Thursday, September 10, 2009

The painters are in

A year ago research was released that suggested taking the pill could effect women's taste in men and lead them to choose genetically incompatible partners. Women on the pill experience a change in the type of male scent they find attractive. They are drawn to men who smell similarly to them. To produce strong, healthy children we need to be making them with men who smell differently to us - an indicator that they have complementary genes and immune systems, different to our own.

A couple with dissimilar gene make-ups is less likely to have problems conceiving, or have a child with health problems. At the time the researchers speculated that starting the pill or coming off the pill during a relationship could change your perception of your partner, make them seem less attractive. If you consider how many women take the pill and how this number has risen over the last half century and the social changes over that time you could start jumping to some wild conclusions. Like perhaps the pill is a factor behind the rising divorce rates, the rising number of single people staying single, the increase in food allergies, the increase in infertility.

Of course, smell is likely only one of many indicators of genetic compatibility. Plus I'm not keen on the nothing-but philosophy that reduces attraction, love, and relationships to biology. Perversely, considering how I am criticising the pill, I like to think we are more than slaves to the urges and desires that only exist to perpetuate survival of the human race. I've always been doubtful even of that overwhelming desire to have a child that is promised to appear at 30 and have long thought of it more as a social conditioning. But, then, perhaps that's the pill talking. My body has sort-of believed I've been pregnant for a decade now, which could go some way to explaining my lack of interest in small children.

That disinterest in biology and nature or at least, the striving to be free of what we see as our biology's restraints and what others, men, see as its restraints has been a force behind women's enthusiasm for the pill since 1960. Being rid of our woman-ness has been promoted, until very recently, as a necessity for career success. I think it goes way back to Victorian ideas of hysteria, but we'll come back to that later. I'm just starting 'Mad, Bad and Sad: A History Of Women And Their Mind Doctors From 1800' by Lisa Appignanesi.

When you're on the pill you're not ovulating, so where your natural mid-cycle would be, and you'd ovulate, and produce a rush of oestrogen, there's nothing. So, normally, you're body would have a gearing up stage, a ovulating stage, a gearing down stage and then up again. I've never been off the pill for long enough to know what this feels like, or, more accurately, when I wasn't on the pill I didn't take note of how my feelings changed across the month. I'm not an earth-mother, hippy type. Moon cups scare me. But there's successful business women out there lecturing on ways to use your natural cycle to benefit your career.

Here's a website about "using your menstrual cycle to achieve success and fulfilment" - I'm well aware of how, well, American, this stuff seems - but it's refreshing to be see a positive and active viewpoint, and it makes you realise what a lot of negativity we have been fed over the years.

"The menstrual cycle is one of the most impactful influences on a woman’s motivation, energies, skillsets and perception, and it's time for the menstrual cycle to take its rightful place as a powerhouse of resources for women to use in practical everyday ways to create the best work / life balance, their full potential, goals and dreams and the life they deserve."

However cheesy, this is such a radically different perspective to what we are used to hearing. We have been taught to see periods as a nuisance, a burden and an affliction, and therefore, to view the whole cycle as something to be rid of as soon as possible. I was pleased to see Grazia had a feature a couple of weeks back on the new Australian book about the pill I mentioned before. The emphasis was on the lack of information given by GPs, with one woman claiming her doctor refused to fit a diaphragm on 'moral' grounds because it wasn't as effective as the pill.

Now, I know that they get their lectures and research funded by the pharmaceutical companies, and all those free mugs and pens of course, but that's a bit much. Maybe he was a lazy doctor, I think we forget that doctors despite the Hippocratic Oath, are human beings and thus can be lazy, greedy, careless and bored. I'm in the US right now, and it's harder to forget that here as you have to pay them directly, like you would an electrician, or a waiter. It's a consumer service, with all the suspicions and demands that go with that.

The pill is very under-researched, but it occured to me that it would surely be in the pharmaceutical companies interest to look into the pill extensively, to work out ways to make it even more appealing to women (hence how Yasmin came about), to work on decreasing side effects so women would keep taking it. The pill is the top selling medication for most pharmaceutical manufacturers, there's plenty of money to plug back into studies. There's therefore probably a lot of research in existence, funded by them, that never gets published because the conclusions aren't positive.

I've decided to come off the pill. I was feeling like the opposite of a celibate person looking through medical encyclopedias at sexually transmitted diseases (I've seen that scene in at least two movies, one was Rules Of Attraction). It's been three days.


  1. I tend to agree with this to a greater extent, it is apparent that most of the the medicine and advises we get from the doctors are financially bent and this bend is created by the so call pharmaceutical companies with the public best interest at heart. A case in point is what is happening in Kenya now, doctors have been accused and confessed of dragging women to the C-section child delivery for their own financial gains. In fact there are some medical officer who have opened centre for this, telling women that it is less painful, and also that you would continue satisfying your husband in bed as your organ will remain the same....and on the pills, they are now preaching to even girls at 12 years to to purchase them and they seem to be succeeding... on the effects, come to Nairobi and see for yourself,