Wellness·5 min read

Why Some Women Are Skeptical About Birth Control Pills

Blonde woman looking at a pack of birth control pills
Design: theSkimm | Photo: Getty Images
April 5, 2023

Around 90% of women have used birth control at some point in their lives, but some women are calling into question the safety of the pill, the most popular contraceptive method aside from sterilization. 

On Instagram, we asked you to tell us about your experiences with the pill. Several offered praise, including one person who called it “life-changing.” Another said it made them “cry for 72 hrs straight every month.” Some were concerned about its side effects and impact on their health, referencing its association with breast cancer risk or how it made them “not feel like myself,” and others cited issues like low libido, nausea, stomachaches, and cysts.

Why are many women reconsidering the pill now?

“My impression, both from my conversations with patients and seeing what’s going on online, is that it sort of is part of the whole ‘natural’ thing. It’s viewed as ‘unnatural’ to use any substances,” says gynecologist Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz. That mindset comes, in part, from a push toward self-advocacy, but also from some misinformation. 

For example, “The Business of Birth Control” got people talking about anecdotes and research that suggest the pill’s hormones are bad for your health. However, Dr. Gilberg-Lenz says much of the data the film cites are from “small studies [and] you can’t really widely apply them.” 

As for recent research that found the pill was associated with a 20% to 30% increased risk of breast cancer, that headline can be "misleading," Dr. Gilberg-Lenz says. Even with the increased incidence, the risk is still small — about 1-2 cases per 100 women ages 16-39 — and the researchers noted that these risks should be weighed against the potential benefits the drug provides. 

So what’s the truth about the pill?

It’s been FDA-approved since 1960 as an effective way to prevent pregnancy and has also become an important treatment for managing endometriosis and PCOS pain. Its 99% success rate, when taken consistently, is much more effective than fertility-tracking contraceptive methods that have gotten renewed interest recently. 

We also know taking the pill is associated with several side effects, and that’s where the real mystery is. Although millions of women are on it, there isn’t a huge amount of reliable data that breaks down how the body reacts to those hormones. “People who are criticizing the lack of information available are correct … but the absence of evidence doesn't mean that it's not safe,” Dr. Gilberg-Lenz says. “I think people do need to be aware so that they can make a decision that is based on their own values, reality, and resources.”


There is no one right answer to the question, ‘Is the birth control pill right for me?’ Consider talking to your doctor about other birth control options if you have concerns. The truth is there’s still a way to go when it comes to researching conditions and treatments that primarily impact women. “That, to me, is the bigger problem,” Dr. Gilberg-Lenz says. 

And Also… This 

How menopausal women could potentially boost their libido…

Testosterone patches, which are undergoing testing in the UK.

What may throb to the beat of your circadian rhythm…


If you want a better way to measure health besides weight…

Consider these three metrics.

Which claim has hungover us for years...

That moderate drinking has health benefits. (It doesn't.)

If you’ve struggled to get pregnant…

You’re not alone. One in six people worldwide experiences infertility.

Well Read

Cover of the book "Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us"
Design: theSkimm | Photo: Random House

"Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us"

Co-authors Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross are on a mission to add art and aesthetics to the list of essential habits for good health, alongside diet and exercise. So, they wrote a book about the field of neuroaesthetics to show you how making and experiencing art can benefit your body and brain (for example, one study found that attending art events might extend your life). It may be an inspiring guide for anyone who feels like they lost their creative mojo or even those who never made it past stick figures. Because “you don’t need to be good at art to reap the benefits of engaging,” say Magsamen and Ross.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not constitute a medical opinion, medical advice, or diagnosis or treatment of any particular condition. 

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