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Everything you've always wanted to know about the pill (but were afraid to ask)

May. 9, 2017
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The Pill. It sounds like a horror movie, doesn’t it? Coming soon to a theater near you: M. Night Shyamalan’s The Pill. Imagine the plot twist! But in all seriousness, even fifty years after Margaret Sanger first introduced the oral contraceptive, the Pill remains an elusive mystery for many prospective patients--and a pain in the ass (or, rather, in the uterus) for many others.  

Like most of my female friends, I can still remember my first period. Maybe that’s because it happened in France. Maybe it’s because I was seventeen when it happened. But one thing I know for sure: I have always associated my period with the Pill--and I always will. Before the Pill, I didn’t have periods. My gynecologist prescribed the Pill for me when I was a senior in high school, specifically because I wasn’t having a regular period. Eight years later, the Pill and I are still together--and my period, I’m glad to say, runs like clockwork. 

The Pill is most commonly known as a form of birth control, but over the years it has been recognized as an effective treatment for a variety of different purposes. As I myself am not currently sexually active, I often forget that the Pill is used as a contraceptive at all! Whatever your reason for seeking out a prescription, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. When taken correctly, the Pill can be up to 99.9% effective in preventing pregnancy. I mean, c’mon. It doesn’t really get much more effective than that (although we still recommend using a backup method, like a condom, just to be extra safe).

    Let me point out the keywords here, though: taken correctly. I took a Women’s Health class in college, and at one point our teacher told us a story about a previous student who made the mistake of taking her pills vaginally. The Pill is an oral contraceptive, my friends!

More importantly, the Pill should be taken at the same time, every day--something my own physician neglected to tell me when she first prescribed it. “Just take it before you go to bed.” Nope. “Take it with breakfast.” Wrong again. For the Pill to be as effective as possible, it must be taken at the same exact time every day. My recommendation? Set a reminder on your phone.

  1.  The Pill is not invasive. There’s a bonus! I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the idea of something in and/or hanging out of my vagina or uterus. I don’t want someone inserting something up inside of me. More importantly, I don’t want to worry about something falling out of me! That’s not to say I’m anti-IUD or NuvaRing--I just know it isn’t for me. And I know there are plenty of women out there who feel the same way. Because the Pill is an oral contraceptive, it’s as hassle-free as taking an Advil. 
  1. The Pill decreases acne. Every person is different, and every person’s body reacts to medications differently. However, taking birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progesterone lowers the amount of androgens in your body. This results in less acne. 
  1. The Pill makes periods more regular and lighter. Sing it with me: “Hall-e-lujah!” For women whose menstrual periods are irregular (like myself pre-Pill), the Pill can help to regulate the menstrual cycle to every 28 days. If you’d prefer to menstruate less often than that, talk to your doctor about “stacking” your pills or about trying brands designed to produce only one period every few months. Oh, and birth control pills can also reduce the amount and length of menstrual bleeding--keeps getting better, right?

  1. Don’t listen to the rumors – birth control pills do not cause cancer! I’m not sure where this information came about, but on the contrary, the truth is that the Pill actually protects against cancer of the ovaries and cancer of the lining of the uterus. In fact, research says that a woman is half as likely to get cancer of the uterus or ovaries if she has taken birth control pills.
  1. The Pill will (probably) not make you gain weight. This one is tricky, because--again--everyone’s body is different. However, it is unlikely that you will gain weight because you’re on the Pill. Research trials have not shown a connection between birth control pills and weight gain among women who take birth control pills. Some women gain weight, some lose weight, but most stay the same weight when they are taking the birth control pill (unless you eat too many donuts, like I do). 
  1. Depending on your insurance, your birth control may be free or there may be a co-pay. Blessed be, the day that Obamacare came into my life. For several years, I paid a whopping $10 per Pill pack; however, that $10 adds up over time. Since Obamacare went into effect, my birth control price has been reduced… to FREE. Please note: just as every body is different, every insurance is different. For most birth-control pill brands, 1 pill pack lasts for 1 month and can cost from $0-50. They’re completely free with most health insurance plans OR if you qualify for some government programs.

Even if you do not have insurance, never fear! Organizations like Planned Parenthood work to provide services you need, whether or not you have insurance and many will work with you to help you pay based on your income. 

  1. Yes, you need a prescription for the Pill. In order to get your hands on birth control pills, you need to have a prescription. However, there are a few ways to go about this…

Maybe you’re worried about Mom or Dad finding out? The good news is that you do not need permission from a parent or guardian to get birth control. In fact, it is unethical and illegal for clinic workers or healthcare providers to tell your parents/guardians you were even at the clinic. 

That being said, you can’t “erase” the trip to the doctor on your insurance statement. 

You can get your prescription from a private doctor or nurse, a health clinic, or your nearest Planned Parenthood health center. At Planned Parenthood, you can find a doctor who will treat you without going through your insurance, so your parents won't find out. Whatever you choose, wherever you live, just know that there are options. 

  1. The Pill will start to protect you from pregnancy after the first week, if you take them correctly. These are not “magic” pills. If you were to start your pills today, you should use a backup method of birth control during the first 7 days of the pill package. The same goes for those of you (ahem) who run out of pills and wait to pick up your new pack a week later (ahem) even though you know that it will throw off your cycle (...whoops). Once again, the keywords are take them correctly. 
  1. The Pill does not protect against STIs. It is what it is. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. The Pill does not and will not protect against STIs. Period. Unless you’re fluid-bonded with your partner, make sure you’re also using a barrier method of protection.