Using birth control to eliminate menstruation isn’t unsafe, even if some worry it’s “unnatural.” That, readers, is how a recent opinion piece in The Atlantic started, and obviously I was curious to know where this was going. Turns out that more women are keen to use birth control not only to prevent pregnancy, but as a long-term way to avoid their period.
Now this is probably something that women have fallen into over time, without really thinking about what they were doing. But to hear it said like this – basically turning their period on and off as is convenient – scares me. And not only because I’ve heard of so many cases of women who have been on birth control, then stopped taking it to fall pregnant, and it has hasn’t happened (in my opinion, pumping your body with hormones that aren’t supposed to always be there worries me). Why are we so keen to play God and always be in control? Isn’t the natural way the best way?
For me, it’s worrying enough that we don’t have the long-term studies to know what the side-effects or consequences of this might be. But I also thought it best to consult someone who knows what they’re talking about, so I asked Caitlin Byrne, a Sydney-based FertilityCare Practitioner with a Master’s Degree in Reproductive Health Science and Human Genetics.
Here’s what she had to say:
There is nothing wrong with wanting to make periods less inconvenient / uncomfortable / painful / heavy, obviously, but I just want to point out that she is choosing to do it in a way that suppresses her fertility at the same time. And she makes out as though that were the only way to deal with those things – the pill or IUD or injection should be a last resort because it is not addressing the underlying cause of those symptoms.
As for eliminating your period altogether to reverse this ‘curse’ she has been put under for being a woman… It’s a shame that women these days feel the need to masculinise themselves instead of embracing the beauty of their fertility. Can’t we get past the idea of being ‘cursed’? Let’s leave that to the pre-scientific era where it belongs along with witchcraft.
Disturbingly, there was no mention in The Atlantic article of side effects let alone risks. People are not being honest to say there is no harm and anyone who denies the risks is guilty of having an agenda in my eyes. It is just plain unethical and disrespectful to women to not inform them of the risks of hormonal contraceptives because without that they can’t make an informed decision.
As for the point about periods being medically unnecessary for women – no, it’s not vital like breathing, eating and drinking, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding don’t get them… but it’s a pretty important function for the carrying-on of the species!
Below, I have listed for you all the ‘health benefits’ of the pill (because it’s the most common form of contraception used in Australia) and then contrasted them with the common side effects and the possible risks. Every medication is a weigh-up of benefits versus risks and it is up to individuals to decide whether the pill is more beneficial to them than harmful.
Benefits of the pill:
– decreased risk of ovarian cancer
– decreased risk of endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterine lining)
– decreases menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding)
– decreases dysmenorrhoea (painful periods)
– decreases chance of ovarian cysts
– decreases risk of benign breast disease
– decreases risk of colorectal cancer
– can improve acne
– can improve symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder
Side effects of the pill:
– atrophy of endometrium (hostile lining of uterus)
– irregular bleeding
– sore breasts
– low libido
– lower markers of ovarian reserve (AMH and antral follicle count)
– decreased ovarian volume
Risks of the pill:
– increased risk of blood clots, strokes and heart attacks
– increased risk of cervical cancer
– increased risk of breast cancer
– increased risk of liver cancer
– increased risk of gestational diabetes in subsequent pregnancy
– increased risk of glioma (a type of brain cancer)
– some formulations increase the chance of premature birth in future pregnancies
– increased risk of coronary artery disease
So basically – no, there are not any obvious harms to ‘not having a period’… other than the harms from the pill or device which you have to use to get there!
Finally, the media at the moment loves mentioning that the pill reduces the risk of ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer. They neglect to mention that it increases the chance of breast cancer, cervical cancer and liver cancer. Yes, ovarian and endometrial cancer have worse prognoses but they have way smaller numbers diagnosed and it ignores the fact that one in eight women will get breast cancer and that 2,795 women died from it in 2012 in Australia. So go figure that is worth increasing your chance further from one in eight!
Did you know that the greatest natural protection against breast cancer is to have a baby before the age of 20 – risk reduction of 50%! Yet I don’t see anyone encouraging teenage pregnancies. And having a baby also decreases your chance of ovarian and endometrial cancer.
To sum up – making your period less inconvenient for medical reasons is not a problem. But the pills or devices that are used to suppress fertility do have risks and side effects, about which women need to be more informed.