It’s Not Just Hormones

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When a Danish study came out in October linking the birth control pill to depression, it got lots of people talking. Some women responded with “No duh. I’ve been saying that for years.” Other women stopped taking the Pill. Other women sought out a different birth control option.

Is this true? Is the Pill bad for you?

The study, conducted at the University of Copenhagen analyzed 14 years of health data and more than one million women. It concluded, “use of hormonal contraception, especially among adolescents, was associated with subsequent use of antidepressants and a first diagnosis of depression, suggesting depression as a potential adverse effect of hormonal contraceptive use.”

Although the study confirms that there may be a correlation between depression and birth control pill usage, that does not mean that the Pill causes depression or that most women who use the Pill will suffer from depression.

Nevertheless, the study brought to light many concerns women have with hormonal birth control methods. The Pill, which first came to the market in the 1960s, is a combination of synthetic estrogen and progesterone, which stops a woman’s body from releasing an egg. As well, the synthetic progesterone thickens the cervical mucus making it more difficult for sperm to reach the egg.

There are many things to love about the Pill: It is very effective, over 99% effective if taken properly. It doesn’t interrupt love-making, you can take the Pill in the morning and be safe all night long. As well, there are benefits not related to contraception. For some women, it regulates their cycle, diminishes their menstrual flow, and may even clear up acne. And, since it’s a prescription medication, it is most often covered by insurance.


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However, there is no getting around what it does. By introducing synthetic hormones in the body, it alters the natural hormonal balance. Hormones are the chemical messengers of the body. There are about 50 different hormones secreted by our endocrine system. Hormones have a wide variety of responsibilities—from responding to stress, to regulating our blood pressure, to sexual development. Our endocrine system is complex and vast.

When we start to alter the natural balance of our hormonal system, it makes sense there are side effects – not only physical but also emotional and psychological. Some women are unaffected, and others can live with the side effects. Some women are so negatively affected that they want to or must stop taking oral contraceptives. A woman’s sensitivity may change over her lifetime.

Despite many years of scientific research, there still is no hard and fast rule about how hormonal contraception will affect each individual woman. So, if all those benefits seem to outweigh the possible side effects, it might be a good idea to give it a try. Luckily, the Pill can be stopped immediately, so if you don’t like how you feel on it, you can just stop it.

However, if the Pill doesn’t seem like the right fit for you, there are other options. Not a heck of a lot, but some others.

Essentially, birth control falls under two different categories: hormonal and barrier. Hormonal methods include the Pill, patch, contraceptive ring (NuvaRing), and injections (DepoProvera). They all work in a similar manner—by introducing synthetic hormones into the body, they stop ovulation.

Barrier methods include condoms (internal and the more commonly known external), cervical cap (FemCap) and contraceptive sponge. They work by physically stopping the egg and sperm from meeting. While they have no ongoing side effects like hormonal methods and are just used at the time of sex, they aren’t as effective and sometimes can interrupt the process. A key benefit of condoms is that they protect against sexually transmitted infections which no other birth control method can offer.

The other category of birth control, the IUD, is in a class of itself. The two types—copper or hormonal (Mirena), are inserted into the uterus and remain in place for years, and stop the process of fertilization and implantation.

As this is just a quick overview of the world of birth control, I encourage you to do find out more if you are exploring your options. And even if once upon a time you found a method that has been working well for you, it’s not unusual for birth control needs to change with time, age, and life’s circumstances.

A good online resource for non-judgmental and reliable information is

If you are in Winnipeg, the Women’s Health Clinic is a great place for birth control information and supplies.

Wishing you all lots of safe loving.

I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at with comments or questions or if you’d like to learn more about how working with me can help you to improve your sex life.

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Adina Lakser is a Winnipeg-based sex coach, writer and mother. Visit her at or her Aquarian column Pillow Talk


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