ColumnHormonal birth control, especially the pill, has been credited for liberating women. But are products like NuvaRing safe?
While I never used NuvaRing, the product at the center of the most recent birth control controversy, like many women, I spent most of my adult (and teenage) life taking hormonal birth control.
I started taking the pill because my periods were heavy and unreliable, and continued because I knew I didn’t want children and was told that it would help with everything from PMS and mood swings to treating acne.
None of my doctors ever cautioned me against it—one even went so far as to say she believed that women are at their healthiest on the pill or pregnant.
Last summer, when Yaz, the pill I was taking a generic version of, was under fire again for causing blood clots, I decided enough was enough. Going cold turkey took some adjusting. There were a few months of irregular periods, the return of some truly teenagery hormonal acne—very insulting at age 36—and a reintroduction to the world of cramps. But I’d trade a few months of discomfort and an investment in drag-queen quality concealer not to develop a blood clot and die.
Vanity Fair recently published a terrifying article about the dangers of NuvaRing, and thousands of women are filing lawsuits against Merck, its manufacturer, after suffering blood clots or embolisms. (To be clear, the progestin used in the ring is different than what you will find in a pill, and most forms of oral contraception do also come with a warning about the risk of blood clots.)
The FDA determined a 56 percent increased risk of blood clots with NuvaRing compared with birth-control pills using earlier forms of progestin. And then after that determination, it sent the ring to market and allowed pharmaceutical reps to pepper doctor’s offices with literature about the convenience of the ring.
What?! If Viagra carried a 56 percent increased risk of death or of a man’s penis falling off (or even, say, shrinking a centimeter), would the FDA approve that? Would men buy it? I haven’t done a study, but I assume not.
The fact that Merck scored $623 million in NuvaRing sales in 2012, according to Vanity Fair, doesn’t prove that women are willing to take the risk. It proves that women don’t have all of the information.
Lots of women I know have used, and continue to use, hormonal birth control without incident. But, the numbers are scary, and there are other ways not to get pregnant—many of which we have poo-pood because they are inconvenient, ruin the mood or get in the way of spontaneous sex.
Know what else ruins the mood? Blood clots, a trip to the ER. Death.
There are tons of other lady-friendly ways to prevent pregnancy: condoms (some, like Glyde condoms, are even eco-friendly), diaphragms, vasectomy and good old abstinence (ha).
It’s about information and access for doctors and for all women, not telling us what we can and cannot do with our bodies. The danger, of course, is that additional regulations on birth control will lead to an increased effort to control women’s bodies.
We need to ensure that efforts to keep us safe don’t lead to efforts to take away the freedom of choice we gained with the pill’s introduction.
Image: legal support group
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