SCIENCE FOCUS

First Paleo-dieting, now Paleo-dating: Why the contraceptive pill has more to answer for than ugly boyfriends

Hormonal impact of continued use not properly understood or reported

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 November, 2014, 6:05am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 November, 2014, 6:05am

A recent study is here to tell you that your birth control might be making your boyfriend ugly. More specifically, the science suggests that a woman taking the pill when she meets her boyfriend might find him less attractive when she stops taking it, especially if he wasn't hot to begin with.

This is the latest statistical speculation as to how oral contraceptives might skew male-female relations. Other studies have concluded that pill-taking women like less masculine men or that men are attracted to ovulating women.

Coming in on the wave of enthusiasm for Paleo-dieting, we now see increasing interest in Paleo-dating. The theory goes that biological compatibility as established via the connection of the biochemical signals we all emit creates a long-lasting, happy relationship.

When I came off the pill after a decade, at the end of two long years of terrifying side-effects, I was asked most often about the impact on my relationship. I did what research like this convinces us we should not do: I stopped taking the pill after my honeymoon and not because I wanted to get pregnant. Am I still with the same man? Yes, some five years later, I am. Is our relationship better now that I'm not subject to panic attacks, depression, fatigue and chronic health issues? Obviously.

Coming off the pill after years of use, and going through the subsequent withdrawal, can be difficult and requires support, especially from your partner. If you get that support from a boyfriend or husband who has seen the side effects, perhaps you'll be more likely to stay together. Studies like this don't delve into the social pressure put on women to stay on the pill until they want a baby, and the lack of wider support women get in making the transition to another contraceptive method, particularly if it's a non-hormonal choice. Surely this impacts on what the researchers describe as overall "satisfaction" in a partnership and elsewhere.

Our hormones affect 150 of our essential bodily functions, and their fluctuations over time are inextricably linked to the biological systems that control our energy levels, memory, brain waves, vitamin retention, metabolism, the acuity of our senses and more. When we discuss biological compatibility, what we mean is the connection between our hormones and our immune system, the source of the drive to date some men over others. We're also talking about how hormones help us navigate the exterior world, in part through our senses, and align our experiences with our internal world.

When we take the pill our sex hormones are suppressed and replaced with synthetic versions, released in a steady stream. Gone are the fluctuations we experience monthly. This means every system related to our hormones is disrupted - our metabolic and endocrine systems and our immune system. This is what leads to the insidious, slow-build side-effects that women can experience.

Our lack of awareness of the importance of women's hormone cycles is partly due to the acceptance of another kind of Paleo-centric thinking. The book Is Menstruation Obsolete?, written by Dr Elsimar Coutinho, argues that women's hormones and their peaks and troughs are always "unnatural" and "dangerous" for our health, because cave women had fewer periods than we do today.

What might be the implications of women taking a drug, frequently from their teens through to menopause, that changes them on such a fundamental level? The impact on our biochemically driven dating choices is just the tip of the iceberg. Why is it that we hear most about the side effects of the pill that impact men? Perhaps science lacks feminism.

That is why the jury is still out on whether the pill causes depression and anxiety, even though these issues are some of the top reasons women cite when quitting. It's also why the pill's widely known negative effect on libido tends to be laughed off, even though women have reported diminished sexual interest, lowered arousal, less desire to initiate sex, increased pain during sex, and fewer and lower intensity orgasms. We rarely hear how the hormones that drive our libido also impact other drives like ambition, motivation, and creativity.

A lack of feminism might explain why research that connects the pill to increased risk of breast cancer, cervical cancer and pulmonary embolism leading to stroke or even death is more likely to get swept aside as anomalous.

Whenever research is reported, women are reminded to accept their choice as simple: it's the pill or pregnancy. But women have other, non-hormonal choices. They shouldn't be expected, let alone encouraged, to sacrifice their health and wellbeing.

The Guardian