Feminism | Posted by Holly Grigg-Spall on 12/12/2011

Ms-guided: I Was A Teen On Drugs

what do you really know about the Pill?

what do you really know about the Pill?

When I was 17 years-old I was put on the birth control pill. I had painful, heavy periods that would get me out of gym class, but that wasn’t the only reason I was taken to the doctor. My mum, who became an adult in the 1960s, just as the Pill was introduced as a tool for female liberation, was afraid I would get pregnant. Not that I had a boyfriend, or even had sex – and, in fact, I wouldn’t for another four years. It was just the responsible thing to do, the right thing to do, and I swallowed that, quite literally, without question. I had no idea how the Pill worked, nor even how my own body worked. Aside from some embarrassing and misleading classes at my all-girls school in small town England — in which we were told all penises were the same length and acne was a result of not washing properly, for example — I only had the real-life story pages of magazines to aid my understanding. I continued to take the Pill, a number of different kinds, for the next ten years. I can’t say I knew much more at 27 than I did at 17.

I didn’t know, for example, that the Pill has a whole body impact, that every tablet has an effect on every organ in your body. Nor did I know that it switched off my hormone cycle, a cycle that played an important part in things like my attraction to particular men, my sense of smell, my ability to concentrate, my absorption of vitamins and my energy levels. I didn’t know that replacing my natural hormone cycle with synthetic estrogen and progesterone could lead to depression and anxiety. Even as I experienced these side effects I wasn’t aware they were caused by the Pill. That is, until I started to teach myself about how the Pill works, and how my own body works. Once I did know, I knew I had to come off the Pill for the good of my physical and mental health.

At the time, my depression and anxiety reached such levels that I thought I was losing my mind. I was taking a type of the Pill called Yaz. My decision was based on the little knowledge I had gleaned from their aggressive advertising campaign and the suggestion of my doctor who had come to consider it a new wonder drug, a cure-all. Yaz is currently under intense investigation, specifically its synthetic progesterone component drospirenone, which has been connected to an increased likelihood of producing blood clots.

Back when I was 17, it was the Pill or nothing as far as my parents, teachers and doctors were concerned. I was not told about alternatives. I was handed the Pill like it was a harmless piece of candy or a vitamin supplement and was told to take it for as long as I didn’t want to get pregnant. I believe that enforcing ignorance and casual prescription not only leads young women to suffer unnecessarily from the Pill’s side effects, as I did, but is also problematic on a greater level. I think failing to educate teens about the Pill when it’s prescribed leads to a far less effective form of contraception than is hoped.

If something is given to you casually like candy, then it will be taken as such – without thought or care. The general attitude behind giving teenage girls the Pill is that they should not know more than is absolutely necessary, that they can not be trusted to be responsible if armed with more knowledge and that they don’t know what’s good for them anyway. The main goal is to keep them from getting pregnant and nothing else matters. Today, this issue of trust is all the more important, as long-acting contraceptive methods such as the injection, the patch, the IUD and the implant are being pushed on young girls. These are just repackaged forms of the Pill with the added benefit that they will help women who forget to take a tablet every day. However, they cause their own health issues – the injection, for example, is also given in the same form to sex offenders to eliminate their sex drive.

Teaching young women about how their bodies work allows them to address their relationships with themselves and others with confidence. A young woman that is educated about the Pill is far less likely to become pregnant than one that is put on the Pill in ignorance. I believe that consent can only be procured with full knowledge and thus I think it is time to question our priorities as a society. We are saying that young women are incapable of understanding themselves, that their bodies are not their own and should be treated as dangerous and in need of constant control from the outside.

A young feminist today needs to question not only what feminists have questioned for decades, but also the beliefs of older feminists. While their intentions in promoting the Pill may be founded in a genuine care for our well-being and rights, they may not be going about it in the right way. Older feminists, like my mother, grew up in a time when the Pill served its purpose as an agent for social change – and it admittedly was an amazing thing for the feminist cause and women at large. But now we know more. Now we are more concerned about what we eat, wear and products we use to clean than ever, yet we are encouraging millions of otherwise-healthy women to take a powerful medication every day with proven unhealthy side effects, for years.

This Pill-mania has eroded the fundamentals of reproductive rights and women’s liberation – choice, freedom and education. And the only way to bring about change is to educate ourselves.

Holly writes about education about the Pill on her blog Sweetening the Pill

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  • Liz @ at 11:55 am, December 12th, 2011

    I agree with most of your article, however I chose an IUD specifically because I was looking for a non-hormonal form of birth control, which the Paraguard provides excellently. Your statement “Today, this issue of trust is all the more important, as long-acting contraceptive methods such as the injection, the patch, the IUD and the implant are being pushed on young girls, ” is both wrong and misleading about IUD’s, though thankfully you link to Planned Parenthood. While I agree that the pill may be over-hyped and over advertised to young women, I hardly think that IUDs fall into the same category.

  • Rachel @ at 3:53 pm, December 12th, 2011

    I do agree that everyone should research whatever type of medication they take. I do feel the need to defend the Pill here, though – it has personally worked wonders for my dysmenorreah, which was often crippling enough that I missed school and other activities while going through school. I’m sure you must agree that your heavy, painful periods were helped by taking the Pill – if you had done the research before taking it, do you think you would have not taken it because of possible risks, or have taken it anyways so you could attempt to live a normal life? Just a thought.

  • Holly Grigg-Spall @ at 6:37 pm, December 12th, 2011

    Liz – you’re absolutely right – I meant the IUD Mirena specifically and should have said that. I am counting all hormonal contraceptives and so yes, the Paraguard would not factor in here.

    Rachel – that is definitely a point I considered including in the piece but word count restraints made me leave it out. I often wonder myself if I would have chosen to take the Pill if I was informed at 17 of the possible problems I might face. The issue there is that each person responds to the Pill differently – some are more sensitive to its impact than others it seems. Plus there is a notable build-up effect and insidiousness to the problems I had – from the vitamin deficiency to the anxiety. So a person can be fine/feel fine on the Pill when they’re 17 but when they 27 and their body is very different they can be and feel very far from fine.

    So although I think women should be able to be aware of the negative effects of the Pill – and so take it conscientiously with full awareness – I also know that for me it took being older, being with a long-term partner and being more confident in myself and my viewpoint to make the decision to stop taking the Pill, and even then it was a difficult struggle with my very self. To make that decision I had to not just know how the Pill was working on my body but also untangle myself from a lot of my feelings about femininity and femaleness. Without a supportive environment, and in one that instead bolsters the Pill, this is hard.

    Certainly now I have periods that can sometimes be uncomfortable, painful and arriving at completely the wrong time! I also suffer with pain around the time of ovulation for half a day every month. They aren’t debilitating like they were when I was 17, but they can be less than convenient.

    However, I really marvel at this cycle and I appreciate the changes through the month. I know when I will feel lazy or energetic, sociable or introverted, sad or content and I use these changes to learn about myself and I take advantage of them for different elements of my life. As I mention in my blog I sometimes recall fondly the amazing skin I had when I was on Yaz – but this would never persuade me to go back on it.

    Choosing to take the Pill is such a complex decision for each person and in a way, my goal is to have every woman see it as such – rather than the situation we have now wherein many women don’t consider the decision at all.

    Interestingly research has been done in to possible indicators that could predict if a woman will experience a lot of negative side effects from the Pill. I have hope that this could aid in preventing women suffering unnecessarily.

  • Liz @ at 1:20 am, December 13th, 2011

    I think it depends on your body and the medication. I have friends who say that the pill literally makes them feel insane, while I’ve been on it for almost 5 years and have had no side effects. (Not even boobs growing!) I briefly went from low-hormones to the regular level of the brand I was using and thought that might change something… still no. But I really think it depends on the person because some people react really strongly to the pill while other people don’t at all. Being educated is key though.

  • Leah @ at 11:00 am, December 13th, 2011

    I doubt it was handed to you like candy. Read the label.

  • Erin @ at 4:40 pm, December 13th, 2011

    OMG I had no idea that any of them had any side effects. I can’t believe that our school nurse kept us ignorant of all of these possible side effects. I mean I was thinking of going onto it when I was older but this is seriously making me consider otherwise.

  • Leah @ at 1:43 pm, December 14th, 2011

    I’m kind of surprised and truthfully annoyed with this post and comments that treat advertisements or encouragement to try something by a school nurse or a doctor as the be-all end-all of the information you’re getting. With all the discussion surrounding how teen girls can’t be trusted to correctly take plan B, how do you think it will look to people that you can’t even take responsibility for your body and read the side effects before starting the pill? No one is hiding this information. It’s provided with the pill. How is anyone enforcing ignorance? Yaz is an exception to the rule of safety; the company that created it was caught lying to the FDA if I’m not mistaken. That makes Bayer kind of evil, but your doctor probably trusted you to read the list of side effects as she/he would for any medication- evil or not.

  • Holly Grigg-Spall @ at 3:07 pm, December 14th, 2011

    Leah – I appreciate your thoughts however the side effects I experienced were not listed in the insert provided with the Pills. Also, many of the possible impacts of the Pill (again not listed) such as vitamin deficiency and changed gastro-intestinal environment have knock on issues such as increased UTIs, bleeding gums, hair loss, and flu-like symptoms. The Pill has a whole body effect, changing every function in a woman’s body to some degree. It effects different women differently.

    Understanding how the Pill works is not just about knowing a list of side effects verified by research often completed within the confines of the pharmaceutical company without objective observation. Unfortunately there is very very little research being done into the emotional/psychological effects of the Pill.

    This information is being hidden – I read every week supposed ‘studies’ and articles that claim the Pill is just plain ‘safe and effective.’

    I totally agree we should all take responsibility for our selves and look around for more information about our contraceptive choices. I’m glad you do, but you should look beyond the insert. We must all be active, vigilant participants in society.

    I have spoken with many doctors and researchers who believe the progesterone Bayer lied about to the FDA is intrinsically bad for a person’s health – there is much more to this particular drug than increased chance of blood clots.

  • Leah @ at 7:03 am, December 15th, 2011

    I see what you’re saying now, but that’ snot how it was written in the article. The insert’s lack of information is a fault of the drug company, not the enforcement of ignorance by authority figures like doctors or school nurses. In some places in the article, it’s not even clear who is being vilified, such as “The general attitude behind giving teenage girls the Pill is that they should not know more than is absolutely necessary, that they can not be trusted to be responsible if armed with more knowledge and that they don’t know what’s good for them anyway.” Whose attitude is that anyway? If the drug companies are hiding information or lying, that’s one thing. It’s not a reason to claim that there’s this broad conspiratorial attitude amongst doctors, nurses, or other adults. The claims of conspiracy in this article are not well backed even if it is true that the pill does have a set of side effects that aren’t well-enough promoted by its creators. I blame the drug companies for ignorance of all the symptoms, not my gynecologist who in all likelyhood is just as ignorantly lied to as I am.

  • Holly Grigg-Spall @ at 2:39 pm, December 15th, 2011

    Leah – you’re right, they (my parents, the doctors, the teachers) are very likely as clueless as I was. Do check out my blog, which addresses this in far more detail than I was able to go into here – http://www.sweeteningthepill.blogspot.com – thanks for your thoughts!

  • Abby Spice @ at 2:06 am, December 16th, 2011

    I am awed by how irresponsible this post is.

  • Holly Grigg-Spall @ at 7:52 pm, December 16th, 2011

    Abby – do you care to expand on your thoughts? I’d be interested to know why you think that.

  • Abby Spice @ at 10:53 pm, December 16th, 2011

    Well, at least one commenter is now reconsidering using the Pill, and presumably other hormonal contraceptives. She’s not considering this based on the education you advocate, but on your blog post. You claim the pill is handed out like candy, when in fact many women in America have an incredibly difficult time acquiring contraceptives. I don’t know how old you are, but you’re older than 27, and English. So, not an American teenager.

    You make medical arguments against the Pill, though you’re not, as best I can tell, a medical professional. I won’t make medical arguments for the Pill, because I’m not either. But you do keep tossing off little comments admitting it can be helpful for things like heavy periods, and then essentially retracting them.

    I’m also not going to offer anecdotal evidence from myself or my friends, because I’m aware that anecdotal evidence is not a valid source for discussions like this. Unfortunately, the average teenage girl–I’m 23, with a degree in political science–isn’t aware of that, and may be swayed by your anecdotes.

    Teen pregnancy is a huge problem in America, and the Obama administration just made it worse. Discouraging teenage girls from *any* kind of birth control is a bad idea. If the Pill is what they have access to, I hope to god they take it.

    There are drawbacks and risks with the Pill, as there are with any medication. But for you to post something like this on a website aimed at impressionable teenagers is incredibly irresponsible. When I first saw the post, I assumed it was written by a teen, or a young adult, someone who didn’t know any better. I was wrong.

  • Holly Grigg-Spall @ at 6:20 pm, December 17th, 2011

    First of all, Abby – I didn’t post this on this site independently – I was asked to write on this topic by the editor of the site – a woman who I believe to be about your age and also at college.

    I understand your concerns, I have heard them many times before, but it is these very concerns that produce the culture I’m discussing, a culture in which young women are not told of the whole picture regarding the Pill. Many facts are instead withheld and many lies perpetuated in order to make sure that unwanted pregnancy is avoided. If young women understood their own bodies more fully, and understood how the Pill works they would not only be able to make their own consenting decision, but very likely be far better at avoiding unwanted pregnancy and STDs if they do decide to take the Pill (as I mentioned, they would not, if they chose to take the Pill, think they could miss and day or two without consequence as many do). They would also be able to attain more confidence in their changing bodies and confront new relationships with a more self-assured outlook, as I suggested. I have written some 50,000 words on this topic and I completely admit the impossibility of dealing with such a complex issue in one blog post.

    However, all-importantly, all teenage girls should be using condoms even if they are using the Pill. Studies have shown use of condoms and spermicide are far more effective in preventing pregnancy in young women than the Pill. Have you ever considered how many young women take the Pill and as such don’t worry about using condoms, because they ‘know’ they can’t get pregnant and so does their partner?

    Personally, as I state here, I think the costs are too high to NOT talk to young women about their choices and allow them to know the Pill MIGHT make them unwell, physically or psychologically.

    I really wish I had read something that suggested at the very least I reconsider the Pill before I experienced a nervous breakdown and came close to suicide. I think making the choice not to listen to individual women’s experiences on the Pill and only listen to medical practitioners (however many of which take pay-offs from pharmaceutical companies directly or indirectly, or work under the Victorian understanding that women are very, very suggestible creatures) is naive and not at all feminist in its motivation.

    It’s not conspiracy theory thinking to understand that the pharmaceutical industry is a billion dollar profit-making business and the Pill has one of the biggest consumer demographics of all drugs – taken by millions of women often for many years. Bayer pushed Yaz very aggressively despite its knowledge of the major drawbacks of the new progesterone drospirenone – how can you be so sure about anything on the topic of the Pill considering even just this recent development?

    Have you ever read Barbara Ehrenreich’s For Her Own Good? I suggest you give it a look.

  • Anna @ at 9:31 am, December 19th, 2011

    Holly,
    Thank you so much for this post. I took the pill from age 14 to 19. When it was given to me, I knew virtually nothing about it, except that it works best if you take it the same time every day and that it is “the best” way to avoid pregnant. I also knew that it had given my mom health issues when she was younger, but that apparently all problems with the pill had been fixed now.

    Well, I learned that was wrong. I stopped taking the pill because I was single and simply didn’t feel like renewing my prescription. Within that same month or two I started feeling really positive, awake, and alive. It was so dramatic that people around me noticed the change. I eventually realized that this burst of joy – which has not subsided in the three years I have been off the pill – synced up with when I quite the pill. I had been depressed for so long that I did not even know I was depressed. I thought that I was just an unhappy person. The fact that I was given the pill so young (I say given because as a young person, I trusted the adults who where there to take care of me, and I didn’t yet have the faculty to question their judgment) helped to blind me of its effects because I was going through abnormal hormonal changes (from the pill) while going through natural hormonal changes and personal development.

    (I was told that taking the pill helps relieve cramps too, but as soon as I stopped taking it, my cramps went from 3 bed ridden days of agony, to just a few hours for the first day.)

    I wholeheartedly agree with Holly that young women need to be more educated than they are about the affects of hormonal birth control. The pill works wonderfully for many women and it is certainly a decision that should be made on a case-to-case basis. But, it is important that women are informed about the affects that manipulating your hormones can have, be it in pill, patch, shot, hormonal IUD, or ring form, on your physical and emotional state. (I have been on the pill and on the ring) I was never told that the hormonal birth control could make you depressed and the only women I have met that do know that have found out the hard way like me.

    It is also very important to realize that many young people do use the pill as a substitute for condoms, ignoring the fact that they do not protect from STDs. Just because you are in a monogamous relationship, doesn’t mean your boyfriend/girlfriend is. I have been using condoms for the past three years and have had less pregnancy scares(virtually none) than I did when I was on the pill.

    It is important to view this discussion as a way to increase sexually active individuals’ knowledge about safe sex and not as a way to limit their access to it. I think Holly is doing a wonderful job by opening a new door for discussion about the pill and all hormonal birth control that many people want to ignore.

  • Leah @ at 10:49 am, December 19th, 2011

    Holly,

    I agree with Abby that this article is irresponsible, and besides that I think it’s poorly written.

    Take your first paragraph for example. You wrote about how you did what your Mom told you to do without question even though it had nothing to do with your needs at that moment and then you cite your rather horrible sex-ed class. To what end did you include this? What does that have to do with a conspiracy of ignorance keeping all teens from knowledge about their body? That’s just your personal experience of doing what your Mommy tells you and having a crappy sex-ed class (I’m sorry it was that horrible for you). These experiences, however, don’t belong in this article as any kind of evidence towards a broader social/ medical problem for every girl, so I hope you just intended it as unnecessary backstory. The way you made your personal decisions has little to do with anyone else.

    In your second paragraph you say you started to research the pill without bothering to say where you got your information for that research.

    You say a lot of side-effects aren’t well researched about the effects of Yaz and such, but I was on Yaz and I remember the list of side-effects, and I remember not being surprised by the really horrible ones that I experienced which sound incredibly similar to yours. Why wasn’t I surprised? Because you are flat out lying about the fact that the information isn’t provided to you. It’s in the packet that comes with it. It’s on their website. MOOD CHANGES (which would include anxiety, depression, irritability, SEVER FATIGUE, and DECREASED LIBIDO are all listed amongst them. There’s also information about vitamins and other common side effects. It’s pretty all encompassing. http://labeling.bayerhealthcare.com/pdf/information_you_need_to_know.pdf

    Maybe the adults/ teachers in your life sucked, but you should have had the faculty to read a label and make a logical leap between the words “mood change” and “anxiety”. Not hard. At the most, all you can say is that a lot of the adults in YOUR life encouraged ignorance or at least failed to encourage knowledge.

    So Yes, I do call you out on conspiracy theory. You still fail to cite anything besides your personal story to show a “culture” of predatory ignorance intended in the wider world beyond your narrow experience. I do call you out on conspiracy theory, because the most important information that might’ve given you fair warning from the beginning at 17 is right there on Yaz’s website, and I’m guessing most other birth control companies have behaved similarly.

    Furthermore, in your most recent comment, you presume to tell teenagers what they should be using for safe sex. It’s great to spread the word on good ways that could make sex better, but you don’t get to tell people what they ought to be doing. That’s for them to decide.

    You continually fail to cite any kind of source or proof outside of your anecdotes for claims such as various forms of birth control being “pushed” on young girls. If you want people to believe you, you need more.

  • Leah @ at 11:00 am, December 19th, 2011

    One more thing, just because your Mom pressured you to go on the pill to prevent pregnancy doesn’t mean that’s what’s being shoved on other girls either (If only we all had willing, loving, and economically capable parents). There are a lot of girls who can’t even access it, as Abby said, so your broad statement that this supposed crusade to end teen pregnancy is the only reason that we’re being encouraged to take the pill is also false. There are many reasons younger girls might benefit from the pill.

  • Leah @ at 11:11 am, December 19th, 2011

    I think this is a better example of what you should’ve had access to that pretty much covers all the things you claimed to never have been warned about: http://berlex.bayerhealthcare.com/html/products/pi/fhc/YAZ_PI.pdf?WT.mc_id=www.berlex.com

  • Leah @ at 11:24 am, December 19th, 2011

    You may have cited a few things that aren’t in that one pill’s packet. Unless you can provide me with statistics and sources beyond your own experiences to show that this is not something particular to you from an actual medical source, then you should probably stop claiming that it’s something other people should be too worried about. “Understanding how the Pill works is not just about knowing a list of side effects verified by research often completed within the confines of the pharmaceutical company without objective observation” IS NOT LEGITIMATE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE for an article or a anything that any other person should trust as medical advice, and you have no place giving it. If there’s no research to point to, then it’s not for you to fill in the gaps.

  • Holly Grigg-Spall @ at 5:58 pm, December 19th, 2011

    Leah – as I’ve said, please do take a look at my blog, as I of course can not fit into this space provided all of my research sources or the potential expansion of the thoughts expressed in this one guest post. Also please take a look at this article:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/11/business/11pill.html

    At the time I was taking Yaz the company did not cite those potential side effects and in fact promoted quite the opposite. Much has changed in terms of what has been said on the record by Bayer about Yaz since I took it. As you can read here, the FDA had the company retract many statements and this instigated a reversal and added information. At that time it was being prescribe to alleviate mood changes and anxiety.

    Also, please take a look at the great book ‘The Pill: Are You Sure It’s For You?’ by Jane Bennett and Alexandra Pope. This has stacks of medical background which really helped me at the start.

    http://www.amazon.com/Pill-Are-You-Sure-its/dp/1741750792

    As I’ve said, a few times now, if you read my blog I do cite many conversations with medical practitioners, those working with young women through Planned Parenthood and other such organizations, research scientists and even the assistant to Barbara Seaman herself – Laura Eldridge – who has also written an excellent book titled ‘In Our Control’ -

    http://www.sevenstories.com/book/?GCOI=58322100340580

    as well as many, many young women – such as Anna (see comment above).

    I’m not sure you should be berating me for not reading a label when you are refusing to read my blog where you will find much of what you are asking for here. Hence why it is linked to within the guest post.

    (I think if you had experienced, or spoken to those who have experienced, an impact from the Pill similar to that I suffered under you might not be so quick to be so damning here, and frankly, very insensitive – you actually seem to be suggesting I, and other women, DESERVED to suffer which I find quite offensive.)

  • leah @ at 11:26 am, December 21st, 2011

    The fact that there may be more information in your blog does not negate the fact that this article is misleading and poorly written.

    I also have already said I DID experience an effect from the pill that was truly horrific. I was so fatigued that I couldn’t open a goddamn door, or stand up in a bath tub after taking a bath. I was so anxious I started to skip classes, so don’t imply that I’m simply lacking in empathy. It’s really none of your business what my medical history is, but I’ll tell you that much. I’m not saying you deserved to suffer. Nowhere in there is any kind of implication that you deserve to suffer, only that it is unfair to blame other people for your ignorance.

    YOu’ve failed to engage with most of my points and Abby’s for that matter in any constructive way, so I’m done arguing with you until you can actually form an argument (You’ve especially avoided facing the realization that your personal experiences have nothing to do with anyone else).

    I’ll have to look up information to see whether Yaz knew about the side effects long before they published them, but the fact is that they eventually DID publish these things. I think this indicates that they aren’t conspiring to lie to you. It’s possible that when confronted with the fact that it was having adverse effects, they published it.

  • leah @ at 11:28 am, December 21st, 2011

    It also means that while your article may have had a tiny bit of relevance in the past, it’s not a problem anymore because the information IS NOW AVAILABLE.

  • leah @ at 11:37 am, December 21st, 2011

    Calling me offensively un-empathetic btw, is called a fallacy. My levels of empathy have nothing to do with what I said. Pretty classic logical screw up. For you, I recommend this book: http://www.amazon.com/Asking-Right-Questions-Critical-Thinking/dp/0205506682/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1324485374&sr=1-1

  • leah @ at 11:43 am, December 21st, 2011

    And if you can’t convey what you meant to convey in your article, I am in no way obligated to sift through your blog.

  • leah @ at 11:53 am, December 21st, 2011

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/11/business/11pill.html

    As a side note, I think this has broader implications for how drugs are advertised. I don’t particularly like the way drugs are advertised directly to consumers. I can see how this kind of stuff might have contributed to your ignorance. I agree that this was really messed up.

    But one bad advertising campaign by one evil drug company does not mean there was or is a conspiracy on the part of every drug company, doctor, teacher, and parent to keep you in the dark about your body.

    And they were forced to change it, ergo (one more time) the info is now out there.

  • Jane Bennett @ at 7:43 pm, December 24th, 2011

    Clearly this issue stirs up a lot of emotion. Holly has referenced a great deal of very good material, which I recommend anyone interested or concerned about hormonal contraception go to. What I want to add is that having worked professionally with women and girls for over thirty years I have heard thousands of stories about the side effects of the pill, and other hormonal contraception, many horrific and life-changing. Some of these are effects that are legally bound to be mentioned in the pill inserts (in tiny print and worded very carefully to suggest that even if you have this effect its quite possibly not the pill anyway). Many other side-effects are proven through rigorous research, but are not yet required to be passed on to patients. Given that girls are put on the pill as young as 12, and most women who go on it do so before they leave their teens, should we expect them, and their parents – if they even know their daughter is taking the drug – to fully research all side-effects, especially when their well-meaning health professional assures them it’s safe? Without name-calling I don’t think this is realistic and in most cases simply doesn’t happen. So what to do? 1) I would recommend girl’s not be put on the pill for therapeutic reasons when there are wonderful therapies for menstrual and skin problems 2)Acknowledging the important issue of contraception and teen pregnancy: I would like to see broad-based, respectful and empowering education about fertility, relationships, sexuality and sexual health (inc. a range of effective contraception) – research shows this kind of education delays sexual activity – acknowledging that for heterosexual women contraception is likely to be an issue for decades of her, and her partner’s, lives and the more expert she is about her own body, cycles, fertility, health and emotionals the more capable she will be of choosing the right contraception for specific circumstances. This may be a tall order given that many young women don’t have even basic education about sex and fertility, let alone access to contraception, however there are millions of other young women who are only offered a limited formulaic pill+condom option, experience awful side-effects without adequate monitoring, have their symptoms dismissed, and often go off the pill without consultation and without adequate contraception (there are several very effective alternatives, when understood and used properly). I am not concerned with pointing fingers at who is responsible for this – I believe as a society we collude in this together, and for some good reasons, like wanting to offer good/easy/cheap (to deliver) contraception. However at this moment in history, when the rhetoric is that now we have modern contraceptive methods this issue is mostly solved, we are skipping over some very important and very serious problems, a genuinely empowering approach to contraception for all is still a long way off . In the mean time I think it is very important to listen to the experiences of girls and young women, and look clear-eyed and creatively at what these stories are telling us.

  • Eric Graham @ at 9:46 pm, December 29th, 2011

    Good post. There is enough meat here to get my full attention and cause me to share it with others. I own a Drug Testing facility and it’s important for me to see what others insights are with relation to drug abuse to see how what I do could fits in with that. Thanks- I bookmarked your blog and I’ll be back to see what else you post that I can learn from.

  • Society for Menstrual Cycle Research : » Why Women Menstruate, Yeast Infection Myths, and Other Weekend Links @ at 8:02 am, December 31st, 2011

    [...] old friend, Holly Grigg-Spall, has written a great piece at f-bomb about why young women should think twice about whether the pill (or other long-acting methods [...]

  • Laura Wershler @ at 12:19 pm, December 31st, 2011

    It obviously takes courage to be an advocate for change. Having your opinions respectfully challenged is one thing; choosing to respond to aggressively offensive criticism is quite another. Brava to Holly Grigg-Small for being willing to take it on the chin when her commentary strikes a discordant chord with some readers.

    It is interesting how this opinion post has generated such bi-polar comments. In sharp contrast are the 82 comments generated by a post on nomoredirtylooks.com about a woman in Paris looking for advice about coming off the pill.

    http://nomoredirtylooks.com/2011/11/whats-your-take-on-the-pill-and-what-happens-when-you-go-off-it-a-girl-in-paris-needs-help/

    If ever we needed evidence that women’s personal experiences matter most, not least, when it comes to discussion about the effects of the Pill and other hormonal contraception on women’s lives, then the girl-in-Paris post provides it.

    One thing is for certain, and this is one of the points I believe Holly is trying to make: As women to whom these drugs are offered, we need to become better informed about the potential ill effects of the Pill and what we can do if we experience them, including learning how to use non-hormonal birth control methods confidently and effectively.

    I’ve been a pro-choice sexual and reproductive health advocate for over 25 years. In my opinion, we have reached a point where the Pill (and other hormonal contraception) has become the “standard of care” medical treatment for being a girl. There is little knowledge or awareness within the medical profession or the sexual health community of how healthy ovulatory menstruation is intricately related to all aspects of women’s health. You can find information about these health benefits at http://www.cemcor.ubc.ca and http://www.menstruationresearch.org/blog

    Fortunately, commentaries such as this one challenge our thinking about the value of subverting our menstrual cycles with hormonal contraception. And asks deep questions about why we are doing it.

  • leah @ at 1:13 am, January 5th, 2012

    Actually Laura, if this article had been written in the way that a few of the last few commenters have written, I probably wouldn’t have taken issue with it. I’m all for people getting access to more important information and taking a broad look at how they deal with their cycles and controlling fertility. What I think is the problem with this article is that it lacks the kind of resources so many other people have posted, fails to connect the personal experience with broader facts (about, say, the atrocious state of sex-ed in high schools or something), and that it has a hyperbolic conspiratorial attitude that makes doctors/other adults into candy giving strangers with some kind of crazy pill agenda that overrides all medical concerns of an individual; it’s just a little uncharitable to docs and drug companies. I think the possibility that there is little knowledge/awareness of certain relationships demonstrates a need for research by the medical community, not accusations that there’s a conspiracy out there to turn us all into pill-taking robots, and all I want to see from someone is something beyond personal authority/experience that would indicate to me that the pill is really a, “standard of care” (it’s not that I don’t believe you; I just want to see some stats or a story on it or something). Your interpretation is a charitable one that I could get on board with for the most part.

  • N @ at 1:19 pm, February 27th, 2014

    Yeah, not buying it.

    http://bitchmagazine.org/post/dissecting-sweetening-the-pill-a-completely-frustrating-new-book-on-birth-control

    http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/09/_sweetening_the_pill_by_holly_grigg_spall_reviewed.html

    “There are a lot of girls who can’t even access it, as Abby said, so your broad statement that this supposed crusade to end teen pregnancy is the only reason that we’re being encouraged to take the pill is also false. There are many reasons younger girls might benefit from the pill.”

    I also agree with this, heavily.

    Holly, with all due respect, I can’t help but to feel that your lenses are coloured as a privileged, middle-class white women.

    I concur that information should be available, absolutely——but the science denialism and straw men of these options are somewhat dubious.

    On a purely anecdotal level, it was quite difficult for me, as someone who doesn’t have the same kind of privilege, to get hormonal birth control and no where did I see it being “handed out like candy”. I was also suffering quite a bit, mind you. But there is a plethora of information and so many hoops to jump through to be able to access it, from my position.

    Frankly, I’d rather have these resources be made more accessible. Information isn’t much of an issue. But I do feel like there is an undertone attacking accessibility which I do not think is fair to impoverished and minority women.

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