This post is a little outside my normal realm. It has nothing to do with fitness, food, yoga or travel. It does pertain to health though...more specifically sexual health. Sexual health and adolescence. So it's a controversial and heated topic to say the least.
As a disclaimer I am speaking from my own personal experience and what I have learned over the years. I respect that you are different and may not agree with me, but hear me out anyway.
Adolescents are going to have sex. That's just the way it is. All this abstinence teaching is pretty useless. It shouldn't be thrown off the table completely by any means, but it should not be relied on as the only form of education either.
That being said the older I get the more of an issue I see with giving young women hormonal birth control as well. If you would have talked to me about this issue only a year ago I would have said we should be handing it out like candy. It’s our choice to have sex, and to choose NOT to get pregnant. Give me the pill, pump my body with artificial hormones, why not? That is the mentality of our day.
So I see all sides, and I have been on the other one. Oh, what a year can do…
I was one of those girls who didn't want to get pregnant, didn't have anyone to turn to and so I found a way to get and start taking the pill. It was easy enough to get. I was being safe, right? In some ways, but also like I said....it was easy. Unfortunately getting educated on what the pill was actually doing and what the long-term effects were was not part of the program. Or maybe I was supposed to read all that tiny fine print on the HUGE piece of paper that came with my pills every month. Well…I didn’t, I threw that right in the trash.
Now ten years after starting the pill, and having been off for the last 1.5 I see and feel the repercussions of leaning on it.
‘Safe’ sex ended up contributing to deteriorating physical and emotional health, and is a major reason for health issues of women everywhere.
What are they?
1. It Creates Hormone Imbalance
Hormones are what define us as women. They are the lenses through which we see and interact with the world. Anyone who has had PMS, been pregnant or gone through menopause knows how intensely hormones can affect life. Our bodies are designed to keep a very fine balance, and really what the pill does is put artificial hormones into our body to trick it into not ovulating. In theory is seems great (or like female castration, depends on how you look at it), but continued use can cause major imbalances.
It was not the pill alone that threw my health completely over. It's almost never one thing. There’s our dietary choices, nutritional deficiencies, lifestyle and emotional components that also contribute. I know for a fact though that the constant artificial hormones I put in my body contributed to the hormone imbalances I'm dealing with now. At 27 I have the sex hormones of a post menopausal women...pretty much zilch. Trying to reset this system has been an absolute nightmare.
In doing research about my situation I found out that sometimes permanent damage can result and lead to infertility. The signal from the pill is to suppress ovulation, and with that signal given over and over, sometimes your body just stops doing it on it’s own. This is not what a young woman who recently got engaged and one day would like to procreate wants to read.
The repercussions of BC are not something that will necessarily be seen acutely. They can come along much later, which is why it's difficult to understand the danger. Hormones control so much, even beyond sexually. They influence our emotions, sexuality, growth, muscle-building, metabolism, digestive system, blood sugar, blood pressure, and can even affect our self-esteem and mental health. Do you see why it's ridiculously important to keep them in balance?
Sometimes women won’t even really know what has been done to their systems until they stop taking their birth control and want to procreate. Then can’t.
And yes…hormonal birth controls can negatively affect your thyroid hormones. They are all connected. The estrogens can increase your Thyroid Binding Globulin, meaning the hormone is unable to get into the cell.
2. It Causes Nutrient Deficiency
If a woman does choose to take hormonal birth control, there should also be a list of nutrients given with it that you must supplement. As with any pharmaceutical drug, the pill robs us of many extremely important and necessarily nutrients. The most important of which are our B vitamins and minerals. These are important for our neurotransmitters, energy and immune system. They also create imbalance in our gut flora which can cause health issues if not addressed.
3. It Disrupts Communication Development
Outside the health and science realm of things it stunts our growth in communication and furthers the stigma around sex talk (and I'm not referring to the dirty kind). Talking about the act only has to go as far as 'are you on BC' if it even goes that far. Some guys just assume.
Sex is hard to discuss. The repercussions and emotions surrounding it especially. This lack of communication is one thing that can lead to pregnancy.
We are allowing young people to not have to learn to talk about the hard stuff, and once again to rely on a pill or medication to take care of their problems.
I know I did not want to talk about it, at first it was scary or intimidating enough just to go through with it. But if you can't discuss it should it even be happening?
I hear your response...but they just won't talk about it, it's no use, would you rather teen pregnancy?
This to me indicates a problem right there. We are not teaching kids how to communicate. Not only that but we are creating shame around the discussion of sex in general. For years I was embarrassed to talk about sex, not with my girl friends, but with the person I should have actually been talking to, the person with which I was sexually active.
4. It Doesn't Protect Against STDs
The pill, or other hormonal BC does not address stds. Because there is less fear of pregnancy, and still fear of communication often times this means sex without a condom. (That's for sure what it meant for many people I have known)
I was too afraid to speak up (communication skills lacking hard) at first and make sure the other party used a condom. You hear about how guys hate them, they are intimidating to put on someone and you don't want to be seen as a prude. Is this silly? Yes. Is looking stupid better than getting a std? Yes. But teenage minds do not think this way. There's much more emphasis on appearance, what other people think and fitting in.
Basically BC can in some ways allow for not being as afraid to have unprotected sex.
5. It Makes Birth Control Only a Female Responsibility
This one relates back to the above issue. Condoms. BC, puts all the freaking responsibility on the girl. This is an act of two people and I'm sure neither of them wants a disease or a baby. In some ways though it's completely up to the girl to get and take BC....and then make sure the guy is using a condom. Let's even the field a little. It's sort of ridiculous.
This is a two-way street and instead of relying on birth control from the woman, there needs to be shift in teaching young men their responsibility in the exchange.
6. It is a Cop out
I don't feel okay with teenage pregnancy, or with people having a million children that they cannot support. I also think though that in some ways just giving a pill out is a cop-out in having to teach communications skills, responsibility, emotional intelligence, and general common sense. It's easier to hand out pills than deal with the hard part of vulnerability, shame, courage, education, taboo topics and responsibility.
It also does not facilitate getting to the root of problems. Why are so many teen girls dealing with excess acne, or terrible menstrual cycles? Why do they need the pill to resolve depression? This is not the way things are supposed to be, and instead of getting to the root of the issue we throw a pill at it. Just like with every other medical problem we have these days. This approach solves nothing though, and in the end whatever we are covering up will just show up in our children and they will have to be on even more pharmaceuticals. Is this how we want the future to be?
I know, I can’t just say all this negative stuff and then not have a solution. That is not constructive or helpful for anyone. I don't have the all the answers by any means and any solutions I can think of are going to take a long time to really have an affect. They also put a lot of responsibility on parents and even take a shift in our cultural outlook. But if you care enough about your health as a woman, or your daughter's health please at least take all of this into consideration and be the beginning of a change.
Here are a few constructive ways I believe we can make a shift, to think and be outside of a pill.
1. Talk About It!
Be open with your adolescents, and even challenge yourself to be more open about sex with your partner or doctors (it is a natural act for goodness sakes). Just because you don’t want to talk about it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. When kids can’t look to you they look to their peers and make very uninformed decisions, that you really won’t like.
2. Prioritize Communication.
Be an example, and teach them how to discuss the hard stuff. If you can’t talk to them about sex, do you think they are going to really be able to talk to the person they are having sex with about it? Empower your girls to speak up for themselves!
Take the taboo away from the topic and educate them on the emotional and physical aspects of sex and contraception. Share the different types of contraception options, pros and cons. Even the alternative types such as tracking your cycle, which can be very effective if done properly. Make sure they know exactly what they are getting into and give them the confidence to make informed decisions. Knowledge is power. (read the dang side effects on the BC!)
If you do choose to go with a hormonal contraceptive:
- Supplement to give your body back what it is being robbed of. B vitamins, probiotic and trace minerals at least.
- Stay away from a high sugar, processed food and refined carbohydrate diet which can further throw off your hormones and deplete nutrients.
This is a charged topic and a very difficult one to even begin to broach. Each of us has to make our own decisions, but I want to make sure that decision is an informed one. I had no idea what I was setting myself up for all those years ago. All I knew was sex, pregnancy, fear, and shame. This was not a recipe for smart decisions. So as you decide whether to start, or stay on your contraceptives, and when the time comes to teach your daughters make sure to think of all the different outcomes and repercussions. There’s so much more to it that the acute issue of pregnancy (which is a very serious one), there are long-term issues to consider both on mental and physical health. We must be the change.