FOR the first time, women can walk into their local pharmacy to buy the Pill.
No prescription needed, no trying to reach your GP, just a quick chat to the pharmacist and a fee of £7.50 a month.
The move is a huge step in the right direction, giving women more freedom to control their fertility.
Unlike the combined Pill, which contains both oestrogen and progesterone, the progesterone-only mini-Pill does not require blood- pressure or BMI checks. But is it really a good idea to offer it without a doctor’s opinion?
Concerns have been raised that without a GP’s consultation, women will be less aware of the potential side effects.
The two listed in the Government’s Pharmacy Consultation Checklist are irregular bleeding and allergic reactions, with mention of very rare side-effects including thrombosis (blood clots), liver problems and ectopic pregnancy.
But it’s not just the Pill. Women bear the brunt of the negative side effects of many common forms of contraception, often with devastating effects on their mental and physical health.
Research by The Lowdown, the world’s first review platform for contraceptives, found 68 per cent of women have suffered side-effects from their contraception.
It’s something Sarah Turnock knows only too well. In a matter of weeks, the 25-year-old’s life went into a tailspin and she was consumed by emotions so intense that she began to have suicidal thoughts.
She recalls telling her worried mum she wanted to take her own life on her way home from work, and panicked that something was wrong with her.
She tells Fab Daily: “It was very quick, a week or two, and my mood just plummeted completely. I started getting really concerning, suicidal thoughts. I was really low, it was extreme and I’d never felt anything like it at all.
“There had been no change in my life, nothing else going on that I was concerned about — I just felt something wasn’t right.”
Weeks later, Sarah, from Carlisle, discovered the cause of her problems — her contraceptive implant.
Her first device had worked for three years with no side-effects, so for weeks Sarah hadn’t suspected her replacement implant.
She has since switched her contraception and, within a week, her mood stabilised.
She says: “I want other women to trust their gut, and if you feel something isn’t right, just know you don’t have to stick with it.”
In The Lowdown’s survey 47 per cent of women said their contraception had negatively affected their mental health at some point in life. Their findings back up clinical reviews that show 20 to 40 per cent of women are not satisfied by their current birth-control method.
Like Sarah, Holly Deakin and Eppie Shepherd’s lives changed after switching their birth control. For ten years, Holly, 28, suffered anxiety and mild depression that left her feeling “exceptionally more sensitive to everything”.
But when she switched from the Pill to the coil — partly due to having trouble getting her contraceptive in lockdown — it was like a weight had lifted.
She says: “I found my moods lifted, as did my brain fog and anxiety, and I was advised that given where the coil is, it keeps the hormones localised, with less in your bloodstream.”
Eppie, 29, a copywriter from South London, switched from the Pill to condoms and says: “It helped me realise I had been emotional and my hormones were all over the place.”
The Lowdown’s founder Alice Pelton set up the platform after suffering severe side-effects from the Pill through her twenties.
She says: “I was sick of side-effects from contraception being minimised. It’s madness that women should have to waste so much time, money and effort struggling to get GP appointments, taking time off work for them, or not being able to access the method or brand of contraception they want.”
Alice, 32, from Salisbury, Wilts, hailed the move to offer the mini- Pill over the counter, adding: “For far too long this very safe method of contraception has been too difficult to get hold of.”
But she and The Lowdown’s medical director Dr Fran Yarlett agree it is important women understand the potential side-effects before making a choice.
Dr Fran says: “Women still need to be fully informed of the potential and expected side-effects of this contraceptive, which can include mood changes and bleeding problems.
“Women often do not get fully counselled about these common problems, which leads to them stopping or changing their contraception and being vulnerable to unintended pregnancies.”
They are side-effects that Holly recognises after taking the Pill for ten years before a 12-month spell on the implant. That ended after she started getting irregular periods, severe acne and bad mood swings that led to poor appetite and bad eating habits.
She went back on the Pill, but during the pandemic she struggled to get hold of it due to stock shortages. After six months of no contraception, she chose the coil — and quickly noticed her moods lift.
When Sarah raised her concerns that her implant was to blame for her symptoms, she felt dismissed by doctors.
She says: “I went into the appointment, tried to have my own back as much as I could and explained it wasn’t working — and I had that challenging conversation of, ‘Well, it’s the same thing that worked before’.”
The doctor seemed more worried about how Sarah would protect herself from unwanted pregnancies than about her mental health, she adds.
“They said I should keep it in and I left the appointment and cried. With the effect it had on my mind, I was really low and fragile. It was a hard conversation to have. I was thinking, ‘I need this out for my own sanity’.”
They said I should keep it in and I left the appointment and cried. With the effect it had on my mind, I was really low and fragile.
Sarah persevered and went back to her doctor to insist she needed her implant removed.
Within a week she felt better, and she wants other women to know they can explore other options and switch if their current contraception isn’t working.
For Eppie, choosing to stop taking the Pill made her realise it had masked many problems over the years. She had started taking it at 15, to avoid getting a period when she went to Kenya for a month. For years, she says she noticed very few problems, until her GP said she could no longer be prescribed the Pill due to migraines.
She says: “I remember feeling very overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do next. I just thought, ‘I’m not going to have anything and make that decision later in life’.”
After coming off the Pill, Eppie suffered extreme mood swings, irregular periods and breakouts.
She says: “I was told I likely had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and spent the next few years dealing with adult acne and crazy periods.”
Despite a tough few years dealing with coming off the Pill, Eppie says it has been a relief and has helped her to get to know her body better. She adds: “I’m so glad to have come off hormonal contraception and got to know my body without the additional oestrogen that was clearly covering bigger issues.”
Eppie now relies on condoms, and adds: “I wish I’d known all this when I was a teenager. I would have wanted to ask more questions.”
Holly says she wants women like her who were put on the Pill in their teens — having been offered no alternative — to know they don’t have to put up with being in pain, feeling sad, or having rollercoaster moods.
She says: “I went on the Pill for acne initially. It was the only option really discussed for me back in 2009. At 15 I was too young and inexperienced to have the coil, and the implant and injection weren’t offered to me.
“I recommend talking in depth with doctors and friends. Don’t just put up with feeling rubbish. If you are suffering from mental-health issues, consider that it could be exacerbated by the hormones in the Pill.”
As for a woman’s right to choose, Sarah, Holly and Eppie are proof that that right should not end with whaether or not they want to get pregnant.
It’s only right that women are listened to, and feel empowered to choose the right contraceptive for them.
As these brave women can attest, it is a choice that can prove life-changing.
‘It’s time for us guys to step up’
MEN currently have two options for contraception – a condom or a vasectomy.
But scientists are working on a new male contraceptive gel to offer an alternative.
Dr Cheryl Fitzgerald, a consultant in reproductive medicine at Saint Mary’s Hospital – part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust – says trials have been positive so far.
One of the first to trial the gel is Lewis Whittaker, 25, and his partner Jess, who has suffered bad side-effects from contraception before.
Lewis says: “I felt it was important to take part, as contraception shouldn’t only be the responsibility of a female partner.”
The apprentice solicitor from Bolton said rubbing the gel on his shoulder is now just part of his daily routine. He has experienced only minor side-effects.
Lewis says: “There’s been a stigma around females being the only ones dealing with contraception and fertility. But that’s not a progressive attitude – and this is an area men should take more interest in.”
The gel is a mix of the hormones progesterone – to switch off sperm production in the testes – and testosterone. Sperm production is halted in eight to 12 weeks but soon comes back when a man stops using the gel.
While many women admit not trusting their partner to take a daily contraceptive, Dr Fitzgerald says that has not been an issue on the trial.
She adds: “We’ve seen relatively few side-effects – they have tolerated it really well. I think more men want to control their fertility.”
James Owers, 29, and his partner Diana Bardsley, from Edinburgh, are taking part in the trial too.
He says: “I’ve experienced pretty much no side-effects. There was some small spots on my lower back and the only change to my mood was increased libido, which wasn’t a problem for us. The list of side-effects is the same, if not slightly less, than what women have endured for 60 years.
What we are asking of men is less than what we’ve been asking of women for decades.”
Addressing men directly, James adds: “If you care about having an unwanted pregnancy, it’s your responsibility. For guys that say this is too much effort, that is such a low bar. You really need to step up.”
Which is the best contraception for you?
DO you want to use hormones? If not, it’s a no to the combined Pill, the progestogen-only Pill, patch, ring, hormonal coil, implant and injection.
Can you remember to take it every day? If not, you should avoid the Pill and fertility awareness methods.
Do you want to control your period? If you want to control when you have a period, the combined and progestogen-only Pills could work for you. If you want a lighter period, all hormonal contraceptives would be good options. Just make sure you avoid the copper coil. To stop your bleeds altogether, look at the injection or hormonal coil.
Do you want to try for a baby soon after stopping your contraception? If so, avoid the injection, male vasectomy and female sterilisation. Finally, if in doubt, you should discuss your options with your GP.
- If you are struggling with mental health issues or suicidal thoughts, call the Samaritans on 116 123.
Source: The Sun