Recently, a good friend of mind told me that she is thinking about getting an IUD. She knew that I had one previously, and didn’t have a great experience with it. This got me thinking about birth control and contraception and how little we are taught about it, especially any negative side effects.
Here is my experience with birth control, from when I was first sexually active until recently.
I lost my virginity at 15, my boyfriend at the time was also a virgin. I wasn’t comfortable going to the doctor to discuss the birth control pill because, well, I still don’t like going to the doctor, but also because I was too shy/embarrassed. So, we used condoms.
The first few times went fine, if not a little awkwardly. We then started experimenting with different types of condoms – ribbed and studded. Those were awful! I spoke with one specific friend about it because I knew that she was also sexually active. She agreed and said, “ribbed condoms are like getting fucked with a cheese grater.” This is an analogy I still use today.
Out of genuine curiosity…. are there any women out there who actually enjoy these textured condoms?
After about three months, a condom broke. I panicked, we were 16, I couldn’t be pregnant. My periods were super irregular due to my very low body fat percentage so the chance was small, but it will still terrifying. So off to the youth clinic to get Plan B.
At the clinic, the doctor talked to me about the birth control pill and said that I could get it for free through the youth clinic. Fantastic! Condoms are gross and the pill would help regulate my period, win-win. So I started on the pill for the first time.
First couple of months were fine, but then my period started getting longer, and longer, and longer. Soon, I was bleeding for three weeks, with only a week between cycles. I was young and didn’t even think about discussing it with a doctor and getting a different pill; I didn’t know there were different pills. So I stopped taking my pill and we went back to condoms.
About six months later, another condom broke. Back to the youth clinic, while I was there the pills was brought up again. I discussed my past experience and the doctor said that I could try a pill with a lower dose of hormones. I was super excited by this news.
Repeat my last experience with the pill. A few good months, followed by a lengthening period. I felt like it was a lost cause, so it was back to condoms.
I remained in that relationship for many more years. Hormonal birth control free. Due to his fear of me getting pregnant, and our history with broken condoms, sex was rather infrequent.
That relationship ended when I was 22 and I jumped into another relationship almost immediately. The first two times I had sex with this man, the condoms broke. By this time I was a bit older and recognized that as much as I didn’t want to have to go see a doctor, my vagina eats condoms so I should probably go on some type of birth control.
I discussed my past experiences being on the pill with the doctor, and we decided on a brand to try. At this point, I am not sure if an IUD was brought up as a viable alternative, but I wouldn’t have been interested in it at the time. It took almost a year and three different brands of the pill (in addition to the two from when I was younger) before we found something that seemingly worked.
On this pill, my period got shorter and lighter. It didn’t appear to have any significant negative side effects – although, in hindsight this is so far from true! I did gain a few pounds, but that was to be expected and didn’t bother me.
Over the next year my libido dropped to almost non-existent; I wanted to want to have sex, but I just didn’t. The relationship I was in turned toxic, for both of us. In our youthful wisdom, we decided that not stopping a pregnancy if it were to happen would be good for us (I am so happy I didn’t end up pregnant with this man!). The toxicity of the relationship permeated my whole life, and I eventually ended up leaving him (best decision ever!).
Shortly after that relationship ended, I began to date my now-husband. One of the first times we had sex, the condom broke (because my vagina eats them!). At this point, I still didn’t realize how awful the side effects to hormonal birth control were for me, so I thought the responsible thing to do would be to go back on the pill. I asked the doctor for the same brand I had been on previously, as I knew that it wouldn’t make me bleed constantly.
I was only on the pill for about four months as I ended up getting pregnant and my husband and I decided to keep the baby, despite the fact we had only been together a few months.
After I gave birth, I went on a different type of pill so as not to affect breastfeeding. When my daughter was about a year old my husband and I discussed having another child, neither of us really wanted one, but we were ready to make an permanent decisions. So I opted to get an IUD, as that would provide us five years to decide, and I could get it removed at any time.
After a bit of research I decided on the Mirena (at the time, the only options available to me were the Mirena and the copper IUD). I choose the hormonal option over the copper one for a singular reason. A side effect of the copper IUD was heavier periods and, as I have written about before, my period is already abnormally heavy and I couldn’t even imagine it being worse (this was pre-DivaCup). On top of that, I had not yet recognized the detrimental effects that hormonal birth control had on my mental and physical health).
Initially, I loved my IUD. My period stopped entirely and we didn’t even have to think about birth control. But slowly, things started to change…
Like everyone, I occasionally had periods were I was depressed or sad for seemingly no reason, but they were short-lived (like less than a day) and never caused me any problems. But now, there were periods where I was just exhausted, my whole body felt heavy and even having a shower seemed like too much work. I didn’t want to get out of bed, and some days I didn’t. I was doing the bare minimum to be a functioning adult and mother.
My sex drive was pretty non-existent but I chalked that up to the depression and having a small child.
Then the migraines started. Oh my, they were the most awful thing I have ever experienced! They didn’t happen often, maybe once every two or three months, but that was more than enough.
I am not sure how I recognized it, but I realized that the depression and the migraines never happened before I had an IUD and that they were getting worse as time went on. Maybe I was just looking for a cause…. but I started doing some research into negative side effects of Mirena specifically, and hormonal birth control generally. Migraines, depression, loss of libido, mood swings…. all potential side effects of hormonal birth control. I had never been told about this! Or, if I was, it was glossed over. But I read dozens of first hand accounts of women who experienced horrific side effects to being on hormonal birth control.
I had had my IUD for about 2 years at this point. I discussed my theory with my husband that the IUD was causing the migraines, depression, and mood swings I was experiencing. He was supportive in me having it removed, but this brought back the issue of birth control. By this time, we were certain that we were done having children, so he booked a consultation for a vasectomy.
Problem solved… for now.
Fast forward a number of years and I have finally recognized all of the negative effects that hormonal birth control had on me, but I am planning on meeting my long-distance lover in real life for the first time. Wile condoms are most definitely going to be used, I know my history with them so I am not comfortable using condoms as our only form of contraception. Despite knowing that hormonal birth control fucks with me hard, I decide that it will be short term and it is for the best. I believed that I could mitigate the negative effects on my mental health by being hyper-aware of them.
I started back on the pill about three months before our meeting, as I wanted to ensure that my body had time to adjust and that the pill would be effective. I thought it would take several months before I would notice the negative side effects, but they started almost immediately.
My libido was gone. The depression returned. I experienced wild mood swings. My husband and I were arguing almost daily, and not small disagreements, like crazy house shaking arguments. I felt like a crazy person.
This was my wake up call, I stopped taking the pill three weeks before meeting my lover. I couldn’t do it anymore, it was tearing my relationship with my husband apart.
I will never again use any type of hormonal birth control.
I realize that there are women out there who do not experience these types of side effects. In fact, I know some women that use birth control as a way to regulate mood swings and other issues. I am not in any way trying to say that hormonal birth control doesn’t have positive effects on people, but I do believe that there has to be more discussion about the negative effects.
I believe that women should be encouraged to self-monitor their mental and physical well being before starting hormonal birth control and continuing after, to see if there are any changes.