The Reality of Birth Control

5 min read

Moira Weinstein ’25

Contributing Writer

Birth control is a term that encompasses an extremely broad range of methods that prevent pregnancy and often provide balance for those with hormone disorders like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Although condoms are the only form of birth control that prevents sexually transmitted diseases and infections, they are often coupled with other contraceptives that have more long-term effectiveness and do not rely on spur-of-the-moment action. The reality is, people forget to use condoms, actively choose not to or, in the case of sexual assault and rape, cannot. According to the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, five percent of female rape victims become pregnant when within reproductive age (12-45). Needless to say, it is extremely important for young people with female reproductive organs to adopt a form of birth control that does not involve a partner. But, what are the side effects of birth control?

To name a few forms of contraception, there is the IUD (Intrauterine Device), which is 99% effective; the pill, which is 91% effective; and condoms, which are just 85% effective according to Planned Parenthood. These are some of the most common forms, and they each accompany a long list of symptoms. Talking to a few birth control users, I discovered the shared trauma that has accompanied these methods. Kiki Kahn, a 21-year-old college student in New York City, shared her long journey of contraceptives, starting when she was just 15 years old. When she first decided she needed birth control, she began with the pill, a combination of progestin and estrogen that prevents conception and menstrual bleeding respectively. She soon switched to a progestin-only pill. Kahn relayed that she experienced moodiness, irregular bleeding, terrible cramping, severe and prolonged Premenstrual Syndrome and many other symptoms. In 2021, when she was 18, Khan got her IUD implanted. She was faced with “a resident in training who was performing the procedure for the first time” instead of her female gynecologist whom she formerly agreed upon. Because of this, combined with the intense pain of the procedure that is accompanied only by Tylenol, Kahn says it was “not pleasant in the slightest.” In addition, she discussed how it caused an internal “disharmony” that mimicked an urinary tract infection along with excruciating cramps and breakthrough bleeding. In fall 2023, she switched out her IUD for a new one with a higher dosage because she wanted to avoid the stress of monthly menstrual cycles. The procedure went better, she says, because she knew what to expect going in. However, Kahn made an appointment for the removal of the device just two months later, in December of 2023, after suddenly gaining 10 pounds in under one month. 

As of March 2024, Kahn is off all forms of birth control, and despite the emotional and physical turmoil of previous methods, does not prefer the natural lifestyle. Although there are benefits,  such as the absence of cramps and not having to remember to take a pill or endure a painful procedure, Kahn says her body is not used to natural hormone regulation after six years of contraception. She has experienced a menstrual cycle every two weeks and severe mental instability for four months, but hopes that her mind and body will adjust to an absence of these forms of birth control. Yet, for right now, Khan is dealing with the withdrawal of medicine that most young girls are given without proper education and says, “I hate it.”

While Kahn dealt with the ordeal of discontinuing birth control at a very young age, Bonnie Smith, a 35-year-old mom of two tells me about her own long journey with several of the same methods. Smith suffers from PCOS and has taken birth control mostly to regulate hormones and prevent ovarian cysts. When she was younger, she was on the pill but was met with intense mood changes and irritability. Thus, three years ago she got an IUD. During the procedure she was “in pain and mortified” — it was “traumatizing.” For a year, she experienced spotting, mood swings and even contracted bacterial vaginosis for the first time. In 2022, she unfortunately had to have surgery for two large cysts that developed, despite being told the IUD is preventative of this, even saying she would not be on any form of birth control if not for the control of cysts and hormones. Overall, Smith says that “there’s more negatives than positives” to contraceptives. 

After hearing these accounts of intense turmoil surrounding forms of birth control, I felt less alone in my own experience with it. I have taken the progestin-estrogen pill for three years and have gained significant weight and dealt with extreme mood swings, irregular bleeding and UTI-like symptoms. It’s so important to be proactive in regard to pregnancy prevention, but it’s also crucial to learn about what these means entail. It might just be a tiny pill, a small device, a circular insertion, a forgotten arm-implant or some other method, but with it comes so much more.

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