While a woman’s natural menstrual cycle lasts an average of 28 days, this is not exact; It is not unusual for it to be much shorter or longer, depending on stress levels, physical activity, caffeine intake, etc. Contrary to what your gynecologist may have told you, while hormonal birth control methods like the pill and the patch do regulate your period, they may not necessarily be the safest, most effective form of period regulation or pregnancy prevention. In fact, they are quite harmful to a woman’s body and more importantly, to her psyche.
A Woman’s Cycle: The Basics
Cycle length varies anywhere from 24 to 36 days. The first day of bleeding is considered “Day One” of your cycle. The follicular phase — the phase up to and during ovulation, when an egg releases from an ovary and is able to be fertilized — averages about two weeks. The luteal phase, which lasts from ovulation until the day before the start of the new period, is typically around 12 to 16 days. Technically speaking, women can only get pregnant in the few days leading up to, during, and following ovulation. By educating yourself on your body and its natural, telltale signs of fertility, you can learn to rely less on hormonal birth control and more on your own knowledge and recordkeeping for family planning.
History of Hormonal Birth Control Pills
The FDA first approved the sale of birth control pills in 1960. At this time, pills were praised for giving women sexual freedom and allowing them to take jobs outside of the home. Since 1960, lower dose birth control pills have become available, reducing common side effects from the higher dose pills like blood clots, weight gain and nausea, but problems often still arise. The common denominator of both of these pill options though, is their reliance on articial hormones to simulate pregnancy, thereby effectively eliminating a woman’s ovulatory period.
The Growing Disconnect Between Woman and Body
As a holistic practitioner, I often talk about the mind-body connection and the importance of increasing mental and bodily awareness. Women using hormonal birth control methods are masking not only their entire menstrual cycle, but their natural emotions, moods and scent. Women are never taught how to chart their cycles in school; Rather, either their sexuality is looked down upon and abstinence provided as the “sacred,” “only” option or hormonal birth control is marketed to them as the most convenient and effective form of “management” of their reproductive organs.
What happened to women embracing their cycles? What happened to them taking the time to go inward for seven or so days a month to connect with their emotions and the carnal workings of their intricate female bodies? I believe women getting in touch with their natural bodies is integral to knowing themselves, both physically and emotionally and “taking charge” of their bodies and ultimately, their health and fertility.
Realities of Hormonal Birth Control
Before starting or continuing hormonal birth control, please consider the following:
- Hormonal birth control pollutes the environment. Combined with the myriad of other chemicals flushed or disposed of daily, pharmaceutical estrogens like the ones found in birth control pills contribute to contaminated waterways and endangered wildlife.
- Hormonal birth control causes long-term effects. Oral contraceptives have been linked to increased breast and cervical cancer and increased sexual problems. Depo-Provera alone, commonly known as “the Shot,” weakens immune systems in animals and increases the risk of contracting HIV and other STDS.
- Hormonal birth control affects your senses and taste. According to Vicki Thorn, founder of the National Office for Post Abortion Reconciliation and Healing, when taking hormonal contraception, women change pheromone preference — the ability to choose a good biological match (i.e. an immune system complement) through naturally perceived hormones — potentially leading to relationship problems and autoimmune-compromised children.
- Hormonal birth control is not fail-proof. All sex involves the risk or chance of pregnancy. Recognizing the sacredness of yourself and your sexuality is, I think, fundamental and should precede any and all physical sex acts.
Tracking Your Cycle: An Empowering Alternative
According to Dr. Carl Djerassi, credited for helping to invent the first ever birth control pill,
“Eventually, …many a woman in our affluent society may conclude that the determination of when and whether she is ovulating should be a routine item of personal health information to which she is entitled as a matter of course.”
Even he agrees: Tracking your cycle just makes sense!
Hormonal birth control undeniably disconnects women from their bodies. There is a kind of sweet awareness and empowerment that comes from recognizing the signs your body gives you: The low back pain you experience before menstruation, the elevated position of your cervix during ovulation and the nausea of an early pregnancy. Knowing and recognizing these key signs is a telltale step in determining your fertility and truly knowing yourself.
Learn how to track your cycle with the fantastic and informative book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler and through period tracking phone applications like Pink Pad. As always, if you have any questions or comments, leave them below :)
P.S. Look out for my future posts about exploring alternatives to hormonal birth control and ways to restore your natural hormone balance after coming off of it!
This post was originally written for the Pittsburgh Center for Complementary Health and Healing.