Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team
You probably know that hormonal birth control is primarily used to prevent pregnancy, but you might be surprised to learn that it also provides 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 (at Pandia Health we have birth control expert doctors) 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.
or for those not yet that committed in a relationship, 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?
Going on the birth control ring, birth control patch, or birth control pill will allow you to predict your periods usually to the day and sometimes to the time of day (depends on your body and level of stress). Also, you can MOVE the period away from things like exams (finals, SATs, GRE, MCAT, LSAT, etc), sports competitions, spring break, summer vacation, special occasions where it would be good NOT to stain your dress/clothing.
Learn more about Making #PeriodsOptional from our CEO/Co-Founder Dr. Sophia Yen here, especially check out her TEDx talk on the bottom of the page to learn about the science/safety of #skippingPeriods.
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 prevent difficult breakouts if your acne is hormonally triggered or related. You can use it alone though our CEO/Co-Founder Dr. Yen suggests you always pair it with at least topical creams (tretinoin, available by prescription only AND benzoyl peroxide [but not at the same time of day because the benzoyl peroxide kills the tretinoin]) and topical or oral antibiotics (if needed, and available by prescription only). If your acne gets worse with your periods, ask your doctor about using birth control as acne treatment.
Making Periods Regular
Last, but not least, birth control can help regulate irregular menstrual cycles. 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 (or Pandia Health’s expert birth control doctors) can recommend the right method to help make your cycle more regular. (though also know that you can make #PeriodsOptional)
And if your periods are irregular make sure you read about … PCOS!
Polycystic-ovary syndrome, also known as PCOS, is a hormonal disorder that affects one in 10 women. While there are several causes for it (each person with a uterus is different), 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. It can also be treated with metformin (ask your doctor).
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.