Why Women Take The Pill and What It Means For Their Moods

We’ve all heard the reasons women have for taking contraception: to improve their skin, regularise their periods, and – obviously – to prevent unplanned pregnancy. Whatever their reasons, 62% of women who are of reproductive age use contraception, and 28%  of women use oral contraception, aka the pill. However the reason why many women take it may not be the most obvious one. What’s more, what influence does their choice have on their moods?

A new study, published in the journal Contraception, has revealed that women take the pill for two main reasons: their current relationship status and their level of sexual activity. Not their long-term pregnancy goals.

Researcher Cynthia Chuang, an associate professor of medicine and public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, and Carol Weisman, professor of public health sciences and obstetrics and gynaecology at Penn State, conducted a survey involving almost 1 000 women in Pennsylvania in the US.

The participants were asked about their contraception use, family planning (including their intentions of getting pregnant), whether they had been pregnant before, and whether they were “at risk” for pregnancy (having sex).

None of the 1 000 women had any intention of getting pregnant in the coming year. A small group (about 13%) were planning to get pregnant within the next two years, while a quarter (23%) were planning to have a baby  in the next five or more years. A further quarter (23%) did not yet know whether they wanted a baby at all.

But things get interesting when you consider the determining factors in women’s use of the pill:

Most importantly, being in a relationship, or being sexually active, was the number one reason women wanted to use prescription birth control. This contradicted the researchers’ prediction that women would choose birth control based on whether or not they wanted to get pregnant.

What’s more, the Penn State team found that pregnancy goals affected which type of contraception women were using. In the US, the pill is the most commonly used form of contraception.

And these women – who chose the pill over condoms, IUDs or other forms of contraception – were the ones who wanted to get pregnant in the future, but not for at least another year.

But what are the implications of their choice?

For ages, there has been debate about how, if at all,  the pill can affect a woman’s mood. We all have that one friend (or we are that one friend) who is convinced that the pill makes them moody, depressed, anxious, crazy, jealous and – in a phrase – irrationally upset.

But, despite the ubiquity of such claims, there is not a great deal of science-backed evidence.

According to Dr. Alyssa Dweck, author if V is for Vagina, overall, there is not strong evidence that birth control causes mood changes or mental health disorders.

There have been a lot of studies trying to pin down a concrete link between the two, but so far none has been found, Dweck explained in a recent interview.

For instance, one study of over 650 women found that some women experienced a decrease in PMS while on the pill, while others felt that it made them moody. The key difference, this study found, was whether or not the women had a history of depression: if so, then the likelihood of negative mood on the pill increased.

Other studies  found that:

  • The chances of feeling moody on the pill increase over time,
  • Any mental health effects from taking the pill are modest and mostly positive, and
  • Birth control users have lower levels of depressive symptoms on average compared to other women.

A limitation of all of the research on the topic is that any self-reported change in mood or mental health is pretty hard to prove.

What Dweck has pointed out, though, is that – while there is not enough evidence to suggest a conclusive link between the pill and low mood – if you do feel down when you take oral contraception, see a doctor.