October 5, 2023 | FEATURES | By Ceyna Dawson
Since the Food and Drug Administration approval in the 1960s of “the pill,” an oral contraceptive that can prevent fertilization or ovulation, pharmaceuticals have transitioned marketing to target women’s “fatigue, bloating, moodiness, and acne” as well.
Many are hesitant to view the pill as purely a lifestyle drug as, from its advent, it is a method for women to take control over their bodies and reproductive cycles.
“This new physiologic control [found in taking the pill] is symbolized in an illustration borrowed from Greek mythology – Andromeda freed from her chains,” writes an ad for Enovid, the first oral contraception on the market.
Oral contraception was viewed primarily as a mark of independence for women; Enovid’s “freed from the chains” ran through medical journals such as “Obstetrics and Gynecology and JAMA.”
Advertising for the pill in the late ’70s was no longer only for the prevention of pregnancy: “Pharmaceutical manufacturers are not selling contraception per se as a lifestyle option; rather, they pitch menstruation as an annoying condition to be ameliorated by their products,” Elizabeth Watkins, an expert in the history of birth control, writes.
“Allowing women to regulate their fertility and being able to plan – women made longer-term career goals, longer-term educational goals. The birth control pill and all of the freedom it afforded us is responsible for so much of women’s advancement. In terms of being able to become financially independent from men,” Dr Sara Hill, a research psychologist on women’s health, said in a 2019 Tedx Talk.
A sample of six Colorado College students shared their experiences with the birth control pill.
“I am currently [on birth control]. My family has always been pretty progressive about things. I started and thought, ‘Oh this is normal,’” Sylvie Stiffler ’27 said.
“I’m on birth control. Because [the possibility of getting] pregnant, but I’ve been on it since 11 or 12 years old when I started my period because my cramps were so bad,” Mia Degner ’26, a German exchange student said.
“I started birth control when I turned 16; it was the pill. Technically, I got it for [irregular periods], but I wanted it to have sex with my boyfriend,” Emma Logan ’24 said.
“At one point, I suffered from really bad acne, but I was in conversation with my dermatologist on how birth control can be a good form to treat my acne. I didn’t go on it because of health concerns,” Sofia Mancino ’27 said.
“I was put on birth control when I was 15 or 16, because I was going on a hiking camp, and I was really scared of getting my period while hiking. I was 15 and I didn’t really think about it much,” Katey Grealish ’24 said.
“I am on birth control. I started it my sophomore year [of high school] for acne control and because I have terrible periods,” Katie Lockwood ’27 said.
The newness of the science and tentativeness of birth control research, “[is] changing women’s hormones [which] changes women. And this is a big deal,” Hill said.
Grealish felt the impacts of being on the pill from a young age. “I got yeast infections all the time and had a really low sex drive. I thought, I’ve tried everything and maybe this is because I have been on birth control for five years.”
Grealish believes birth control is a good thing, but recognizes young teenage girls are on the pill “and don’t always have the knowledge or the ability to advocate for themselves – which can have detrimental effects like it had on me.” She continued, saying, “I feel [getting off of birth control] made me more comfortable or fine with having a period, not something to view as bad or something that needs to be controlled.”
“The possible consequences from birth control like depression, weight gain, and increase of pain – there should be much more research on the changes in hormones,” Degner said. “I do not want to take it forever.”
While many young girls are prescribed birth control for reasons other than pregnancy prevention, there is a call for making oral contraceptives available and affordable to those who need it and understand the potential side effects.
“Everyone who wants it should have it for free,” Logan said.
“Only 2% of revenue from birth control pill sales goes back into research and development. And more young women are taking notice,” Rikki Schlott, a New York Post journalist specializing in women’s health, said. Schlott said that more women are becoming conscious of the long-term effects of birth control and the broad prescription beyond contraceptive uses.
“Viewing periods as problems that need to be solved instead of things that are a part of life. But cramps are also a problem to be solved, and really bad acne is a problem to be solved,” Grealish said. “Birth control is a really great resource which can do great things. If it is the right resource for you, but often the way it is used by many medical professionals is irresponsible.”
The debate on the pill is complex; there are conversations on the progression it has led for women and contentions on over-prescription.
“Talking critically about the birth control pill does not mean we have to give it up,” Hill said.