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Sexist science makes women’s reproductive health a guessing game

The birth control problem

Birth control medications — drug treatments used by millions of women every day in the US — are also affected by the gender gap.

Most birth control research to date focused on whether a drug is safe or not, Hill says.

Basic questions around efficacy and the side effects of hormonal contraceptives — whether hormonal birth control causes cancer, for example, and whether it does indeed prevent pregnancy — are largely settled.

The “pill” is one of the most rigorously studied drugs women take for birth control, but still, the subtle ways hormonal contraception influence individual women’s quality of life are poorly understood.

<img style="max-width: 620px" src="http://www.ladyandwoman.

com/wp-content/plugins/OxaRss/images/5c4961454f0e614c0dc40138e4e7b233_placeholder.png” />Birth control methods like the pill can have serious side effects, but little is known about why or how it produces these effects.

Choosing the right birth control is a game of trial and error — and the stakes are high.

At best, the side effects are just annoying.

Women on the pill might experience a bit of weight gain or acne, for example, and may turn to other methods of pregnancy prevention. But at worst, they can experience depression or mood swings — psychological effects that can lead to long-term problems or even suicidality.

Research on hormonal contraception methods’ mental health effects is scarce, and, of what little there is, the results are mixed. A 2011 review found “surprisingly little” about the links between oral contraceptives and mood.

But some studies suggest a link to depression.

A 2016 Danish study published in JAMA Psychiatry suggests that women on hormonal birth control were more likely to be diagnosed with depression and use antidepressants.

But a 2017 study found no link between hormonal contraception and depression. It did, however, find that using birth control over three months negatively influenced users’ quality of life (mood, energy levels, and self control).


The jury is still out on hormonal birth control’s mood effects. How oral contraceptives interact with antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications also remains a mystery.

The unknowns increase in certain populations, like pregnant women, adolescents, LGBTQ+ people, and the elderly. More randomized, double-blind clinical trials — the gold-standard of medical research — are needed to figure out exactly how hormonal contraception influences women’s minds and bodies at different stages of their lives.