoms there are VERY FEW non-hormone based contraceptives.
About a year ago, I got fed up with The Pill and took my grievances to Planned Parenthood for the purpose of getting an IUD (intra-uterine device) – the copper kind, not the one that just sits in your uterus pouring hormones into it. First of all, the entire visit to PP was unpleasant. The nurse who took my vitals asked why in the world I wanted to get off The Pill. She poo-pooed the idea of a diaphram (not that I want one, but she shouldn’t have made that assumption) as being “messy” and hard to use. In my actual consultation with the doctor, she dismissed my complaint that The Pill was causing bloating and weight gain. I’ve never been a skinny person, but I know my body and I knew that this constant stream of progesterone – the hormone that pregnant women produce that tells their bodies not to lose fat – was doing nothing good for my weight issues. This doctor also told me that IUDs are only appropriate for women who have already had children. While this may be the more standard application, I don’t feel that it is exclusive, this particular doctor just didn’t feel comfortable implanting them in childless women – and she told me as much. So I left PP feeling demoralized, dejected and without any options. They practically threw a new prescription for Pills at me. I got the distinct feeling that PP is being subsidized by Pill-producing companies. Probably not true, but that was my impression.
So this brings me back to Bonk. Mary Roach was discussing how a woman’s hormonal cycle normally causes an increase in sexual drive during the time of month while she’s ovulating (makes sense). But women on The Pill are receiving a constant and steady stream of estrogen and progesterone which levels out their hormones, basically dulling their natural cycle and urges. Much worse yet, The Pill induces a protein which binds to and inactivates testosterone in the blood. Why do women need testosterone you may ask? Well, it is the “hormone of desire”. Without testosterone, women have greatly lowered sexual drive. I was enraged by this. I was NEVER told of this side-effect. I guess diminished sexual desire is not anything worth discussing as a possible reason women would not want to use a particular drug. I knew that I was taking estrogen and progesterone and I was already none too happy with the possible and actual side-effects of those two hormones, but now to know that my testosterone levels are also being diminished? Holy Hell. Can you even imagine if a birth control medication for men blunted their libido? There’d be outrage. No no, there wouldn’t because no drug like that would be taken by millions of men for most of their lives.
I’d love to hear from anyone else interested in this topic as well. Has anyone heard about the use of copper IUD’s in women who have not been pregnant? Its still something I am seriously looking into.