As twenty-first century women, I think we try not to contribute to anything that may support regressive attitudes, such as beliefs that birth control is unnatural…or even anti-life.
Undark said this month that ‘birth control users say they sometimes contend with stigma and dismissive attitudes as they try to address mood changes’. Whatever the reason, women are clearly not having their needs met by contraceptives currently on the market.
In the US, reproductive rights are as fragile as ever. Buzzfeed reported last month that ‘in 2022 alone, 39 state legislatures have filed more than 230 bills restricting abortion access’.
Florida became one of the latest states to revoke women’s rights to abortions after 15 weeks, earlier this month. The need for effective contraception is globally more critical than ever.
Women’s Health Physician, Ellen R Wiebe, produced a study which found 51% of women using hormonal contraception had experienced at least one mood side effect, and 38% had at least one sexual side effect. Most that experienced sexual side effects were young women, and they are also more likely to complain of mood and physical side effects .
With news that male contraceptives are 99% effective and expected to start human trials this year, the extent of research into such side effects for men is yet to be seen.
What contraceptive pills are available in the UK?
Currently in the UK, there are two contraceptive pills available. The combined pill contains synthetic imitations of the hormones oestrogen and progestogen. Many women are not able to take the combined pill, because oestrogen has increased risks. The mini-pill contains a synthetic version of progestogen. Both versions of the contraceptive pill must be taken at roughly the same time every day to effectively prevent pregnancy.
Why are alternative options available outside the UK?
Manufacturer Exeltis introduced a new Progestogen-only pill called ‘Slynd’ in the US and Australia in 2019. The ‘revolutionary’ ‘Slynd’ pill, currently being denied to women in the UK, has fewer side effects than pills currently marketed within the UK, and can be taken at any time of day while still remaining effective.
Exeltis however has not applied to NICE, (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) for approval so the pill can be introduced in the UK. The reason for this is not known. However, Slynd is one of the most expensive contraceptive pills in the US, costing around £147 a month. Whereas in the UK, the contraceptive pills on the market currently cost the NHS under £8 a month.
There is no contraception in the world that is 100% effective. But women are increasingly drawn to hormone-free contraception because of caution towards hormone-based birth control.
According to NHS England, the male condom is 98% effective (when used properly, every time you have sex). Another hormone-free from of contraception is the copper coil (IUD). An IUD is a small T-shaped plastic or copper device placed inside the uterus, which is more than 99% effective. It can last from 5-10 years. Most women that stop using the IUD do so because of vaginal bleeding and pain. There is an also option for the coil that contains the hormone progestogen (IUS).
Period tracking and ‘digital contractive’ apps are nothing new, but have sustained increasing popularity and an influx of users over the last few years. The apps rely on users using traditional contraceptives or abstaining from sex during periods they are in their fertility window.
Natural Cycles is a fairly new Swedish fertility app that ‘determines your fertility status based on basal body temperature’. Natural Cycles Birth Control is a hormone-free birth control measure ‘proven’ to be 93% effective.
The app helps women track their fertility by recording their temperature daily and using this data, alongside their algorithm, to help plan and prevent pregnancy. Women can monitor daily when they’re fertile and plan to use protection.
As idealistic as this all sounds, the facts do not speak for themselves when talking about an algorithm that maps ovulation in comparison to mainstream contraceptives. The claim that NC is 93% effective is based on existing users voluntarily participating in what’s been criticised as ‘more like market research than a medical study’.
Why are women drawn to hormone-free contraception?
There is simply not enough research into the link between low-mood, low libido and contraceptive pills.
A 2018 study, ‘Oral Contraception and Serious Psychiatric Illness: Absence of an Association’, examined the link between psychiatry and contraceptives. This study found 0.46 in every 1000 women using the oral contraceptive were first referred to hospital for psychiatric disorders, raising to 3 in every 1000 for non-psychiatric disorders. These numbers differed only slightly for women using alternative contraception methods.
Contrasting research by Danish scientists, explored how hormonal contraceptives affected healthy Danish women not diagnosed with depression between the ages of 15-34. They found that 50% of women were more likely to be diagnosed with depression six months after taking hormonal contraceptives. These women were also 40% more likely to be prescribed anti-depressants than women who weren’t given hormonal contraceptives.
In 2022, there is strong interest in the debate about why the ‘pro-life” movement is fundamentally about controlling women’. But not many have addressed the lack of research into how hormonal contraceptives increases the risk of depression and other mental health disorders for women.
I believe unequivocally the two are linked. With male contraceptives, the only thing I’m unsure of is whether scarcity of women in careers within STEM or pejorative stereotypes that women are naturally erratic, hormonal and emotional are more to blame.