Crucial Minutia
it's the little things...
Kate Torgovnick
Sorry dudes, it’s a birth control post.
5 Comments | posted April 20th, 2007 at 10:04 am by Kate Torgovnick

Not too many women I know love getting their period and the awesome cramps that come with it every month. So you’d think women would be jumping up and down after hearing that a new pill called Lybrel is likely to be approved this summer that eliminates periods completely. But instead of women being excited, it’s caused a pretty big uproar. Read this article for a good recap of the controversy.

Here is the argument I hear most often, usually from women who have been taking the pill for years: It seems unnatural to not get your period every month. But this argument hinges on some huge misinformation. And since I’ve spent years studying this as a health editor, I am taking it upon myself to clear it up.

The hormones in birth control pills (and yes, I’m way going to simplify here) prevent you from ovulating and tell your body to not build up uterine lining in anticipation of conception. When the pill was first developed, the idea was that you would not have a period—essentially your body is taken off the cycle by the hormones in the pill.

However pharmaceutical companies are clever, and they realized that very few women in the 1950s when this was all being developed would be interested in never having their periods because, well, it’s just a scary concept. So rather than give woman a full month’s worth of hormone pills, they decided to give women 3 weeks of hormone pills and then a week of placebo pills where the uterine lining would build up slightly and shed. They essentially created a faux period to make the pill more viable on the market. Amazing, this model held for decades until very recently when Seasonale and Seasonique hit the market—both pills that half-step the idea and give you a fake period four times a year rather than twelve.

So what I’m trying to get at is that once you are on the pill, there is no more natural cycle. Nature has nothing to do with it. (Women who don’t use hormonal birth control, more power to you—I will buy the nature argument from you and only you.)

Furthermore, there has been some pretty convincing research lately that the 7-days of placebo pills might not be in women’s best interest—that it might be too long without hormones and in rare cases means that a woman may ovulate. Every year, 8 out of 100 women who take the pill will get pregnant. When this happens there’s usually one of two things going on: 1. The woman wasn’t as consistent as she should have been about taking the pill (Sidenote: A guideline I’ve heard from doctors is that if you miss 2 or more pills a month, this isn’t the right birth control for you). Or 2. During the 7-days without hormones, something happened. One specialist in this area even told me about a pattern she sees fairly often—a woman didn’t get her period or a heavy-as-expected period, assumed she was pregnant, stopped taking her pills, and then got pregnant for real. The debate about the 7-days of hormones is why you see so many new pills coming out with 4-days of placebo pills, or extreme low doses of hormones during the days when a woman will menstruate. They’re trying to get over what now seems to be like a flaw in the pill’s design. Extended-cycle pills like Seasonale, Seasonique, and Lybrel may well be the answer.

I’m rambling, but all this is to say that it disturbs me to hear women up in arms over the introduction of this new pill. In that Times article, a woman who’s made a documentary about this phenomenon in birth control said, “Women are not sick. They don’t need to control their periods for 30 or 40 years.” But the pill, in any form, is controlling your period, whether you have one or not. I, personally don’t value getting my period. In fact, I think it’s a pain. So these pills are right up my alley. And isn’t that what we’ve been fighting for for so long anyway—that women get the information on all the choices that are available to them, so they can pick the one that’s best for them? —Kate

This entry was posted on Friday, April 20th, 2007 at 10:04 am and is filed under Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are currently 5 responses

  1. Your longest post ever…and it’s on birth control. I feel cheated.

    April 20th, 2007 | 12:16 pm
  2. Dude, Ethan, hate to tell you, but as an (I’m assuming) sexually active straight man, birth control is as relevant to you as it is to women. No need to feel cheated at all!

    Kate, this is fascinating — I had no idea how the pill truly works. And it’s very interesting that the original formula would have stopped menstruation altogether.

    This brings out one of my major complaints, which is that so few women actually know how their birth control works. We’re not taught about it, our doctors often don’t know the answers when we ask them, and we’re just asked to take a pill every day and move on. Freaks me out big time.

    I’m right there with you about women getting full info on all of the choices, not just the most popular or commercially viable ones.

    April 20th, 2007 | 1:06 pm
  3. Relevant? Sure. A subject I would ever read about for fun? That’s a negative, Ghost Rider. The pattern is full.

    April 20th, 2007 | 1:29 pm
  4. I loves me the birth control!!!

    Though i kind of liked the fact that a woman would menstruate for a few days, cause to me, thats like saying “IT WORKED !! WERE CLEAR FOR ANOTHER MONTH!!! WOOHOOO!!”

    as juvenille as it may be, i look foward to that reassurance every month.. cause im well aware of the 8 out of 100 scenario..and it sends shivers down my spine…

    April 20th, 2007 | 1:43 pm
  5. katelyn

    Speaking of women having access to all the info and the right to choose, here’s a link to an article today about requiring 6th grade girls to have the HPV vaccine. All this coming on a week when the supreme court limits roe v. wade.

    http://www.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/?last_story=/mwt/broadsheet/2007/04/20/hpv/

    April 20th, 2007 | 1:43 pm

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