Monday, August 31, 2009

Like candy

When I got home from Asda I got to googling Yasmin. I discovered it was the most discussed pill on several forums, including askapatient.com and medications.com. The same phrases appeared over and over, 'panic attacks', 'brain fog', 'uncontrollable anger,' 'chronic fatigue' and the experiences matched up right down to the more specific details - many women reported an 'overwhelming sense of fear,' 'distrust of my partner, my family, my friends,' 'constant insecurity.' I came across a forum named 'Yasmin Survivors' that gathered news reports, and gave out recovery advice to women who claimed the effects of Yasmin had lost them their relationships, their jobs.

But I'll stop there with Yasmin - although it's the most popular pill in Europe currently - there are plenty of people taking others and I want to first place this thought in the bigger picture.

As I noted in my introduction side-bar, most women don't know what their pill contains and what those components do to their bodies in order to stop them getting pregnant. In fact, according to one study, only 15% of us have a proper grasp of this information. More and more of us are actively taking an interest in where their food comes from and what's gone into it, or where their clothes were made, by whom and at what price. But we have no idea what this medication actually does that we take, every day, frequently for decades, a medication strong enough to shut down our bodies to pregnancy.

A medication. A medication. Mull that over

Speaking of the bigger picture, where is the male pill?

The female pill was released in 1960. Every year there's a flurry of newspaper stories about the male pill being right around the corner. I've spent some time trawling through these pieces, and have noticed how the first few paragraphs are always filled with concerns and queries regarding the possible side effects of such a pill - side effects like lower libido and mood swings. These articles are generally followed with a flood of columns arguing that there's no way women would trust men to take a pill every day. As though women set the alarms of their watches, take the pill like clockwork and never, ever find themselves popping two the next morning just in case, right? We treat it so casually, of course we take it somewhat casually.

In the last near five decades the male pill has been researched extensively. The World Health Organisation has funded a six country wide study into it's possible effect on the male libido alone. The male pill hasn't even reached the market and already there's stacks of statistics on whether it'll put men off sex.

Completely understandable, of course, it's a rather cruel con to create a contraceptive that stops you wanting to do the very thing it is meant to make a whole lot more enjoyable. That's madness. So, what about us?

You can count the number of studies into the female pill and sexuality on one hand, and that research has occured entirely after its 1960 release.

When the female pill's effect on libido hit the headlines in 2005 it was a story based on the research undertaken by Dr Claudia Panzer, an endocrinologist from Denver, Colorado. She was quoted as saying she felt the pill was 'handed out like candy.' As part of my research, I tracked her down for an interview.

Testosterone is most often linked with male sexuality, but it also plays an important role in women's desire and sense of well being. Dr Panzer conducted research into the connection between the pill and women's loss of libido which showed that the pill's impact on the body reduces the amount of the 'free' testosterone. That is, the kind that effects libido and well being.

The role of testosterone has been explored in post-menopausal women with symptoms of low energy, libido, and well-being. When treated with injections of the hormone, Dr Panzer claims, they often experience 'higher sexual desire, increased frequency of orgasms, decreased stress levels, improved well being and more energy.'

Her study discovered that this effect on 'free' testosterone levels did not reverse immediately when women came off the pill. In fact, she found that the damage could be permanent.

Not to worry, the pharmaceutical company BioSanta has come up with Pill Plus -an oral contraceptive containing added testosterone and they're set to launch in 2011.

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