A problem exists with the way medicine is currently practiced. One issue is that things really aren't set up so doctors can get to know their patients well, thoroughly answer all questions and concerns, and also adequately inform their patients of all options and the ramifications of each one. A 15 minute office visit just doesn't lend itself to this. This is true in the area of birth control just as anywhere else. Overworked doctors, little rapport, a multi-billion dollar contraceptive industry, and incomplete education for OB/GYNs can make it difficult for patients to really know what happens to their bodies with any given birth control method. I passionately believe that women deserve to know how their bodies naturally work and how each form of contraception interferes with their natural functioning. How can they give informed consent without it?
Many women know that the pill can cause blood clots, stroke, heart attack, weight gain, and decreased libido. Less well-known is that it is classified as a group one carcinogen for breast, liver, and cervical cancers,1 which is the same classification as cigarettes and asbestos. This risk is highest for women who have not yet had a full-term pregnancy. While it is true that the pill decreases risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers, these are rather rare types which most women have little risk of, while breast cancer is the most common cancer death among women of childbearing age. I hope your doctor has told you of these side effects if you are on the pill.
Here is something that you probably were not informed of: the pill ages the cervix about two years for every one year of use. This is one reason why pill use can lead to infertility later on (and why the contraceptive industry fuels the multi-billion dollar infertility industry). The cervix produces different types of cervical fluid, and each type has a different function. When a woman is in the infertile part of her cycle, her body produces a type of cervical fluid that blocks sperm from entering her cervix and uterus. During the 100 hours of her cycle when a woman is capable of becoming pregnant, her cervix produces types of fluid that protect, nourish, and guide sperm to her possibly waiting egg, as well as filtering out defective sperm. One function of the pill is that it changes her cervix so that it increases the amount of crypts that make the fluid that blocks sperm and decreases the amount of crypts that aid conception. This process happens naturally with age, but it happens twice as fast for pill-users.
The pill also changes her chemistry and cellular function as to make a woman more susceptible to getting HIV/AIDS and other STDs.2 Pill-use increases susceptibility to HIV/AIDS, increases the rate of replication of the HIV virus, and speeds the debilitating effects of the disease. Pill and Depo-Provera use is a likely reason why more women have HIV than men.
The pill causes so many hormonal and physical changes in a woman's body that it seems there are always new discoveries about yet another way the pill affects a woman's body. Several studies have shown that the pill also affects the Major Histo-Compatibility (MHC) complex,3 which plays a role in immune function. Non pill-users are more attracted to a mate that has different MHC genes than her own. Though research is ongoing, it is suspected that this aids the immune function of their offspring, as the children would have a more complete MHC profile. Pill-users, however, are more attracted to MHC-similar mates, which leads some to suspect pill-use as contributing to the growing rate of children now dealing with various immune disorders.
IUDIn a healthy woman, the uterus is sterile. When an IUD is inserted, her body recognizes this as a foreign object and tries to expel it. Her uterus will contract, become inflamed, and shed its inner lining in an effort to remove the IUD, sometimes for months. Excessive bleeding can lead to anemia. For IUDs that contain hormones, these will reduce bleeding and cramping, but it has synthetic hormones and carries the same risks as the pill.
IUD makers warn that users are at greater risk of developing Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, which can lead to infertility, hysterectomy, and even death. IUD users are at greater risk of developing pelvic infections.4 IUD users are at greater risk of getting yeast infections and Bacterial Vaginosis (BV),5 which is a change in the normal bacteria in the vagina. With BV there is more pathogenic bacteria than healthy bacteria. A BV infection can increase a woman's risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. Other risks of IUD use include perforation of the uterus, uterine embedment of the IUD, infertility, and ectopic pregnancy. When an IUD fails, the pregnancy is extremely high risk to both baby and mother. Although I was unable to find scholarly articles on this, a suspicious number of women on various forums and other sites seem to have experienced their first seizure after IUD-insertion.
Depo ProveraDepo Provera is an injection of the synthetic hormone progestin. One function of the shot is that it alters a woman's cervical fluid. This ages the cervix and can lead to permanent infertility. (Please see "the pill" section for a more comprehensive explanation.) Women who use the shot are twice as likely to contract HIV/AIDS,6 have increased rate of HIV replication, and have an increased chance of transmitting the virus to others. A 2004 study concluded that the shot interferes with a woman's immune system and puts her at greater risk of contracting gonorrhea and chlamydia.7 Additional risks of the Depo shot include a double risk of breast cancer among recent users8 and bone density loss.
Barrier MethodsAs I was working on this post, 1flesh.org wrote about the risks of condoms, so as they've done a lot of my research for me in this area, I'll sum up their points, and if you want more details you can head over here. What many people don't know is that semen is very healthy for women's health. Semen acts as an anti-depressant and women who use condoms have higher depression rates than women who do not. To quote a 2002 study on the subject, "Not only were females who were having sex without condoms less depressed, but depressive symptoms and suicide attempts among females who used condoms were proportional to the consistency of condom use."9 Other studies have suggested that semen can regulate a woman's menstrual cycle, prevent preeclampsia in pregnancy, and reduce breast cancer risk.
Spermicides irritate vaginal walls which makes women more susceptible to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.10
Female SterilizationTubal ligation is a surgical procedure. As such it carries all the risks of an invasive surgery such as risk of infection, pain, blood clots, and death. Other risks include ectopic pregnancy and for younger patients, higher risk of hysterectomy later.11 Many women regret having the procedure and may become depressed. Women who have used the birth control pill prior to surgery may experience symptoms of Post Tubal Ligation Syndrome.12
Male SterilizationIn normal male function, sperm are produced in the testes, stored in the epididymis above the testes, and during ejaculation are expelled directly out of the body. Sperm and semen never interact with any other part of a man's body and do not enter the bloodstream. Normal men produce approximately 200 million sperm per day.
Risks of sterilization include pain and swelling at the site. Some may acquire an infection. Some men will experience chronic pain and tenderness or may need to have a surgical removal of a sperm granuloma (a mass of sperm and immune cells).
A vasectomy does not inhibit sperm production. Instead of traveling through a tube to the outside of the body, after a vasectomy the millions of sperm spill into the male's body cavity and are recognized as foreign cells and are attacked by his immune system. After 6-9 months after a vasectomy, 90% of men had antisperm antibodies in their blood13 though the effects of these antigens has not been well studied. Some believe this may contribute to autoimmune disorders. Perhaps due to these antigens, it appears vasectomy is a risk factor for developing Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA)14 later on. PPA is a form of dementia which impairs a person's ability to form words in speech, and as it progresses, it can lead to other symptoms of dementia like strange behavior, lack of judgement, and personality changes. In men who have developed PPA, those who had a vasectomy had an earlier age of onset of the disorder than men who have not had a vasectomy.15 Depression and regretted sterilization is also a risk.
What’s a Woman To Do?The belief that we have no choice but to bear with the side effects and expense of artificial methods of birth control if we do not wish to have a child at the moment is false. Natural Family Planning is a method in which women learn to observe the changes in their bodies so they know when they are fertile. In India, one study included over 16,000 poor Hindu, Muslim, and Christian women using NFP. They had an effectiveness rate of over 99%.16 Likewise, in China the effectiveness rates of NFP have remained at about 99%.17 Furthermore, couples who try NFP tend to like it and continue using it. NFP has a higher continuation rate than all reversible methods of birth control.
Though Natural Family Planning is often mistaken for the old rhythm method, modern methods are based on science. One thing that many people do not know is that a woman is fertile about 100 hours a cycle. During the time when a woman is capable of conceiving, her body secretes a particular type of cervical fluid. This fluid is produced as a result of hormonal changes that stimulate egg maturation in preparation for ovulation. In fact, Drs. Billings, Brown, and Burger studied how women's observations of their fluid correlated with their hormonal changes, and in 1972 published their findings that women can know through simple observation where they are in their fertility cycle just as accurately as doctors and medical personnel in laboratories with fancy lab equipment.
It might be misleading, however, to say that there are no side-effects of using NFP. There are some: NFP couples report increased respect for self and spouse; they almost never divorce; they report an increase in communication with each other and an increase in the quantity and quality of intercourse. For me, I think women deserve to have these side effects.
Chinese study comparing an NFP method with IUD
Information about the different NFP methods, including a quiz to find the one right for you.
1. Department of Reproductive Health and Research, "Carcinogenicity of Combined Hormonal Contraceptives and Combined Menopausal Treatment," World Health Organization, (September 2005) accessed Sept 27, 2011 http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/ageing/cocs_hrt_statement.pdf
2. Jared M. Baeten, Ludo Lavreys, Manish Sagar, et al. “Effective of Contraceptive Methods on Natural History of HIV: Studies From the Mombasa Cohort,” Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 38 (March 2005): Suppl 18-S19, accessed July 25, 2012, http://journals.lww.com/jaids/Fulltext/2005/03001/Effect_of_Contraceptive_Methods_on_Natural_History.13.aspx
3. Melinda Wenner, “Birth Control Pills Affect Women’s Taste in Men.” Scientific American, September 5 2008, accessed July 25, 2012,
4. Sumar Musmar, “Epidimiology of Aerobic Bacterial Infections Among IUD Users in the Northern West Bank,” An-Najah University Journal for Research, 18 no.1 (2004): 13-24, accessed July 25, 2012, http://blogs.najah.edu/staff/employee/article/Epidimiology-of-Aerobic-Bacterial-Infections-among-IUD-Intrauterine-lrmDevice-Users-in-the-Northern-West-Bank
5. Centers for Disease Control. Bacterial Vaginosis: The Facts. CDC Publication 99-8825, accessed July 25, 2012, http://www.cdc.gov/STD/Bv/the-facts/E01_BV_dummy.pdf
6. Pam Belluck. “Contraceptive Used in Africa May Double Risk of H.I.V.” The New York Times, Oct 3 2011, accessed July 25, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/04/health/04hiv.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
7. C.S. Morrison, P. Bright, E.L. Wong, et al. “Hormonal Contraceptive Use, Cervical Ectopy, and the Acquisition of Cervical Infections,” Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 38 no.9 (Sept 2004): 561-7 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15480119?dopt=Abstracthttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15480119?dopt=Abstract
8. Rita Rubin. “Birth Control Shot Tied To Breast Cancer Risk, Study Says.” Vitals:MSNBC, April 5, 2012, accessed 25 July 2012, http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/04/05/11023876-birth-control-shots-tied-to-breast-cancer-risk-study-says?
9. Gordon G. Jr. Gallup, Rebecca L. Burch, Steven M. Platek, “Does Semen Have AntiDepressant Properties?” Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31 no.3 (2002): 289-293, accessed 25 July 2012, http://www.springerlink.com/content/wrkl9lc5ueu43rh8/
10. Gretchen Cuda Kroen, “What Spermicide Users Should Know, But Often Don’t.” Shots: NPR’s Health Blog, Feb 6, 2012, accessed 25 July 2012, http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/02/06/146343080/what-spermicide-users-should-know-but-often-dont
11. M.M. Cohen, “Long-Term Risk of Hysterectomy After Tubal Sterilization.” American Journal of Epidimiology, 125 no.3 (March 1987): 410-419, accessed July 25, 2012, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3812448http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3812448
12. “Getting Your Tubes Tied: Is This Common Procedure Causing Uncommon Problems?” WebMD, Last modified Jan 30, 2005, accessed 25 July 2012, http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=51216
13. K.S. Tung, “Human Sperm Antigens and Antisperm Antibodies I. Studies on Vasectomy Patients.” Clinical and Experimental Immunology, 20 no. 1 (Apr 1975): 93-104, accessed 25 July 2012, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1538169/
14. Maria Paul, “Vasectomy May Put Men at Risk for Type of Dementia.” News Center: Northwestern University, Feb 13, 2007, accessed July 25, 2012, http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2007/02/vasectomy.html
15. Sandra Weintraub, PhD., Christopher Fahey, MD., Nancy Johnson, PhD., et al. “Vasectomy in Men with Primary Progressive Aphasia.” Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, 19 no. 4 (Dec 2006): 190-193, accessed July 25, 2012, http://journals.lww.com/cogbehavneurol/Abstract/2006/12000/Vasectomy_in_Men_With_Primary_Progressive_Aphasia.4.aspxhttp://journals.lww.com/cogbehavneurol/Abstract/2006/12000/Vasectomy_in_Men_With_Primary_Progressive_Aphasia.4.aspx
16. R.E. Ryder, "'Natural Family Planning': Effective Birth Control Supported by the Catholic Church," British Medical Journal, 307 no.6906 (18 Sep 1993): 723-6 accessed Sept 27, 2011 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8401097
17. Shao-Zhen Qian, “China Successfully Launching Billings Ovulation Method.” Shangai Institute of Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Sciences, (presented at International Jubilee Conference, 50th Anniversary of Billings Method, Universersity of Melbourne, Australia, (Mar 28-30, 2003) accessed July 25, 2012, http://www.woomb.org/bom/trials/chinaLaunching.html