By: Darby Kendall
Over the past 4,000 years, the options for birth control methods have included leaves and honey placed in the vagina, potions made of palm leaves and chalk, sheepskin condoms and drinking hot mercury. While methods of birth control have greatly advanced since their first documentation in 1850 B.C.E., one unmoving facet of pregnancy prevention stays the same: Finding the right type of birth control can be an excessively frustrating process.
Seven principal methods of hormonal birth control exist, as of today. These include the pill, the shot, the implant, IUDs, the ring, the patch and emergency contraception. All of these methods contain either a mix of estrogen and progestin, or just one of the hormones individually. Certain methods like IUDs and the pill have been around for several decades, while others like the patch – a thin, plastic sticker put on skin and replaced once a week – were made after 2000. The shot is a progesterone-only injection that must be given every three months. IUDs, or intrauterine devices, are progestin only, t-shaped objects placed in the uterus. The implant works in a similar way to IUDs, but the match-stick sized object is placed in the arm instead. Some methods, such as the pill, the patch and the ring, must be dealt with daily or on a monthly basis in order to effectively prevent pregnancy. IUDs and the implant, on the other hand, can last up to three years, providing convenience for those who can’t remember to take a pill at the same time everyday. And yet, as advancement in hormonal contraception methods has skyrocketed since the first birth control pill was approved by the FDA in 1960, the reduction of their emotional side effects remains an essential improvement that is still fought for today.
Just last year, a new study confirmed a possible link between hormonal birth control and depression, granting scientific validation to the countless women who've had negative experiences with birth control over the past decades. The study, which analyzed the medical records of just over one million Danish women ages 15 to 34, found a high correlation between taking birth control and use of antidepressants. Women who used the combined pill, made up of both estrogen and progestin, were 23 percent more likely to be prescribed antidepressants than those who did not use hormonal birth control. Women who took a progestin-only pill had that chance raised to 34 percent. The risk rose to 60 percent for vaginal rings and 40 percent for hormonal IUDs, and with the patch, antidepressant use doubled. For young women taking pills, the risk is even greater; in women ages 15 to 19, antidepressant use rose 80 percent.
This study is groundbreaking, as it's the first prove a connection many (including myself) have already experienced. Though some found its scientific methods lacking, saying that correlation is not enough to prove causation, the study is a massive first step towards a serious conversation about the side effects of hormonal birth control. I find it deeply troubling that although the pill has existed for over 55 years, a serious look at the way it affects its users' mental health had not been conducted until last year.
This study is groundbreaking, as it's the first prove a connection many (including myself) have already experienced.
Ironically, it was released earlier this year that the study of a possible hormonal contraceptive for men was terminated early due to some of the participants experiencing negative side effects. Out of the 320 men given regular hormonal injections to reduce sperm count, 20 dropped out due to side effects including depression, acne and changes in libido, discomforts women face daily due to their birth control.
I am not angry that this study was pulled because of negative impacts on subjects' lives – I hope that one day a wildly successful hormonal male birth control will hit the market and take the great baby-centered burden off women's shoulders. Rather, I am upset that the same consideration has not been given to women. Mood swings, irregular periods, acne, and changes in weight and libido are regularly listed side effects of birth control methods that millions of women use daily. These issues deserve to be tackled as well. For many women the study results linking depression to female birth control were a no-brainer, something many have known for years. Yet some continue to refute the link, since it is not backed up by multiple examples of studied evidence. Until the studies come along to further prove the link between lowered mental health and hormonal birth control, I fear the issue will not be solved.
The harmful side effects that come along with women's birth control need to be given the same consideration that has been given to men's, or we will continue to suffer without it being taken seriously. Margaret Sanger, the mother of modern pregnancy prevention, said in her paper Morality and Birth Control, “birth control is the first important step woman must take toward the goal of her freedom. It is the first step she must take to be man's equal.” We've made it far enough to have accessible birth control for women, so let's take it one step further, and make us equal with men in regard to side effects as well.