By Keeke van Paassen
— With the fear of getting pregnant lingering, complications that come along with birth control do not necessarily stop women from using it. Whether it’s hormonal or non-hormonal, birth control for women can cause both physical and mental issues, which is also experienced by the female population at Amsterdam University College (AUC).
Professor Marc Spaanderman, gynaecologist at Maastricht University Medical Center, says that most women use contraception to prevent pregnancy. “Especially many young women strongly feel that they don’t want to get pregnant and are very scared that this might happen,” Spaanderman says.
In the Netherlands, birth control pills for women are the most popular means of contraception. Yet with its 9% failure rate, ‘the pill’ is not the most effective way of preventing pregnancy, Brody states. This explains the decreasing use of the pill from 61% to 50% in 2017, as progressively more women prefer an IUD (intrauterine device) nowadays. With a failure rate of only 0.7%, the IUD is more effective in preventing pregnancy, the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research states. An IUD, which can be either hormonal or non-hormonal, is a long-acting reversible contraceptive that prevents sperm from fertilizing an egg. Because the tiny device is inserted in the uterus, it doesn’t need to be taken every day and thus cannot be forgotten. This makes it a good substitute for the pill.
Compared to the pill, hormonal IUDs deliver a lower dose of progestin, a medication that affects the female reproductive system by way of preventing ovulation. Nevertheless, even a low dose can cause side effects. Together with acne and weight gain, depression and mood swings are common consequences of using hormonal contraception. Bridget Nea, a third-year Humanities student at AUC, says that she developed skin problems after using hormonal contraceptives. “My doctor told me that this was the direct result of the contraception, which made me feel very undervalued,” Nea says.
Afraid of these side effects, many women try non-hormonal contraceptives instead. Sophie Valcour, a third-year Humanities student at AUC, says that she was trying to avoid hormones because her sister had dealt with mood and depression problems after using hormonal contraception. Nina Schogt, a former AUC student, says that she avoids hormonal contraceptives because she is prone to depression and thus doesn’t have a lot of reserves to deal with the side effects.
However, non-hormonal contraception can also cause complications. The copper coil, a non-hormonal IUD, is known to intensify a woman’s period. Schogt says that the copper coil has given her severe stomachaches. “Sometimes the pain would be so bad, that I couldn’t walk or even finish my sentence,” she says.
Another non-hormonal means of contraception is the fertility awareness method. In this method, which requires some training, a woman becomes familiar with her menstrual cycle and measures her body temperature to see if she’s ovulating. However, according to Spaanderman, this method is risky as your body temperature only increases after ovulation. “And then you’re too late,” he says.
A third-year Social Sciences student at AUC says that she is shocked by how many female students at AUC use the fertility awareness method. “It is so risky,” she says. “I would always be afraid that I was pregnant.” Miriam Riefel, a second-year Sciences AUC student, agrees with this, saying that this method is way too unreliable.
While hormonal contraceptives tend to cause issues of mood swings and depression, non-hormonal contraceptives increase the intensity of the periods and the risk of getting pregnant. Tired of dealing with the complications of birth control on one hand, yet afraid of becoming pregnant on the other hand, many females struggle with what to choose. Nevertheless, this fear tends to win.
Though there has also been talk about a contraceptive pill for men, this has caused great skepticism. “I would always take responsibility for myself,” Robin Laird, a third-year Sciences AUC student, says. According to Spaanderman, it’s better to be in control as a woman. “If anything were to go wrong, the woman mainly faces the consequences,” he says.
When it comes to contraception for women, “it’s a matter of trial and error,” says Petra Karlsen Stangvik, a third-year Social Sciences AUC student. What works for one woman, doesn’t necessarily work for the other. Whether hormonal or non-hormonal, contraception comes with side effects and can thus cause frustrating complications. Nevertheless, with the fear of getting pregnant stronger than the frustration, many women take birth control despite the complications.
Photo Credits: Cosmopolitan
Editor’s note: This news story is part of a collaboration between The Herring and AUC’s journalism course. The story was entirely reported, written, edited, and fact checked by members of the journalism course. Some material may have been altered by The Herring’s editors to fit its style guidelines.