During the 1960s when The Oral Contraceptive Pill (OCP) was first released, women were finally able to take control of their sexual freedom without the risks of falling pregnant. Having a female-operated contraception meant that we no longer relied on men for this important task and could feel safer to explore our sexuality. Since then though, the OCP hasn’t changed much and is basically the same as it was 60 years ago. Contraceptive technology has not caught up with the times and so we are left with mostly out-dated options.
Like all hormonal contraceptives, the “hormones” in the OCP are not technically hormones. These synthetic “hormones” act in similar ways to natural hormones by sending signals to different body parts. For example, the main synthetic “hormone” in the OCP is progestin which mimics the actions of progesterone, inhibiting ovulation and therefore preventing pregnancy. However, these synthetic “hormones” also act in vastly different ways to our natural hormones. Progestin not only binds and acts on progesterone receptors, it can also bind to estrogen and testosterone receptors meaning that it can exhibit effects similar to these hormones such as hair loss, cramping, and mood changes.
The reasons why women choose to use the OCP is varied such as acne, irregular menstrual cycles, pain, heavy bleeding and of course avoiding unwanted pregnancies. It is important to note that research suggests it takes a woman’s body around 8-12 years to develop a mature menstrual cycle. While the menstrual cycle is still developing it is not uncommon and is completely normal to experience acne, irregular cycles, pain and heavy bleeding. This is because the body is still learning how to function as it transitions from a child into an adult. Therefore, the reasons why so many women go on the OCP are due to their body changing and maturing not because there is something actually wrong with them.
For example, a young woman gets her first period (menarche) at 13 years old and experiences irregular cycles for 3 years. She goes to the doctor who suggests she goes on the OCP at 16 years of age and for the next 11 years she goes on with her life not thinking about her menstrual cycle at all. At age 27 she decides she wants to start trying for a baby so she comes off the OCP. Her cycles are irregular, she has heavy bleeding, she notices that her skin is bad and she freaks out. This is to be expected. Her body is 27 years old but her menstrual cycle is still 16.
If you went on the OCP for a particular reason that reason will come back, sometimes with a vengeance, when you decide to come off. Of course, for some women who experience debilitating pain such as those with conditions such as Endometriosis or Adenomyosis the OCP can vastly improve their quality of life, however, it does not “fix” or cure these conditions, it is merely masking the symptoms. On average it will take women around three to six months to regulate their cycles again once coming off the OCP, meaning they might not have a menstrual bleed at all for this time. Essentially you will need to wait for your ovaries to “wake up” after being put to sleep for the years you were on the OCP.
It’s also important to understand that the “period” that you experience on the OCP is not actually a period, it is a withdrawal bleed from these synthetic “hormones”. The OCP was designed in a monthly packet to make women feel like they are still having a period, however there is no medical reason as to why you need to bleed while taking the OCP. Women who are professional athletes benefit from taking the OCP as they can skip their bleeds each month and not let menstrual cycles inhibit their performance. While the convenience of not having a period each month is appealing to many young women, the future is often not considered and what it might look like for that individual.
The point of this article is to educate women on their body and what they might have taken in the past, are currently taking or are thinking about taking in the future. The OCP is not the only contraceptive option available and is not a cure for anything, however, it is your body and your choice.
If you want some advice on contraceptive options, menstrual cycle symptoms, coming off the OCP or to understand your body more please get in touch and I’d love to help you make an educated decision for your body.
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