Evolutionary Psychologist Sarah Hill Took On Birth Control. Here’s What She Found

By Gwen Farrell
·  5 min read
An Evolutionary Psychologist Took On Birth Control. Here’s What She Found

“It’s everything your doctor never told you” is the eye-catching tagline to Dr. Sarah Hill’s book “This is Your Brain on Birth Control: The Surprising Science of Women, Hormones, and the Law of Unintended Consequences.”

Dr. Hill wants to talk to women about their birth control, but what she has to say isn’t necessarily going to be well-received by everyone — specifically the staunch defenders of hormonal birth control and the proponents of how it’s re-shaped our modern ideas of femininity and women’s liberation. 

But nevertheless, she’s got a lot to say. Here’s why we should be listening.

Dr. Sarah Hill: An Introduction   

Sarah E. Hill, Ph.D. is an academic, writer, speaker, and evolutionary psychologist who studies “health, relationships, and other forms of social behavior.”

Since birth control affects all three of those areas in female life, and overwhelmingly so, Dr. Hill’s primary research is grounded in how birth control can dictate female behavior, specifically in how it affects our brain. 

Dr. Hill’s primary research is grounded in how birth control can dictate female behavior.

Dr. Hill is not a politician or an Instagram influencer with a platform — she’s an acclaimed writer and researcher whose main goal is to “give [women] information they haven’t had up until now so they can make informed decisions.”

Uncovering the Truth

In a comprehensive interview with The Guardian that’s rife with valuable information and insight, Dr. Hill lays out in great detail the unrevealed pitfalls many women unknowingly subject themselves to when they take the pill.

Among other things, such as affecting how our brains choose our mates, Dr. Hill lays out how taking the pill leads to an increased risk for anxiety and depression. But that’s not all.

While some women may feel few to insignificant effects from the pill, others will be less lucky. Women aged 15-19 on the pill saw a larger association with suicide and emotional dysregularity, or the inability to manage negative emotions like anger or sadness.

Women aged 15-19 on the pill have a larger association with suicide and emotional dysregularity.

Additional research has found significant changes to women’s immune systems and memory. Furthermore, the hormone profiles of pill-taking women show similarities to those who have experienced chronic stress because hormonal birth control can stimulate cortisol and dysregulate the stress response.  

As Dr. Hill explains, the pill on a fundamental level produces hormones artificially, and often stimulates testosterone and other receptors unintentionally. In addition to effects like increased masculinization, the pill’s dose of inauthentic progesterone leads to a lack of oestrogen, meaning we don’t feel its benefits (feeling energetic and sexy) as we do when we’re off the pill, or naturally cycling. All of this can aid and abet hormonal birth control’s problematic effects on our brains, thus dictating important functions like decision making.  

Dr. Hill says, “Our hormones, especially our sex hormones, are a key part of what creates the experience of feeling like ourselves.” 

Why We’re Uninformed

Dr. Hill is more aware than anyone else of the blinders the scientific community has on when it comes to birth control. Not only is she responsible for bringing increased awareness and attention to the issue, but she’s also advocating for continued research to solve it.

Dr. Hill acknowledges that we as a culture are lured to the attraction of hormonal birth control by its ease of access, so much so that we’ve become “complacent” in how much it dominates our media, pop-culture, and personal choices.

“We need to push science to start looking at this,” says Dr. Hill. So why aren’t we?

Make no mistake, there are major stakeholders in this issue, parties who are probably not drawn to the idea of informing women on the risks facing them while on the pill. 

By 2026, the contraceptive pill market is estimated to reach $20.55 billion.

By 2026, the contraceptive pill market is estimated to reach $20.55 billion — all at the cost of those who are not informed. 

When we actively play a part in our own health, as Dr. Hill encourages her readers to do, we’re threatening that substantial profit by a considerable margin. 

Dr. Hill also has something to say to those who might view her criticism of the pill as sexist: “It’s not antithetical to women’s rights to talk about this stuff.” No indeed. If anything, being well-informed about the potential consequences of her choices gives a woman the best possible opportunity of being empowered.

Closing Thoughts

Dr. Hill isn’t arguing for the end of birth control. If anything, she’s trying to make it better.

More so than the need for increased research in the scientific field is the need for increased attention in our own lives and for taking information about our bodies and our decisions back into our own hands. 

Many have argued that criticism of birth control is unnecessary and unwarranted, given all that it does for us. There’s so much to be said for how birth control has contextualized our culture and our identities as women, and it’ll be a tough habit to break. But it’s time we start. It’s clear that, at least for now, the medical community and pharmaceutical companies won’t be the ones to do it. So, lesson learned. We have to be the ones to ask the questions.

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