Like many people, I have a long history with the pill and a tumultuous relationship with my cycle. Recently, I made some decisions in an effort to get things on track.
I currently use Clue to keep track of everything to do with my monthly cycle. More about that below!
Hormones and Me
When I was 13 or 14, my dermatologist suggested that I start taking a birth control pill to control my acne. At the time, I wasn’t having sex, so it was purely for cosmetic reasons. By the time I was 15, I noticed that my sex drive had taken a hit, but because I still wasn’t having sex, that concern was completely dismissed by my doctors1.
I stayed on the pill until I was 20, when I switched to a Mirena IUD. Unfortunately, I had the IUD removed a year and a half later because I mis-attributed some unpleasant body stuff. After that, it began to feel impossible to find a hormonal birth control method that truly worked for me in every way. I tried 3 or 4 pills. I tried the NuvaRing. I spent a few months off hormonal birth control here and there, but I was still convinced that I absolutely needed it in order to function, despite the problems that I had with it.
Finally, I read this fantastic piece by Kate Sloan, saw myself in much of what she wrote, and that was the final straw: It was time to take control.
One Month without The Pill
On February 22nd, I had an appointment with my gynecologist. I planned to ask about my IUD options, and see what she thought of me going off the pill for at least a trial period. While I wasn’t wild about her bedside manner overall, the appointment did help me make some decisions. We agreed that a minimum of 3 months off the pill would be beneficial.
When I got home, I started Googling period tracker apps. I used to use one, a long time ago, that I really disliked. I knew that I didn’t want anything too pink or flowery, nothing too complicated, and preferably something inclusive (because I like to support companies who are forward-thinking).
Enter: Clue! Pictured above, Clue is a free, easy to use cycle tracker that looks quite unassuming – great for folks who require or desire stealth for whatever reason. It lets you track all kinds of stuff: Your bleeding, ovulation, mood, productivity, social feelings, sexual desires and activity, acne, poop… And if you don’t see what you want to track (for me, that was headaches), you can add your own tag and tag the days you experience the symptom or side effect. I love it!
Side Effects, Both Welcome and Not
Something that I was completely unprepared for began happening around day 2 or 3 of quitting the pill: My vulva’s nerve endings were on such high alert that a lot of normal stuff (like peeing) felt super uncomfortable. In fact, I thought I had contracted a UTI. As it turns out, it was probably just normal body recalibration, and it went away after about a week and a half. In addition to this, I experienced some moderate headaches on and off for the same amount of time, which is common when you’re dealing with estrogen.
I was totally prepared for, and took advantage of, the return of my sex drive. While it was a lot stronger for the first two weeks and gradually calmed down a bit, it’s still a noticeable improvement over how I felt while on the pill. While I personally didn’t notice any difference in my ability to orgasm or the strength of my orgasm, I know that some people do.
Finally, I feel so much better. I’m not sure how much of my recent mental health upswing is due to weather and how much is due to quitting the pill, but either way, I’ll take it. Lately, I’ve been more productive, happier, more relaxed, and more driven.
The Dot, The Crimson Wave, Shark Week…
I’ve now had one and a half periods without the pill, and so far, I think it’s actually an improvement.
My first period was shorter – about 3 days long – and my cramps were actually more manageable. Afterward, I finally wasn’t spotting all the way through my cycle!
Currently, I’m on day 3 of a pretty chill period, though my cramps are a bit more reminiscent of the monsters I dealt with while on my pill. I’m going to try Red Raspberry Leaf tea next cycle and we’ll see if that does the trick.
For both periods, I’ve relied mainly on my Diva Cup. Recently, though, I was asked by a friend to review some other period accoutrements, like period underwear, other cups, cloth pads, and the like. Once I get my hands on them, I’ll be writing a big round up of some of the best period stuff the world has to offer.
What I’m Doing for Birth Control
That’s right – I quit hormonal birth control. But because I currently do not want kids – and, in fact, am not sure I’ll ever want kids – I’m trying to avoid having to make any difficult decisions by doing the best I can to prevent pregnancy.
Different methods for fertility awareness abound, and some are more accurate than others. Many sources suggest that to get a truly complete picture of your fertility, you should be combining methods, like tracking your cervical mucus along with using a calendar (or app) to predict fertile days according to your cycle. Bedsider has some great info on fertility awareness as well as other birth control methods, if you’re interested. For me, fertility awareness alone is not the best choice – not right now. You might use FA and love it, which is awesome! I’m not comfortable with relying entirely on my own observations about my body and the regularity of its cycle.
Instead, we’re back to relying mostly on condoms. I say ‘mostly’ because I still use Clue to track my most fertile days. I generally try to avoid having PIV sex on my most fertile days2, because after all, there are a lot of other options for sexy time.
The good news is, I actually don’t mind condoms! It’s true, there’s no such thing as a condom that feels exactly like bareback. But our current favorite, Lifestyles SKYN, are pretty close. And we’re partnering with a leading condom retailer soon to bring you an ultimate ultra-thin condom smackdown.
So, what’s your favorite condom? Are you happy with your birth control? Have you ever tracked your fertility? Let me know!