Words by: Natasha Schapova Art by: Sarah Annett
Reminder: Pill. A notification I was all too familiar with, having received it at 6pm daily for the past eight years. Through high school, to graduating and moving to Russia, to moving back to Australia and changing my degree for the fourth time, the pill remained the only constant throughout my turbulent adolescence and early adulthood.
I was 14 when the pimples that plagued my face began to affect my self-esteem. After experimenting with all sorts of topical creams and washes that only aggravated my sensitive skin, my GP father suggested I go on the pill. It’s now shocking to remember the casualness of the advice from my father and the ease at which my GP printed out a prescription for me, as if I was requesting a basic antihistamine, and not a long-term synthetic hormone that would wreak havoc on all of my bodily functions. At no point was I informed of the risks, nor aware of the moratorium I was committing myself to.
Doctors have a three-step action plan for patients suffering from acne. The first step is to recommend topical treatment such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, if these fail then the next step is to introduce the pill or an antibiotic. If this is also ineffective, then a vitamin A medication such as Accutane is prescribed. Since most teenagers suffer from hormonal acne, just like I did, topical treatments are rarely effective. This therefore places us on an express route to the pill.
The combination pill contains progestin and oestrogen which works by tricking your body into thinking it has already ovulated, therefore preventing the release of an egg. It also works to balance the level of androgens (male hormones), that are known to commonly cause acne.
But the negative side effects are dismissed and barely mentioned, leaving many women oblivious to the effects that those little balls of hormones are behind. The pill can cause weight and mood changes, headaches, loss of libido, blood clots, and an increased risk of breast cancer. Although more research is needed to prove this, long-term use of the pill has also been linked to gastrointestinal disorders, autoimmune diseases and a decrease in bone density.
Now, the pill is great at minimising acne, but doctor’s rarely discuss that this is merely a bandaid, not a treatment. The pill balances your hormones while you are taking it, but once you stop, you face the same dilemmas that prompted you to first start it. So why go on it at all? Sure, it was fantastic to experience the confidence that comes with clear skin, but it only delays the issue at hand. And now, at 22, I am left wondering about what consequences I will have to face, coming off the pill. I only wish 14 year old me sought alternative treatment methods.
After eight years of being on the pill, I have decided to bin the pill packets and regain control over my body. Throughout this time I have lost my sense of self, as a result of moodiness, general apathy and overall tiredness. This decision overwhelms me with anxiety, as I await the symptoms that may follow like an irregular menstrual cycle, acne, hair loss and even more mood swings.
But obviously, not everyone taking the pill is motivated by their acne. For some, the contraceptive pill is used for its titular function. Which begs the question: why do women have to bear the responsibility of preventing pregnancy? We pump ourselves full of hormones, endangering our health, while men are really only provided two birth control methods — condoms or a vasectomy — neither of which involve tampering with hormones.
Yes, yet another example of the gender inequality and pressure that women have to face. For now, we’ll probably have to get used to it. Take it, or don’t, the choice is yours. I’ve finally deleted my reminder, and boy does it feel good.