Are young women to­tally over the Pill?

It was once our best friend, but it ap­pears this form of con­tra­cep­tion has be­come a hard one to swal­low...

Cosmopolitan (Australia) - - Contents -

LATELY, I'VE FELT like I'm the last mil­len­nial still on the Pill. For as long as I can re­mem­ber, my girl­friends have set daily alarms to re­mind them­selves to pop their tiny tablets. In high school, it seemed like every­one was tak­ing it – for acne, bad cramps, and, ya know, to avoid preg­nancy.

At uni­ver­sity, when more of us were ac­tu­ally hav­ing sex on the reg, the trusty Pill achieved true BFF sta­tus. But these days, well, we’re kind of grow­ing apart. One of my pals blames it for her blood clots; an­other told me that tak­ing it from age 13 to 34 was enough. One ditched it be­cause she sus­pected the hor­mones were mess­ing with her me­tab­o­lism. I’m still swal­low­ing it, for now, but my Pill pack has started to seem kinda like a Dis­c­man in a Spo­tify world… and not in a hip, ironic way.

It may be hard to imag­ine, but when the Pill de­buted in 1960, it was big­ger than God. By 1967, nearly 13 mil­lion women in the world were on the Pill. ‘Sud­denly, women were in this po­si­tion of hav­ing more con­tra­cep­tion op­tions other than to not have sex,’ says gy­nae­col­o­gist Lau­ren Stre­icher.

By the 1980s, up to 80 mil­lion women were users – and en­joy­ing the new­found free­dom that came with the Pill’s 91 per cent ef­fec­tive­ness

(99 per cent when used per­fectly). Since it hit the mar­ket, the num­ber of women in the work­force has more than tripled. Just try to name any other med­i­ca­tion that has done so much for wom­ankind (no, not Vi­a­gra). R­E­S­P­E­C­T.

S o why all the sud­den un­grate­ful­ness? Cosmo teamed up with Power to De­cide, a cam­paign to pre­vent un­planned preg­nan­cies, to find out. And what we dis­cov­ered – in a sur­vey of more than 2,000 young women – sig­nals a mas­sive birth­con­trol shift. A whop­ping 70 per cent of women who have used the Pill said they’d stopped tak­ing it or thought about go­ing off it in the past three years. Yup, al­most three­quar­ters of young women are no longer feel­ing the med that led to their moth­ers’ and grand­moth­ers’ lib­er­a­tion.

The New Guards

‘I’ve def­i­nitely seen at­ti­tudes change over the past few years,’ says An­drea Chisholm, a US­based gy­nae­col­o­gist. ‘Mil­len­ni­als are look­ing for more con­ve­nience.’

A nd there are now many other eas­ier – but just as trust­wor­thy – birth­con­trol meth­ods out there: we’ve never had so many ways to pre­vent preg­nancy. Our sur­vey re­vealed that 25 per cent of women have stopped or plan to stop tak­ing the Pill be­cause there is an­other kind of birth con­trol they want to try. Many are in­trigued by the IUD, or in­trauter­ine de­vice, a long­last­ing and ex­tremely ef­fec­tive op­tion whose pop­u­lar­ity has surged since 2012, when the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Ob­ste­tri­cians and Gy­nae­col­o­gists pro­claimed newer ver­sions to be to­tally safe. (In the ’70s, an in­fa­mous IUD called the Dalkon Shield was linked to se­ri­ous com­pli­ca­tions, such as in­fer­til­ity.) Oth­ers who’ve cooled on the Pill – 18 per cent, in our sur­vey – said they’re switch­ing to the patch, im­plant or shot, all get­it­and­for­get­it meth­ods that don’t re­quire once­a­day re­minders.

For some, the new fuss­free op­tions make the Pill’s sched­ul­ing seem hella an­noy­ing, and daily dos­ing kind of quaint. ‘Se­ri­ously, hav­ing to take it at the same time ev­ery day is ridicu­lous,’ says Kaitlin, 30. What with work, work­ing out and a per­sonal life, she won­dered, who can be both­ered? ‘And if you miss one, you have a to­tal freak­out that you’re preg­nant.’

Kaitlin re­cently ditched the Pill and put a ring on, or in, it. She changes her vagi­nal ring just once a month. ‘If you’re a type­A per­son, the Pill can work,’ she said. ‘But if you are more go­with­the­flow or don’t have a struc­tured life, it’s hard.’

An Un­clear Choice

But the Pill’s de­cline among young women isn’t just about con­ve­nience. There are also the ru­mours. Some women be­lieve a decade or more on the Pill could lead to mis­car­riage (nope) or that the body needs a ‘break’ ev­ery few years (false).

News re­ports can be sim­i­larly con­fus­ing. A re­cent study linked the Pill (as well as hor­monal IUDs) to breast can­cer. But the in­creased risk was rel­a­tively small, and most me­dia cov­er­age failed to men­tion the Pill also de­creases your risk of other se­ri­ous can­cers, like ovarian and en­dome­trial.

Then there’s what I’ll call the Goop fac­tor. As juice cleanses go main­stream, ath­leisure be­comes SFW, and the multi­bil­lion­dol­lar well­ness in­dus­try in­fil­trates In­sta­gram, ar­ti­fi­cial hor­mones can feel a bit early 2000s. The syn­thetic hor­mones in birth con­trol pretty much mimic the ones in our bod­ies, but they’re still lab­made. But 26 per cent of the women in our sur­vey said they were switch­ing to zero­hor­mone con­doms ver­sus other types of hor­monal birth con­trol. ‘I’m not all about be­ing nat­u­ral and eat­ing or­ganic, but I feel like, why do it if you don’t have to?’ said Kayla, 28, who just ditched the Pill af­ter eight years. ‘I was like, Why am I tak­ing hor­mones when I’m not even hav­ing sex?’

The must­be­nat­u­ral craze is fu­elling ques­tion­able birth­con­trol prac­tices, like the fer­til­ity aware­ness method. Once used mainly for re­li­gious rea­sons, it‘s now blow­ing up thanks to fer­til­ity­track­ing apps. ‘I’m thrilled by tech­nol­ogy, but these apps are ba­si­cally vari­a­tions of the [fa­mously un­re­li­able] rhythm method,’ cau­tions Dr. Minkin. And buyer be­ware: in Jan­uary, 37 women us­ing Nat­u­ral Cy­cles, an app that the Euro­pean Union ap­proved as le­git birth con­trol, al­leged they still be­came preg­nant.

‘The idea that some­how these hor­mones are bad for you is in­cor­rect,’ says Dr. Stre­icher. ‘No medicine is risk­free, but the risks of the Pill are quite low – es­pe­cially com­pared to the risks of preg­nancy.’ Still, side ef­fects do ex­ist and were cited by 25 per cent of women in our sur­vey. Com­mon com­plaints in­cluded weight gain, mood swings and loss of sex drive. It’s worth not­ing that other hor­monal meth­ods can cause sim­i­lar is­sues, and the non­hor­monal IUD may bring on heav­ier pe­ri­ods or in­creased cramp­ing.

Essen­tially there is no right or wrong de­ci­sion with the Pill. ‘Birth con­trol is a jour­ney, and women change meth­ods all the time based on what’s right for their body or life cir­cum­stances,’ says Er­lich. If you do move on, be sure to find an­other method that suits you, un­less you’re plan­ning kids.

As for me, I'm stick­ing with the Pill. Call me old­fash­ioned, but if it ain’t broke...

WOMEN ARE RE­THINK­ING THEIR PACK-AMONTH HABIT

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