Female contraceptives; protection but at what cost?

By Chisom Anastasia Nwaezuoke | Jul 16, 2022

One of the glorious inventions of modern medicine is the various forms of contraception we have today. Unfortunately, these methods of contraception are almost exclusively targeted at women. While condoms and vasectomies are the only contraceptive procedures available to men, women have the options of the Oral Contraceptive Pill, Intrauterine Device (IUD), Contraceptive Implant, Contraceptive Injection, Emergency Contraception Pill (The ‘Morning After’ Pill) and Diaphragms (Female Condoms).

This lapse in medicine places the burden and responsibility of contraception on women in many heterosexual relationships.

Document Women asked women, “how do you feel about female contraceptives?” and their responses confirmed what we already knew; though these methods of birth control are ingenious and most effective for pregnancy prevention, they sometimes come with an array of unpleasant side effects. 

Forms response chart. Question title: What form of birth control were/are you on or have you used?. Number of responses: 58 responses.

Of the fifty-eight (58) women we spoke to; 

Nineteen (19) used the Oral Contraceptive Pill, thirteen (13) had used the Emergency Contraception Pill (The ‘Morning After’ Pill), ten (10) had used the Contraceptive Injection, eight (8) used Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)  and; seven (7) women had used the Contraceptive Implant. 

The side effects differ from person to person and by the method of contraception. As far as the positive effects go, the women agree that pregnancy prevention is mostly guaranteed. 

Pearl has been on the Oral Contraceptive Pill for one year and counting and she gives it glowing reviews. She says she had no pregnancy scares; it cleared her acne, helped maintain her weight (no more weight fluctuations), lowered her PCOS symptoms, regulated her menstrual cycle, and reduced her period pains.

Eloise used the Contraceptive Implant for three years. It made her gain weight, and she had a period every day for six (6) months.  Evelyn was on the Contraceptive Pill and it made her intensely depressed and caused mood swings. She also gained 40 pounds in the six months that she was on it.  She notes this form of birth control is expensive (she paid $30 per month even with insurance).

Anna used the Contraceptive Injection for three (3) months and experienced bloating, shorter menstrual cycles (down to 14 days from a 28-day cycle), increased period blood flow, mood swings, and weight loss.

Generally, women experience cramping, spotting, mood swings, depression, irritability, prolonged bleeding and spotting, weight gain etc. as side effects of birth control methods.

Forms response chart. Question title: Were you aware of any side effects before taking the contraceptive (through personal research)?. Number of responses: 58 responses.
Forms response chart. Question title: Were you warned about possible side effects?. Number of responses: 58 responses.
Forms response chart. Question title: If yes, did you experience any of those side effects?. Number of responses: 56 responses.

Though most women were aware of possible side effects before taking the pill through personal research, many feel like the warnings they got did not adequately prepare them and that doctors undermined the severity of their experiences.

Toyin says, “My doctor put me on it because of acne. It fucked everything else but that. They knew the side effects but, they told me to keep using it. I couldn’t keep harming myself, so I stopped it.”

Document Women spoke to two medical practitioners about the effectiveness of female contraceptives and how doctors advise women about contraceptives and address their concerns.

We spoke to Dr Ravina Bhanot, founder of Zonas Fertility and an NHS medical doctor specialising in women’s health. Dr Bhanot believes that female contraceptives are one of the best inventions for women’s health. 

Dr Ravina says, “It is important to note that no contraception is 100% and there is always a risk of pregnancy, even if you take the pill every day. Side effects can occur with any medication and they can vary in severity from person to person. Progesterone only pills are commonly thought to give side effects such as weight gain, acne, breast tenderness, breast enlargement, headache, mood change, nausea and vomiting. If you have a family history of breast cancer, then not all options will be available to you and we would advise you not to take the combined oral contraceptive pill. Overall most women tolerate the side effects if they have any. In most cases, women remain on their contraceptives for many years without problems.”

“In general, patients have a lot of contraceptive choices to choose from if their current form doesn’t suit them. Medical practitioners are generally very happy to change contraceptives to suit the patient’s needs.”

We also spoke to Dr Eunice Oladeji, a medical doctor currently running a masters program in Public Health in the U.S.

Dr Oladeju says, “Normally, women should have pre-counselling and pre-examination sessions before commencing any form of contraceptive. These sessions cover proper use/insertion, the onset of action, benefits, side effects and medical history, including their history of contraceptive use. Also, examinations and tests are carried out to ensure the patient’s fitness and anticipate risk for adverse side effects. However, some women do not get the proper counselling and examinations. Even some who get them, in the event of these side effects, stop using the contraceptives abruptly and do not follow up with their physician. This can undermine the effectiveness of the contraceptive method.”

When asked whether she thinks medical practitioners undermine women’s complaints about contraceptives, she says; 

“Professionalism dictates that we take such complaints with all seriousness. This does not mean that instances have not been recorded where medical practitioners, for varied reasons, did not give appropriate attention and response to complaints from women about their contraceptive method. Encouraging the use of contraceptives for child spacing and family planning and protection against STIs (where applicable) is important to the health of the woman. So important that it could be a matter of life and death for her and because of this, some medical practitioners can tend to be ‘strict’ about adhering to a contraceptive plan. This can make them undermine or come across as undermining the complaints brought up.”

Forms response chart. Question title: Was it more bad than good or more good than bad?. Number of responses: 57 responses.

Thirty-six (36) women believe that all things considered, contraceptives are more good than bad, while twenty-one (21)  believe that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

Conclusively, whether contraceptives are helpful or not depends on the experience of the individual user. However, they ultimately serve their purpose well enough that the adverse side effects are negligible for many women.

“Contraceptives give women a choice and a chance to be in control of their lives to some extent. And that’s much more than can be said about other things pertaining to women.”