*Disclaim: We are not doctors, and we cannot advise anyone about it. This conversation is a real talk of two friends sharing their vulnerabilities regarding their bodies and the long-term effects of taking birth control pills.
How taking contraceptives took away my right to know my body?
Livia sent me this question on Whatsapp, and I got intrigued to learn more about what she meant it.
Marina: Once you brought up this subject, I was curious to understand and hear what you have to say because contraceptives have been part of my life since I was 14/15 years old (I got my period with 10, sad, right?). I started taking it because my doctor recommended it as I suffered too much from PMS. And up until recently, I never really thought about how long I have been taking it or the impact it has on my body after all these years. At this moment, it has always been part of my life, like tampons/pads.
Things I wonder:
I believe in medicine, we came a long way, and birth control pills gave women the freedom to decide where and when to have kids. It gave us control of our bodies. However, are there many studies about the impact it causes in the long term? Why are doctors not transparent about it?
Lívia: I guess I was a little bit reluctant to bring this matter to the table because, as a feminist, I understand that contraceptives pills were something we conquered and that had helped our lives to be better in some ways, but I sometimes wonder if it maybe we didn't take it too far. Most women my age have been taking birth control pills for years, and perhaps this is not as healthy as we think. Have you ever thought about the consequences of taking it? I feel I was not totally aware of how it affects my body…
Marina: I still feel the blame is not on the contraceptive pills but the lack of information about their bodies. Nowadays, the conversation seems to be much more open and natural than back in our teen years. I believe the point is the lack of options presented by doctors and how they should be better explaining the long-lasting impacts it may or not have on your body, besides the benefits. And not treat like it is the only way out and, yes, as one of the possibilities.
Lívia: I agree with you on that! I think it is kind of irresponsible not to ask the girl or the woman if she still wants to take hormones and if she knows how it can affect her body. It seems to me that everybody takes it for granted that you know what it means to take birth control pills, but when you start taking it at such a young age, what are the chances you really understand all the consequences?
Marina: How come it became something so natural to women that we treat as almost part of our bodies/life?
Lívia: This is something I began to ask...could it be that we were always so obsessed with controlling everything that we decided to ignore our bodies at the slightest sign of difficulty? I mean, menstruation is one of the most natural things a woman can experience…
Marina: Isn't it good to have control of your body? In general, women are still so deprived of controlling many things in their lives; at least when it comes to periods, they can choose what's better for them. And also, I think we are better at adapting; that's why it feels so natural to start taking it regularly that it becomes part of your routine. Gen Z seems to deal more openly, naturally, and better with periods: as women bleed - that's it, which gives me hope for future generations. But I never spoke with any teens about their feelings regarding contraceptives. You gave me a great idea for research.
Lívia: I agree we should have control over our bodies, but what kind of control do we want to have? I feel more empowered knowing how my body works and choosing from a place of knowledge.
Marina: What do you mean contraceptives took your body from you? And why do you think that?
Lívia: I stopped my body from functioning at its natural rhythm when I started taking birth control pills. Maybe I even stopped listening to it because I guess we bleed every month from our vaginas for the reason that it is more than just to have babies.
I began taking it at 11, 12 years old. I was so young and at an age when everything people think about me matters. I had acne, and it bothered me a lot, and because of that, I was open to anything that would make me look "prettier." “And then I found out I had a polycystic ovary; that's when I began my journey with hormones. I had my first period when I was 10/11, I had only experienced maybe 12 to 24 periods, and after that, I never let my body follow its natural course as a female. I swear this makes me crazy! Now I wonder: how will my life be when all my hormones function the way they naturally should? Will I have PMS? Will I be so angry that I will fight with my boyfriend and make his life hell? I DON'T KNOW.
The thing is: we are made to have periods. Unfortunately or not, we are females, and biologically our body functions differently from the male body. So, what have I been missing? For how long have I been "suffocating" the natural voice of my body, and for what?
Marina: This is crazy to think about how many natural periods you had before taking pills, which is a great reflection point to highlight. We can't forget that sexual and reproductive rights are critical in their own right, and contraceptives are still not available for all women worldwide as a choice; therefore, pills are freedom.
Lívia: Yeah, but then again, freedom at what cost? Why don't men take birth control pills? Why does it all have to be our responsibility?
Marina: Did you have an open conversation with your mom about periods and sex? The conversation never felt natural to me. I was embarrassed to ask my mom about all related questions, felt shy to learn more about it.
Lívia: I sincerely don't remember if I was shy about menstruating. My mom and I always had a very open relationship about sex, and I guess we talked about periods as well. We should ask ourselves if it is healthy to give young girls birth control pills and assume that this will be their reality forever. Another thing that makes me really angry is we don't talk about body literacy. Do we women know exactly what it means to take hormones? Do we know what happens to our bodies when we do? Shouldn't we be talking about all of this so that girls and women can more wisely choose what it works for each of them? As we said earlier, I think knowledge is the key!
Marina: Yes!! Education is the best weapon to make better choices for ourselves. Knowledge is power. But why do you feel scared?
Lívia: III'mscaredbecause I don't know if I will feel ok, if I will start to suffer from severe pain, if - when the time comes - III'llbeable to get pregnant, etc.
Marina: Did you feel good or bad about going and talking about this to a doctor in Spain compared to Brazil?
Lívia: I definitely felt more comfortable going to my gynecologist in Brazil. Maybe it is something cultural, but I think physicians here in Spain are less concerned about your health when you are younger.
Marina: Thank you for sharing.
We are here to bring reflections, to tell our stories. This is not a conversation against birth control pills. The point is for us, women, to be more aware and don't take things for granted. Ask your doctors to be transparent, to talk more about options and the long-term effects.
Takeaways questions to reflect on:
1) Do you remember when did you get your period for the first time?
2) Do you remember when di you start taking birth control pills?
3) Did you ever think about stop taking it?
*This edition contains the first podcast available; it will only be available once a month for paid subscribers. If you enjoy it, join the collective now:
Stories from other women and their relationship with birth control pills: Sharing is caring because everyone has the power to be a transforming agent:
“I started taking birth control pills at 19 years old because of a polycystic ovary, body hair, and acne. Since then, III'vebeentaking birth control pills. At the end of 2020, I found myself with little motivation and a lack of libido. My friends said it could be the contraceptives pills, and I stopped. My face popped with pimples, greasy hair, more body hair; it gradually stabilized. I don't feel any difference in my libido, but menstruating and getting back the effects of PMS, menstrual cycles reminded me that I am a woman.” Paula Boarin
“I started in 2005 and stopped in 2016 because I felt very bloated and bad in the premenstrual period, and discovered a possible genetic predisposition to having thrombosis. At that time, my cousin was pregnant, and she went to the ICU due to an embolism, which made me scared. I suffered from side effects such as oily skin, pimples, and hair loss, but with proper treatment, it stabilized. Now I feel a thousand times better during my menstrual period. Although, I feel uncomfortable with other people's judgment knowing I'm not taking pills, assuming that it's the only method to prevent pregnancy, and throwing all the responsibility for an unwanted pregnancy on me.” Beatriz Deleo
“I took contraceptives pills from 17 to 29 years old without interruption. I decided to stop after seeing some cases of death of very young women who had no health problems, and the cause is linked to pills. I took several tests and was deficient in a type of hormone, reason: birth control pills. Then I had to manipulate this hormone to balance, which made me think; why do I take a medicine that deregulates everything, and I have to take another one to regulate it? In the beginning, I felt a lot of difference in everything! Lubrication, libido, mood. Nowadays, I'm used to being without, and after three years, my only complaint is my skin. It's terrible, and everything indicates that I have a polycystic ovary that I controlled, whether I like it or not. My flow has also increased, and I have more cramps and PMS. But I wouldn't start retaking it as I think about getting pregnant in the next few years. For me, the balance of the cons is no more significant than the pros of having stopped using contraceptives.” Natália Casagrande
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