We Try It: Going Off The Pill

Around 19 years old, I decided to go on the pill. It might have been for acne. It might also have been because my boyfriend at the time wanted to go all the way and I was ready to do it like in a Katy Perry song. Either way, since swallowing my first dose of estrogen and progestin, I’ve been regulating my body’s baby-making ways by dutifully taking a tiny pill at around 10 p.m. everyday for a little more than 10 years.

It Seems Your Doctor Can’t Choose Your Birth Control

Asking your doctor (ar at least mine) whether you might want to take a break from the pill is a lesson in not getting an answer, especially when your reasons include nothing more than being happily single, pretty sure you never want to have kids, and wondering if facing the rest of your child-bearing existence pumped full of synthetic hormones is a good choice. Also, staying on the pill is most appealing because you remember what your skin was like during that brief two months you went off it because you forgot to refill your precription. I still have scars from that break-out of what my mom called “Angry Red Planets.”

Here’s What My Doctor Told Me & What this Blog Post I Found Confirms

  • Taking birth control pills until you hit menopause is okay.
  • Prolonged use of birth control pills increases the risk of cervical cancer and liver cancer.
  • That said, it decreases your risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer.
  • It is thought that oral contraceptives slightly increase the risk of breast cancer, but ten years after stopping the pill, the risk returned down to a level similar to if a woman had never taken birth control.

(Mayo Clinic)

So basically, staying on the pill isn’t the worst thing you could ever do, and it reduces your risk for two cancers, but increases your risk for another two, so you break even. But here’s the thing that has been niggling at me for a couple of years now: hormonal birth control can kill your sex drive, and change the type of person to whom you are attracted.

No, I’m not blaming my relationship failures on hormonal birth control, but when so many relationship decisions are based on gut feeling, what happens if you can’t trust some of that gut? What’s more, I suffer chronic headaches and had read somehwere that birth control could be a factor. Some people also find that it affects mood in not so fun ways, and as a person with depression, it’s enough to make you wonder.

Waiting for The Communists

So I went off the pill. Single, not really looking to date (i.e. no where close to having the baby-making sex), and frankly, curious as to what would happen, I didn’t start a new pack one Sunday after a period. Now, anyone who understands a little about hormonal birth control knows that the period you have when you’re on the pill isn’t a true period. I was warned that my first period following the pill had the potential to be like The Somme in terms of uterine violence and sheer volume of blood.

So I waited. Seven weeks. And then I had a period that was about the same as what I’d had on the pill, only less predictable as to when it would start. I spent the seven weeks I was waiting trying to decide if certain emotions were part of my cycle or just me being slightly off my rocker that day.

Cycling Again and It Is Weird

Once I started that first period, I downloaded one of those period tracker apps and I’ve been obsessive about collecting data. So far, my cycle averages 29 days and my period lasts a reasonable four days, with two of those being not-even-close-to-heavy. My vanity is pleased to see that my skin has not broken out; what’s more, I feel like I have fewer zits off the pill than on it, though it’s still early days.

What I’ve been most fascinated with is my emotions and libido. As I write this, I am experiencing what I suspect is my first bout with PMS in ten years. The pill, bless it, removed any PMS symptoms. All today, I’ve felt as if I would burst through my skin. I was anxious. Near tears at one point, and seemed to have the attention span of a kitten. As far as my libido, it has definitely improved.

What’s funny is that before this experiment, I was feeling very Liz Lemon about sexy times and dating: it wasn’t for me, at least for the moment. I was not finding my usual type attractive and frankly, even the thought of a naked visit from Ryan Gosling seemed like too much work.

Off the pill, however, I’ve been much more likely to, as the kids say, check someone out. All sorts of dudes seem attractive to me, and it’s kind of fun. It’s something I haven’t felt in a really long time.

As for the headaches? Still there, but they do seem to have dropped off in severity and frequency, which is a relief.  I can’t say much about how going off the pill has impacted my emotions, but I haven’t felt remotely depressed in the three months I’ve been off of it (though I suspect that has more to do with being in an awesome place in my life more than anything.)

Conclusions

Well, this is purely, as the sciency-folks say, anecdotal evidence. Birth control is a very personal thing, as is everyone’s reactions to being on or off of it, but so far, I’ve been okay with what my body has been doing. I’ll probably change my mind whenver I decide to start dating again, but this experiment has made me more interested in pursuing non-hormonal birth control.

So if you’re thinking about taking the plunge and going off the pill, give it a go, though, you know, if you’re having sex and don’t want kids, be sure to be extra good about using condoms or other form of non-hormonal birth control.

Have any of you ladies on the pill for forever gone off of it lately? What was your experience like?

Published by

[E] Sally Lawton

My food groups are cheese, bacon, and hot tea. I like studying cities and playing with my cat, Buffy.

49 thoughts on “We Try It: Going Off The Pill”

  1. If you have migraines, you need to be super careful about your hormonal birth control.  Turns out that there is an increased chance of stroke and that most birth controls are contra-indicated as a result.  After seeing multiple ob/gyns who put me on a variety of different pills to find my “match” as well as trying nuvaring, it wasn’t until I went to Planned Parenthood that they discovered my options were limited to implanon, depo, or an IUD.  After trying depo for a year I settled on option d, none of the above and use condoms.

  2. Has anyone here gone all the way and gotten their tubes tied? I really want to have it done but can’t find any doctor willing to perform the procedure – they tell me I’m too young (at 26) which I find very insulting, but whatever. Any experiences with this to share?

  3. I went on the pill about three months before I got married–so before I was sexually active–and then I was on hormonal birth control from April 2010 until about February of this year. Part of the reason I stayed on birth control as long as I did was because I was hoping that it could help with my recurring migraines. Although it seemed to lessen their frequency, it did not prevent them. It wasn’t until I got adjusted a bunch at the chiropractor that my migraines have significantly gone away. And, because I lost my medical insurance by switching jobs and was too lazy to get the pill through going to Planned Parenthood, Mr. Dormouse and I have just been using condoms since February. I have mixed feelings about being “natural” again, but overall, I’m glad we made the switch and I don’t think I’ll go back to the pill. Since going off it, my libido is higher–so back to what it was before I got on the pill in the first place–and I feel more at ease with not controlling my hormones. My pms doesn’t seem to be much different than what it was on the pill, but I do have cyclical acne again–about a week before my period starts, out pop the zits! I can deal with that, although it does feel like I’m 16 again, and having a happy sex life more than makes up for it!

    1. Cyclical acne is the worst! I know everyone has their own trick for this, but about a week before my period and I know I might break out, I try to be really good about putting the persa-gel on every night before bed. I find that helps keep everything at bay.

  4. Dude, I was on the pill for maybe 3 months (a generic orth-tricyclen) and my skin was HORRIBLE (as in, awful hormonal painful boils) and I gained 15 pounds in three months, and I was depressed, despite being at a great place in my life..  Switched to Nuva-ring… best decision of my life.  I can take my acne medicine (an antibiotic that decreases the effectiveness of the pill but is fine with nuvaring) so my skin is close to perfect (save the chin-pimples the week before my period), a 2 day period that I can barely tell happens, easy to use, no stress and all around wonderful thing!!!  I recommend it to all my friends.  AND, you can take it out to have the sex, for up to three hours, wash it off and shove it back in there.

    1. I tried the Nuva-Ring once and hated it with the fired of a thousand suns. I swear I could feel it all the time. Maybe I never got it in right, but man, it sucked. But from what I’ve been reading, it works really well for a lot of people. Maybe I should give it another go…

  5. I quit the pill because of the increased risk of stroke for people who take oral contraceptives and get migraines with auras. Got a copper IUD in 2006. And surprise! I’ve had maybe one migraine since then. I’d trade heavier periods for no migraines any day.

  6. Birth control pills vary so much. Doctors can talk until they’re blue in the face about how there’s no difference between generics and brand name but my personal anecdata (and working in pharma) tells me that is not necessarily true. There is one generic of ortho tri-cyclen that turns me into a truly irrational rage machine. Seriously. All anger, all the time. A different generic of the same drug works just dandy for me and the brand name works as well. I’m beginning to think that the pill is decreasing my libido but I hate the feel of condoms and have an admittedly silly fear of a copper wire being jammed in my cervix, so for now,  pills it is.

    1. The generic thing is soooo true. I remember when Yasmin went to generic, it was the worst ever since, of course, my insurance company made me take the generic. I felt like the hulk. I ended up working with my doc to get me on a pill that was already generic so I wouldn’t have to deal with a switch like that again. But I agree — the copper IUD is a little nerve-wracking.

  7. I was put on the pill very young (early high school) in order to regulate my periods which I went two years without after starting. I gained 120lbs in less than a year and the doctors apparently thought nothing of this because now I was menstruating regularly. No one bothered to check for PCOS until I nailed down a doctor that actually agreed to test for everything. Now I’m still dealing with the aftermath of that ridiculous weight gain 15 years later and all the hormone problems that were never resolved and only barely managed. I can’t be an advocate for the pill. I  think if you can avoid getting extra hormones dosing, do so. If it’s unavoidable, ok yeah I get it, but I wish non-hormonal IUDs were given out as frequently as the pill is for contraceptive. All of this also instilled a probably life-long mistrust of doctors because they give out things they have no idea what they’ll do except in the most immediate and obvious sense. “Oh, hey, you’ll have less cramping and lighter bleeding. Also you may royally screw up your body’s ability to regulate its hormones for who knows how long and we have no idea what other side effects you may develop and we’re not going to list them for you so you can figure what’s what yourself. Good luck!” That is a crap way to approach the human body, there has got to be something better.

    1. I totally agree with this! I was actually really frustrated with my doc for not having a more in-depth discussion about the pill vs. no pill. Most docs won’t recommend an IUD for a woman who has never had a baby, so I suppose I can understand where she was coming from in that she knew I didn’t want kids, and to her mind, The Pill is the best and only option for someone like me. Part of why I decided to try going off the pill is that I am considering a copper IUD and really wanted to see how I’d feel sans pill-hormones.

      1. I tried getting an IUD; there’s a reason it’s reserved for ladies who have had babies.  In general, a uterus is not big enough for an IUD.  Having a medical ruler shoved through your cervix and into your uterus is probably the most painful feeling in the world.  Then being told you are too small?  I was in tears for the rest of the day.

        1. I had the copper IUD for several years (just don’t need it anymore) and I’ve never had children. Worked great for me. That sucks that it didn’t work out for you but I think it’s still better that you know you can’t have one rather than not attempting at all or being told by a doctor that they’re not even going to try. Most women regardless of whether or not they’ve had children can successfully have an IUD inserted and have it function as it should. The usually cited reason for recommending them after childbirth is for ease of insertion, not because they’re too big for a uterus that hasn’t had a baby in it. The uterus actually goes back to its normal size after birth, it doesn’t just stay larger.

        2. It’s not reserved for women who’ve been pregnant; the only difference is it’s easier to insert in them (mostly due to the shape of the cervical os after birth) and there’s a slightly higher risk of expulsion in women who haven’t.

          http://www.jfponline.com/Pages.asp?AID=4331

          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17531621

          http://www.icid.salisbury.nhs.uk/ClinicalManagement/SexualHealth/Pages/IntruterineContraception.aspx

          I can see why someone who hasn’t been pregnant wouldn’t go for it despite the different risks, but it’s definitely not an absolute ‘not possible’.

  8. My last experience with the pill was about ten years ago. I only took them for a few months because they turned me into some sort of ragey she-Hulk. Seriously, when I got them out of my system, I thought about that previous months and bought Mr.B an apology card. We just stick with condoms, which I am comfortable with because my post-baby body now helpfully lets me know when I am ovulating in ways that I will not go into here, lest I venture too far into TMI territory.

  9. I once went off the pill a few years ago (I’ve been on it 6 years or so?) when I didn’t have access to my prescription. It helped me remember why I went on it in the first place. Crippling cramps, vomiting, unable to move for days.

    Yeah. If my liver wants cancer, it can have it.

    I am interested in switching hormonal contraceptives though. Mirena seems like a good option, if I wasn’t terrified of needles and such.

  10. If we’re comparing anecdata, my experience of going off the pill was largely positive. I worried about acne making a return, since the pill was the only thing that had fixed it for me, but nothing major happened, and I did feel better in general, less bloated and such. My periods were weird for a while though, during the 6 or 7 months afterwards I randomly skipped 2 of them, which the gyno said was the result of hormone levels adjusting. And well, cramps made a return too, but mine are easily fixed with ibuprofen. I don’t miss being on the pill. If anything, I regret not stopping sooner – almost a year after, the particular pill I had been on made the news because long-term use of it was linked to depression.

  11. Sounds like you made the right choice for you right now! I’m glad there wasn’t a Somme in your pants.

    I went off the pill about a year and a half ago, but I immediately got the Mirena IUD, so the transition was not so abrupt. My skin definitely suffered (I just have to be better about washing my face every day) but I think I got some of my sex drive back, and I stopped having periods/withdrawal bleeds completely (which is FANTASTIC). I still kind of wish I could get away from hormones entirely, because I feel like I’ve spent my entire adult life on them, but right now I need very reliable birth control.

      1. That was my main reason for choosing Mirena – I was not so excited about the hormones, but I really didn’t want my periods to be any worse, as they were already pretty long and awful on the pill. But I did do some soul-searching and discussed it with my NP, who was great.

      2. I have PCOS and my periods actually improved on the copper IUD after getting off the pill. Go figure. Depends what your’e starting with and what you consider “worse” as well. I have a friend who never cramped and now gets light cramping on one day a cycle which she considers terrible enough to recommend against paraguard. I’d rather not have the extra hormones since those have royally and very likely permanently screwed me over.

  12. I’ve been off hormonal birth control for…hmmmm, year and a half?  I stopped taking it because a.) I didn’t feel right b.) I had NO…absolutely nada zilch zero sex drive. c.) the few and rare times I did have sex, it hurt…badly.

    I went off of the hormones…and all of these problems were solved.  However, the original reason I went on the pill has recently returned- Heavy, long periods.  Ugh.  I feel great, but these periods blow.  I was woken up during a dead sleep last night by awful cramps.

    1. If you can predict your period to within a day or so, I was told it’s ok to start taking ibuprofen before you see bleeding and/or when you get warning cramps (if you’re not doing that already, ignore me if so!). You can also ask your GP about mefenamic acid (Ponstan this side of the Atlantic): I’ve never had to use it myself but I hear great things about its pain-and-blood-reducing properties, and I don’t think it’s prescribed much in the US.

    2. Anaprox!  (Also called Naproxen)  There’s a reason I call them my Wonder Drugs, because they are wonderful.  I have bad cramps, and taking them for the first day and half of my period (when ibuprofen would only dent said cramps) was been a game changer for me.  Apparently there’s OTC versions of it here (Canada), but I have the prescription-strength stuff, and I’d recommend going that route if possible.

  13. I once went through 5 different pills in a year looking for the right one. What I found is that each pill is capable of affecting a person in different ways. Some made me depressed, some gave me migraines, some I gained weight on, some made me have crazy pms. I go off for a month or two about once a year which helps me gauge if my pill is still working for me in ways other than preventing pregnancy, and so far, the Nuva Ring is doing it for me. I would prefer to go natural though if I could just be confident in preventing a pregnancy. My sister tracks her fertility by monitoring her basal temperature and fluids and it worked well for 5 years or so until she got lazy. Now she has three kids…

  14. I was on the estrogen/progestin pill all through college. But then I started getting these wicked migraines for a few months before talking to a doctor about it (and of course thinking then that it must have been a brain tumor that was causing all the new migraines). She said it could very well be my birth control and if I was comfortable with the option then stop taking it for a few months and see what happened. Bam- migraines gone. It was like magic, and migraines reaaaally suck, so I didn’t use pill/hormone BC for probably another 7 or 8 years. Now I’m on a progestin-only type of pill and while I haven’t had any of the other effects that estrogen-based pills are known for (better skin, regular shorter period, libido change, etc) I kind of wonder if there’s still enough hormone in it to change who I’m attracted to? Not that I’m looking, but still curious…

  15. My being on the pill has nearly always coincided completely with being in a relationship, so I can’t say in my experience that it has any effects on my sex drive or mood. That said, the only side-effect for me is occasionally sore boobs, so along with the major plus effect of No Babies, I’ll keep on keepin’ on.

    The times I have gone off it I did find the wait for the Communists to arrive a little unnerving (12 weeks will do that to a girl). Tracking ovulation made it easier.

      1. That’s pretty much the only reason I’m on it, to have the sex without the pregnancy side-effect:) I’d be interested in getting a Mirena but I’m not arsed thinking about the cost and possibly fighting with my GP about it, since the pill I’m on works so well at the moment. We’ll see!

  16. How interesting! My only run-in with contraception other than condoms was two years of the implant (implanon) and my goodness, I was glad to have that removed (and don’t plan to go the hormonal route again, either). So it’s really interesting to see the feelings towards hormonal contraception and the experience of ending that after a much longer time period.

     

  17. Wow, you’re timing is pretty much perfect, ha. I’ve been on the pill for pretty much over 14 years, because without my period was just crippling and blinding and all that fun jazz.

    Two weeks ago I stopped with taking it (not the first time) and everything that people tell about being on the pill: happened. My libido? Gone. Emotions? A bit more flat than usual. Boyfriend? Still very much in love. Skin? Still not caring about with or without pill.  It was such a weird experience and I’m definitely not telling this as a “Pfah, you’re wrong!” argument. More that a) I might be special (don’t snort) and b) we definitely don’t know everything about our bodies plus (extra) hormones and its influences. Which fascinated and scares me at the same time.

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