You may recall that just over four months ago, I said goodbye to the hormonal birth control pill and hello to tracking, condoms, and being very glad that there’s a pharmacy on the first floor of my apartment building. Now that I’ve been through 4 and a half cycles, I have more to report on how quitting the pill has changed my life.
Now, you’ve been warned that this is going to get… biological. I will be talking about the ways that going off birth control has affected my body, and I will not be using euphemisms. But please keep in mind, this is just a report of what I’ve experienced. Everyone is different and my experience is by no means the rule!
Pictured: Screenshots from the period tracker app Clue that’s awesomely thorough, easy, and gender-inclusive.
The Good: My Cycles
I knew that quitting the pill could mean erratic cycles, longer periods, and increased menstrual cramping. But… it didn’t. Actually, none of that has happened. In fact, my cycles have been pretty gosh-darn regular: my Clue app reports that my cycles have all been between 26 and 31 days which places them firmly in the “regular” camp. It’s really convenient to have that kind of stability and prediction capability.
Moreover, my periods are shorter and lighter. Originally, that was supposed to be a major selling point of the birth control pill (for me). I used to get terrible cramps that lasted for days. In fact, on the pill I usually had 4 days of bleeding, many days of spotting, and at least 2 days of debilitating cramps. Now, my periods last 3 days total, with cramps and spotting usually confined to 1 day apiece. I can get through the whole thing using just liners and my new Lunette Cup.
The Better: Energy and Mood
The problem with evaluating my energy and mood according to having quit birth control is that there were other factors that came into play around the same time. I noticed a lot of progress in therapy. I started to exercise and changed my eating habits a bit to include more fresh produce. The weather began to improve back in April, and we started to actually see the sun again.
So, while I do feel pretty awesome right now, I’m not totally sure that it can be reliably attributed to kicking hormonal birth control to the curb. If it played even a small part in this change, though, I’m thankful for it.
The Bad: Ovulation
Ovulation is my least favorite time of my cycle. Yes, even beyond my period. I hate ovulating. Because here’s what ovulation is, for me: Cramps for 1-2 days that are just as strong as the ones from my period. Ridiculous levels of arousal, to the point where it can be hard to concentrate on something that isn’t a sex daydream. Bloating. At least 1 day of exhaustion. Mood swings.
It’s not a good time. It’s no party. But I can live with it, because at least it’s a solid reminder to be extra careful if I do want to have PIV sex.
Note: Not everyone experiences ovulation the same way, so if you’re reading this and you recognize none of what I’m talking about, that might be totally normal for you. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned, but not everyone experiences what I’m about to detail.
The Worse: Acne
Acne is the bane of my existence. I usually break out on my cheeks, chin, and anywhere my glasses frames rest during my period and/or during ovulation. It’s usually confined to 2-3 whiteheads in each area. I also scar easily, so that’s a big concern for me.
Now you might be saying, But Sarah, that’s really not too bad. And ok, I’ll grant you that. But you haven’t seen the zits on my neck, shoulders, back, and even boobs. Yes, that’s right – I get bacne and tit-zits. Because it appears that the only thing my birth control was actually doing well was controlling the acne that I get on my body.
The Huh?: Sex Drive
Now you see it, now you don’t! My sex drive waxes and wanes with my cycle, including an oh-so-predictable spike during my fertile window. What’s fun about that is that I get to see what kind of strange stuff turns me on during those vulnerable times. What’s not so fun? Well, I’m actively avoiding reproduction, so sometimes I get a little nervous about getting down when it’s egg time.
A change that I didn’t predict was that my drive would also increase during my period.
Period sex can be a pretty loaded topic. I think it’s important to say that there is absolutely no reason that you shouldn’t have sex on your period, unless the reason you don’t want to is… that you don’t want to. It’s perfectly hygienic for both/all parties1. Period blood is, after all, not so fundamentally different from any of the other fluids you encounter during sex. And, of course, sex is not just penis-in-vagina. There are tons of ways to have sex, so even if you want to take penetration off the table, you can (and should!) get some if you want some.
All in all, my sex drive is significantly improved from when I was taking the pill. So although it is by no means steady, I love having it back.
I’ve personally loved quitting the pill. The pill is certainly not the best birth control choice for every person, even though it’s often marketed as the default. If you’ve been considering quitting, see what your doctor has to say and evaluate if it’s the best choice for you.
- But of course you should still take your normal safer-sex precautions, whatever that looks like for you. ↩