What is The Pill REALLY Doing to Your Body?

What is The Pill REALLY Doing to Your Body?

How does it work and will it make you feel like you're in the swingin' sixties

combined pill muncher
Warning: Contains explicit content ♦ & is not to be used as medical advice ♥ Disclaimer here

The Pioneer. The combined pill was the first ever hormonal contraceptive and was a revolutionary new way of preventing pregnancy; discrete and entirely at a woman's control. 

It is often given the credit for women’s Sexual Liberation. Which is a mighty f*cking accolade and certainly is an interesting assertion.

Interesting; because it is common knowledge that the pill reduces the sex drive of many women who take it and may also affect fertility later in life or cause crippling depression. None of which is particularly liberating. And none of which seems likely to make anyone scream ‘MAKE LOVE TO ME BECAUSE I AM AN ALMIGHTY GODDESS AND FEELING FREE AS A BIRD!’ (which I imagine people were liable to do in a 60's acid-fuelled orgy).

However, when the pill came about in the sixties the oppression of women was far more overt; one of the most striking examples being that rape inside marriage was perfectly legal (and was until the 90's F.F.S. people). Taking the pill was an incredible new way for women to have control over their reproductive lives in a society that did not even grant them legal ownership of their own bodies. See Loretta Lynn’s country song ‘The Pill’ for a jaunty country and western representation of the freeing power of the pill.

Obama and Loretta Lynn
U.S. President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to country music legend Loretta Lynn Image cc: mcclatchydc

 

The combined pill has remained incredibly popular but is now starting to fall out of fashion in favour of new low-dose contraceptives that are purported to cause fewer side effects, but in practise seem to be just as flawed, if not worse.

So is the combined pill an olden but a good'un? Before deciding whether you fancy trying it you must understand what it does to your body...

HOW DOES IT WORK?

How exactly does the pill prevent the much feared pitter patter of tiny feet? After you swallow the pill your digestive system breaks it down and the synthetic hormones disperse into your bloodstream and make their way to your brain.

The big hit of synthetic progestogen and estrogen triggers your brain to release less FSH and LH; hormones that are required for growing and releasing an egg. If there is no mature egg floating around for the sperm to find - there is no pregnancy. Excellent.

FSH and LH effect on egg

But nothing in life is simple and the pill doesn't strictly stick to it's job.

The first thing you should be aware of is that estrogen and progestogen don't just control your fertility; they have effects almost everywhere in your body including places like your bones, heart and hair. The second important point is that the pill contains synthetic versions of estrogen and progestogen; you are not merely ‘adding a bit more’ of what occurs naturally in your body. For example estradiol (natural estrogen) improves insulin sensitivity, whereas ethinyl estradiol (the common synthetic estrogen used in the pill) impairs it. Impaired insulin sensitivity is what puts people on the road to diabetes, ie not good.

To summarise:

  • the pill uses synthetic hormones to prevent ovulation
  • hormones affect fertility and numerous other bodily processes
  • synthetic hormones are not the same as natural ones and cause some undesirable effects
HOW DO YOU TAKE IT?

Swallow for 21 days, at roughly the same time every day, and then have a 7 day break (or take dummy pills), this is when you will bleed.

The scientists who worked on the original Pill formula added in the regular pill break for marketing purposes - totally irrelevant to any medical or contraceptive ends.

They realised women who took the pills with no break found it incredibly unsettling to have no 'period' (whereas nowadays the concept of menstrual suppression is fairly normal). The scientists added in the pill break so that women would have a reassuring monthly bleed and therefore be happier to take the product. FYI you do not have a real period when you take hormonal contraception.

'FAB-U-LOUS!' you might be thinking, 'if it's just a marketing gimmick I'll skip the break so that I don't have to endure any pointless withdrawal bleeds!'

image cc: insta @trophywifebarbie

more pills less pants. insta @trophywifebarbie

You could wear no pants in bed whenever the f*ck you wanted..

There are already pills available that achieve this, such as Seasonale that you can take for 84 days in a row. However, the fewer pill breaks you have the more pills you are taking overall... which means cumulatively you are ingesting more synthetic hormones. As a general rule of thumb the fewer chemicals you have floating around your body the better.

Please note: the Less Is More rule can only be applied when you are comparing the exact same types of synthetic hormones and the exact same method of delivery. (Different types of synthetic hormones have different effects even at the same doses)

To summarise:

  • you usually take the pills for 21 days in a row followed by a 7 day break
  • this pattern can be adjusted to avoid withdrawal bleeds (always consult your doctor on the correct dosage)
HOW EFFECTIVE IS IT?

This pill is sometimes purported to be 99% effective, which means 1 in 100 women will get pregnant in one year of use. This is the THEORETICAL - PERFECT USE - statistic.

Typical use efficacy is 91%;

The more meticulous you are in taking the pills correctly; the better the efficacy. Although there are also other factors to consider that mess with the pill’s power, such as gaining a lot of weight or taking other drugs. Melatonin is one such drug that lowers the pill’s efficacy...

So if you're going on holiday to get laid you're just going to have to put up with the jet lag I'm afraid.

Now you know what the combined pill actually isBut what’s it like to take? Move on to Part 2 for a round up of all the Advantages & Disadvantages

♦ Over to You ♦

Did you know the difference between your natural hormones and the ones in the pill? Is it a surprise to learn its real efficacy rate? Leave your thoughts and comments below!

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