What Every Guy Should Know About the Birth Control Pill
The birth control pill is one of the most popular and effective forms of contraception, and when used correctly, it prevents pregnancy about 99.1 percent of the time.
From its inception, "the pill" was hailed as one of the most important medical and societal advances of the 20th century, offering a convenient, safe and effective method for women to control their reproductive lives. Indeed, four out of five sexually active women have used the pill at some point in their lives.
While this 60-year-old medication is probably better known worldwide than most drugs, a lot of men have only a rudimentary understanding of what it is, what it does and, more important, what it doesn't do. Here are a few facts you should know about the birth control pill.
There's more than one kind
Birth control pills work by using small amounts of the hormones estrogen and progestin. There are two types: Combination birth control pills prevent the release of eggs from the ovaries, and the "minipill" makes changes to the cervical mucus to inhibit sperm from traveling through the cervix to reach an egg.
Most women use the combination pill, which incorporates both of the hormones mentioned. Some women opt for the minipill, which relies only on progestin to prevent sperm from reaching an egg. This option makes more sense for women who are severely affected by the nausea that sometimes accompanies estrogen-based pills. However, as women don't always use it in the correct manner, the minipill has proven to be about 91 percent effective.
The pill is for more than birth control
Combination pills have other benefits for women apart from preventing pregnancy. These side benefits include:
- Helping to regulate a woman's period and reduce cramping
- Reducing the risk of certain kinds of cancer
- Helping clear up acne for some women
- Treating severe premenstrual syndrome
The pill can have side effects
On the other hand, the pill can have adverse side effects, resulting in mood swings, weight gain, nausea, migraines and a reduced sex drive. On rare occasions, the pills can cause serious health problems such as blood clots, liver tumors, heart attacks and stroke.
Most women try several different brands before settling on the one best suited for them with the fewest negative side effects. Even among brands of the same type of pill—combination or minipill—there are varying doses of each hormone, which can cause the mentioned side effects.
Not all women can take birth control pills
Birth control pills are safe for most women, but they're not recommended for smokers over age 35. Nonsmokers can safely take the pill until they reach menopause. Women with any of the following conditions also shouldn't take the pill:
- Blood clots in the legs, arms or lungs
- Heart or liver disease
- Breast cancer or cancer of the uterus
- Unregulated high blood pressure
- Migraines with aura
The pill may be less effective under certain conditions
Though rare, some medications can lessen the effectiveness of the pill. This, as well as the ever-present risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI), is one of many reasons why it's always a good idea to use condoms during sex. For women with a body mass index (BMI) above 27.3, the risk of getting pregnant despite taking the pill is 60 percent higher. BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. With a larger body mass, it's more difficult for the estrogen and progestin to circulate throughout the body. Plus, with the higher metabolism of a heavier person, one day's pill may metabolize before the next day's dose is taken.
The birth control pill represents a revolution in women's control over their reproductive destiny. However, as with any medication, especially those that rely on hormones to do their work, it's essential to be fully informed. And men should become as educated as women are, because it takes two to make decisions about contraception.