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The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

Female experiences on the pill - A liberating or traumatic experience?


“I noticed a significant change in my personality whilst on the pill.”

1.


“The popular belief that taking the Pill makes you pile on the pounds has been exposed as a myth by an expert in women’s health,” reported the Daily Express.


I have collated a number of women’s stories of their experiences on the pill - this is by no means a conclusive study. My intention is to display the myriad of reactions to the birth control pill, - the good, the bad and the ugly - to allow women’s voices to be heard so that health professionals take women’s side effects seriously & women themselves are informed of possible consequences.


A, response to taking Dianette for 7 months


Reasons for taking the birth control pill:

I was prescribed Dianette at the age of 18 due to acne. I had tried many other forms of treatment, such as topical antibiotics and various creams and lotions. My acne was not severe but the scarring did trouble me, and it had been occurring for the last four years. I returned to the doctor who offered me Dianette - a contraceptive pill prescribed to help acne, oily skin and excessive hair growth.


Pros:

  • My skin did clear up, but the negative effects far outweighed the positives.


Cons:

  • I very quickly became depressed, anxious and gained weight.

  • Being very active and having always maintained a stable weight I was surprised to find that I bloated so much I could no longer do up my jeans. Increased exercise didn’t seem to help, which made me feel like I was no longer in control of my body.

  • I had the most severe mood swings, and cried almost every day that I was on it.

  • My perspective shifted and I viewed everything negatively, even friendships and family. I felt like I had lost my grip on reality, and my relationships no longer made sense to me.

  • Despite being in control of my periods I was no longer in control of my body or mind. My mental wellbeing had taken a severe knock, and as soon as I stopped taking the pill my body went back to its usual weight.


R, 23, response to taking Dianette for a year.


Reasons for taking the birth control pill:

I had been told that it was a miracle drug to clear skin! My skin wasn’t even that bad, I was just getting quite spotty after being on a ski season where I was eating a lot of cake and drinking a lot of beer. I should have thought more carefully about taking it.


Pros:

Once the initial acne phase of the pill calmed down, my skin became beautifully

clear.


Cons:

  • I gained about 2 stone which I found extremely difficult to lose, no matter how much exercise and conscious eating I did. For the first few months the pill gave me severe acne – so it did the complete opposite to what I had been promised. This cleared up after about 3 months, however I was left with scarring.

  • I wish I had done more research beforehand - so many people have written in forums about how their skin gets a lot worse before it improves on Dianette.

  • I also experienced extreme social anxiety – I was in my first year at university which I know is always going to foster feelings of anxiety, however I have always been an incredibly confident and outgoing person, so I noticed a significant change in my personality whilst on the pill.

  • Furthermore, 3 months post-pill life my skin went crazy and I had severe acne for which I had to take Roaccutane in order to clear.

  • I honestly believe that had I never gone on the pill in the first place, my slightly spotty skin would have cleared naturally (obviously with effort on my behalf in terms of healthy eating/exercise etc.) and I never would have been afflicted with the severe acne that the hormones in the pill clearly caused.

E, 23, response to taking Cerelle mini pill (desogestrel) for a year.


Reasons for taking the birth control pill:

As a form of birth control and to regulate my periods


Pros:

  • My period stopped so I no longer have to worry about period pain or periods at inconvenient times.

  • It’s easy to take and you can stop at any point, unlike other forms of birth control which are longer-lasting, e.g implant/injections

  • It has been a reliable form of birth control for me so far

Cons:

  • It is not 100% reliable, (although I have not had a problem with it yet).

  • I worry that not having periods is potentially harmful to my body, although I don't enjoy them, they are a natural process and evidence that my body is working properly.

  • It's hard to be certain but I think I experience lower moods on the pill, and feel generally less energetic.

S, 24, response to taking Microgynon, Noriday, Cerelle and Dianette, for 7 years.


Reasons for taking the birth control pill:

As a form of contraception


Pros: N/A


Cons:

  • I became extremely anxious, and would suffer from intense mood swings and sadness.

  • I would often cry for no apparent reason. I attributed this to being stressed by my uni course, but when I stopped taking the pill my responses to stress were a lot more measured.

  • I’ve noticed that now (since stopping the pill) that when I feel emotions, they’re not as intense and the reasons why I’m feeling them make more sense. I can see the reason for my changes in mood instead of them being uncontrollable and erratic.

  • The seemingly random ups and downs have gone.

  • My libido was lower while on the pill.

  • Whereas now, my moods are more in tune with my natural cycle - I have a higher libido in the middle of the month

  • I experienced random headaches and period & chest pains on the pill.

  • I suffered from sensitive boobs, acne, bladder infections and bloating on the pill.

  • My skin is a lot softer and clearer since getting off the pill

  • I got irregular spotting and bleeding for the duration of my time on Noriday and Cerelle.

  • My body's response when I got off the pill was awful, potentially because of the sudden change in hormones - my skin erupted with acne, I missed a period and was misdiagnosed with PCOS and told I would struggle to conceive. I was later told by a doctor that women are often misdiagnosed with PCOS because “It can take your body a very long time to heal from the contraceptive pill”. This confirmed my decision never to go back on the pill, or any hormonal contraception.



A, 24, response to taking rigevidon and microgynon 30 for 2 years.


Reasons for taking the birth control pill:

As a form of contraception


Pros:

  • I never had to worry about pregnancy.

  • I had to take a pill everyday which sometimes I forgot to do.

  • My boobs got bigger which I guess is fun... but not worth it!


Cons:

  • I think the pill triggered my anxiety and depression, which I still suffer from today. I did experience some personal trauma before I started the pill, so it can be hard to pinpoint if this was caused by the pill or if it occurred naturally.

  • However, the pill did cause mood swings, heightened emotions and unexplainable periods of depression. I became extremely emotional and sensitive when it wasn’t logical to feel that way.

  • For example, I would become excessively stressed and upset about things that in a normal mood or situation would not bother me.

  • I felt I had less control over my mood and my actions (causing a further spiral of anxiety and depression).

  • It got to the point where it interfered with my daily life, I struggled with handling normal situations and relationships with close ones.

  • The pill did cause some weight gain, and my breast size increased.

  • I did not have any spotting or bleeding past the normal 6 month period when you get ‘used’ to the pill, however, I did have very regular periods beforehand.

  • My sex drive decreased when I was on the pill.

  • I felt responsibility and pressure in the relationship to not get pregnant, but it takes two!


D, 22, response to taking Rigevidon for 2 years.


Reasons for taking the birth control pill:

The doctor suggested I start taking it as I suffered from severe period pains.

Pros:

  • I enjoyed knowing when my period would be and that I could control it (i.e. skip a period if I was going to be on holiday etc).

  • I also found that it really helped with my period pains which were much reduced. I also found that my period pains remained minimalized even after I came off the pill.


Cons:

  • I did not like gaining weight. It was often a feeling of being just a bit puffy, not necessarily overweight - but not pleasant.

  • I did not like that I had to remember to take it (as I often did not).

  • I really did feel a sense that my body was not fully itself when putting these hormones into my body. I came off it as it felt wrong to be putting hormones into my body at such a young age.



A, 23, response to taking Rigevidon & Levest for two years


Reasons for taking the birth control pill:

Contraception


Pros:

  • It was good because you can skip a period if you need/want to. Also it reduced the cramps that I would get.

Cons:

  • Sometimes I forgot to take it which wasn’t ideal.



B, 22, response to taking Microgynon for 3 months & Rigevidon for 2 months.


Reasons for taking the birth control pill:

As a form of contraception


Pros:

  • It was nice to have the peace of mind, but in my opinion it wasn’t worth it.


Cons:

  • I suffered low moods & anxiety (although I’m not entirely sure if this was fully related to the pill). It could have been a coincidence that my mental health deteriorated whilst on the pill as there were definitely other factors too, but the improvement when I stopped taking them was clear. I wouldn’t risk going back on it now.

  • Also having to remember taking it every day at the same time wasn’t always easy and sometimes I would forget and panic a little bit. (I have the coil now and much prefer it).


For some the pill is a liberating experience freeing them from the worries of pregnancy and periods. However, for others, it is clear that it is an anxiety and depression inducing substance, that can lower one's libido and cause weight gain. Everyone's experiences and bodies are completely different, but it is interesting to recognise a pattern emerging among certain accounts - a feeling of losing control of ones emotions and therefore struggling with normal situations. The aim of bringing this collection together is to show the similarities in peoples experiences and therefore validate them, in order to reassure women that they are not going mad.


1. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/fda-approves-the-pill


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