According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women are increasingly choosing IUDs and hormonal implants instead of the traditional pill. Over the last decade, IUDs and implant use have risen five times. There are, of course, a number of reasons women are choosing implants and IUDs over traditional birth control: they’re easier, more effective at preventing pregnancy, and don’t require that day-to-day investment.
But, according to a report at NPR, women in their 20s and 30s are also attracted to these birth control methods for the purpose of period suppression. Women in these age groups—the largest consumers of birth control—want their birth control to perform double duty; to prevent unwanted pregnancy and unnecessary monthly menstruation. That choice inevitably raised the question of whether or not it was safe for women to effectively skip their periods for long periods of time. The answer, in short, is yes.
“There’s absolutely no medical need to have a period when you’re on contraception,” OBGYN Dr. Elizabeth Micks told NPR. She also said that the idea that women should have a monthly period while on birth control is a lingering cultural idea rather than a medically necessary one. Via NPR:
“One of the doctors who helped invent the pill was Catholic. He thought the pope might accept the pill if it looked like women were having periods.”
That’s why, apparently, traditional oral birth control has a week of sugar pills, to have what Micks calls a “fake period”; an iteration of a monthly cycle that serves no real medical purpose.
“But the Catholic church never came around to the pill. And when doctors actually asked women if they wanted to have these fake periods, many said they didn’t.”
That’s one of the many reasons women have begun abandoning oral birth control. Sure, you can skip the week of sugar pills, but implants and IUDs offer a bit more reassurance. Hormonal IUDs don’t completely end your period over the long-term, rather they’re more effective than oral birth control at “suppression” (a nice militaristic term):
“[...] With the hormonal IUD, about 50 percent of women don’t have periods after a year. But nearly all women will have lighter, shorter and less painful periods after about six months...”
That’s not to say that everyone is on board. Some have suggested that long-term period suppression affects fertility, but, as NPR points out, there’s no evidence that’s true. Others worry that there’s not enough research on the effects of long-term suppression, particularly among teenagers, to recommend the practice. And still others argue that menstruation is a natural bodily function that indicates whether or not your reproductive system is working.
“I think there is value in understanding and appreciating our own intrinsic hormonal cycles,” Jerilynn Prior, an endocrinologist at the University of British Columbia said. “It’s our identity.” That’s a hard sell.
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