My Love/Hate Relationship with Hormonal Birth Control

For the past 9 years of my life, I’ve been on and off various forms of hormonal birth control. At 14, I was prescribed Yasmin by a dermatologist to get my acne under control. When combined with a strict face washing regimen and an oral antibiotic, it worked quite well. (Would I go back to that? Absolutely not, especially the oral antibiotics.) Sometime around age 16, I was switched to Yaz, which worked equally well. At 20, I got the Mirena IUD because my partner wanted to stop using condoms and I was too afraid to rely on just the pill because most of my friends used two forms of birth control. Mirena is where shit began to get crazy, and the love/hate affair began.

My skin freaked out. I had lovely skin until I got my Mirena. Suddenly, zit city. On the other hand, it stopped my periods entirely. This phenomenon might have caused other women to panic but I enjoyed every second of that period-free existence, except the part where my face looked like the surface of the moon. What was the best part? Mirena is >99% effective, and you just set it and forget it (provided you have either the means or the insurance to afford it).

When I determined that I couldn’t stand the acne anymore and decided to have the Mirena removed, I opted for NuvaRing, which I hate with a burning passion. Hate it, hate it, hate it. First of all, there’s a slight chance you’re going to end up playing a game of Penis Ring Toss. That’s not as fun as it sounds, especially when it’s your birth control. Additionally, it was somehow really hard for me to remember to replace it every month, even with a calendar event. Sometimes, the alarm would go off and I wouldn’t be home, and would thus totally forget until a day or so later. But worst of all, it made my vagina dry. Like, Sahara desert dry. Multiple applications of even the best Sliquid has to offer, dry. When your partner is wincing trying to put it in, you know there’s a problem. So, out came the ring.

For somewhere between 8 and 12 months, I went au naturale. During this time, I switched my skincare over to a brand I used to work for (hate to bad mouth them – it just didn’t work for me), and my skin decided it was once again not pleased. Was this more to do with my skincare switch, or my birth control ditch? I might never know. What I do know is that my sex drive was normal, my periods were erratic but never terrible, and I took the chance to experiment with all kinds of condoms to become a bit of a connoisseur (Lifestyles Skyn are my condoms of choice).

Around July, I became frustrated again with my acne. It was majorly flaring up, and I had scars from previous flares to boot. I wasn’t even considering switching my skincare, so I decided to try hormonal birth control again. Enter: Sprintec, a mono-phasic birth control pill that’s approved for acne treatment. So what’s the problem? It murdered my sex drive. Totally annihilated it. I’m a newlywed! I should be having sex like 20 times a week, taking breaks only for sustenance! It’s only been three months, but in these three months, my sex life has taken quite a blow. Sure, it’s nice being 98% sure I won’t get pregnant. But you know what? If I’m not having sex, it’s not really doing me any good. Furthermore, it’s really dampening my desire to test products and write quality reviews.

I’ve spent the last week doing some research to see if another pill might be a good option for me. Unfortunately, it looks like the ones that don’t negatively affect your sex drive do tend to cause acne. These two things are not items that I’m willing to compromise on. I will not trade one for the other. If I’m going to take a pill, it had better positively impact both, otherwise I’m not sure what I’m paying Big Pharma for, you know? Which leads me to my solution: The humble condom.

Since I’ve finally gotten my skin under control, which I believe is much more a result of discovering the magic that is Avene, a healthy diet, and regular exercise than using Sprintec; and because I would like to actually bone my husband more than once in a blue moon, I’m switching back to good old condoms. Lifestyles, don’t let me down.


Please note: This is entirely my own personal experience. I am not in any way a health care provider or expert, and you should always consult your own before making any birth control decisions. What’s right for one person might not be right for you. But I do highly recommend Lifestyles Skyn condoms, because I am at least an expert in wrapping before tapping.

  • Jenn

    Oh my god. You have basically every problem I’ve had, only in a different sequence. Let me just rap for a second, because you’ve got my rant juices flowing now:

    First birth control was Yasmin. It was fine. Went off it for awhile. Went back on it, and for WHATEVER reason, I became a ball of sad hormonal despair. For an entire SEMESTER. Didn’t think it was the Yasmin because it had worked fine before, chalked it up to stress, but when I ran out of Yasmin, out went the constant sobbing along with it. So…yeah.

    Used foam for awhile. Fine, but messy, and not as effective according to stats. Went rhythm/calendar method for awhile and spent the last week of every month freaking out about being “late” until I ultimately wasn’t, which was hella stressful. BF is allergic to latex and non-latex options were out of our broke college kid budget, but used Skyn when we could, and I agree: AWESOME. But super expensive.

    Switched to Nuvaring. Fine, but MURDERED my sex drive. In that sense, very effective birth control, but not exactly the way I wanted it. :P

    Tried Ortho Tri-Cyclen. AWESOME. Loved it. BUT I wanted to try an IUD, and having had an experience that was less than great with hormones, I wanted the Paragard (also, it lasts longer).

    It wouldn’t FIT. Like…OW. So they told me, “Hey, take these mystery pills and come back tomorrow and we’ll try again.” Didn’t ask what they were. MISTAKE. The pills they gave me? They were what they give pregnant women to induce labor. WORST PAIN OF MY LIFE. And it STILL didn’t friggin’ fit. Meh.

    Back to Ortho, which worked for me just fine. Moved to Pittsburgh and they switched me to the generic version, which is apparently Sprintec. It works fine for me as well. And that’s the end of that. :)

    Not a single birth control I’ve ever taken has ever stopped me from getting sad scary cystic chin acne, even when it was explicitly supposed to. But a few months ago I started using this face wash that’s supposed to be Ph balanced, and I haven’t had any major issues (knock on wood) since then with acne (at least the bad bitch variety). It’s the clarifying cleanser from a brand called Alpha Hydrox, and it’s pretty cheap online.

  • little miss black bean

    I had pretty good skin until I started on birth control in highschool. I had been on several different pills and the shot for about 6 years and that entire time I had skin problems and no sex drive. It’s now about 4-5 months off of birth control/condoms only and both issues are resolved! Negative side effects aside, I just really hated the idea of pumping hormones into my body all the time. I feel like a fog has been lifted from my brain since I quit BC.

  • Rachel (@PostcardsRachel)

    I started breaking out in college and my doctor put me on estrostep and then yaz to get it under control. I’ve been on and off birth control for many, many years and finally decided to stop in January. I’ve been clearing up my skin by drinking loads of water and although my cramps hurt like a bitch, I’m glad I’m no longer putting hormones into my body! Sure, I have a huge pimple on my cheek right now and my uterus feels like someone’s stabbing it, but at least I don’t have to worry about filling a prescription, right? ;)

    • Sarah

      Hahaha, so true! It’s so important to note that birth control is different for every body. The Pill so often presented as the only choice, when it’s really one of many. I’m glad you’ve found what works for you! (And by the way, I love your blog!)

  • Holly

    Condoms plus additional spermicide is very effective. Also learning sympto-thermal method plus using condoms is very effective. There are other options, and ways to double up. Check out my book on this issue:

    • Sarah

      I actually just read about your book today – I’ll have to get a copy! It sounds fascinating. I’m actually allergic to spermicide, so unfortunately, it’s not an option, but I’m looking into the charting/tracking method. Thanks so much for commenting!

  • Sam

    Have you considered a fertility awareness method? The symptothermal method was found to have a 99.4% efficacy when used along with condoms during the fertile period, and 99.6% when couples abstained during the fertile period.

    • Sarah

      Those are some really good odds! I’m actually about to look into the fertility awareness method. I’m terrible at keeping track of most things, but I think it would really behoove me to learn.

  • Hannah Ransom

    Have you considered fertility awareness (the sympto-thermal method)? It can be over 99% effective (more than condoms) and isn’t very difficult once you get the hang of it (You just take your temp and check cervical fluid and chart it). The best part is that you don’t have to use condoms all months long, you get unprotected time while you are naturally infertile.

    I’m a teacher, so if you want to learn more you can check out my website here:

    • Sarah

      I will definitely check that out! I’m thinking having the Diva Cup will make it even easier to track cervical fluid ’til I get the hang of it – any opinions on that?

      • Hannah Ransom

        I’ve never tried to wear my diva cup during the time in the cycle use have cervical fluid (for a lot of women this is maybe day 9-14 or thereabouts, but it’s different for everyone), but I would think it might actually make checking it more confusing because you could get more stuff like cell slough with the diva and not actual cervical fluid.

  • Stefanie

    Hey Sarah, I had the copper IUD (non hormonal) twice (after first two kids and then again after second two kids – they were all planned :) and LOVED it. I don’t do hormones at all. I am already overweight and I just ballooned up even worse with any hormonal BC at all. The first copper IUD I got was in for 7 years! Again, LOVED it. Also, my husband and I used fertility awareness for a while and actually used it to get pregnant. My only issue with it for preventing pregnancy is that you shouldn’t have sex when you REALLY want to have sex (your most fertile time). Just my two cents.

    • Sarah

      That makes sense. Maybe I should look into the copper IUD! I’m worried about spotting all the time, but I’ve heard that after a few months, most bodies adjust.

      • Hannah Ransom

        Everyone is different, so you never know. I had the copper IUD for two years and hated it.

        You can just use a barrier method (condoms) during your fertile time. Yeah, it’s better having unprotected intercourse, but if you are already using condoms 100% of the time it’s just an added bonus to get all of the unprotected time. That’s the way I look at it.

  • Sophia

    My skin suffered terribly whilst I was on the pill. I then went and had the Mirena fitted and although my skin never completely cleared up it did get better, and like you I absolutely love not having periods!! I am loathe to remove it.
    12 months ago I changed my diet and started to exercise more and I also discovered the Mario products and my skin is the best it has ever been.

    I am due to have my Mirena removed next year and I think they will have to literally drg me kicking and screaming. It is by far the best birth control method I have used. Although I haven’t tried NuvaRIng, although I doubt I ever will after reading your experiences lol