At a time where lack of accessibility to birth control and abortion are major political issues, any suggestion that the pill may not be a good idea feels risky, as though our only choices are accepting whatever is offered or losing it all together. But in the new science-based book This Is Your Brain on Birth Control, out October 1st, Dr. Sarah E. Hill argues that we need to have in-depth conversations about how the pill affects women’s emotions and behaviors.
Despite the ongoing battle for reproductive freedom, it’s fair to be critical about the impact of the pill on women’s bodies. After all, a woman’s ability to regulate her own fertility is "the biggest women’s rights issue out there,” Dr. Hill argues.
Dr. Hill is a researcher in evolutionary psychology, and This Is Your Brain on Birth Control is an interrogation of the things you likely didn’t hear about the pill during your appointment; namely, that the pill doesn’t just regulate fertility, it influences everything a woman’s hormones influence. According to Dr. Hill, that means the pill can impact everything from your choice of partner to your sensitivity to smells to your response to stress. It fundamentally affects women’s psychology, not just fertility, which affects how women feel. "When we change women,” she explains, "we change the world.”
Rejecting the pill is not what Dr. Hill is advocating; she notes that the pill and legalized abortion have done more to progress women’s rights than anything throughout history. Instead, Dr. Hill argues for a more nuanced conversation about repercussions and options. "We shouldn’t be forced to choose between blind endorsement of the birth control pill and endorsement of dismantling women’s reproductive rights,” she says, explaining that women’s ability to safely regulate fertility is the single-most important tool women have in their ability to attain educational goals and financial independence.
"This is a feminist position,” she says of understanding the full spectrum of trade-offs women could be making when taking the pill. "Lacking the ability to make informed choices about birth control – whether being on the pill or something else – means that we are at the mercy of our doctors to make decisions for us,” she continues. "And that is totally antithetical to the goals of feminism.”
Dr. Hill explores that, because ob-gyns are the ones prescribing the pill, discussions of side effects tend to focus on those that affect our physical bodies, including known risks like pulmonary embolism. Meanwhile, not much attention is paid to how birth control impacts the way women think, feel, and behave. She addresses that in her book, which is out Oct.1.
It was a personal experience with these emotional effects that inspired Dr. Hill to write the book. When she went off the pill, she felt like she was "crawling out of a black-and-white line drawing into a three dimensional, color-filled world.” After diving into exciting research on hormonal birth control, Dr. Hill realized there was a glaring gap in how the medical establishment talks about the pill and felt it was her responsibility to ensure that the psychological effects of birth control become accessible to all women.
"Here are a number of women – millennial women in particular – who are beginning to walk away from the birth control pill,” Dr. Hill says, explaining that, often, women don’t feel they’ve been given solid answers on how the pill impacts not just their bodies, but their brains. Dr. Hill maintains the pill will likely remain the best choice of birth control for many women, and believes that having all the information may actually encourage some women who have gone off the pill to return to it.
This Is Your Brain on Birth Control argues that women need more: More information, more research, and more control of their own bodies and emotions.