top of page

What Women Want and Need to Know About Hormonal Birth Control

Did your doctor explain the potential side effects when you started taking the pill? I recently attended a showing of The Business of Birth Control, a documentary following the history and business of oral contraceptives in light of the feminist movement that changed women’s health forever. In the film, parents, women, and healthcare professionals all expressed concern over the lack of informed consent regarding hormonal birth control. What does this mean?


A lot of women, like myself, began a sometimes decade-long journey of birth control for a slew of reasons, from painful periods to “promiscuity”. Many share a similar confession from this journey: I wish I would’ve known how birth control would end up affecting my life.


Today, more women fulfill leadership roles in the healthcare industry, and an increasing number of women are practicing medicine (59% of OB GYNs are now female). More than ever, there is a nuanced discussion of the results of the supposedly innocent— and possibly even glorified— birth control pill. Here are some key takeaways from this growing discussion.


Woman with Red Nails Holding Hormonal Birth Control Pills

Every Woman’s Right to Her Sexual Health

First, let me make it clear: The concern isn’t birth control itself. Every woman deserves access to sexual health options that work for her, which very well may include the pill. What we must address is the lack of informed consent women are receiving when it comes to hormonal contraceptives given to women so readily, and the consequences of leaving young women unaware of other birth control options today.


In this article, we’ll explore informed consent, plus:


  • Pros, cons, and side effects of the pill

  • Non-hormonal birth control options

  • The importance of women’s sexual and fertility wellness choices today


Browse more Fempower Health resources on hormones and menstrual cycle and fertility.


Birth Control Side Effects

Birth control started with a turbulent history, where women living in poverty were included in the pill’s clinical trials without being made aware of potential side effects. Today, its side effects are still under-discussed, and many experts in the industry agree we need to change this.


Whether you have personal experience or simply know a woman on birth control, here are some of the side effects.


Migraines

The pill and other forms of hormonal birth control that release estrogen can sometimes cause migraine headaches, or make them worse in people with chronic migraines.


Acne

Some women experience acne with the hormonal changes of birth control pills. Conversely, some women start taking birth control as a form of acne treatment. For example, Yaz (a birth control brand commonly known for severe side effects) was originally acne and PMS treatment. Different types of birth control affect women in different ways.


Emotional Side Effects

It’s normal for women to experience emotional cycles through their menstrual phases. During our fertile phase and ovulation, it’s normal for women to feel more energized, social, and sexually excited. Several days before a period, we may feel lethargic, moody, and solitary. Why? Different hormones rise and fall through each phase.


When taking hormonal birth control, many women notice a “blunted” cycle. Some experience uncontrollable emotions:


  • Weepiness

  • Depression

  • Anger/rage

  • Anxiety

  • Compulsive behavior


Informing women about the potential emotional side effects of birth control can allow them to observe any major changes in their mood. If mood swings or negative emotions affect a woman’s life, birth control might not be her preferred option.