In honor of last week's news that Trump is rolling back employer requirements for birth control coverage, I want to share some of the other reasons birth control gets used besides just preventing pregnancy.
To be clear, I believe that women should have affordable and easy access to birth control no matter why they choose to take it. But it truly enrages me to hear so many arguments against coverage made on the basis that it is simply used when women want to be promiscuous, thus they should learn to "control themselves" or "settle down and have a family."
These arguments are made by ignorant men who will never be at risk of experiencing some of the painful and/or dangerous conditions that birth control can help to manage or treat. Denying women access to medication that can reduce pain, save money, prevent surgery, and in some cases can even be life saving, is truly cruel, inhumane, and totally fucking sexist.
So let's talk about it. Let's make them impossible to ignore. Let's teach men and children about these conditions. Let's de-stigmatize birth control coverage for every woman whose life depends on it. It's our right.
Some women are more prone to ovarian cysts than others. In severe cases they can get so large they burst and cause an extreme level of pain and risk of infection. For some women this can happen over and over again and birth control is often one of the only treatment options available.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome
Also known as PCOS, this is the single most common cause of infertility in America. Even though PCOS' name refers to ovarian cysts, not all women with this syndrome have ovarian cysts. What is consistent among women with PCOS, however, is difficulty ovulating. Many women with PCOS have irregular or very long cycles, or sometimes no cycles at all because of ovulatory disfunction.
Many women with PCOS who don't cycle regularly on their own need birth control to get a regular period, otherwise they would go years without one and then run higher risks certain types of endometrial cancers.
This is an autoimmune disease where the uterine lining can migrate outside of the uterus and clot more then usual, causing heavy bleeding and intense pain. I've heard women describe it as feeling like being stabbed in the abdomen with a metal rod, or like their uterus is falling out of their body.
Some women have to take 1-2 days off of work/school. Sometimes the pain is so intense it can cause nausea or vomiting. Heavy bleeding can also cause weakness, dizziness, and/or anemia.
Many women with endometriosis use birth control to limit the disease's progression, as well as limiting how many painful periods they have, often choosing to have a period once every 3-6 months.
Unexplained heavy and painful periods
Sometimes women have symptoms that are very similar to endometriosis (heavy bleeding and severe menstrual pain) but they don't actually have the diagnosis. In fact sometimes doctors search and search and still can't find a clear reason for unexplained heavy or painful menstrual bleeding.
In cases like these, there are very few treatment options because it's not exactly clear what's causing the symptoms. Like with endometriosis, some women's symptoms reduce while on birth control and they use it to space out their periods and reduce their suffering.
When taking certain medications
Many medications for chronic pain, autoimmune conditions, or cancer are dangerous if used while pregnant.
For example, Methotrexate is commonly prescribed for treating autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, or psoriasis, as well as certain types of cancer. It blocks nutrients necessary to fetal development, in fact it does this so well it's even used for terminating ectopic pregnancies. If pregnancy while taking Methotrexate continues it often results in birth defects. For that reason many women who are on it are concurrently prescribed birth control.
Women with cancer who are undergoing radiation and/or chemotherapy, or women on certain heavy pain killers and/or neurological medications are also often recommended a highly effective form of birth control because of similar risks to the fetus.
When it's dangerous
Some women are fertility-wise capable of conceiving, but depending on their specific condition, simply cannot be pregnant because it would be dangerous to them or the baby.
For example, pregnancy in women with certain heart conditions can cause dangerously high heart rate and even risk of heart attack. Women with certain contagious diseases or genetic disorders run too high a risk of passing it on to their child if were to get pregnant. Also some physical conditions can make being pregnant dangerous for women, for example some spine or hip disorders, certain uterus shapes, and history of ectopic pregnancies.
After certain surgeries, it's ill advised for women to get pregnant until they have time to properly recover. For example, after a c-section it's often advise women wait 6-12 months before getting pregnant again or they run a greater risk of uterine rupture.
In Vitro Fertilization
It may seem ironic that birth control pills are used in an effort to get pregnant, but they can help some women respond better to fertility medications, and thus get better results from their IVF cycle. For some women it can mean the difference of only having to go through one round of IVF rather than 2 or 3, saving thousands of dollars, several months, and a rollercoaster of emotions.
To treat migraines
Some women who experience hormonal migraines respond well to birth control, especially when their only others option may be heavy duty pain killers or neurological medications. Severe migraines can effect some women up to 10 days out of the month, which effects their ability to work, interact with others, and generally feel like a human. Not to mention untreated chronic pain can contribute to anxiety and depression.
It can balance hormones and improve mood
Some women with severe PMS or PMDD respond well to taking birth control and it can help to improve their mood and treat depression.
As with all of the conditions above, some women do and some women don't respond well emotionally or physically to taking hormonal birth control. Some tolerate it well for a few years and then their bodies shift. Regardless, birth control remains to be one of the most effective and affordable treatment options for a variety of different conditions and it should be covered alongside all other medically necessary medications without all the stigma it currently carries.