You probably know that birth control is primarily used to prevent pregnancy, but you might be surprised to learn that it can also provide other benefits that are seldom advertised by the media (and even some gynecologists). Perhaps this is because we live in a heteronormative, patriarchal culture that often sidelines that which does not indirectly or directly benefit men.
Perhaps the omission is unintentional. Either way, birth control’s reach extends far beyond pregnancy prevention, and it is time that we get candid about this issue and start to shed the stigma that often accompanies it.
The truth is, birth control can be life-changing, but it is not a one size fits all. The earlier you cozy up to a trusted medical professional who can help you find the right fit, the sooner you will find the birth control glass slipper to your Cinderella. And off to the ball you go…
Listen up: if you are a person who menstruates — whether trans, gay, abstaining from sex, or unable to get pregnant for medical or other reasons — you might want to consider birth control as a healthcare #lifehack. Here’s why:
Skipping Your Period
Picture this: Your wedding to the Ariana Grande or Harry Styles of your dreams is coming up. You do the math and realize Aunt Flo has decided to crash the party and the honeymoon. Maybe you and your significant are cool with period sex but would rather forgo the cramps. Maybe you want to be considerate of the hotel maids and avoid the whole mess entirely. I have good news: If you are on the pill or the ring, you can skip your period by ditching the sugar pills or skipping over the ring-free week.
Lower Risk of Endometrial and Ovarian Cancer
Observational studies suggest that women who take oral contraceptives have a lower risk of endometrial, ovarian, and colorectal cancer. In fact, your risk of ovarian cancer is decreased by 50% if you are on birth control for 5 years. However, researchers have found that some women who use oral contraceptives also show a slightly higher risk of breast cancers. One study showed that for women who are under 35, the risk was only one additional breast cancer case for every 50,000 women who used hormonal contraceptives for a year. Another study of 46,000 women for 44 years found that although there were increases in breast and cervical cancers among women using hormonal birth control, there was no effect on overall cancer rates because the rates of other cancers were reduced. Other studies have shown the same results. This is a developing story and definitely one to keep on your radar.
If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer or have a higher-than-average risk of breast cancer because of a family history or a genetic mutation linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, such as a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, you should consider non-hormonal birth control instead.
Whether you are suffering through good-ole puberty or have a bad case of adult acne, birth control can be used to treat difficult breakouts. You can use it alone or with topical creams and antibiotics. If your acne gets worse with your periods, ask your doctor about using birth control as acne treatment.
Last but not least, birth control can help regulate irregular menstrual cycles. I’m sure most of you can attest to the fact that getting your period unexpectedly can be the stuff of Carrie-inspired nightmares. Who here has not been caught off guard at the most inopportune of moments, even staining a chair or two? At the same time, not getting your period for months at a time can be just as frustrating, especially because this makes it hard to tell if you are or are not pregnant (and so we come full circle). Based on your symptoms, medical history, and lifestyle, your doctor can recommend the right method to help make your cycle more regular.
Polycystic-ovary syndrome, also known as PCOS, is a hormonal disorder that affects one in 10 women. While no exact cause is known, this hormonal imbalance often results in irregular periods, excessive hair growth (upper lip, back, and more), and acne. The good news? Most of the effects of PCOS can be treated with birth control. You can choose from several methods — from the birth control pill to the patch, ring, implant, shot, or IUD with progesterone — to help manage your symptoms.
So there you have it: five advantages of using hormonal “birth control” that have nothing to do with preventing pregnancy (and one that kinda does). While this is just a starting point toward reshaping and de-stigmatizing the discussion around period-related health issues, we hope all you menstruating peeps have found it illuminating.