The Pill and Me
Ever since I posted Trena’s story on her pill usage I’ve meant to post about mine. I’ve hinted at my story before, but now it is time for it to get its own post. This will, as always, include plenty of what normal people consider to be TMI. You’ve already been warned. And perhaps it is worth stating explicitly that this is about the use of the pill for therapeutic, not contraceptive, reasons. Lots of sickness, no sexiness. So don’t be scandalized.
My first near-encounter with artificial hormones (henceforth, “the pill” even though much of it -including my own experience- is not in pill form) happened when I was 19 and Josh and I had first started not-dating. Prior to that point we had been sort-of friends, but then Josh expressed an interest in “something more” and so we entered the phase of not-(yet)-dating. I was incredibly stressed. I went from 12 mile runs every weekend to not being able to run a mile without cramps and nausea. I had started fertility charting a few months before and so it was quite clear that my body had gone crazy. I ovulated, but then went weeks without menstruation. So I scheduled my first gynecologist appointment.
I left with the reassurance that “sometimes these things just happen” and a prescription for a progestin-only pill which was supposed to bring on my period. I was irrationally afraid of it, and had a feeling that my body was going to resolve the situation soon after I’d finally gotten to see the doctor, so I delayed filling that prescription. It is probably still with my old papers somewhere, unused.
Two and a half years later Josh and I were engaged and I had gone from struggling to run to struggling to walk. I started skipping daily mass because the two mile walk was more than I could handle. Josh moved to be closer to me and for the first time we got to see each other frequently. It was wonderful.
I was still quite opposed to the pill and had laparoscopic surgery in an attempt to both get an accurate diagnosis (endometriosis) and cure through removal. It did not work. So I caved into the solution which had been offered to me every step of the way and went on the pill, much to the relief of my surgeon who thought it the wisest way to preserve fertility by preventing the endometriosis from destroying my ovaries etc.
While I was concerned about the pill for health reasons, I had no religious qualms. I knew that the Church had no objection to me being on it to control cramping and excessive bleeding. It would not be okay for me to rely on the pill for its more oft-prescribed purpose, but as long as I wasn’t using it for contraception it was perfectly fine.
You know exactly where this is going, right?
Once I was actually on the pill everything changed.
My feelings about my sexuality were dramatically altered, as was the way in which I related to Josh.
I was no longer in pain for three weeks out of the month, and the fourth week (which I cut as short as possible) was quite bearable in comparison. Suddenly I had strength to spend time with Josh going for long walks in the woods and visiting churches rather than spending so much time alone in my dorm room.
The pill was, of course, not without side-effects. My sex drive disappeared. I loved not being in pain, but I hated the way that my body felt. For someone whose natural cycles meant debilitating pain, I felt surprisingly separated from nature.
And I was utterly gleeful. Who knew chastity could be so effortless? Was this the famed lack of interest in sex which so many claimed was normal for women? Oh what delight! I had gone from being disinclined to sin to being disinclined to contemplate anything remotely sexual. Even if the sweetest of kisses had not been so unappealing, who would want to waste time with such things when one was feeling well enough to actually live? There was so much that I could do once I was on the pill– things like visiting museums and going to mass!
Eventually I stopped taking the pill. But its impact on my life and the way it radically altered my relationship with Josh for those 4ish months has stayed with me.
I know that not everyone has the same experience with the pill. There are many different forms of artificial hormones in many different doses, and women react differently to them.
I do not think of myself as at all virtuous in “resisting temptation” or the near occasion of sin. I think of the pill as chastity in a bottle.
And that is my experience with experimenting with artificial hormones for health reasons while unmarried.
- Skin and the Sun
- Birth Control, Contraception, and the Catholic Church
Interesting post. Before I came to the understanding I have now regarding “the pill” — since I had no disease to warrant my own usage of it — I experienced the same thing (while married!)…that absolute lack of interest in sex. I think it was very frustrating for my husband back then (oh…so long ago it seems now!) that I was making myself “available” to him…yet, I had no interest in that “availability.”
I know that’s not a side effect for every woman…but I found it interesting in myself.
Thanks for sharing this story, Rae–I can only echo Michelle and say “interesting”!
I really appreciate this post, Rae. I think so many women have birth control stories to tell. While I think there are a range of different experiences that people have while going on the pill and coming off, it seems that many women experience a significant loss of sex drive. For some unmarried couples who want to abstain, this may be a great side-effect! But at the same time, many married women are on the pill and possibly experiencing a similar “chastity in a bottle” effect… Aside from the Church teachings about the symbolism of marital sexual love being a complete self-giving, etc., it calls into question what the complete impact large numbers of married women lacking their natural sex drive may be having within their families and within our society.
Hooray, I love TMI posts
But seriously, thank you for a fascinating story. The whole “chastity in a bottle” thing really surprised me. Conventional conservative wisdom is that The Pill leads to greater sexual license. I know that the Pill gets prescribed for young women with irregular periods like it’s Advil, how many more are having your experience?
Your joyful outlook on life is contagious, Rae.
To lend TMI from my end, I once used The Pill to achieve clear skin, in which I also found it to be chastity in a bottle. I only used it for a short time, as it began to be recalled for some pretty severe side effects–yikes! Glad your experience didn’t include those.
I was put on the pill 2 different times in college in order to regulate my very irregular cycles. Both times I went off of it because of how it effected me emotionally/mentally. I think I finally put my finger on it the second time – the pill basically stole my joy. I wasn’t super depressed, and I was able to function, but it was not at my full capacity. I remember going off it and smiling at something inane, and being surprised that I was actually feeling happy at such a little thing.
As far as it effecting my sex drive … well, I have no idea. I was taking it when I was 19/20 and let’s just say there was not a lot of male attention thrown my way.
But the older I get, the more leery I am of artificial hormones. I am a lot like my mother, and she has struggled a lot with depression. When she was going through pre-menopause (which can be a lot worse than menopause emotionally for women – who knew!), she tried a progesterone cream at the urging of a friend. That little lotion sent her over the edge emotionally and she became suicidal. Would progesterone treatments make me suicidal? Well, to be honest, I don’t really want to find out, so I stay far, far away from them! But at least I know that and can make the conscious decision to avoid it.
But going back to the pill, I had quite a few people urging me to go on it when I got married. No one got super pushy, but they all made comments about how there are ones with lower levels of hormones, etc. To them, I say “who are you to steal my joy??” They are not the ones who become robots nor the ones who would have to live with a robot. Puh.
Plus, I will admit that I have a serious check in my religious gut about the use of the pill, but that debate is long, on-going and supremely personal.
Rae, would you mind if I linked to this post?
I have been wanting to write a post about my own experience with the pill, but just haven’t really had the courage to write about sex drive and hormones and periods yet. Thanks for writing this, I think it’s important for women to understand that there are side affects to the pill and that there are other women who have experienced them. For years, I didn’t connect the pill to always feeling awful (but then again, I was on it for close to ten years, so I didn’t remember what it felt like to feel normal!), and I think that it’s easy to miss the connection.