Contraceptives Hurt Women and Millennials May Agree

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[A] man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium [emphasis added] reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection. – Blessed Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae (17)

It is common, with regard to politically-charged issues, to use the term “denier” to describe those who dispute what is considered irrefutable scientific evidence. However, an exception is made for those who downplay the numerous scientific studies revealing the damaging effect of hormonal contraceptives on women. Sadly, this deliberate ignorance is practiced by many women themselves, who, as was demonstrated in the Women’s March, mis-associate contraception use with freedom and self-respect.

However, an honest examination of the science would show just the opposite is true. The side-effects of hormonal contraception range in severity from the potential to develop cancer down to weight gain or moodiness.  Although medical personnel acknowledges the existence of these side-effects, their detriment to women is often dismissed as insignificant. Or it is suggested that women should simply grin and bear them as a small price to pay for avoiding an unwanted pregnancy.

This is hardly an attitude that respects a woman’s “physical and emotional equilibrium.” However, there is some evidence that younger women are beginning to reject this singular focus on reproduction and are finding their own solutions that value their quality of life and their dignity as complete persons.

Breast Cancer and Hormonal Contraceptives

The World Health Organization (WHO), classifies combined oral contraceptives (COCs) and combined hormonal menopausal treatment as “Carcinogens (Group 1)-Carcinogenic to humans.” This is the same level of risk as tobacco and asbestos.

However, this life-threatening potential of hormonal contraceptives was not widely reported in the media until the publication of studies conducted by the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) which examined the effectiveness of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for post-menopausal women.

These trials, begun 1995, were ended prematurely after 2004 by the WHI’s Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB). Results showed treatment with artificial hormones, administered both singly and in combination, was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, some increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, and more harm than benefit overall.

“My Advice to Women is Absolutely No Different”

Of course, the WHI findings regarding HRT raised issues concerning the safety of these same hormones prescribed to pre-menopausal women as contraceptives. Predictably, birth control vendors, such as Planned Parenthood, were dismissive of the risks. Because the hormones used for contraception were of a lower dosage than those used in HRT, medical experts believed the potential for developing cancerous side effects was too small to warrant concern.

A 2005 NBC report quoted Dr. Steven R. Goldstein, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University Medical Center:

My advice to women is absolutely no different , …, I think the benefits outweigh the risk [emphasis added].  …I don’t think there’s good science that they will have more breast cancer, especially in the doses and the way we are using it.

However, twelve years later, there is some “good science” that shows even the smaller doses can result in more breast cancer.

Small But Significant

On Dec. 6, The New York Times published the results of a Danish study which was the first to examine the risks associated with current formulations of birth control pills and devices in a large population.

The study followed 1.8 million Danish women for over ten years. Based on their findings, the researchers estimate for every 100,000 women, hormone contraceptive use causes an additional 13 breast cancer cases a year. That is, for every 100,000 women using hormonal birth control, there are 68 cases of breast cancer annually, compared with 55 cases a year among nonusers.

Thus, as in the HRT studies, researchers found “women who rely on birth control pills or contraceptive devices that release hormones face a small but significant increase in the risk for breast cancer.”

The study…upends widely held assumptions about modern contraceptives for younger generations of women. Many women have believed that newer hormonal contraceptives are much safer than those taken by their mothers or grandmothers, which had higher doses of estrogen.

Hormonal Contraceptives and Depression

Beyond the cancer issue, current research indicates a side-effect innocuously labeled as “mood-swings” could be far more serious. A 2016 study conducted by the University of Copenhagen confirmed a strong link between contraceptives and clinical depression. As reported by Holly Grigg-Spall for The Guardian, this study was the largest of its kind, surveying one million Danish women between the ages of 15 and 34 tracked for a total of 13 years.

Researchers found that women taking the combined oral contraceptive were 23% more likely to be diagnosed with depression and those using progestin-only pills…were 34% more likely. Teens were at the greatest risk of depression, [emphasis added] with an 80% increase when taking the combined pill, and that risk is two-fold with the progestin-only pill.

In addition, other hormone-based methods commonly offered to women…such as the hormonal IUS/coil, the patch and the ring, were shown to increase depression at a rate much higher than either kind of oral contraceptives.

Despite these findings and those of other other smaller studies, Grigg-Spall observed that the medical community continues to tell women “not to be alarmed, concerned, or deterred from continuing to use our hormonal contraceptives.”

Millennial Women Begin to Reject the Pill

Fortunately, sources such as The Atlantic, The Telegraph (UK), and CNN are beginning to report trends among millennials and other female demographic groups that indicate a growing dissatisfaction with the hormonal contraceptive status quo.

In an article in the December 2017 issue of Vogue magazine, the author, Lottie Winter, observed:

In its glory days [the pill] represented the liberation of women from the fear of unwanted pregnancies allowing them to act freely and safely for the first time ever. But if you’re a millennial (born…between 1982 and 1996), it’s likely your attitude is more complex.

Winter goes on to cite an NHS study that found “the number of women …who used user-dependent contraception, including the pill, had dropped by more than 13% between 2005 and 2015.” The reasons for this were diverse, from the potentially cancer-causing effects to the more mundane, fatigue with the everyday experiences of “mood swings, bloating, and weight gain.”

As Are Women in France

Last October, French public radio host Sabrina Debusquat conducted a survey of 3,616 French women who had taken the Pill and found out why 91% had stopped at least one time.  As reported by Gerard Migeon at naturalwomanhood.org, Debusquat summarized the three main reasons respondents gave for no longer taking hormonal contraceptives. 

First, “the minor but problematic side effects,” such as weight gain, mood disorders, and migraines.

These are typical side-effects that doctors will try to correct by changing prescription but tend to consider a minor and acceptable [emphasis added] part of being on contraceptives. French women are no longer OK with that…any [type of] pain that spoils a good part of their lives is not ‘benign.’

The second reason is a concern about the effects on a woman’s health in general, not just specific to the reproductive system.

Since 2013, France has become better aware of the risks of blood clots after a high profile report of the number of accidents caused by the 3rd and 4th generation pills appeared in the national newspaper LeMonde. Among the women surveyed by Debusquat, 6.9% had experienced a serious health problem diagnosed by a doctor and related to the pill. 

Finally, the women in Debusquat’s survey simply “refuse to take medication or hormones if [they’re] healthy.” Debusquat refers to these modern women as the “no-Pill generation.”

The no-Pill generation questions the principle of medicating contraception and rejects the idea that contraception must rhyme with side-effect risks… More and more, a woman wants to be in touch with her natural body, to respect it just as she wants to respect the environment.

Looking for Natural Alternatives

Fed up with the medical community’s downplaying of quality of life issues, grassroots efforts are employing modern technology to facilitate more natural methods of family planning.

Two apps have been developed to assist women in charting their monthly cycles, Kindara, developed in 2012, and, more recently, Natural Cycles.  According to a Catholic News Agency article, the Natural Cycles app was developed in Switzerland by Elina Berglund, a nuclear physicist, and her husband.

The app works on symptom-thermal based system. Using mathematics and advanced technology, the app tracks a woman’s recorded daily temperature through an algorithm which determines fertility, making it a competitive alternative to hormonal birth control and contraception for women who would otherwise use them.

An independent study in Europe found that, when used correctly, the Natural Cycles app was as effective in spacing pregnancies as the pill without any of the side effects.

Contraceptives and the Dignity of Women

In stark contrast to the secular message, the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraceptives emanates from a deep love and respect for women. Documents such as St. Pope John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem and Letter to Women, celebrate the “genius of women” that arises out of their natural ability to nurture life, not in unnatural efforts to suppress that ability. And it is the Church’s understanding of womanhood that has science on its side.

The well-being of women depends on creating a nurturing culture–one in which women are respected for their unique contributions, rather than exploited by a contraceptive mentality that exposes them to great risk and unhappiness. …Faith and the [scientific] evidence …all point in the same direction: The Church’s teachings against contraception…[protects] the well-being of all. –United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Life Matters: Contraceptives and Women’s Well-Being, 2012 

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22 thoughts on “Contraceptives Hurt Women and Millennials May Agree”

  1. Recently, in discussion about abortion , someone said that the pill was an abortificant because it prevents implantation of an embryo. I said “no, the pill prevents ovulation. I think you mean the IUD.” It turns out that I was wrong. There’s a reason for this. Contraceptive manufacturers define pregnancy only once an embryo is implanted in the endometrium. That way, they can call the pill a contraceptive and not an abortificant. In reality, the pill represses ovulation , but if ovulation occurs anyway and the egg is fertilised, then the secondary effects of the pill come into play, namely it weakens the endometrium so it cannot support an embryo. The frequency with which it becomes an abortion is not known. I have heard estimates between 2 and 60 percent. One can imagine why there haven’t been more studies about this. I think this information should be widely shared, and why it hasn’t been, even in this excellent article about the risks of the pill, is anyone’s guess.

    1. Annette, thank you for your kind comment. You raise an excellent point about the abortifacient nature of the Pill. Not many women know about it (or acknowledge it) even though this information is printed in black and white on the pamphlet provided by the manufactures themselves. As for why I didn’t include that here, I wish I could have included ALL of the toxic side effects that the Pill causes. As Sue mentioned in her comment, there are also well-documented environmental concerns about contraceptives in the water supplies. Unfortunately, there are so many that it would take an entire book to describe them all, much more space than we have here. I hope to address some of the other issues in future columns.

    2. That’s when the Pill fails.

      “When natural family planning fails and an unplanned pregnancy occurs, there appears to be a much higher than normal rate of miscarriage and birth defects. It is suspected that this is due to fertilization involving an old egg or old sperm. The best chance for normal ovulation is fertilization at the time of ovulation. A miscalculation by a couple using natural family planning may lead to fertilization 24 hours after ovulation (i.e., when the egg is about to die), with increased risk of defects.”

      From “Encyclopedia of Women’s Health”, p. 303.

    3. Why do you say it’s biased? Because it says something that doesn’t fit your preconceived notions?

      See also:

      Chappell, “A biologist’s concern for mother and child”, in “Abortion: A Christian Understanding and Reponse”, 1987.

      Irina Pollard, “Bioscience Ethics”, Cambridge University Press 2009, specifically chapter 5.

      Speroff & Darney, “A Clinical Guide for Contraception” (a term which the authors mean to include natural family planning), 2005, see chapter 9.

      Guida et al., “An overview of the effectiveness of natural family planning”, Gynecology/Endocrinology, 1997, Vol. 11, pp. 203 – 219.

      Gray et al, “Timing of conception and the risk of spontaneous abortion among pregnancies during use of natural family planning”, American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 1994, Vol. 172, pp. 1567 – 1572.

      I could go on, of course.

    4. Actually, after a perusal of google, it seems that your references are dated and the epidemiological study was never substantiated. But I’m curious as to your point. Are you saying that taking the contraceptive pill is the moral equivalent of nfp?

    5. I don’t think any of these have been questioned (except by Church authorities who are under orders to say what they say). Any time you fight the body’s normal inclinations ill effects occur. (Like, say, always walking on your hands.) NFP fights the woman’s normal body rhythms, and it’s not surprising that eggs (or sperm) that meet when they’re in the process of dying will create at-risk zygotes. It’s like restricting childbearing to women over 45.

      The Pill is more honest than NFP (no hypocrisy involved), and allows sex to be unitive, instead of coerced by the calendar, and by loveless legalisms. (If you want a laugh, see how the Church allows the man to put on a “perforated condom” when a sperm sample has to be taken. Mind you, this is supposed to be “unitive”.) So I’d say the Pill is more moral than NFP.

    6. “Any time you fight the body’s normal inclinations ill effects occur.” Hmm. I thought fighting the body’s inclinations was called “temperence”
      The pill causes abortions, not to mention deliberate interference with the openess to life in the marital embrace.
      NFP does not cause miscarriage. Your cited studies are inconclusive.
      Am I wrong in assuming that you feel that the church is being unreasonable and oppressive?
      I find the Catholic Church teaching on the theology of the human body and her teaching on human sexuality inspirational. I do understand that human life at the extremes, for example : elderly who are suffering from an incapacitating illness, people in comas, an embryo (a very very young human that has just come into being ) push the definition of “human” to the maximum. It can get murky. That’s why there seems to be some legitimacy with those who argue for euthanasia and abortion. And that’s where first principles, like the meaning and purpose of life, come into play to clarify these tough calls. If I err on these issues, like the church, I prefer to err on the side of life.

    7. “I thought fighting the body’s inclinations was called “temperence”.”

      No, we’re not talking about concupiscence. This is about biology. The health of babies is the concern here, something which the Church claims to have studied intensely. It is not “temperance” to act in a way that increases the risk of miscarriage or birth defects.

      You keep saying the sources I cite are inconclusive but don’t give any contrary cites.

      It’s good that you understand that euthanasia and abortion are tough calls (too many conservatives just cry “murder!!”).

      BTW, someone should trace the nearly 180 degree turn modern Catholicism has made as to “Life” (i.e., earthly life). Protecting life appears to be the overriding concern of Catholic teaching these days. Yet the New Testament considered earthly life to be decidedly secondary and warned against over-valuing it. I think this turnabout is a product of 20th century culture wars, but I could be wrong.

    1. Contraception just masks an underlying problem. Have you tried a NaPro Doctor? Na Pro technology actually addresses the problem underlying problem. Synthetic hormones should only be an absolute last resort because synthetic hormones do cause damage. In addition to what the article stated, the pill is poisoning the environment, turning fish female as we as a society are excreting far more synthetic estrogen into the environment. Makes me wonder what it is doing to us and our children who drink the water. I too had some medical issues and was astounded how no one ever tried to address what the actual issue was, they just threw the pill at me and said it would fix it, only it didn’t…and I suffered later as a result. I will pray for you and your medical issues, and may God Bless you all the days of your life.

    2. Thank you, Sue!! I was going to bring up NaPro as well, but you responded much more knowledgably than I could. Helen, I hope you will investigate NaPro and that it might help you as well. Thank you both for taking the time to read the article and comment.

    3. I will look into it. My condition was so bad I was desperate for relief. For now I am,fine with what I am using but plan to look into Napro

  2. “Catholic Church’s teaching on contraceptives emanates from a deep love and respect for women”

    Hahahahahaha

    The Church doesn’t let ANY woman be heard. They have no voice. At the Synod on the Family, it was only men — including men who weren’t even ordained. On the parish level, the pastor sits and listens to the women’s group, but then, behind doors that are closed to them, makes decisions with the bishop that control what they do.

    “[A] man who grows accustomed to the use of NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium [emphasis added] reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” — the words from Paul VI you quoted, changed to reflect reality

    If she can’t have sex when she’s fertile, then on the “off” days — when she is least likely to want to have sex — she will be pressured to submit, disregarding her “physical and emotional equilibrium”.

    1. Wow! I think you revealed a lot about your personal bitterness and what’s behind it. This isn’t a problem of NFP or the Catholic Church, but of the relationship between a particular man and a particular woman. Hope things improve….but don’t let bitterness become a poison that stunts you.

    2. Captcrisis, I don’t know from where you draw your extensive knowledge of women, but to quote Olympia Dukakis’ character in “Moonstruck,” “What you don’t know about women is a lot.” For many women, one of the other side effects of the suppressive hormones in the Pill is a reduced libido, which you fail to mention in your comments. Your rewrite of the quote makes no sense. NFP requires the husband and wife to work together as partners in planning their families, strengthening their intimacy and their marriage (there is some statistical evidence that divorce rates for couples who practice NFP are significantly lower than for those who use artificial contraception). As for “reflecting reality,” Pope Paul VI correctly foresaw the consequences of widespread contraceptive use–the high divorce rate, and many women in single-parent situations. The scourge of human trafficking has much to do with the perception of women as a commodity to be bought and sold, and that viewpoint is facilitated by use of contraception. Pope Francis has spoken out against this frequently. Yes, the Church cares deeply about women, although I doubt anything I would say as a Catholic woman would convince you otherwise.

    3. I know a bit more about women than celibate men who have never seen a vagina. Paul did not have a clue. To him, and to all the other Popes, women are a mystery, a different species, and not one of them has interacted with them in a normal way. Some were probably closeted gay men living in a private hell of guilt. Others, though straight, were never comfortable around women and never had any romantic history (or at least not a happy one).

      Your problem is that you blindly follow what the Church says. If its teaching was that sex can only happen while hitting each other with sticks, then you’d find a way to say this is the only satisfying route for married couples. (Though we might see some lively side-disputes as to whether hickory or maple is the best stick material.)

      Nor did Paul foresee anything. All he did with Humanae Vitae was make a laughingstock of the Pope’s teaching authority and make existing contraceptive users feel like their marriage was somehow illegitimate and cheap. And couples practicing NFP are hypocrites — if they deliberately have sex during infertile periods, and abstain when she’s fertile, they’re not “open to life”.

    4. Wow. For someone who is concerned about respecting women, you are quick with the belittling comments. I’m sure anything I could say to refute your statements will go nowhere–there are bigger issues here than can be address in com boxes. I wish you peace.

    1. Thanks so much for reading the article, Guy. I always appreciate your comments and wry humor 🙂 I am curious though. Why 37? Some significance to the “games” in that number?

    2. Mary-That was the number in one report I read; but you raise a serious issue – why 37? for sixteen days that’s only 2+ a day. Perhaps a new black market will thrive in Korea; or they can give out more for medals – bronze, 1 more; silver,3 more; gold 5 more. They could color code or add symbols for each competing country’s condoms, and as in the past so-called athletes have collected pins of each of the countries, they could collect CCCs. In future, mint condition will fetch much more at auction than used. What’s next? IOC funded abortions? Guy McClung, Texas

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