What every woman should know about the pill

Before you start having sex, it’s super-super important to plan ahead about which contraceptive(s) you’re going to use. And even if you’ve been sexually active for awhile and need to switch over to a different method due to a lifestyle change or for something period-related, it’s vital to understand which form of protection is best for you.

And when it comes to contraceptives, it can be pretty overwhelming to think about all of your different options. There’s the patch, the shot, the NuvaRing, FemCap, condoms, diaphragms, the IUD, and abstinence. Oh, and the pill. The pill is a popular choice (28 percent of women use it in the US —that’s 10.6 million ladies total, according to the CDC ) among women due to its numerous benefits.

However, the pill isn’t perfect. Like many medications, it has some drawbacks and certainly some aspects every woman should be aware of before she starts taking it.

So, how do you know if the pill is right for you? Here are some very important pros — and cons — that all women should know about before going on the pill.

Pros of using the pill

It can give you clearer skin.

A lot of women who use birth control enjoy clearer skin due to the estrogen in the pill. Estrogen decreases the amount of testosterone, which stimulates oil production, thus causing zits. In fact, a lot of doctors prescribe birth control to help clear up acne and skin issues.

It gives you a way to know exactly when you’ll be getting your next period.

We all have experienced that awful moment when your period comes too early. . . while you’re wearing white pants and there’s not a tampon or Diva Cup in sight. On the other hand, we also have experienced the stress that accompanies a late period. Cycles can vary from month to month, but birth control helps you to know exactly when you’ll be getting your period —and can keep you regular. Rad.

It can also give you lighter periods. . . 

Fun fact! When you’re on the pill, you don’t actually have a real period. You don’t actually ovulate on the pill, so your uterine lining doesn’t build up as much. Sure, you may bleed during the placebo week, but that’s just withdrawal bleeding and you’ll likely have a lighter period that will last less time than you’re used to.

. . . and way less cramping (WOOOOT.)

Ever get those ultra painful cramps that leave you doubled over? Yeah, those are because of prostaglandins, which trigger muscle contraction to help shed your uterine lining during your period. Your uterus can contract too much, causing that awful pain. Luckily, the pill can actually reduce the amount of prostaglandins sent out, meaning that you can put that heating pad away for the time being.

For those who suffer from endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome, the pill can provide relief from that pain as well.

OH, and less periods in general, if you want!

The placebo week at the end of the pack doesn’t technically need to be taken. It’s safe to just hop onto the active pill of the next pack and postpone your period, according to Planned Parenthood. Talk about ultimate control over your menstruation, right?

The pill may be able to prevent endometrial cancer.

A recent study suggests that birth control pills can offer long-term protection against endometrial cancer. “The strong protective effect of oral contraceptives against endometrial cancer — which persists for decades after stopping the pill — means that women who use it when they are in their 20s or even younger continue to benefit into their 50s and older, when cancer becomes more common,” lead study author Prof. Valerie Beral, of the University of Oxford in the UK, explained.

It can also protect you from anemia.

For some women, too much blood loss from periods can cause anemia, which can make you exhausted mentally and physically. But since the pill gives you lighter periods, you lose less blood, and you’re less likely to suffer from anemia.

Cons of using the pill

It doesn’t protect you against sexually transmitted diseases or HIV.

Condoms (and abstinence) are the only contraceptives that are MOST effective when protecting you against STDs. So, make sure to use one for extra protection —even if you’re taking the pill.

You could experience increased headaches or nausea.

These side effects may pass after some time, but if they don’t, make sure to call your doctor to talk about switching to a different pill or contraceptive.

It can be difficult to remember to take it every single day.

You definitely don’t want to forget to take your pill, since taking the pill every day at a consistent time is the only way to make it as effective as possible. If you tend to forget, use an alarm on your phone (or any other method that will help you remember).

It can affect your libido in a not-so-great way.

Going on the pill may deal a blow to your sex drive. “Some women will notice a decrease in their libido,” New Orleans OBGYN Jennifer Mills, MD, told Self. “We believe this is linked to lower levels of testosterone.”

The pill can mask abnormalities in your cycle.

It’s great to know exactly what day you’re getting your period every month, but sometimes, irregularities in your cycle serve as a major red flag. If you don’t notice these irregularities, you may not go to the doctor as often, so if you do decide to go on the pill, make sure to make regular appointments with your doctor — even if it seems like nothing is wrong.

It can cause you to gain weight.

The pill can stimulate your appetite and make you eat more food — often, junk food. It also can cause you to retain some water weight. This is often a deterrent for a lot of women who are considering the pill, but according to Mills, it’s very rarely a large difference. “When you go on birth control, it can make you a little bloated because you’re going to retain some fluid — maybe two or three pounds of water weight gain,” Mills told Self. “In general, I don’t see patients gaining more than 5 or 10 pounds.”

Your risk of a blood clot goes up slightly

While the risk is still very, VERY low, says WebMD, it’s still there and it’s still something you need to be aware of. It also depends on the type of pill you use. Research showed that “women who used pills with newer types of progestogen hormone — drospirenone, desogestrel, gestodene, and cyproterone — were 1.5 to 1.8 times more likely to develop blood clots than those who used pills containing older progestogens such as levonorgestrel, norethisterone and norgestimate.” If you have any medical conditions that may lead to an increase of blood clotting, talk to your OBGYN when discussing your birth control options.

Some women can’t take the pill due to certain medications or medical issues.

It’s important to note that the pill is certainly not for everyone. While some women have claimed the pill caused moodiness and in some severe cases, depression, no research between the pill and one’s psyche has proved conclusive. However, if it’s been more than three months after first starting on the pill and you feel sad, moody, or depressed, talk to your doctor.

And certain health conditions and conflicting medications may affect how the pill works with your body, so make sure to contact your OBGYN and be completely open about your medical history. The pill is mostly a very safe, very effective drug — but for it to work and keep you happy, you need to understand your body and allow your OBGYN to understand it as well.

For more information about the pill, visit our most trustworthy online source, Planned Parenthood (or make an appointment at your nearest location!), or your OBGYN.

(Image via Shutterstock.)

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