Birth control has now become so ingrained in our social consciousness as a medicine to be prescribed, a pill to be taken, or a procedure to be had. There’s the old debate: Should I go on the pill? Is the IUD safe? What about the arm implant?
Missing from this conversation completely is the topic of natural birth control, and there’s a reason for that. Once upon a time, birth control was not only limited to pills or implants, but was a controversial topic surrounding conception and fertility.
To this day, natural birth control is still somewhat of a taboo subject. It’s that way for a reason, but it doesn’t need to be.
Why You’re Not Hearing about Natural Birth Control
When we’re discussing family planning or avoiding pregnancy, it’s only natural that we turn to our doctors.
What follows in that conversation is likely a prescription, or recommendation for an implant. Speaking from experience — and having seen many gynecologists over the years trying to get my PCOS diagnosed — it’s unlikely that a doctor would ever listen to my concerns and thoughts and then ask if I’ve considered the fertility awareness method.
For whatever reason, there’s a stigma attached to alternative medicine. It’s thought of as ineffective, and we might be thinking that doctors who have our best interests at heart are trying to avoid prescribing what’s often seen in the medical community as pseudoscience.
When used correctly, less than 5 out of 100 women will become pregnant in the first year of using fertility awareness.
But when used correctly, less than 5 out of 100 women will become pregnant in the first year of using fertility awareness. As a method of avoiding pregnancy, it looks like those odds are pretty good, especially when compared to the pregnancy rates of women using the pill: 9% of women get pregnant in the first year with typical use.
While there’s still an aura of distrust around naturopathic or alternative medicine, and oftentimes for good reason, there’s a whole other host of reasons that natural birth control is not being recommended by medical professions.
Overprescribing Birth Control
There are dissenters in the medical community when it comes to birth control, but they’re few and far between.
Dr. John Littell, a physician for over 30 years, recognizes the risks and unrevealed consequences that placing teenage girls on birth control can foster and how it affects their future fertility. (Other doctors advocating for more transparency about birth control are Dr. Lara Briden, Dr. Jolene Brighten, and Dr. Sarah Hill.)
While the pill might be taken for one purpose, its effects can seriously influence other aspects of the body.
Dr. Littell perfectly illustrates that while the pill, for example, might be taken for one purpose, its effects can seriously influence other aspects of the body unintentionally, but irreversibly. For a woman with mental health issues taking birth control to treat acne, she might be completely unaware that birth control is linked to an increased risk of depression.
Dr. Littell believes that birth control is overprescribed by not only gynecologists, but also by dermatologists, family physicians, general practitioners, and others.
A Mutually Beneficial Relationship
So why is it overprescribed? One reason is that it’s financially beneficial to the manufacturing company to do so.
Pharmaceutical companies spend huge amounts of their budgets on advertising to the public, but they also spend a large percentage of it on research and development, specifically in forging relationships with doctors. Pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars marketing their specific products directly to physicians in an effort to have more prescriptions written.
But the pharmaceutical sales rep isn’t just dropping off a pamphlet. In 2015, 48% of physicians accepted some kind of gift or payment from a pharmaceutical or device manufacturer. When these relationships are strong and influential, it’s no surprise that there’s a correlation between how little to how much doctors prescribe and their relationship with those companies.
There’s a correlation between how much doctors prescribe and their relationship with the pharmaceutical companies.
And when you consider a lucrative industry like birth control — which generated $4 billion in revenue in North America in 2018 — it’s hardly surprising that birth control is overprescribed.
The CDC reports that 28% of women are using the pill. That’s 10.6 million women, responsible for millions of prescriptions and millions of dollars in marketing, advertising, production, and profit.
There’s no financial cost to natural birth control, and therefore no incentive for medical professionals to prescribe it.
We’ve been assured that our medical communities and professionals work for our benefit. But when they’re not providing us with every option or opportunity to empower ourselves through information and education, it only makes sense they could be serving interests beyond their patients’.
It’s then our responsibility to inform ourselves and to seek out our own empowerment, as long as there continues to be mistrust and misinformation surrounding healthy, effective holistic medicine.