Friday, March 9, 2012

Birth Control... It's NOT a condom

There have been a lot of flurries going on in the political and media spheres lately. Whether it's a certain media icon throwing around the word "slut", angry back and forth between religious and political leaders, or personal outrages over the whole debacle, there seems to be a lot of tension over the subject of birth control. And the flurries have certainly stirred up a lot of truth, myth, stigma, ignorance, etc., etc., that goes hand in hand with the medication since it's inception.

To start, let me make it clear that I am pairing my opinions with facts, so you will be getting a mix of both. Some might not like what I have written. Just please, read what I have to say, and I hope it will factor into your own feelings about all of this.

Birth control is not a simple contraceptive. It is not the female condom (that would be the diaphragm). There are flaws in many arguments, on both sides, have reduced this tiny pill into a symbol of the debate on sexual freedoms. To the point of blocking any discussion about the medical purposes 'The Pill' serves. While people are fighting back and forth and tackling the issue from a no-win/no-win angle, the heated emotions seem to have drowned out real information. And while I could get into my personal feelings on contraceptives, the social, individual, and fiscal benefits of birth control, or the issue of manipulating health coverage due to personal beliefs, or the role of gender in the debate, I will avoid discussing those arguments here. They are more than sufficiently covered elsewhere. In volumes. But there is a serious lack of discussion on how birth control acts as an important mediation for many.

Birth control is NOT a condom, it has critical medical applications and could benefit from renaming. Because while it is certainly useful as a form of birth control, it has far reaching effects on the body and has impacts (positive and negative) beyond a contraceptive. Birth control is used to treat hormonal dysfunction, irregularity, and diseases, and it is a cheap preventive for associated complications. Early treatment with contraceptives can help prevent later infertility and certain cancers. It is a MEDICINE. It is not a CONDOM.

Birth control pills are used to treat a variety of medical problems and come in a variety of forms. Different forms work differently for different people. Variety matters. Although birth control does help prevent unwanted pregnancy, from an anatomical standpoint, that consequence is very much a side effect of extensive bodily changes. It is not simply stopping pregnancy--it is a massive overall of hormones that affect the entire body.

Two well known hormonal diseases, which are almost always treated with birth control, are endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Both these diseases can be horrendously painful, disabling, emotional roller coasters that also often involve cyclical pain. Although birth control is not a cure for these diseases, it certainly makes their symptoms more tolerable. Before finding the right birth control, my period lasted months, and I usually only got a few days in-between. Birth control is not only used for serious diseases, but also for other complications of menstrual cycles. These include (but are not limited to): heavy/painful periods, PMDD, period related anemia, PMS, and even acne. These diseases and problems often respond well to birth control and help maintain a more hormonally balanced body (which is a miracle when you suffer from hormone disease).

Additionally, as I mentioned previously, birth controls come in a variety of forms. These vary from pills, to patches, to long-term uterine inserts. Even the pills have a wide range (estrogen, progesterone, low-estrogen, etc.). When using a method of birth control for pregnancy prevention, it mostly depends on finding one that sits well with one's body and does not produce negative side-effects. However, when finding one to treat a female hormonal disruption/disease, it is much more complicated. It's not a matter of finding one that doesn't make you sick--it's a matter of finding that one treatment that can save you from agony. I personally have tried nine fifteen different methods of birth control. I did not use any of these as a contraceptive. I was trying to find relief from month long periods, tumors, cysts, and knee numbing cramps/vomiting/fainting that kept me in bed for days. I'm hoping my current one works.

Lately, a common argument I have heard is that insurances do not cover all medications and that we cannot expect such a business to cover everything. This is true. Some medications that are especially expensive are not covered, or are only partially covered, by insurers. The issues of medical expense and coverage are significant problems for many. However, continuing this logical argument, let me poke some holes in it. First off, birth control is a low-cost medication compared to many other auto-immune disease treatments. When I first got diagnosed with IBD, I couldn't help but draw parallels between it and endometriosis. Both are incredibly painful, impair bodily function, can cause life threatening inflammation, sometimes necessitate partial or complete removal organs, and both are controlled/partially controlled by daily doses of medication. Both were covered by my insurance luckily (to the extent of a percentage copay), but whereas my birth control could cost fro $10-$150 a month, my IBD medication could cost over $1200 a month. If my insurer had to pick one of those two to drop for business reasons, I'm sure it's pretty clear which one would go.

But okay, say that argument is flawed. Say that it's impossible to compare different people with different diseases with different severities. Let's say that it is immoral and wrong to say which diseases should and should not be covered (this is my personal belief, but i know it's not a fiscal one). So, talking fiscally, let's look at the difference in costs between controlling endometriosis and dealing with severe complications after the fact. Like I said, birth control can cost $10-$150 a month for me. That is a significant chunk of change. But, let's talk about just one of my treatments: Lupron. I had three shots of Lupron, a chemo-class drug to deal with fibroid tumors and deep-tissue endometriosis (a result of my foolish decision to listen to a pharmacist about temporarily stopping birth control). Each one of these shots cost my insurance $1,500. I had three shots. For one round of treatment. Let's not even get into surgical expenses, ultrasounds, and secondary treatments I've racked up this year. If a woman is being denied birth control for treating a disease for fiscal reasons... doesn't seem very economical to me.

However, let us not forget the fundamental issue that has really dragged this out into recent media. Catholic insurance providers believe that the government has violated the Separation of Church and State. The attempt of the state to force all insurers into covering birth control has really caused a division between political and religious leaders. I understand why--I'm close with a number of Catholics and try to be sensitive to the beliefs of all faiths. I know that many Catholics believe that contraceptives interfere with God's plan of procreation. I respect that. I do not respect the right to push this belief onto others via insurance coverage, but I respect the right and reasons to the belief. What I do not understand, is why condoms and birth control pills are lumped into the same category and same purpose. It seems like a major logical flaw. One serves only as a form of sex protection, the other has much farther reaching implications. Furthermore, regarding procreation, I know of many women who never would have been able to conceive without the protective and healing benefits of birth control. Thus, by refusing these women medical treatment, not only may they be unable to ever reproduce, they might be barred from enjoying life (if they're in pain/misery 24/7). I wish that employers and individuals with religious feelings on birth control would be: (1) more concerned by these issues and (2) understand that birth control is not the equivalent of a female condom.

I'm not done yet. There is so much more to be said and I want to say it. I admit I'm not really giving any solutions to the current problem. It's a complex and delicate balance between various beliefs. What I am trying to do is explain why birth control really should not be simply lumped into 'sex protection'. Because for many women, it means much, much more. Many abstinent women take it too. Please make yourself really aware of what that medication is before you form your opinions.

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About The BedRiddenHead

I want to be happy. And this site is about that chance. How to strive to thrive in the body I've got and maybe turn my experiences into something worthwhile.

This site aims to help educate and reach out to people all over that struggle with pain or illness. To try and make something helpful. I work as a medical research writer, my background is in neuropsychology and biology, and I want to share what I learn in a way that is easy to understand. I am not a doctor. I'm definitely not your doctor. I am just some lady who wants to make someone's (anyone's) life a little bit better. Whether you have endometriosis, a chronic injury, a struggling friend, or just want to learn something new, I hope to make a place that has what you are looking for.

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