When I was a hippy extremist...
I felt that everything in my life should be natural. My contraceptive choice was the last thing on that to-do list. If I'm honest, it didn't even occur to me. I always thought contraception either works or doesn't so taking the pill was the only option because it was the one that worked. At least, that's what I'd been told.
I've come to realise that not all women are 100% certain they don't want to get pregnant. There is a differing level of pregnancy 'risk' appropriate for each individual and this opens up the idea that perhaps something which is 98% effective isn't utterly pointless as I'd been lead to believe.
This article is just the start of things to come. I hope to provide in-depth fact-based guides to the non-hormonal contraceptives over the coming months so that you can make informed decisions about your body.
When I was taught about contraception at school there was definitely a leaning towards explaining why the pill, accompanied by condoms for protection against STI’s, was our best choice. I was surprised to find similar stories from Australia and America when I asked the instagram community what their experiences were.
I have noticed a growing trend among friends that they (and I) don’t want to use these hormonal contraceptives. The women I’ve spoken to explain that this is because they changed not just their physiology but their psychology as well. Often complaining of changes to libido and mood. It's ironic that a side-effect of the pill is that you feel like you don't want to have sex because you're too busy having a melt down over the lack of Nutella availability in your local supermarket. Sadly, there is little ‘hard evidence’ about these experiences and so it’s not common for women to be warned of this potential side-effect (1) .
But, when the anecdotal evidence is flying around like an evil swarm of monkeys from the Wizard of Oz; it’s hard to ignore. I am often asked what the non-hormonal options are so I’ll be writing a guide to them over the coming months. Originally I thought I’d cover them all in one go. But the information was just too interesting to make shorter!
I want to be explicit in saying that I’m not writing these because I think non-hormonal contraceptives are better than hormonal ones. It’s simply because I know there are lots of women that want more information on the non-hormonal options.
This is the list provided by the NHS of all contraceptives available. The non-hormonal ones are in bold and marked with a star. The male ones are in italics:
- caps *
- combined pill
- condoms (female) *
- condoms (male) *
- contraceptive implant
- contraceptive injection
- contraceptive patch
- diaphragms *
- intrauterine device (IUD) *
- intrauterine system (IUS)
- natural family planning (Fertility Awareness Method) * <-- what I've used for the past 15 years and teach on my Peaceful Period course
- progestogen-only pill
- vaginal ring
Most of the information provided on contraceptives by the NHS is very good. But I think more statistical transparency is needed about side-effects. After all, I (or you) may be more risk-averse than the person who wrote the advice.
For example, if I told you there is a 30% chance of rain today would you pull out your umbrella? There are complex reasons why a woman might reach for the umbrella. I’m much more risk averse to rain on the days following a fresh hair cut than on my 6th post-wash-hair-day for instance. I believe that the statistics should always be available so that we don't leave the house without an umbrella (or contraceptive) only to regret it later. We should not just be spoon-fed one-size-fits-all guidance.
As a wise woman (who sadly can’t be credited because I lost the reference) once said, “Science has cultural authority over ‘the truth’”. But it’s important to remember that the raw data is the truth, not the interpretation of that data.**
Our ability to make informed decisions about our contraceptives is still being hampered by the depth of education we currently receive about reproductive health. Even though it’s at its best ever the amount we teach is far less than the amount truly known. It’s as though we are still struggling to free ourselves from the shackles of our Victorian ancestors who believed that “the complete ignorance of [the female body] is … a necessary part of female modesty” (Brodie, J. 1994). We need to remember this intention set by contraceptive-rights-activist, Margaret Sanger in the early 19th century:
“Every girl should first understand herself; she should know her anatomy, including sex anatomy; she should know the epochs of a normal woman’s life, and the unfoldment which each epoch brings; she should know the effect the emotions have on her acts, and finally she should know the fullness and richness of life when crowned by the flower of motherhood”