My late grandmother always told me “Never discuss religion, politics or sex”. Contraception can touch on all three of these topics and birth control itself can usually be counted on to arouse strong and conflicting opinions in any group.
However, contraception is crucially also a medical issue. With a range of contraceptive options and so many contrary claims about benefits and risks, it is essential for everyone, especially women and girls, to know the facts when they have to make a decision.
As Dr. David J. Hilger writes in his December 2015 article titled “Contraception and Informed Consent-Women Need a Full Account of the Risks”, the first oral contraceptive was marketed in 1960 and
“Despite early indications of severe and sometimes life-threatening risks, oral contraceptives were quickly approved and widely accepted. It was not until after oral contraception was widely utilized that many of the medical risks were published. Information regarding risk continues to be discovered and is reported in the medical literature, but it is not widely publicized.”
What I appreciated about this article was that it contained not only the latest information on some of the medical risks of oral contraceptives but also the latest research in Natural Family Planning, a routinely overlooked topic even in a doctor’s office or clinic. It is essential for women to know all the options, risks and benefits when making a birth control decision to have truly informed consent.
As a nurse, I thought I was well-informed about contraception when I started using the Pill in 1974. At that time, all I knew about side effects was the risk of weight gain which I experienced myself when I almost could not fit into my wedding dress! I stopped 18 months later when my husband, a doctor, read medical journal articles about the increased risks of blood clots with the Pill
I never used hormonal birth control again and I eventually learned and practiced Natural Family Planning which worked great for me in both conceiving and postponing pregnancy.
It was many years later when I discovered more information about contraceptives in medical journal articles about the possible post-fertilization (abortifacient) effects , increased risk of depression or, most ironically, increased risk of sexual dysfunction. For me, the knowledge of the possible abortifacient effect alone would have kept me from ever using hormonal contraception.
In recent years but rarely mentioned in the media, there has also been many birth control lawsuits filed against a number of different kinds of birth control pills and devices.
My children and especially my daughters, gave me even more incentive to research the facts when their public schools gave sex education classes and I discovered glaring lapses and inaccuracies. For example, condoms were promoted as safe sex even though a Centers for Disease Control fact sheet admits that
Another example is that Natural Family Planning was ignored in favor of a negative depiction of the old “rhythm method”.
In the end, I believe that birth control is not a decision to be taken lightly and that women of all ages have the right to know the potential risks and options. I only wish I had known more myself in 1974.