A Tough Pill to Swallow

Nestled in the Centre for Immunology and Infection is YorSexual Health, a great location for a sexual health clinic. 

YorSexual Health has recently changed from being a drop-in clinic to an appointment-based one, and in short, it’s now slightly less accessible, and a lot less noticeable. NHS cuts are nothing new, and YorSexual Health is not in any way to blame for the interruptive side effects many women experience using birth control. But in the UK, women experiencing bad reactions to birth control are met with cultural blinkers. With the NHS on the brink of collapse, we need to invest more into medical understanding. Here at York, we need to consider the consequences of drug-taking on student performance and well-being. This means making more of a fuss about sexual health. 

Roughly one third of women between 16-24 use long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) – the implant, the IUD, the IUS or the injection. The percentage of women using LARCs in favour of the oral contraceptive pill has risen over the past twenty years, according to a study by the NHS. The reasons for this are put down to how much less fuss is involved when you don’t have to think about taking a pill every day. But for young women, the idea of going through a (usually painful) procedure to get one of these LARCs can be quite intimidating, altering your body for years at a time when your own future is hard to predict. So how about the more pressing reasons for switching from the pill, like all the punishing side effects that come with it?

Nausea, weight gain and headaches are all common side effects that don’t exactly put you in the mood for studying. They can be causes in themselves for lower self-esteem, not even considering that lower self-esteem usually goes hand in hand with some of the stronger, but still common, side effects. Depression, anxiety, and blood clots are common complaints.

A Danish study found that women taking combined contraceptives were 23% more likely to be treated with antidepressants for the first time. The risk was higher – 34%– for those taking progestogen-only pills (POP). The progesterone-only pill automatically prescribed by the NHS, Regivdon, is also widely reported for being a nightmare. An anti-Regividon petition, sparked by 21 year old Fallan Kurek’s fatal blood clot, received 27,045 signatures in 2018, yet nothing came of it. More recently, the second most prescribed pill by the NHS, Microgynon 30, has begun receiving just as many complaints, with women taking the pill complaining of new symptoms, instead of a stop to the old side effects. 

Dr Sarah E Hill, in her book How the Pill Changes Everything: Your Brain on Birth Control, talks about how the female personality can be heavily altered depending on what contraception you use, and her psychological findings feel pertinent for campus. How are the dynamics of seminar rooms being affected by cheap pills? Is this an unspoken obstacle female students face when studying? 

The worry for unwanted pregnancies will always be an outweighing concern. But, we still need to be warned in schools – or the doctor’s office – of the extent  of the effects these pills can have on our personalities, bodies and minds. Whether it’s you or your partner, you need to be prepared for the side effect minefield that birth control can be. This is a ubiquitously common drug; the sooner we are made aware of how this affects us as individuals in society, the better.