Aside from the unpleasant side effects of early pregnancy – which are well-mimicked by the pills, by the way – the result of all that hormonal tweaking is a drop in or elimination of testosterone. We may think of testosterone as an exclusively male hormone, but women have it, too. It gives us our aggression and libido, and spikes in the middle of our cycles to coincide with ovulation.
For those interested in seeing the human race survive, that’s just smart design – it ensures that women’s desire for sex peaks right when they are most fertile. But if their bodies have been fooled into never ovulating, they’ll never experience that spike in desire. They can go months or years without ever really feeling “in the mood.” When they consent to do it anyway, they may have trouble becoming physically aroused, requiring artificial lubrication not just to make sex enjoyable, but to prevent it from being downright painful.
If there’s a recipe for a more perfunctory sex life, I’m unaware of it.
Worse yet? There are significant health risks associated with hormonal birth control, including blood clots, stroke, increased risk of certain cancers and even death.
But here’s the good news about oral contraceptives: Aside from rare cases when it is used off-label to treat debilitating conditions that may justify the risks and side effects – they are always optional. Pregnancy isn’t a disease, after all, but even for those who have serious reasons to avoid pregnancy, there are safer, more natural and more effective ways to lessen the chances of conception.
The Catholic Church has been ahead of the curve on this one. The Church has for decades promoted what it calls Natural Family Planning, or “NFP” to track a woman’s reproductive cycles and limit sexual intercourse to those days when a pregnancy would be almost impossible – almost, they say, because anything is possible with God, but NFP, used correctly, boasts better than a 99 percent effectiveness rate – that makes them more effective than any hormone-only contraceptive method and far better than the much-maligned, seemingly perpetually broken condom.
NFP is not to be confused with the old “rhythm method” – a long-defunct calendar-based approach based on outdated and misinformed science. In contrast, NFP uses a combination of current modern medical knowledge and often, technology, to monitor individual reproductive cycles, which can vary wildly from woman to woman – and even from cycle to cycle for each woman. There are several different “methods” of NFP, each designed to suit the needs of women based on their bodies, their personal preferences, and their lifestyles. A few of the most popular:
- Sympto-thermal. This method is great for science geeks who love data and charts, or women who need the maximum information about their cycle for diagnostic or fertility purposes. Arguably the most cumbersome of the methods, it requires plotting a daily early-morning temperature reading on a graph, plus keeping meticulous records of physical symptoms like cervical position, vaginal discharge, and cycle-related pain. The good news is, the total time spent on all of this is probably less than five minutes a day (maybe six if you wash your hands really well afterward). The other good news? “There’s an app for that.” Gone are the days of graph paper notebooks in the nightstand drawer. 21st-century couples can track and chart their fertility using the same smartphone they’re probably already using as their alarm clock anyway. But if you work third shift, do a lot of time-zone hopping, or have an unpredictable schedule, this method isn’t for you – for the most accurate readings, your temperature should be taken at the same time each day, preferably in the very early morning.