This is the third blog in our four part series Her Body.
Oral hormonal contraceptives have achieved such prominence that they are recognized by a one-word name: the Pill. This simple name gives the impression it is a one-size-fits-all solution for all women for all fertility problems. The birth control pill can reduce the likelihood of becoming pregnant, make monthly bleeding more regular, and reduce some premenstrual symptoms. If you’re considering the Pill or another hormonal contraceptive for your teen daughter, you may want to educate yourself first in what else the Pill can do. The Pill can mask underlying cycle health issues, increase the risk of serious medical concerns, have adverse reactions, interfere with romantic relationships, and raise moral concerns.
The Pill does not regulate a girl’s natural menstrual cycle. Instead, it alters her body’s natural production of hormones to prevent the biological events that occur in menstrual cycles while giving the outward appearance of regular cyclical bleeding . God created the female body to have varying levels of different hormones throughout a natural cycle. While taking the Pill, hormone levels do not vary naturally and send appropriate signals to the brain and female organs to ovulate and shed the lining of the uterus as in a natural menstrual cycle. For teen girls who have difficulties with cycle regularity, heavy bleeding, or painful cramps, the Pill may be offered as medical intervention. However, suppressing natural cycles doesn’t solve the underlying cycle problems but rather masks them. When a girl eventually discontinues the Pill, her cycle issues may return. Helping a teen girl understand potential problems with her natural cycles can allow her to seek earlier treatment for true medical concerns if needed.
Reading the “Prescribing Information” insert inside a prescription of birth control pills reveals that the potential side effects of altering a girl’s natural hormones are numerous. They include serious medical concerns like thromboembolism, hypertension, and emotional disorders while taking the Pill as well as an increased risk of breast and cervical cancer for several years after discontinuing the Pill. There are also adverse reactions like hair loss and changes to the cornea that can affect her ability to wear contact lenses. There are even many reactions that some girls may have been trying to lessen by taking the Pill in the first place like cramps, bloating, irregular bleeding, breast tenderness, headaches, dizziness, acne, and depression. [1,2]
Since interfering with a girl’s natural production of hormones can have effects on her reproductive organs, circulatory system, skin appearance, hair, eyes, and emotions, perhaps we should wonder in what other ways suppressing her natural hormones may impact her life.
Studies show that using hormonal contraceptives can modulate brain structure . Allowing her body’s natural hormones to work their magic makes a woman more attractive at certain times in her cycle by making her lips bigger , her voice more attractive , and her body odor more pleasant . Having natural cycles also seems to give women an intuition about men and their suitability as potential mates . When using the Pill, these natural changes are suppressed. As young women date seeking to find their soul mate, they may not want their decisions regarding a potential husband to be clouded by suppressed hormones.
For girls who are not sexually active and are therefore not trying to prevent pregnancy, there is not a moral concern with taking the Pill.
The moral concern with the Pill comes in how it works to prevent pregnancy.
To prevent pregnancy the mechanisms of how the Pill works are categorized in two ways that are both contrary to our Catholic teaching: as a contraceptive and as an abortifacient (an agent that causes an abortion). By design, the Pill attempts to suppress ovulation. If a woman does not ovulate, an egg is not released from the ovaries and cannot be fertilized to create new life. Since the Pill is not 100% effective in preventing ovulation , it uses other mechanisms to prevent pregnancy such as thickening cervical mucus so that if an egg is released, the sperm will be less likely to unite with it. In these actions, birth control pills are contraceptive because they try to prevent the conception of new life. In this way, the Pill interferes with God’s design for sex to be both unitive and procreative within marriage.
Additionally, since the Pill is not 100% effective in preventing the sperm and egg from uniting when ovulation does occur, it also prevents the lining of the uterus from building up so that a fertilized egg will be less likely to implant in the uterus. If a new life is conceived at the moment an egg is fertilized by sperm, but the lining of the uterus is insufficient for the new life to implant, the living child will be shed from the woman’s body and die . In this action, and with our belief that life begins at the moment of conception, birth control pills are abortifacient because they act after life has been newly conceived to prevent it from further developing, growing, and living in the womb. In this way, the Pill interferes with God’s design for the sanctity of life.
Without the Pill, what is a girl to do to avoid pregnancy before marriage?
Remind your daughter, frequently, that God desires unmarried people to refrain from sex until they can give of themselves completely and unselfishly in marriage. Experiencing natural cycles may serve as a reminder to her that sex is intimately connected with the potential to conceive new life.
Without the Pill, what is a girl to do to predict her period and manage premenstrual symptoms?
Help your daughter learn to chart her cycles and discover natural ways to handle symptoms. Cycles & Spirituality is a resource to help teen girls learn to chart their cycles in an age-appropriate way consistent with Catholic values.
 “Prescribing information: Ortho-Tri-Cyclen-Lo,” Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 2014. [Online]. Available: https://www.thepill.com/pdf/Tri-Cyclen_Lo_PI.pdf. [Accessed 23 Feb 2017].
 “Patient Information: Ortho-Micronor,” Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Inc., 2008. [Online]. Available: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2008/016954s101lbl.pdf. [Accessed 23 Feb 2017].
 B. Pletzer, M. Kronbichler, M. Aichhorn, J. Bergmann, G. Ladurner and H. Kerschbaum, “Menstrual cycle and hormonal contraceptive use modulate human brain structure: Abstract,” Brain Research, vol. 1348, no. 12, p. 55–62, 2010.
 D. Scutt and J. Manning, “Ovary and ovulation: Symmetry and ovulation in women,” Human Reproduction, vol. 11, no. 11, pp. 2477-2480, 1996.
 R. Pipitone and G. Gallup, Jr., “Women’s voice attractiveness varies across the menstrual cycle: Abstract,” Evolution and Human Behavior, vol. 29, no. 4, pp. 268-274, 2008.
 S. Miller and J. Maner, “Scent of a Woman: Men’s Testosterone Responses to Olfactory Ovulation Cues: Abstract,” Psychological Science, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 276-286, 2010.
 N. Rule, K. Rosen, M. Slepian and N. Ambady, “Mating Interest Improves Women’s Accuracy in Judging Male Sexual Orientation: Abstract,” Psychological Science, vol. 22, no. 7, pp. 881-886, 2011.
 “How do the pill and other contraceptives work?,” The Polycarp Research Institute, 2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.polycarp.org/how_does_the_pill_work.htm. [Accessed 23 Feb 2017].
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