Is hormonal birth control safe?

By Kersley Fitzgerald

"You were right," my good friend said. "I went off the pill two weeks ago, and I already feel more like myself."

"No, I won't use the pill," said my friend the ER doc. "One of the ways it prevents pregnancy is to keep a fertilized egg from implanting. As far as I'm concerned, that's abortion."

"I went back on because my endometriosis was about killing me," said another woman. "I'm still in pain, and I feel like my IQ's dropped 25 points, but I'm sure happier!"

"No, don't let her go on the pill," a family friend told his newly-engaged kid brother twenty years ago. "Don't do that to her body. My friend and I are going to just chip in on a big box of condoms."

What is it that frat boys, twenty years ago, knew that the medical field has been so slow to let on?

There are two main types of hormonal contraceptives. The first, which contains estrogen and progestin, suppresses ovulation. Those with only progestogen reduce the frequency of ovulation. But both inhibit the ability of the uterine wall to accept the implantation of a fertilized egg — a discovery that can be very shocking to pro-lifers. Hormonal contraceptives come in oral form ("the pill"), implants, shots, vaginal inserts, and skin patches.

Pharmacologists are careful to list potential side effects, such as blood clots, some cancers, and heart disease among women who are already susceptible. Until recently, these warnings tended to highlight the serious medical risks while ignoring secondary issues like behavioral changes. Recently, scientific studies have brought to light interesting findings about hormonal contraceptives — findings that astute women (and frat boys) have passed along among themselves for years.

Loss of libido. The synthetic hormones found in birth control can wreak havoc with a woman's libido. When strenuous exercise is added, the effect can be even worse. Scientists are still unsure if it's the decrease of testosterone or the increase of a particular protein, but this is one of the classic side effects that were known by women long before the medical field admitted the possibility. In addition to the loss of libido, hormonal birth control can make sexual relations less enjoyable and even painful. God created sex to be an enjoyable and important part of the intimacy of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:5). Anything that prevents this intimacy can cause problems within the marriage relationship. Sometimes a change in birth control can help, but if a quick fix can't be found, women need to remember that the exhortation for spouses to maintain a good relationship means that if there is a problem, the couple should aggressively seek a solution.

Partner choice. Pheromones and body odor have more of an influence on who we choose as a partner than we realize. Usually, people are attracted to others whose odor indicates they are genetically different. But when on hormonal birth control, not only does the woman tend to choose men who are more similar, she is chemically less attractive to dissimilar men. This has a couple of potential repercussions. If a woman is on hormonal birth control when she chooses her mate, she will be less likely to become pregnant because of the genetic similarities. In addition, when she goes off birth control, she will be less attracted to her mate. Conversely, if a woman waits until after she's in a committed relationship to go on birth control, she may find her mate less attractive while on it. Whether decreased interest occurs after she starts or stops taking birth control, it could adversely affect her marriage as she inadvertently finds herself more attracted to men other than her husband.

Altered memory. While any hormonal birth control can change memory so that emotional events are clearer while details are lost, the hormonal shot seems to impair memory permanently. This is a difficult issue to judge, because the loss of memory may have less of an effect on a woman's contribution to the Kingdom of God (not to mention her marriage!) than the positive effect caused by her improved disposition. Prayer should definitely be a part of the decision.

Of course, there are advantages to hormonal birth control. Many women experience clearer skin, less pain, and better moods. Still, it can't be stressed enough that taking hormone birth control can cause spontaneous abortion. A woman who is abstinent or already infertile can take it for symptom regulation. But, ironically, it is not to be recommended as a primary form of preventing pregnancy. Instead, a barrier method in conjunction with natural family planning should be considered.

Image Credit: Nate Grigg; "Not 100% Effective"; Creative Commons

TagsChristian-Life  | Controversial-Issues  | Health-Wellness

comments powered by Disqus
Published 5-16-12