I think one of the biggest, most awkward, conversations a couple can have is about contraception. It’s even more awkward if one of the partners doesn’t want to use any.
That was me. That IS me. I knew before I even met Adam that I never wanted to be on birth control. Trying to “fix” something in my body that was working properly didn’t sit right with me, and the more I delved into the research the more I realized that the “benefits” would not outweigh the risks of mood swings, blot clots, weight gain, nausea, decreased libido and even death.
As Adam and I began talking about marriage, the family planning conversation came up. Thankfully, we were on the same page – Adam didn’t want me risking my health, either.
So I was particularly interested in all the chatter recently about a new study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, linking hormonal birth control to an increased risk of depression. While I have long believed that hormonal contraceptives are bad for women’s health, I was quite shocked to see the study garnering so much attention in the media.
The Danish study found that women on the combined birth control pill were 23 percent more likely to be prescribed depression medication than nonusers. The use of anti-depressants increased by 34 percent for those on a progestin-only pill, by 50 percent for those using the patch, by 60 percent for vaginal rings and by 40 percent for hormonal IUDs.
Although the news made me feel confirmed in my decision not to use contraceptives, it also made me sad. Sad for so many women out there who’ve lived the experience depression and now wonder if they caused their own suffering by using certain forms of birth control.
But if using hormonal contraceptives is harmful to women’s health, then what are we supposed to do – have 15 kids or never have sex? Thankfully the answer is a resounding no! We have more choices than that. Adam and I decided we’d learn natural family planning (NFP), also known as fertility awareness, to chart my cycles. By recording my body’s fertility signs, we’d know when to abstain from sex if trying to avoid from pregnancy, and when to engage in it when we wanted to conceive.
I’ll admit it was unusual, but we had a number of married friends who also charted. In college I even had a boss who taught NFP on the side. I’d pick her brain, learning about all the amazing things fertility charting can tell a woman, such as if she has low progesterone, when her period will arrive, when ovulation occurred, potential causes of infertility and more. In all the talk about feminism and women’s rights issues, I found charting to be the most liberating and empowering thing I’d ever done as a woman.
But the thing that most convinced us that artificial contraception would have no place in our marriage was the example of our friends. These couples were happy, respected one another, viewed children as remarkable gifts and understood marriage as a lifelong commitment. They also were honest about the struggles of NFP, with sometimes hard to read signs and the fact that if they needed to abstain it was when they most desired sex. Yet even with their struggles, time and time again they’d say it was still worth it. The increased communication, respect and love that practicing a fertility awareness method brought to their marriages far outweighed any negatives.
Thankfully today there are so many fertility awareness methods out there that finding one that works is a much easier task. There are numerous charting apps for smartphones, along women to chart on-the-go. Unlike the risk of depression and other side effects from hormonal contraception, fertility awareness methods help achieve a happier and healthier woman, while also benefiting relationships.