Happy Birthday Pill!

by Elissa Stein

It’s almost impossible to comprehend that less than 100 years ago sending information about birth control through the mail was considered not only illicit and obscene, but was illegal as per the Comstock Act of 1873. It wasn’t until the 1930s that doctors were allowed to distribute information and contraceptives across state lines. And when the pill first went on sale, it was illegal to practice birth control in some parts of the country. It took a Supreme Court decision in 1965 to strike that down. The Court had to take a stand again, in 1972, when they declared unmarried women were entitled to purchase contraceptives.  

That wasn’t all that long ago.  

Today, birth control pills are so much more than just birth control. From the beginning, in fact, before they were official sold for pregnancy prevention, doctors prescribed them for menstrual management, to minimize debilitating cramps, to staunch overwhelming flow. And the pill is still often prescribed for that. I started taking them at 16, after spending four days a month wrapped around a hot water bottle, pain ripping through my abdomen. Long before sex was even a nascent thought, I started on my first pill pack and spent the next 10 years not suffering as I had been. So, thank you pill. You kept my cramps from taking over my life.  

But recently, the pill has started wearing a new hat: that of lifestyle choice. Not only can pregnancy be avoided and cramps relegated to a distant memory, menstruation itself is in jeopardy. Re-branding the pill as menstrual suppression means it’s far easier to advertise than straight up birth control and pharmaceutical companies are making the argument, in TV commercials, online, and in print, that periods should be a thing of the past. Why worry about a ruined yoga class, an interrupted weekend away, why suffer from PMS and perimenopausal symptoms, why subject yourself to “anger, irritability, feeling anxious, headaches, muscle aches, changes in appetite” (symptoms of PMDD, which Yaz claims their pill can help eradicate) if you can avoid them?  

Good question. 

But here’s another valid one: what does years and years of taking chemicals do to our bodies in the long run? Yes, the pill’s now been around long enough to see long-term results. But, every body is different. And as our environment changes, as more and more people opt for long-term lifestyle medications, as our diets contain more and more additives, how are we internally dealing with that potentially toxic mix?  

Something to think about.

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