Reproductive autonomy is essential when taking birth control

Image by: Tessa Warburton

When someone starts to consider taking birth control, they might not be getting the full story.

The level of information women receive from their doctors about hormonal birth control can vary wildly. What too many doctors don’t communicate to their patients is that when a person takes hormonal birth control, the bleeding they experience on a placebo dosage isn’t a period. Instead, the body experiences withdrawal bleeding—a reaction to the lack of estrogen when hormonal dosage stops.

‘Skipping’ your period on birth control by ignoring placebo pills has been widely misunderstood.

Medical studies show minimal effects when skipping withdrawal bleeding. If someone’s concerned about becoming pregnant, the placebos can be reassuring. Additionally, someone skipping placebo pills may experience inconvenient breakthrough bleeding.

However, some may prefer the alternative. Cramping, acne, headaches, and symptoms worsened by conditions like endometriosis—the abnormal growth of uterine tissue outside the uterus—can be reduced by taking hormonal birth control continuously. 

It’s vital to establish there’s nothing wrong or unnatural about menstruation—it’s part of a person’s reproductive cycle. However, it can also be painful and inconvenient. 

According to historian Jonathan Eig, the male doctors who developed the hormonal contraceptive pill inserted a monthly break in the pill’s cycle to make it seem more natural to patients. As a result, a marketing technique invented by men has dictated the reproductive habits of women since the 1950s. 

It shouldn’t be up to a doctor’s discretion or marketing norms to determine whether someone’s informed about their options or not. Women should be given a clear choice about how they can use hormonal birth control. 

This is one of the many ways women are blocked from making their own educated choices. 

Doctors have recently been cited for refusing to perform elective sterilizations on women. The common justification is that women will change their minds and want children in the future. Considering how accessible vasectomies are for men, this explanation feels biased. On the other hand, a group of 50 Indigenous women sued the province of Saskatchewan in 2017 after doctors allegedly forced them to be sterilized.

In both instances, doctors barred women from making autonomous, fully-informed decisions about their bodies. Doctors must face their biases and respect the wishes of their patients. Until that happens, women need to educate themselves about the medical care they receive. 

The first step towards reproductive autonomy is education. Where it’s lacking in the examination room, it must be encouraged in patients.

Tegwyn is The Journal’s Copy Editor. She’s a third-year History major. 


Birth control, reproductive health

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