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. I might offend people with what I write, that's a hazard, but I really need to get a few things out on the table. 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 (the diaphragm is). There are horrible flaws in the arguments (from both sides) twisting this tiny pill into more an angry debate on sexual freedoms and taking the debate away from the actual medical justifications it serves. While people are fighting back and forth and tackling the issue from a no win--no win angle, real information needs to get out there. Birth control is NOT a condom, it has valid medical application and should probably be renamed, it is used to treat horrendous hormonal diseases, is a cheaper alternative to later treatments, and 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. 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 primary, well known hormonal diseases that are almost always treated with birth control are endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Both these diseases are horrendously painful, life disrupting/ruining, 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 (e.g., I used to have 5 week long periods before I got on a pill). Birth control is not only used for painful diseases such as these, but also 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 been on nine different methods of contraception. I did not use any of these for birth control. 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. 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 ulcerative colitis, 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 colitis 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 Catholics believe that contraceptives interfere with God's plan of procreation. I respect that. What I do not understand and see as a flaw of the enforcement of this belief, is that condoms and birth control pills are lumped into the same category and same purpose. And I cannot believe that this is so. One is simply a form of sex protection, the other has much farther reaching implications. I know of many women who never would have been able to conceive without the protective benefits of birth control (i.e., they would have long ago been made infertile, through surgery or total ruin of reproductive organs). Thus, by refusing these women medical treatment, they may be unable to ever reproduce or ever to enjoy life (if they're in pain/misery 24/7). Not to mention that birth control can protect against future cancers and other deadly problems. I wish the Catholic Church would be more aware of these issues and understand that birth control is not 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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