Must Know Facts About the Pill

The pill is like your iPhone or your DVR …once you have experienced the convenience of the pill, it becomes pretty hard to picture your life without it. That may be one of the reasons that four out of every five sexually experienced women have used the pill at some point in their lives. For women, the pill is one of the top two most commonly used birth control methods (the other is tubal ligation).

Who Is Most Likely to Use the Pill?

  • Women in their teens and 20s.
  • Women who have never been married.
  • White women.
  • Women who cohabitate.
  • Women who don't have children.
  • College graduates.

So there’s no denying the popularity of the pill. But even if you pop the pill in your mouth every day, you may not know some of these important facts about the pill. Here’s the scoop.


Your Chances of Getting Pregnant May be Higher Than You Realize

Birth Control Pills packet

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If you take the pill at the same time every day, you have a super low chance of becoming pregnant (.3% meaning that of every 100 women who use the pill for a year, less than 1 will become pregnant). But, let’s face it, how many of us are perfect? When you really look at it, it can be very difficult to remember to take the pill every day let alone at the same time.

So with less-than perfect use, like popping a pill late one day or forgetting to take it altogether, the effectiveness drops to 91% (of every 100 women who do not use the pill perfectly for a year, 9 will become pregnant). Never fear… you just need to find a way to remember to take the pill at the same time each day.

There are some tricks to helping you do this. Make the pill a regular part of your morning routine (take it after brushing your teeth or when you’ve finished your morning coffee). You have a better chance of remembering to take the pill in the morning because at night, you may be too tired and be more likely to forget. You can also try to use a birth control app or alarm to remind you to take your pill. Also, make sure to keep your pill pack in a place where you are guaranteed to see it every day, like next to your toothbrush or cell phone.


The Pill May Impact Your Sex Drive

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Some women who use the pill find that their sex drives go into high gear since they're no longer panicking about getting pregnant. Other pill-users report that the pill has the opposite effect—that it lowers libido and makes it harder to climax. One reason why the pill may lessen your sexual desire has to do with the idea that the pill can reduce your testosterone level (this is the hormone that fuels sex drive in all genders).

Even if you stop the pill to improve decrease libido, it could take three to 12 months to recover from a pill-related testosterone decline and in some cases, it may never recover because the levels of SHBG never fully recover to baseline following OCP use.

If you notice your libido is taking a nosedive, talk to your healthcare provider to see if you can switch to another pill brand (one that will hopefully allow your sexual desire to reignite). Remember, you have to give your body three months to adjust to the new pill brand before determining that your sex drive is still in the dumps. Also, think if there is anything else going on in your life that may be affecting your libido (like stress or any medications you are taking). If all else fails, you may ultimately decide that the pill isn’t the right birth control for you.


The Pill Has Some Pretty Cool Health Benefits

Woman taking a pill

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Think about it for a second… How many other meds can actually say they help you fight cancer? The pill can! Yep, (when compared to women who have never used the pill) taking the pill for 5 or more years is linked to a 50% lower risk of developing ovarian cancer. This protection is still seen in women who have stopped taking the pill. Research also shows that both short-term and long-term pill use lowers your chances of developing endometrial cancer by 50%. There is also an 18% drop in the risk of developing colorectal cancer among women who use the pill. Besides some cancer protection, the withdrawal bleed that you get when you use the pill is usually less painful than your normal period (and doesn’t last as long). The pill can make your period more regular (no more surprises on days that you are wearing white shorts), and it may even lead to a clearer complexion.


The More You Weigh, the Less Effective the Pill May Be

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If you have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 27.3, your risk of getting pregnant while using the pill is about 60% higher. This risk jumps to 70% if your BMI is 32.2. Just for a quick reference… you are typically considered overweight if you have a BMI between 25-29, and obese with a BMI of 30 and above. When you consider that the average American woman weighs about 165 lbs, many of you may not realize that the pill may be less effective. You can calculate your BMI by:

  1. Multiplying your weight (in pounds) by 703
  2. Multiply your height (in inches) by itself
  3. Divide the figure from step 1 by the figure in step 2.

If your BMI is 27.3 or more, your pregnancy odds, while using the pill, may be higher. This really isn’t fair, but there is a scientific explanation of why your weight matters. To be effective, the estrogen and progestin hormones in the pill need to circulate throughout your bloodstream. If you have a larger body mass, circulation becomes more difficult. Also, heavier women tend to have a higher metabolism, so the hormones from one pill may be metabolized before the next day’s pill is absorbed into your system. Don’t worry, though, if you are overweight or have gone up about two clothes sizes, ask your healthcare provider about prescribing a higher-dose pill. These pills may help ensure that you are receiving enough hormones to make the pill super effective again.


You May Have to Try Many Pill Brands Before Finding the Right One

birth control pill packs

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The pill is definitely not one size fits all. There are so many kinds and formulations available, and each may affect your body in a different way. Here’s a crash course on pill types:

  • Combination Pills: these have a formulation of estrogen and progestin. Monophasic pills have a fixed dose of these hormones in every pill. In biphasic and triphasic pills, the ratios and/or amount of these hormones change throughout each pill pack.
  • Progestin-Only Pills (also called the mini pill): these pills do not contain any estrogen.

Even among these types of pills, each has a different estrogen dose and type (and dose) of progestin. This means that each brand can affect you differently. This is why it’s very important that you talk to your healthcare provider if you are dealing with bothersome side effects from the pill. Certain side effects have to do with the amount of estrogen or progestin in the pill, so switching to a different formulation may solve the problem. Keep in mind, you need to be patient. It takes about three months for your body to adjust to the hormones in the pill, so you’ll need to let at least this amount of time to go by before you make the decision to switch again.

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