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Jagged little pill



Apparently being young in the 1960s was awesome. From what I hear, housing was so cheap it might as well have been free, rock ’n’ roll was exploding with jaw-dropping musicians like Jimi Hendrix and the Doors, and alternative lifestyles were totally on the radar of acceptable.

Also a pint-sized invention had also just come onto the marketplace that would utterly transform the way society views sex: The pill.

The birth control that could be popped daily was first available in 1957. Three years later, in 1960, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration licensed it, and by 1962, over a million women were on it.

These pills came in cute packs of 28 and generously gave flower children everywhere the freedom to do as they please with whomever they please and not get pregnant in the process. Say hello to sexual revolution and women’s rights.


But the story of the pill doesn’t stop there. Scientific inventions are scientific inventions, after all, and the merits of hormone therapy are not without startling side effects.

So let’s flash forward to the world in 2008.   Almost 50 years after the pill was first introduced, everyone is on it. It’s a routine part of our lives: You come of age so you go on the pill, you want to have children so you stop taking the pill, and then you’re done having kids so you go back on the pill.

I’m on it. Most of my friends are on it. Even our mothers are on it.

While this is all fantastic, it does mean there are a whole lot of ladies out there taking small doses of estrogen and progesterone once a day. And the effects of this should not be overlooked.

It means some women are now subject to severe bouts of uncontrollable depression as a direct result of taking the pill (a study in 2005 found that women taking oral contraceptive pills were almost twice as likely to be depressed as those not taking the pill). It means some women lose their libido as a direct result of taking the pill (leaving a Catch 22 situation). And it also means that an abnormally large amount of estrogen and progesterone is being peed out into our water system, leading to a chemical imbalance in our ecosystem.

So maybe it is time that we start talking more about the pill’s safety, distribution and efficacy. Maybe we should figure out how it can benefit us without turning our bodies into a hormone war-zone.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that the pill is evil or that women should stop taking it. Not at all. I am saying that since we should continue to pop the pill, let’s become more aware of the effects it can have on our bodies and our environment.

Personally, I have friends who have manipulated their pill dosage to make sure that “Aunt Flow” does not pay them a visit while they are vacationing on the beach in Mexico. Playing with your hormone cycle is now so easy, why would you not give it a try when Mother Nature gets inconvenient?

Even I am a victim of this.

Once while traveling through Asia, I ran out of pills. To try to make sure I did not disturb my cycle, I went to every pharmacy I could find to see if they carried by brand of birth control. None did, so I went for a week without taking anything.

When I finally got back to Canada, I hurriedly gulped down four pills in five minutes. Not the smartest choice, but I didn’t know what else to do. Unfortunately, my five minutes of stupidity haunted me for the next two months, highlighted by several bouts of uncontrollably sobbing.

Hormones are powerful chemicals that can cause intense reactions. If we are going to take them, we should be very aware of the effects they can have.

The pill is not the only form of birth control that comes in hormone form. The contraceptive injection — also known as Depo-Provera — prevents pregnancy for three months after it is injected. The injection contains synthetic progesterone, no estrogen, and stops the ovaries from releasing eggs. (Read: No more daily pills. No more “monthly” visits.)

But this drug is also associated with a loss of bone density resulting in an increased risk of osteoporosis. And even more scary: The bone loss is not reversed when women go off Depo Provera. In fact, doctors are now recommending that women should never take this drug for a long period of time.

Hormone birth control is an amazing technology that empowers women. It has changed society norms. So maybe its time we figure out exactly what it is we are putting into our body.