Birth control is a daily aspect of many women’s lives. In fact, 99 percent of sexually active women utilized one or more types of contraceptives between 2006 and 2010. In the last decade, the teenage birthrate has reached a record low, along with drops in teen pregnancy and abortion rates. Researchers associate these successes to better access to contraception. However, some studies have suggested problems with hormonal contraception—a method of birth control that affects the endocrine system—including many popular options such as the pill and the patch. Negative side effects of birth control display that further research is essential in the health field both to better understand hormonal birth control and to explore alternative options that do not affect hormones.
The University of Copenhagen conducted a study that investigated the connection between hormonal birth control and antidepressants through an analysis of prescriptions filled over an 18-year period. This study included over one million women, ranging in age from 15 to 34 years old. It found that women using birth control pills are 23 percent more likely to use antidepressants, and in those using the progestogen-only pills, that percentage increases to 34 percent. Women who use the vaginal ring (etonogestrel) are 60 percent more likely to take antidepressants, and for those utilizing the levonorgestrel intrauterine system, a plastic device placed in the uterus that releases hormones, the number is 40 percent. This is the only study of this size on the subject. Yet, it was met by considerable media by those criticizing various aspects of the study. They argue that there was no control and it did not examine those utilizing condoms or IUDs. Despite its inevitable shortcomings due to limitations, this study displays a trend between hormonal birth control and depression, and it validates the accounts of many women who have experienced its side effects. This study does not guarantee causality, but it displays a trend that is eye-opening.
Another important birth control study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism and co-sponsored by the United Nations, tested hormonal birth control on 320 men ages 18 to 45. This contraception involved injections every eight weeks of hormones which suppress the production of sperm. This research was stopped because due the frequency of mild to moderate mood disorders. Other side effects were acne and an increased libido. Within 52 weeks after stopping the injections, eight men had not regained their fertility; though five of those men fully recovered after longer amounts of time. Yet some scholars, such as Elizabeth Lloyd, a biology professor, compare these risks and side effects with the sometimes-fatal blood clots and strokes that women’s birth control has caused. But this comparison raises questions.
For the most part, birth control research and development has focused on women. Other than condoms, birth control options are mostly restricted to female contraception, which can be expensive and cause side effects. When considering that women are only fertile for six days in a cycle and men are fertile every day, this proves not to make sense. There should be viable birth control options for both men and women. If researchers have decided that the side effects of the men’s contraceptive injection are an issue, people must reconsider their tolerance with the side effects and risks of women’s hormonal contraception. The options for men and women’s contraception, as with all other medications, must be held to the same standards.
There is currently a method of birth control growing in popularity that is not a hormonal contraception. Fertility Awareness-Based Methods (FAMs) involve a woman charting her cycle to monitor fertility. While these methods are not for everybody, they do provide an alternative for those with negative side effects from hormonal contraception. This non-hormonal method displays growth in the options of birth control, a trend that must continue. In order for problems such as overwhelming negative side effects from hormonal contraception to be addressed, it is necessary that researchers study the effects of altering the endocrine system while exploring more options that do not involve hormones.
Alyssa Luis is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.