Contraception: Here I Am, Stuck in the Middle with You

The modern rhythm method, the coil, the injection, the list feels never-ending. But with new evidence confirming that the pill is bad for your mental health, what’s next? 

Guess what ladies, the pill is officially fucking you up. Yes, you heard correctly, it’s official (I know, about time right). Despite the pill becoming readily available in the 1960s, only now are we seeing a surge in affirmative evidence that it’s bad for both your physical and mental health. So, what now? Well, whilst abstaining from sex would be the easiest and most cost effective method of contraception, where’s the reality (or let’s face it, the fun) in that?

Earlier this year, BBC Woman’s Hour and The Debrief’s ‘Mad About the Pill’ series conducted a survey amongst its audience, concluding that 43% of women currently taking the contraceptive pill have suffered from depression. Sadly, it comes as no surprise. If you’ve never explored the recognised side effects of the pill, look away now (no, honestly, save yourself). The less than pleasant side effects often include nausea, headaches, weight gain and severe cramping.

A study into the long term effects of the contraceptive pill conducted by the Karolinska Instutet in Sweden also found evidence to suggest that the pill decreases your mood, energy levels, self-control and general well-being (wonderful, right?). Led by Professional Angelica Linden Hirschberg, the study conducted on 340 healthy women aged between 18 and 35 over a period of three months saw them treated with either placebos or contraceptive pills.

The contraceptive pill they were administered contained the hormones ethinylestraiol and levonorgestrel, the most common form of contraceptive pill in many countries around the world. Unaware of what pill they were being administered, those given contraceptive pills estimated their quality of life to be sufficiently lower. But are we even surprised?

Whilst on Migrogynon 30 (the combined pill), my mood swings were insatiable. I suffered relentlessly from impulsive rages and frequent unprovoked bouts of anxiety. The pill fractured my personality, accentuating my pre-existing depression and causing me to revert into a shadow of the person I used to be.

After a tiresome six years of choosing to put hormonal contraceptives into my body, I decided that enough was enough: now was the right time for a change. But then along it came, the inevitable dilemma plaguing the lives of women across the world, what is the viable alternative to the pill?

If you type the words ‘alternatives to’ into Google, one of the first predicted results that appears is ‘alternatives to the pill’. Looks like we’re not alone in this then, ladies. “Many women come to me at the end of their tether, desperately searching for the perfect, harmless form of contraception”, notes Dr J Cave, a visiting practitioner at St Pancras Hospital in London. “Sadly, there isn’t one. Each individual case is different. Every woman’s body reacts differently to hormonal contraceptives.”

But, what exactly are the alternatives to the combined pill? Well, firstly we have the mini-pill, a pill taken with no breaks throughout the month that contains only one hormone – lovely little old progestogen. Similarly, there’s the contraceptive injection. An injection (also containing progestogen) that’s administrated by a health professional which lasts for around 12-13 weeks.

Alongside this, there’s the contraceptive patch and the implant which also work by releasing progestogen into the body gradually over time. Then yes girls, I’m going to say it. Last in show is the IUD coil, a small device planted into the womb by a doctor or nurse that prevents a fertilised egg from being implanted into the womb. Whilst it’s less than appealing for the majority, it’s sometimes effective and useful for others.

Regardless, all of the above forms of contraception still contain powerful and often damaging hormones, that can be attributed to chemical imbalances in the body. “I’ve tried 4 or 5 different methods of hormonal contraception”, notes Sarah Campbell, 23. “I just don’t find the idea of pumping hormones into my body on the regular a very attractive or healthy prospect.”

The only method of contraception that decimates the risk of harmful side effects is your back to basics simple rhythm method. More than likely favoured by your Grandparents as oppose to yourself, it consists of counting the days following your period in order to predict when you’ll next ovulate, then simply avoiding sex or using additional contraception during this time. It relies on a pattern emerging from your previous cycles, which consequently leaves no room for marginal human error.

However, the advancement in technology has revolutionised natural family planning, presenting itself as a much more effect and accessible means of contraception. By refashioning itself as the fertility awareness method (FAM for short), many women have ditched hormonal contraceptives in favour of the Daysy fertility tracker.

The Daysy fertility tracker is a highly sensitive thermometer that takes an accurate reading of the lowest body temperature attained during sleep and then feeds this data into its inbuilt computer system that uses a complex algorithm to figure out if you’re currently fertile or not. When used efficiently and correctly, its manufacturers claim it is 99.3% accurate (the same accuracy rating as the combined pill). NHS health professionals note that if natural methods are used properly, they can be 99% effective in preventing you from pregnancy.

“It really gives me control over my body, without the risk of awful side effects”, notes Amy Anderson, 26 who uses the Daysy as her main form of contraception. “Not only that but it’s given me the chance to really get to know how my body works and to really understand my cycles. I feel so much better using natural methods of contraception than I ever did on the combined pill or the implant.”

Whilst there are no one size fits all answers to the debate about effective and non-damaging methods of contraception (no golden beacon of hope, sorry girls), the introduction of modernised fertility trackers alongside the continuation of trials into herbal contraceptives perhaps suggest that things are slowly but surely moving in the right direction. One thing I can say for certain is that we’re desperate for a revolution in contraceptive options.