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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Birth control choice and menstrual problem treatment.

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Author Topic: Birth control choice and menstrual problem treatment.
Member # 28681

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Many girls will request or be given hormonal birth control as a means to 'regulate their menstrual cycle' or to deal with menstrual problems. It's normal for young girls periods to be irregular, so why the need to use hormonal birth control to force their periods into regular patterns? Their cycles are suppressed not regulated as such, this to me limits how they care for their sexual health in that they don't come to understand their normal cycle, in fact many girls I see who use birth control for this reason don't know how it works or how to use it correctly.

Women with cramps, PMS or heavy flow will be given hormonal birth control as a treatment option, but at most it only covers up the problem so it may return once the woman stops using the birth control. This may leave the women confused, resentful of their bodies, unable to deal with the problem, and these problems may effect their trying to conceive - expensive and invasive testing may be needed, adding to the stress of trying to conceive. If there is a potnetial problem then surely a doctor should run tests and offer real treatment?

There are so many options that will help with such problems, both natural and medical, so why do women and doctors always turn to hormonal birth control? Hormonal birth control may not help at all or even make the problems worse, whats more they can have any number of side-effects - if on the right type and brand of birth control for you then there should be no side-effects. How many women don't realise they are suffering side-effects? How many women will seek help? And if your doctor used birth control as a 'quick-fix' will they be willing to help find something that works? Can you trust that they are up-to-date enough to be able to help? Shouldn't birth control just be used as birth control, or in extreme cases of serious menstrual problems when other treatment has failed, not used imediatly as a first and only option for a perfectly normal, easily dealt with/treatable, menstrual problem? - more so when a women does not understand the problem or her options, shouldn't it be a doctors job to discuss this with her not just hand out the pill like candy?

It's not just the indervidual women, birth control choices really aren't discussed with women by doctors, the term 'birth control' is interchangable with 'hormonal birth control'/'the pill', often these methods are the only methods offered and doctors will not be fully aware of other options available. Surely this effects us all? If a girl is put on the pill then great as it also prevents unwanted pregnancy, however if they are given the pill young chances are they will stick with this method rather than look into other options that may be better for them, will they even be aware of other methods if no one discusses these with them?

Take me for one example;
At 15 I was put on the pill for excessivly heavy periods, my period never lessened and I suffered a number of side-effects; lowered sex drive, breast pain, menstrual cramps, three-month-long period, irritable bowel syndrome and minor strokes. Still I was given no other option for my heavy flow or for birth control, I was told that my only other options in birth control were condoms (which I can't/won't use) and IUD's (which I was told would leave me infertile). No testing or advice.
At 22 I took myself off the pill and started using Fertility Awanaress Method (which I had discovered and taught myself through looking for other options - I've never been one to tolerate problems, there's always gotta be a better way). This earned me funny looks and comments when I went for sexual health check-ups, and my level of care was effected. I went to another doctor for help with heavy periods, I discussed my FAM charts with the doctor but was faced with ignorance, a ten minute rant in which the doctor obviously thought FAM was the rhythm method, verbal abuse then refusal of treatment. I was so upset at the ignorance I faced I gave up and got a IUD, it works great for me and I'm not infertile yet as I was told I would be, but I still constantly have doctors trying to pressure me back onto hormonal birth control.
At 25 I was finally lucky in that I found a doctor willing to run tests to look for a possible cause for my heavy periods, she also gave me medication that halfed my period and flow (far more than the pill ever did) without nasty side-effects, and with my own research over the years I found menstrual cups and herbal treatments to help manage my periods better.

I know for a fact my story isn't uncommon, I wonder why it is so difficult to get help for menstrual problems and get information on our choices in conception - why aren't doctors helping us more?

Does anyone know of any resources or groups working to change this?
Why isn't more done to change this?
Why aren't women encouraged to damand better care and information?

And SCARLETEEN - Do you discuss this anywhere, if not why not?

Sorry for any spelling mistakes, generalisations, etc. this was written quickly and out of frustration :-S

Posts: 14 | From: Newcastle, UK | Registered: May 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Executive Director & Founder
Member # 3

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We often address that a) the pill or other hormonal BC doesn't regulate a menstrual cycle at all, since it is usually suppressing one and that b) not all menstrual maladies are remedied with OCs and other methods.

We also bring up often, and always have, the birth control is far more than hormonal methods. Have you looked through the main website at all yet? At pieces like this: Stamp Out Cramps!

In a word, for the most part, I personally, and the org as a whole is and has always been in agreement with much of what you are saying here. In other words, I hear you. Big time.

One issue that's a biggie is that oral medications are a standard for all of western medicine, not just in reproductive health. Treatment-via-medication presented as always the best option or the only one is a problem througout all of western medicine. As well, many people don't see doctors who specialize in reproductive health for that healthcare: that's another issue.

Women HAVE been encouraged to demand better care and information: this was the heart of the feminist women's healthcare movement which started in the 70's, and still continues today. However, some of it has been dwindling, in part because feminist efforts period are largely unsupported, but also in part because many women themselves have not supported or did not support that model of care. Plenty of women still prefer NOT to be in the driver's seat of their healthcare, but to have a doctor tell them (not ask) what to do per that doctor's preferences, to limit their options, etc. That's not me, and it's not what I'd advocate, but I do know that is the preference of some people, even given alternatives. Same goes for preferences when it comes to avoiding alternative healthcare.

I do disagree that "birth control" should only be used as "birth control." There are some health conditions -- PCOS, for instance -- where hormonal methods are very helpful to many women. I also don't think it's supportive of women's autonomy and choices in taking care of ourselves to try and dictate exactly what a woman uses a given medication for, especially when a given medication can be multi-use and has more than one thing it's recommended for.

For example, ultimately aspirin is and was designed as an analgesic, but many people use it preventatively for cardiovascular issues. I don't see why that's a problem.

In other words, I think that opinion is at odds with what you're frustrated with and are saying your ultimate goals are.

Lastly, it sounds like you have had seriously craptastic reproductive healthcare. For instance, anyone telling you IUDs would make you infertile has either been lying or is not even vaguely educated about IUDs. Any sexual healthcare provider pushing you to use a given method also isn't being one. Any repro healthcare provider who not only gives you funny looks, but isn't grateful to have FAM charts whehn addressing your reproductive health also isn't being a good provider. And yes: there are some crappy providers out there, especially if they are doing repro health without actually having the continued education and training to be doing so.

However, there are also many good and excellent providers out there, too.

Just as one more P.S. it's inaccurate to state that if young women start with the pill it's what they'll stay with through their reproductive lives. I have never seen any data to reflect that, and as someone who has worked in repro health and sex ed for a long time, I haven't seen that myself, either.

[ 11-07-2009, 06:41 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Posts: 68290 | From: An island near Seattle | Registered: May 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Scarleteen Volunteer
Member # 37835

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I'd like to chime in here and second a couple things Heather mentioned.

First off, I was definitely one of those young women put on birth control pills for cramps. Though, in my case, several causes other than just bad luck had been explored due to some other medical problems I had had. I also had the same issues my mom had at the same age, and nothing had ever been really wrong with her, so we had reason to believe that there was not a significant underlying issue. In middle school, it had become academically difficult to keep on missing 2-3 days of school a month due to cramps. I certainly wasn't having sex at that age, but birth control pills made my life a whole lot more manageable. I do think that pills should be an option for young women and girls in that situation, though I do think it's important that other medical issues get checked out too.

I stayed on the pills for a total of eight years (age 12-20) before going off for a year and using condoms and a diaphragm. I know a lot of women who were on the pill when in their teens, but ended up choosing something else (diaphragm, IUD, etc) in their late teens and early twenties. It seems to be that this is the age where many more young women explore their options on their own instead of just taking their doctor's suggestion at face value. So, it has not been my experience that women go on the pill and stay on forever.

I also agree that medication (and surgery as well) are generally the standard in western medicine, and that that's a pretty big problem. I definitely faced skepticism from a general practitioner for going off the pill ("Are you sure you want to go off the pill? You'll probably get pregnant!" "Um, I really think two barrier methods are going to be enough....").

What I really want to add in here is that I do believe that women, particularly young women, are frequently treated as though they can't make good decisions about their health for themselves by providers. There's often an attitude of "I'm the doctor and I'll fight your body until I fix what's wrong" instead of a willingness to work with and listen to bodies (this seems to be a particularly big problem in the area of child birth, but that's another story).

The main way to deal with these issues is to learn how to properly ask questions and be assertive with medical professionals. If you can be picky about who you see, don't visit a provider who dismisses your questions or statements. Unfortunately, many people simply aren't taught these skills.

Posts: 2262 | From: in transition | Registered: Apr 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator

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