Birth control is not the innocuous godsend it is often made out to be. The side effects may seem mild, but are in reality more profound, and in my opinion, more alarming that most people give them credit for.
Birth control is a drug composed entirely of hormones (some natural and some artificial) and takes control of the body in significant ways. As far as I can determine, there are only three benefits from BC: the 99.9% guarantee that one will not become a parent; the by-the-hour predictability of menstruation; and clearer skin. The rest, the side effects, are subtle and sometimes invisible, but definitely affect quality of life. I spent 3 and a half years on birth control: the first 8 months on the patch and the remainder on the pill. The effects from the patch were greater and more noticable than from the pill, but the effects were the same, nonetheless. The overall impact they had on my physical and mental health is enormous:
- My hair thinned. My crown became nearly see-through.
- My hair faded. I am normally a dark shade of strawberry blonde, a shade that is more red than blonde. BC turned my hair into a dirty dishwater blonde, dull and mousy. The vibrant copper tones all but vanished completely.
- Emotional volitality. I felt my emotions more intensely than I did before (and after) the BC. The swings more roller-coaster-like. I have always been a balanced, even-tempered person, but the pill made it as if I had PMS 3 weeks a month. And the times my moods were “normal” was the week of my periods, the week when I wasn’t ingesting hormones.
- Attention deficit. My ability to focus on tasks or thoughts weakened. It was very difficult to stick to anything, I was easily distracted, and I frequently forgot details such as the number of needles or a patient’s name–things I normally remember with ease.
- My insomnia got worse. I slept lighter, woke more frequently, and pretty much stopped dreaming. Of course I still dreamt, but they were less vivid, less intensive, shorter, if I was lucky enough to remember having dreamt at all. This is devastating to me, for a number of reasons. There is the matter of never feeling rested, and subsisting on a diet of half colas and chocolates and half junk food. And then there is the matter that creativity is the fire of the soul, and it lies deep in the subconscious where dreams manifest. For me, dreaming and creativity are so closely interwined, as to be inseparable. If I can’t dream, I can’t create. Ideas do not come to me with ease, and those that do are weak and insipid, lacking the fire of passion (they were products more of the intellect than of the creative subconscious). Since I value my creativity as being essential to my conception of myself, losing the power of my dreams is significant.
I took my last pill March 13. Since then, I had a bad acne breakout, which has since healed. My hair grew back, and grew back red. My emotions are less intense, and my moods once more balanced: I do not swing from irritability to bubbly in the space of 30 minutes anymore. My attentiveness and accuracy in detail has improved. And most of all, I sleep deeper, and my dreams have returned. My idea books are once again being filled.
Hormones are powerful. Our entire lives are predicated on the function of the hormones our bodies create. They have a subtle yet most profound effect on the experience of our existence. In fact, I’m sure consciousness would not be possible without hormones, and perhaps one could even go so far as to say that consiousness and personality is hormonal. Hormones are proof that the body and the mind are so tightly interwined as to be the same thing.
So, knowing all that now, I am deeply relucant to ever resume taking hormonal birth control. Its function is much more easily and safely replaced by that of the condom. The condom does not wreak havoc on either partner’s body and mind. It protects against STDs. It has the same rate of pregnancy prevention: 99.9%. Next time a man says “I don’t like condoms.” I shall reply, “Tough shit.”