According to the CDC, roughly 14% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 are taking the birth control pill. It's becoming all too common to see teenagers being administered the pill just because they're struggling with difficult or painful periods, without any attempt to treat it holistically. We're becoming more and more aware of the side effects that can come from the pill, such as impairing lean muscle growth, increasing stress levels, and struggling to get pregnant later in life. On the podcast Modern Wisdom, Sarah Hill, PhD, a psychologist and professor at TCU, spoke about the many effects that the hormonal birth control bill has had on women. You might be surprised to find that it can even alter women's sexual preferences.
The Birth Control Pill Can Change Sexual Preferences
The interviewer of Modern Wisdom shared a story about a bisexual woman who was on birth control, but when she came off of it, she realized she was only attracted to men. He asked Dr. Hill if she had ever heard of any story like that, and she said that she actually has heard that from many bisexual women who get nudged one way or the other depending on their consumption of hormonal contraception.
"I've heard from women who thought they were bisexual and then went on or off the birth control pill and then had that change where they thought they were completely straight or completely lesbian," she says. "The thing I've heard most frequently is that they've become a little more straight when they're off the pill."
Dr. Hill added that researchers have long suspected that sex hormones play a big role in sexual preference, and because those on the birth control pill are experiencing so many hormonal changes from the medication, they may find that they're more inclined to be bisexual while they're on the pill and then return to being exclusively attracted to men when they get off the pill. Changes in sexual desire can most certainly happen when you're on hormonal birth control and Dr. Hill explains how.
"The way the birth control pill works is it essentially tells the brain to not stimulate the ovaries to produce any egg follicles and the way that it does this is by giving a daily dose of the same hormonal message which is a relatively high level of this synthetic progesterone and then really low levels of synthetic estrogen," she says. "And getting that same daily message... is essentially making the brain believe that it's in the luteal phase of the cycle, the phase of the cycle right after an egg has been released."
This is when the body waits to see if an embryo is going to implant itself. Dr. Hill says the most obvious changes that can occur from this is observed in behavior. "Changes in sexual desire, for example," she explains. "That's a very common side effect that women get from taking hormonal birth control and the reason for is this is because [the pill] prevents ovulation which prevents pregnancy... Ovulation is the primary way that women produce their sex hormones and in particularly the process of a maturing egg."
So if you notice that you're suddenly attracted to different types of men (or even women for the first time) after going on the pill, it's not all in your head. In fact, it's all in your sex hormones that are being altered by the pill.
The Birth Control Pill Significantly Increases the Likelihood For Depression in Teenagers
A common side effect that women have been talking about more and more from the pill is intense mood swings and even struggles with depression. This is especially pronounced in teenagers, which is frightening considering how many teenagers are prescribed the pill from a young age.
"Going on hormonal birth control can be linked with increased risk of anxiety and depression and this risk seems to be particularly pronounced in adolescent women," Dr. Hill says. Being on hormonal birth control increases the risk for suicide, going on anti depressants, etc. and this is especially a concern for girls 19 years old and younger.
"For these women, the risk of anxiety and depression is in some cases almost triple as it is for adult women," she adds. "The brain is still developing during this time and post-pubertal brain development is organized and coordinated by sex hormones. And you can imagine the adolescent brain is incredibly sensitive to changes in sex hormones during changes in that time. That's what's coordinating pubertal development."
Dr. Hill says this raises the question of whether there are longterm mental health effects from the pill, pointing to a study from two years ago in which women who were users of hormonal birth control as teenagers became much more likely to struggle with clinical depression or anxiety as adults. The interviewer suggests that putting teenagers on the pill probably "locked in the propensity for depression and anxiety" and Dr. Hill agrees, saying that there isn't much research about this connection right now, but the little evidence they have points to it.
Sadly, this information isn't given to young women when they're handed the pill. They're just told to take it at the same time every day and that's that. Our world would look like a very different place if doctors took the time to teach women about the risks that come with birth control, as well as the natural options for preventing pregnancy.