Boys, you might want to look away now. This post is about something I feel is an important, and crucially under-discussed, issue – female contraception. But if, lads, you would be so good as to hang around, I think it can only be useful for you to really understand what us ladies are up against.
You see, I have an axe to grind. When I first became sexually active, I went to my GP. I had heard about the pill from friends, knew it would prevent any unwanted buns from being placed in my oven but I really thought that was all there was to it. I trotted off to my GP, where the conversation went roughly like this:
Me: I want to have sex with my boyfriend so I’d like to go on the Pill, please.
GP: Okay, is there any chance you’re pregnant at the moment?
Me: Absolutely not!
GP: Okay, let’s set you up with this one. Any problems, come back and see me.
And just like that, I started on Microgynon 30. Now, at 31 I can see that a more detailed conversation should have taken place. One in which he checked my periods were regular, if I experienced any difficulties during my ToTM, if I had considered any alternative methods of contraception and so on. More importantly, I should have been warned that the Pill, as with any other form of contraception, comes with the risk of side effects.
In the last 13 years I have changed my Pill four of five times because of the overwhelming nature of the side effects from some of them. Microgynon gave me blinding headaches one day a month, bad enough that I could barely function. As it was only one day a month, I tolerated it for a few years before switching to Cerazette. That one made my skin break out in a bad way but I had been told it could stop my periods completely so I persevered for a year or so. The acne vanished, my periods did not. As I suffered with terrible cramps every month, it had been a key reason for the switch. Disappointed, I went to Loestrin. This pill promised to lighten periods and be well-tolerated by most people. For the most part, it was fine. It might have been one of the better options, had it not given me violent mood swings for a few days before my period. I’m talking Incredible Hulk-style tantrums that would see the cats fleeing for cover. And no, I couldn’t control the mood swings, no matter how hard I tried.
It was at this point I began researching other methods, but all seemed to have concerning potential issues. The implant caused a huge stir a few years ago after a number of women got pregnant while on it – a direct result of it being incorrectly fitted. The coil was a contender for a while, but had to be fitted and removed in hospital, so if anything went wrong (the NHS states this as a 1 in 1,000 risk) it would be both excruciatingly painful and tricky to fix. The Depot injection was immediately discarded as a risk due to the number of women I knew who had compared coming off it to experiencing a prolonged haemorrhage. This isn’t like a normal period, we’re talking constant heavy bleeding for weeks on end. Of course, there was always the option of condoms but ladies, I don’t know about you but frankly, I just don’t find them comfortable. Having said that, if you aren’t in a steady, monogamous relationship, they’re better than an STI. No glove, no love, folks.
At last, I got moved onto Yasmin late last year. My skin is clear, my mood swings are (mostly) under control, but those ‘menstrual migraines’ that I experienced for a day each month on Microgynon are now there for up to a week every month. Some months it’ll niggle away for a few days, hit hard for a couple, then go. Other months I’ll be unable to blink or breathe without pain for two or three days at a time, and I’m yet to find painkillers strong enough. According to my GP, there’s nothing more they can do except try another Pill and of course, that comes with its own price. The list of potential side effects for any Pill is extensive, ranging from depression to loss of libido to psychosis and major neurological problems.
This all makes the idea of a male contraceptive pill rather appealing. For centuries, women have suffered through their periods, and since the 1960s we’ve tolerated the Pill for the sake of sex without risk of pregnancy, so maybe it’s time for men to take the helm for a while. But studies in the last year have shown men are simply unwilling to shoulder the hormonal burden, unused to the effects as they are.
So what are we to do? Personally, my approach right now is to give myself total freedom for a couple of days each month. When my head is pounding, I’m queasy, bloated and full of cramps, I can eat however much chocolate I want, cry if I feel like it and cuddle up on the sofa with a good book or a movie. I’m also lucky enough to have a husband who looks after me. And this is where I put my appeal to any boys who haven’t cried off already: if you have a girl or a woman in your life, spare a thought for what she goes through each month. Buy her flowers or chocolate, give her a foot rub, run her a bath, give her a little extra affection. And if you’re willing to brave it, when the male contraceptive pill becomes available, assure her you’ll give it a try because it might just mean the world to her.
And in the meantime, I’m going to be crossing my fingers for early menopause.