Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team
99% of women of reproductive age in the United States use a contraceptive method. Although the majority of women in the U.S. use birth control to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, about 7% of women will use birth control exclusively for other health reasons. While hormonal contraceptives are incredibly effective for preventing pregnancy, hormonal birth control also offers women a wide range of health benefits.
For LGBTQ women, hormonal birth control can help them regulate hormones, and alleviate painful and distressing symptoms related to the female reproductive system. The following article will explore different types of hormonal birth control, and how they can be used for things other than the prevention of pregnancy.
What are the different types of hormonal birth control?
There are many different types of birth control, including barrier methods and natural methods of preventing fertilization. But while these methods are effective to varying degrees at preventing fertilization, hormonal birth control products offer a range of health benefits for women. Up to 72% of women use nonbarrier methods of birth control, with hormonal forms of birth control being the most popular.
The most popular hormonal birth control product is the pill. The pill uses a combination of estrogens and progestin hormones, but there are also birth control pills that only use progestin hormones. Women who cannot take synthetic estrogens can benefit from progestin-only birth control pills. There is also the birth control ring, patch, injection, implant, and the hormonal IUD.
Birth control pills can be taken in monthly packs, where a withdrawal bleed occurs after 28 days and mimics a period. Birth control pills can also be taken for more extended periods of time, and it is safe for a woman to continuously take birth control to prevent withdrawal bleeding.
Birth control patches and rings are usually used for a month, but can also be taken continuously in some cases. The birth control implant and the birth control shot are long-lasting forms of contraceptives, protecting women from unintended pregnancy for several months at a time. The implant can be used for up to three years.
The hormonal IUD is a long-lasting form of birth control. For women who wish to use a long-term form of birth control, hormonal IUDs can be inserted by a doctor and used for up to five years.
What are the health benefits of using hormonal birth control?
Birth control pills and other hormonal contraceptives offer numerous advantages to women other than preventing pregnancy. During the menstrual cycle, female reproductive hormones continuously rise and fall. The rising and falling of these hormones, primarily estrogen and progesterone, trigger ovulation and eventual menstruation.
Some women are more sensitive to these rising and falling hormones, while other women may have hormones that are imbalanced. Sensitivity to and an imbalance of these reproductive hormones can cause irregular periods, symptoms of PCOS, and unpredictable or heavy bleeding.
Heavy bleeding can lead to iron-deficiency anemia. Severe cases of iron deficiency anemia can cause fatal heart failure. Birth control can lighten periods, and prevent or reverse iron deficiency anemia.
The birth control pill and other hormonal birth control products prevent hormones from triggering ovulation. Birth control introduces certain amounts of synthetic hormones to trick the body into thinking it is already pregnant. When using birth control, the body does not create a thick uterine lining to support a fertilized egg, since an egg isn’t released when a woman takes birth control.
Hormonal birth control products introduce steady, controlled levels of hormones into the body. Predictable and stable levels of hormones alleviate hormonal imbalances and can make periods more regular and lighter since ovulation and endometrial build-up does not occur when taking the pill.
Around 31% of all women of reproductive age who use birth control pills take the pills to alleviate menstrual cramps. The absence of ovulation prevents the uterus from cramping before and during menstruation. For LGBTQ women who suffer from unpredictable, or painful periods, hormonal birth control can offer some relief from these symptoms.
Hormonal fluctuations associated with the menstrual cycle can and often do trigger deep, painful cystic acne in many women. Acne can be embarrassing, and it can also cause permanent scarring and pitting of the skin. The birth control pill and other hormonal birth control methods prevent hormone swings from occurring, thus preventing acne formation.
These hormonal fluctuations that naturally occur during the menstrual cycle can cause an untold number of painful, and annoying conditions for women. Many women will experience increased headaches, tender breasts, and mood swings during PMS. In some cases, around 5% of women of reproductive age will develop a severe condition called PMDD. With PMDD, women can experience depression, anxiety, and even have suicidal thoughts triggered by hormonal fluctuations of the menstrual cycle. Birth control pills can help regulate hormones and alleviate the symptoms of PMDD.
Hormonal birth control methods can also prevent certain uterine and ovarian cancer strains. For women with endometriosis or ovarian cysts, hormonal birth control can prevent symptoms from flaring up and causing discomfort and pain.
Should some LGBTQ women not take hormonal birth control?
The synthetic estrogens present in some hormonal birth control can increase the risk of blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks in some women. Women over the age of 35, women who smoke, and women with a family or personal history of blood clots should not take birth control products with synthetic estrogens. Those products include combination birth control pills, and the patch, ring, implant, and shot. However, there are progestin-only birth control pills that are safe to take for women with these risk factors. For LGBTQ women who want to alleviate menstrual cramps or prevent heavy bleeding, non-hormonal copper IUDs can help regulate the menstrual cycle.
Birth control pills and other hormonal contraceptives aren’t just for preventing pregnancy. LGBTQ women can significantly benefit from using contraceptive birth control. But it’s important to do your research on different birth control methods that will fit with your lifestyle and your unique health needs. Sign up with Pandia Health today to explore your options for hormonal birth control.
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