We’ve been told that birth control is one of the great inventions of our time and that we would be foolish not to take it. The truth is, we've been lied to.
Birth control is sexist towards women – and it's incredibly damaging to our bodies. This is pretty ironic, considering we're always told that birth control is empowering, right? Yet even the history of birth control reveals an utter lack of respect for the dignity of women.
Women Were the Guinea Pigs
The creation of the Pill was sketchy to say the least. Prompted by Margaret Sanger, millionaire Katherine McCormick funded studies for Harvard Professor Gregory E. Pincus, studies which focused on ways in which women could prevent pregnancy without a man knowing.
After years of experimenting with various pills on rabbits, Pincus conducted birth control experiments which he claimed were “fertility studies” by exploiting helpless patients in a Massachusetts mental institution. He did not tell his patients what pills he would give them; they were expected to take the pills and suffer the consequences while he documented the results. Men were unable to stand the side effects, as Pincus’ experiments caused testicle shrinking and “castration anxiety.” So Pincus decided to focus on women - despite the fact that women also had horrible side effects to his pills: blood clotting, bloating, mood swings, etc.
Men were unable to stand the side effects, as Pincus’ experiments caused testicle shrinking and “castration anxiety.”
The Victims of Puerto Rico
When Pincus ran out of women willing to participate in his experiments, Pincus focused on Puerto Rico. The U.S. territory suffered from poverty and overpopulation, and the government was already highly interested in birth control. Pincus recruited female students from the University of Puerto Rico, and he became extremely angry when more than half of them dropped out due to the violent side effects of the Pill. He and his colleagues resorted to coercing students to cooperate, or else they would receive failing grades in their classes.
Photograph of a Puerto Rican seamstress, taken in 1941 by Jack Delano.
The first versions of the Pill had almost 10 times the amount of hormones needed to prevent pregnancy. But that didn’t stop Pincus’ experimentation on women - experiments that hadn’t even been entirely successful on animals. And let’s not forget that the creators of the Pill opted to experiment on women instead of on men. Feminists at the time weren’t happy about it. At a Capitol Hill investigation of the Pill’s safety (about 10 years later), activist Alice Wolfston shouted, “Why isn’t there a pill for men? Why are 10 million women being used as guinea pigs?”
Women Have Been Silenced
Noticeably, no women were allowed to speak at this hearing, even though it investigated all the negative symptoms of the Pill that occurred in women. The sketchy Puerto Rico trials and the mental institution abuses were completely ignored by politicians and doctors alike - as they are to this day!
Noticeably, no women were allowed to speak at this hearing, even though it investigated all the negative symptoms of the Pill that occurred in women.
This is not unlike the way doctors and health advocates ignore the horrible side effects of birth control today.
Negative Side Effects of Birth Control
Recent studies from the Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre in Australia show that women (particularly adolescents) who take birth control are at a much, much higher risk of depression than women who don't take it. In fact, these studies reveal that you're twice as likely to be depressed if you are on birth control. Teenagers are at an 80% increased risk of taking antidepressants after taking the Pill.
Teenagers are at an 80% increased risk of taking antidepressants after taking the Pill.
Negative short term side effects of the Pill include mood swings, headaches, weight gain, breast tenderness, low libido, and nausea. Long term side effects are more extreme: anxiety, panic attacks, and reproductive issues later on life.
Even worse, a 2017 Danish study reported in The New York Times found that many types of birth control can be linked to breast cancer. The study reveals that for every 100,000 women on hormonal birth control, there are 68 annual cases of breast cancer. Research also shows that the hormone progestin (which is commonly used in birth control today) raises the risk of breast cancer.
Think that’s all? Think again. A 2017 Time Magazine article reported that “women taking hormonal contraceptives — like birth control pills, the patch, the ring, and hormonal IUDs — have up to triple the risk of suicide as women who never took hormonal birth control.”
“Women taking hormonal contraceptives — like birth control pills, the patch, the ring, and hormonal IUDs — have up to triple the risk of suicide as women who never took hormonal birth control.”
So, the side effects are not just an increased risk of cramps, as many birth control options will tell you. It’s not just increased blood flow, irritability, or headaches. The Pill brings a multitude of physical and psychological health concerns with it. These studies should not only make us concerned about our casual understanding of birth control, but they should also help us recognize that it's truly shocking and outrageous that the Pill is pushed on women as a tool of empowerment and health.
Studies like these show the importance of women taking their health into their own hands – and not listening to pop-culture, politicians, or government-funded health organizations who eagerly push the Pill on us. In fact, maybe it’s time for us to examine why we are being offered something so inherently harmful to us.