Sunday, September 13, 2009

Quitting it

When relating my research into the pill to men the same analogy is often brought up, I think it's a good one - that taking the pill can be a bit like smoking cigarettes. That easily irritated, emotional, foggy, out-of-it feeling that the pill can cause is somewhat similar to how smokers feel with nicotine withdrawal. Once you've been smoking for a long time, you don't even notice these changes in your day to day personality, you only can recognise the need for another cigarette. My husband has given up smoking, but just a whiff of it now and he'll be miserable the next day. He believes that smoking has far-reaching effects on your well being, your personality, that smokers just can't see happening until they stop.

A friend related how when you smoke for long enough, you become 'a smoker' and as such 'a biological extension of a medicinal parasite.' The effect of the smoking hijacks your personality, your self in that it's always there, a routine you must stick to and in that the chemicals are meddling with your emotions and experiences of the world.

When you take the pill you might not see yourself as a pill-taker (in a sense it would be better if we did) but you are doing something every day in a routine fashion that can have a major effect on you, on who you are. You keep taking it even when you have doubts, because you feel you need it and, as I have felt, it's become an unthinking habit. Taking the pill and smoking detaches you from your self, with the pill you are masking your natural cycle, and with smoking you're doing something harmful to your body. This feeling of detachment makes it easier to keep taking it, keep smoking. Through taking the pill even when it wasn't about stopping pregnancy, even when it was a secondary method of contraception, even when I knew I was experiencing unwanted side effects, I only now realise how bound up this action has been in how I felt about myself, about my life, about being a woman. There were lots of pretty complicated reasons for me taking the pill that need unpacking.

As with smoking, it effects different people differently and it's hard to study emotional side effects when we all live in the world and have experiences and not a safe, secure vacuum. But, it is helpful to know that the pill can make you feel bad so that you aren't left thinking you're flipping out.

Of course, there are women who feel good on the pill, and we can speculate that if you have a lot of trouble in your natural monthly cycle with PMS symptoms and emotional changes then having this all flattened out and smoothed down by the pill could help, at least for a while. An online survey conducted by the website Aphrodite showed over half of women on the pill experienced all the side effects we have discussed before - depression, anxiety, lethargy, low libido, but then some women complained of more specific problems no doubt related to these as sub-symptoms - loss of creativity, irrational thinking, jealousy, a constant sense of fear.

My husband will say that he wonders if the Beatles would have ever broken up if they weren't all smokers and getting irritated at the slightest thing. If so many women have been taking the pill for so many decades for such huge chunks of their lives and over half of these women have suffered from depression and anxiety then perhaps we should start wondering how the pill has impacted socially and culturally on our progress, our development. If the pill holds back individuals all the time, making them scared, fragile, unable to cope, then what has the pill done to us as a whole, as women?

The pill arrived and effectively medicalised fertility. As someone commented on my first post, this was an important event which changed views of women, sexuality, relationships. But, perhaps it's time to move on. Perhaps the pill had it's moment and it's not relevant any more. The changes provoked by its release are now concrete. Taking the pill is no longer about freedom. For many women it makes them feel the opposite of free - it makes them feel controlled. They don't feel liberated, they feel oppressed. In a very real way.


  1. Thanks for writing about this. I always admire someone who follows the truth wherever it will take them, regardless of the consequences. You'll probably run into interference from some feminists or gynecologists at some point, after they feel like they cannot ignore you.

  2. Holly, I totally agree with all this, I have been trying to convince my friends that the pill makes you depressed, kills your sex drive, creativity, kills your sense of self. Reading your bog confirms all my suspicions about the pill. I came off the pill a year and a half ago having been on it for nearly ten years, and it was like a cloud was lifted. I could see things more clearly. I had sexual feelings that really made me feel like a woman. I felt more confident, my creativity overflowed at work, the list goes on. Reading your articles makes me feel even more assured that what I felt when u came off the pill was real. Totally love this blog. Xxxxx I will rush in and buy your book xxxx you are brilliant for raising awareness if this it makes me want to start a revolution.

  3. Apologies for annoying phone typos I meant what I felt when I came off the pill- not you!! Seriously the emotional changes I felt when I came off the pill were huge, I would go so far as to say lifechanging.

  4. brilliant. I work with women aged 17 - 20. They are nearly all on the pill, rarely in stable relationships and see the pill as the big answer to everything - including HIV and STd's. When we talk about it in tutorial many of them often claim that they put on weight, but mainly on their breasts so that is ok ( though of course, 90% of them are trying to lose weight). Yes, academic feminists and gynecologists may have their points too, however, I see a whole load of young women who are put on the pill so that they do not have to have a child at an early age, rather than being educated about either other ways of avoiding this, or, not having sex YET.
    Personally, I know lots of men who don't want their girlfriends on the pill because they have watched personality changes occur through usage.
    Me? I'm free - bring on the condoms.