Becca Stevens

What You're Not Told About Contraception.

15 July 2020 4 Minute Read

Under the umbrella of health and wellbeing comes a topic that's rarely talked about in the fitness industry: Contraception. When talking amongst my friends, it's hard to find a girl on hormonal contraception who hasn't had issues with it. From the pill to the implant or the coil, each variation comes with side effects which vary completely from person to person.

Types of Contraception

  • Hormonal Pills
  • Hormonal Implants
  • Hormonal Coil (IUD)
  • Hormonal Injection
  • Hormonal Patch
  • Copper Coil

There are multiple types of long term contraception methods, most of which are hormonal. Aside from other more short-term methods, such as condoms, the copper coil is the only non-hormonal method. The hormonal methods all work in slightly different ways, ultimately altering hormone levels within your body to prevent the release of the egg. Manipulating the hormone levels within the body can cause side effects, including mood swings, weight gain, mental health problems, acne, nausea, blood clots and many more. As with any drugs, however, the side effects will vary from one person to the next.

GP's will commonly prescribe the cheapest form of contraception due to the immense level of budgeting pressure that they are under but, at the end of the day, it is your choice what you go for. Make sure you do your research.

Research (and the lack of)

Although the hormonal birth control may work for some people, it is essential to highlight the substantial lack of research into the side effects of hormonal contraception. A quick search of 'research into birth control' will result in studies showing the effectiveness and success rate of these methods. Very few studies actually look into the short and long-term side effects. This may be due to a lack of funding for this (drugs companies don't want to know about the side effects) or perhaps institutionalised sexism (lack of research on women's issues - check out this book if you're interested). Or many other factors could have caused this.

As small amounts of research are gradually coming out, the short-term side effects are becoming clearer. One example of a study of 1 million women, 55% who were on hormonal contraception, found that those on a combined pill were 23% more likely to be diagnosed with depression. Those on the progesterone-only pill were 34% more likely. Aside from these short term effects, there is virtually nothing known about the long term side effects.

Considering that hormonal contraceptives only first came out in the 60s, we have not had enough time to understand if there are any long term effects. One study found a significant difference in hypothalamus size between those using hormonal contraception, and those who weren't, correlating with increased anger and depressive symptoms. Is this long-term damage? Does it change any other brain structures? There are so many unknowns.

Personal Experiences

When I was first looking for contraception, my GP pushed me to get the implant. It seemed like a great idea. All I had to do was have a small tube in my arm and I would be set for 3 years. However, 6 months later, I'd had a hell of a ride, with increased mood swings including low mood and anxiety. It wasn't until someone mentioned to me that it could be a result of the implant that it clicked. Having removed the implant, I saw a night and day difference. My mood swings reduced dramatically, I was much happier and it felt as though a cloud had been lifted.

After a few months break, I decided to re-enter the world of contraception with the Pill. My GP gave me the cheapest option: Rigevidon. You may have heard of this before, with horrific stories of people dying from this, suffering severe mental health episodes and other issues. Unfortunately, I hadn't done my research and my mental health plummetted. This time, a bit more clued up about the potential side effects, I came off of it and tried another pill. Overall, I tried 3 types of pill alongside the implant. All of them impacted my mood and mental health. At this point, I was done with hormones and decided to look into non-hormonal versions. The only option that I came across was the copper coil. It sits in the womb and lasts 10 years, all without hormones. What's not to love?

Although it can make periods heavier and more painful for the first few months, this hasn't bothered me. These side effects are much better than the ones I had experienced previously. I'm loving the copper coil, so far!

Conclusion

My point is that there is such a huge lack of research into hormonal contraception. Considering how fundemental it is to maintain hormonal balance, I find it shocking that there is such a huge data gap. If this post does nothing else, I hope it raises awareness of these effects so you (or your partner) will think twice about what form of contraception to choose.