Thursday, September 23, 2010

Birth Control

Let’s talk about sex, friends. Specifically, let’s talk about contraceptives and their risks. Actually, let’s just talk about one in particular – hormonal birth control.

Now, to begin, let’s clear up a little piece of misinformation that I’ve heard buzzing around recently: All feminists do not think all women should be on birth control (I’m talking about “the pill”). Sadly, our culture just loves to stereotype entire groups of people into believing or being this thing or that thing. It makes people that exist outside of our comfort zone seem less threatening. Like a “know thy enemy” approach, except the little boxes we try to put people in are generally far too small to contain them.

Anyway, I digress. Basically, what I’m saying is that many people, including those committed to learning about and educating folks about women’s interests, see the dangers that birth control poses. I include myself in this category.

Now, much of what I have to say is anecdotal and comes from personal experience. One reason for this is that not enough research has been conducted on the long term effects of birth control on women’s health. The other is that this is my blog and I can talk about issues from my perspective. That said, look here and here and here and here for more medical information about birth control.

So I’ll begin with my own experiences. I suspect other women can relate to how I’ve felt.
I started having sex at a relatively young age. The pluses and minuses of that choice are not to be debated in this particular forum because, well, it’s my bizness. Anyway, I was very much not into repeating the mistakes of those around me by having a baby at a young age, so I sought various means of contraception. This is all to say that I’ve been around the block when it comes to contraception and I’ve seen a fairly representative sampling (for one person) of primary care physicians and gynecologists. Hey, this body is a wonderland and I’m set to protect it. I get my annual exams.

I’ve also experienced migraines with aura since I was in fifth grade. Yeah, feel very sorry for me because they suck a lot of ass. I’ve tried various drugs, stopped drinking caffeine for periods, tried to avoid sleep exhaustion, etc. The only real connection that I’ve found is that they’re related to hormones and stress, and I’m guessing that those two items are also related to one another, so I boil it down to hormones. What is the justification for my educated guess, you ask? Well, each time that I’ve ever had a migraine, since I was 16 or so, I have been on a hormonal birth control of some sort. Each time I get off of the birth control, the migraines stop. To be clear, I was not on birth control in fifth grade, but I was going through puberty, which I’d call a pretty hormonal experience).

Each time I went to the doctor and confessed (because it always feels like a dirty confession) that I was sexually active, they would tell me that I needed to get on birth control. I’d say I didn’t like taking pills daily or that it made me have my period constantly or that it made me have headaches and they’d tell me to try something else. Finally, at 25, I wised up and told the doctor to fuck off and to quit trying to push her pills down my throat. Condoms are just fine with me, thankyouverymuch. Ok, so I’m not that rude. I didn’t actually tell her to fuck off, but I did tell her I wasn’t interested. She said I should try an IUD. I said hell no. Then, to her credit, she made the connection. She asked me about my migraines and told me that I should have never, ever been on a hormonal birth control because, since I got migraines with aura, my risk of stroke was super high.

STROKE? Wait, wait, wait. This can’t be, I thought. Surely someone would have told me before now. I have been to doctors, even headache ones. I ALWAYS fill out my medical history questionnaires completely and the migraine thing is front and center. Why the hell had someone not mentioned this before? Turns out, people, even doctors are irresponsible. It also turns out that some doctors love to pass out birth control like candy without considering or discussing the risks. Why doesn’t every woman know – why aren’t they telling us in schools – that birth control (among other things) can cause strokes, breast cancer and a whole host of other things? My hypothesis is simple – people don’t really give a shit about women’s health. Which is why they’re constantly pushing this untested Guardasil shot on us, why they don’t educate men on how to prevent diseases such as HPV and why there is tons fewer research dollars for issues affecting women than those affecting men.

We all love “my friend” stories, so I’ll share a couple in brief to back up what I’m saying about birth control. My friend had crippling migraines for years. She quit taking birth control. She stopped having migraines. My other friend has taken birth control for a couple of years. She had a stroke two weeks ago. She’s 24. No one told her about the risks. She figured her doctor would, being a doctor and all. She doesn’t have healthcare and is having to foot the bill for the MRI, etc. to see if permanent damage has been done to her body. There’s no way to know for sure that it was from birth control, but, ya know. Another friend works at a hospital and told me about a 17 year old girl who came in with traumatic brain injuries. She had a massive stroke. The only cause they could figure out was birth control. This is insane.

Ask questions before putting things in your body. Don’t ever let yourself be pressured to take something by a physician without tons of information. Find a physician that doesn’t pressure you (I finally did and I’m sticking with her, despite the grueling time spent in the waiting room). Use condoms. Tell people to talk about these issues – with their doctors, with other women, with the bum on the street, it doesn’t matter.

This is a rant, I know. And you might disagree with me or believe that because I didn’t provide numbers and charts that what I’m saying is bullshit, which is all totally fine. You might love your birth control and never experience any problems. Either way, do some research of your own and listen to your body. Protect your body.

If you have other sites or books or whatever resources for information to share, I invite you to post it in your comments.


  1. Being a research enthusiast and self-medicating fool, I am shocked I never made the connection between the pill and my migraines (which I also have had forever and a day). Thanks for this, Ragan! I knew about the stroke connection, but wasn't aware that having had migraines, it increased my risk. I definitely have a lot to discuss with my doc...

  2. I know, it's crazy, right? I can't believe that neither I nor my doctors made the connection and that this information is not broadcast more. I'm glad this helped you out a bit and I wish you luck in getting rid of those migraines. Ugh, they're the worst.