What, like you don't discuss IUDs at your place of work?
We’re proud to say that at TC HQ, we’re relatively tight with one another (retreats that involve—no exaggeration—drinking the Catskills dry of tequila will do that to a group). With that in mind, you can imagine the range of (relatively no-filter) conversations that come up on a near daily basis (plastic surgery! Food! How good the new Gucci is!). Among them? Birth control.
Given the frequency with which the topic comes up, we figured that if we were wondering about birth control options, all of you probably are, too. And so? We’re making one of our many conversations public, because there’s nothing quite like discussing the ins and outs of your, ahem, situation with a few pals (and the entire Internet). Our conclusion? Shit is confuuuusing—as per any ongoing, evolving conversation of this nature (which is precisely why we left it open-ended). Fittingly, it’s also the exact kind of discussion you’ve probably had at least once before—amongst friends—and one that usually ends up being more impactful and educational than Googling “alternative to the pill”.
Oh, and a small disclaimer: as evident in this conversation, we are so *not* medical professionals, and the opinions expressed here are in no way intended to be taken as medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor or healthcare provider with any questions you have about birth control and safe sex.
Some names have been changed to protect participants from the wrath of the Internet.
Emily: “I started on the pill for skin problems when I was young. I was on some form of the pill that doctors don’t like as birth control. It’s quite harsh, but it was purely for my skin—it’s called Diane 35. I think it’s for younger people who don’t have as much of a hormone situation going on, but it's bad for blood clots. I don’t think I was on that for very long—maybe six months.
Then I went back on the pill in grade 12 because I had been with my boyfriend for six months, and I told my mom I wanted to. She was like, ‘okay, but this is the first time—my dad’s a doctor—I’ve ever had to lie to your dad about a parenting issue’. [laughs] Since then, I’ve been on the pill pretty much non-stop. I was on Yaz for a really long time, but when that class action suit happened in Canada—people were getting blood clots—so I went on Alesse. My skin got really bad. Then I went off the pill completely, and now I use the ring, which I really like. It localizes the hormones. I take it out every three weeks to have my period and then I just put a new one back in. I never feel it, but my boyfriend says he occasionally can.”
Noah: “I’ve always hated the idea of taking medication. I rarely do—I don’t even really take Advil or Tylenol. I just suffer through the pain! [laughs] I started taking the pill quite late, in my early 20s, late teens, mostly for that reason. When I finally went on it, I stayed on the lowest dose, which was Alesse. It was awesome because—okay, I consulted three different doctors, who said this was normal—it pretty much stopped my period completely. It was wicked, but scary at the same time. I had (again, TMI) such a light period anyway: 3-4 days and the pill pretty much made it non-existent. I would maybe get it twice a year. Then, I kept fucking up and not being really consistent with taking it, so I just went off of it. I tried to go on it again a few months ago and again, I wasn’t really being consistent with it, so I just decided not to stop taking it again. And now I’m on nothing, nada.
I feel better not taking a pill every day. I know it’s extreme, but I’d just rather not be taking any medication at all. When I first stopped the pill, my skin freaked out. It didn’t really change how I felt, which probably had to do with the light dosage. The only difference is now I actually get a period every month, which sucks.”
Alicia: “When I was younger, I went on the pill just like everyone else, like ‘it’s time, you’re going on it!’ It wasn’t for a specific scenario, it was just to be safe. I just took it without thinking about it every day. As I got a little bit older, in college, and I realized that I don’t like the idea of putting these hormones in my body every single day. Some of my friends had been on the pill since they were 14 and they were still on it. And I’m not like Noah, I’ll take Advil all day. I’ll take 15! I’m all about medicine, but I just felt weird about it. I did condoms for a while—TMI.
Then around three years ago, my friend got an IUD. She told me it changed her life and it was amazing, so I went to my gynecologist, I was like, ‘I want the IUD’. She was like, ‘I don’t recommend the IUD, your period will get so much worse, your cramps will be really bad, I don’t recommend you get it.’ But I kind of pushed back and said that I really thought it was for me, that it was the right option. I forced her to give it to me, and I got the copper IUD which has no hormones in it. It’s called the Paraguard.”
Noah: “Is it the same one that our parents used to use? When I mentioned the IUD to my mom, she freaked out because back in their time, women wouldn’t get it if they hadn’t had kids yet.”
Alicia: “I guess now things have changed dramatically since the IUD was first around. It’s a lot safer. I don’t know in terms of the Paraguard versus back then, I just know this one has no hormones in it, just copper. It just sits in my uterus and doesn’t let me get pregnant, which is all I need, really. As much as I want children in the future, not right now. And then I don’t have to worry about getting a prescription every month, don’t have to worry about hormones or feeling really tired from the pill, it’s just there and does the job. I love it, I think it’s the best thing I ever did. I should actually be paid royalties by them because I had, like, eight of my friends get the IUD now and they ALL love it.”
Meagan: “It really didn’t hurt?”
Alicia: “When you go in to get the procedure done, you feel like you’re getting a pap smear. It’s the… normal situation. When they go to insert it, it feels like a really, really bad period cramp, but then it goes away. For me, it was not painful. It was a dull, crampy feeling, just like a period cramp. In terms of the pros and cons, you have to have a pretty high pain tolerance afterwards, at least for me. My periods used to be so easy, I only had them for like five days, very light, no issues, no cramps, I was fine. Now they’re really bad, I get really awful cramps and it’s pretty heavy.”
Emily: “So why do you like it?!”
Alicia: “Because it’s zero hormones, it’s there every day, I never have to worry about, ‘oh, I forgot to take the pill, I might be pregnant!’ I know I’m 100% not pregnant, it stays there for years. Now until I want children, I don’t have to do anything. Zero thoughts. This year hasn’t been as bad as last year, so I think it might get better in terms of cramping.”
Meagan: “Does anyone know what it feels like to get it removed?”
Alicia: “No—apparently the removal is brutal, but everybody is different. Sometimes I freak out about it moving. But that would usually happen in the first three months.”
Isabelle: “So, I got my period really late, in like, grade ten. It kind of started off normal, but then it got really irregular. I had my period every two weeks. I was on Alesse from when I was 16 until after university, early 20s. Then, while I was living in Korea for five months, I switched to a Korean pill. It was a time in my life that was a traumatic time, so it seemed like I took all my stress into my pelvic area and that seemed to react really badly to the Korean pill. That’s when I stopped being on the pill and that was eight years ago. Since then, I’ve used condoms and coitus interruptus… [laughs]"
Meagan: “This sounds really crazy, but I went on the same Diane birth control when I was really, really young. It’s the same thing as Emily—it wasn’t real birth control. It was like, don’t be sexually active and take this, don’t rely on this as birth control. It was more for my skin. I got my period early, literally none of my friends had it. I had to, like, lie about when I got it. I was maybe like 10 or 11, which sounds crazy. Then, when I was 14 or 15, I had my first boyfriend, and I got so mad at my mom because she wouldn’t let me go on birth control. But then I went off of Diane at some point early in high school and went back on proper birth control when I was 17 or 18, more so to help my period be more regular.
A year and a half ago, I tried to get off of it for the same reasons: I’m just really bad at taking a pill every day, I forget it all the time, I’ll end up with half of the pack still full... I tried to go off of it, but my skin and my body freaked out really badly, so now I’m back on it. I’m scared of the IUD, just because I have no pain tolerance whatsoever, but I’m not actively seeking another option out. If there’s some other option that didn’t have pain involved, I would definitely pursue it.”
Noah: “Have you heard about the patch?”
Meagan: “I don’t know much about it. I haven’t looked into anything.”
Noah: “Has anyone tried the shot?
Isabelle: “Want to hear a horror story? A friend of mine was doing a cleanse and I guess everything was passing through her. She had sex and actually ended up taking the morning after pill and it ended up going right through her, so she got pregnant. If you have diarrhea or something when you’re on the pill, it makes it less potent. So that would be something interesting to look at, the effectiveness of the pill... think about how many girls do cleanses, get sick or don’t eat."
Sabrina: “I got on the pill when I was 16, just because it felt like it was time. I was in high school and had had my period for a while, all my friends were on the pill, I had a boyfriend for a while, and I was fine with it. I didn’t have bad skin or period problems or anything, and everything had been fine. In college, I had a few issues with my health insurance, so I went on and off the pill and didn’t really notice anything. I was in college, I was probably drinking a lot, I was a little heavier than I am now. But as soon as I graduated college, I was way more health conscious and not drinking as much and eating better. I was off the pill for my first job, because I didn’t have health insurance, and as soon as I got health insurance, I went back on the pill and I just noticed I gained weight and wasn’t as happy.
I had read about the IUD and how it was a lower hormone dose. I have a different one from Alicia’s: mine is centralized hormones, so it’s only reproductive hormones in my uterus. I was so terrified to get it, and when I heard the doctor coming down the hallway, I almost passed out. But it felt like a cramp, and I don’t even get my period now. I’ve had a wonderful experience with it. I don’t have any issues with it and I feel more like myself. I’m a little worried about getting it out, but at the same time, that’s in five years. I’m a pro-IUD-er.”
Lauren: “My story’s pretty straightforward actually. I wasn’t on anything until my senior year of college, and the reason I went on it was because I would get so sick from my period. I would get really bad cramps and I would feel so sick I would have to miss class. So I was like, F this, I need something that’s going to help regulate it. I went on the pill and it made my life so much easier. I still get my period but it was very light and controlled, it always comes on the same Monday and it’s done by the weekend. The only issue I ever had with the pill was that the one I happened to be on made me so emotional. I would cry more easily and I would get upset at things, so I talked to my doctor and she put me on a low estrogen one. I’ve just been on it ever since. I love it, I cannot deal with the pain issue, I cannot put anything inside of me like the IUD. That would freak me out.
However, I’m really bad at taking the pill, I always forget and have to double up sometimes. I’ve taken a couple, like two pregnancy tests. I’m with Isabelle, I’m just like maybe I can’t get pregnant because I’ve messed it up in so many ways?”
Alex: “This is so relevant to me—I got my period at a really young age. I started getting really irregular periods when I was 16, 17, because I started running track. They put me on Ortho Tricyclen to kickstart my period again, so I’ve just been on and off that any time I’ve been in a serious relationship. I’m a big believer in not taking prescriptions or medicine when I don’t have to, so the times I’ve been single, I’ve just used condoms. Now recently, I need to get back on birth control. They prescribed me some generic brand and I was on it for a week, it made me feel insane. Everyone in the office can attest to this, I was like, psychotic! I’m very intrigued by the IUD. It’s been at least two years since I’ve been on regular birth control, so I’m kind of scared. That’s why the IUD intrigues me, but the thought of putting a foreign object in my body is scary. I’m convinced my body will reject it, like the worst case scenario. It also seems like a long time to have it in there.”
Emily: “How do we want to wrap this up?”
Alex: “I just think it’s so unfair that it’s all on us! It’s all on the chick!”
Meagan: “And there’s relatively few options... the pill to me is like a very blanket, one-size-fits-all prescription to solve multiple problems women have.”
Lauren: “My doctor’s like, ‘oh, you’ve been on the pill for so long, it’s still working for you? Just keep taking it.’ I don’t feel very educated about other options.”
Emily: “I only ended up on the ring because I was like, I haven’t liked a single pill, or I’ve had to go off of it because other people have had health problems. I asked for another pill, actually, and my doctor offered the ring. That was the first time I ever considered an alternative.”
Alicia: “I find it a bit concerning that I’ve been going to the gynecologist forever, and I had to hear about this option from a friend. All my research was done on my own, on the Internet, and I had to go and tell my doctor, and had to be well researched enough to come back to her and be like, ‘I want to be on it!’ I just find that a bit worrying, you would think they’d give you more options and take you more seriously.”
Emily: “I’ve always thought about: someday if and when I do want to get pregnant, is my body going to…? I’ve now been on some sort of birth control for more than ten years. And by the time I’m having a baby, it’ll be 15 to 20 years. Is my body going to have to taper off, am I going to take years or months to get used to being itself again? What happens?”
Alicia: “I’ve found in the last year—maybe it’s just me—but I feel a maternal thing. I think about it all the time, I think about my eggs, and getting pregnant.”
Lauren: “I’m 28 and I don’t want to have children any time soon, but sometimes I get a weird feeling when I see a baby. When I think back, I’m like, feeling something that I wasn’t feeling when I was 25.”
Noah: “I am so not there yet.” [Laughs]
Alicia: “I think about the number of eggs constantly… like should I stop drinking tequila now?” [Laughs]
Alex: “I do feel the fertility conversation has become more mainstream lately, and I don’t know if it’s that, or that more and more people, it seems, are having fertility issues. I don’t know if it’s because people are talking about it more than they ever have, or if it’s a generational thing. I definitely drink more than my mom did—people are more exposed to drugs and alcohol. It has to be a combination.”
Alicia: “It could be both.”
Noah: “It’s also interesting because if we think about it, were our grandparents on birth control? If our parents were on it, do they pass that on to us? Are we going to pass it on to our kids? I don’t know the answer.”
Alicia: “Lots of questions.”