I like to think that my lifestyle is very natural and healthy. I’ve detoxified the cosmetics and cleaning products I use, and continue to scope out other areas where I can improve. But there’s one area of my life where I’m not willing to go all-natural, and that’s birth control. Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of online articles touting the virtues of natural birth control methods: Ditch the pill! Rebalance your hormones! Get in tune with your body! It sounds lovely, especially to those of us who value minimizing the chemical burden in our bodies. But, seriously, taking the leap to swap out a pill or IUD for… nothing? No, thank you.
Conventional birth control methods are undeniably problematic. The pill has a bad reputation for leaching synthetic hormones, primarily “ethinyl estradiol” or EE2, into the environment via human waste, resulting in the feminization of animals. Although it’s been shown that agricultural runoff is more at fault than oral contraceptives, it’s a big enough problem that the European Union is considering revamping their sewage treatment facilities to deal with it. Then there are the personal side effects, such as depression, suppressed libido, weight gain, heart problems, even nutritional deficiency. Some women blame IUDs for turning them into emotional zombies, flattening libidos and natural fertility cycles.
Despite these serious concerns, there’s a reason why more of us aren’t jumping on the natural birth control bandwagon and continue reverting to the pharmacy when it comes to preventing pregnancy: It’s just not that simple. I resent the lightness with which many articles toss around the subject of natural birth control, as if it’s an inevitable decision that any truly health-conscious person would make. People write about natural birth control methods as if they’re choosing a new organic shampoo or paraben-free mascara. Those products are easy to test, but there’s no room for trial-and-error with birth control. Screw up, and you could get pregnant.
Natural birth control methods, such as fertility awareness-based methods (you can read about FABM in this article from The Atlantic), probably are great and effective for certain women under specific circumstances, i.e. women who are monogamous, not concerned about sexually transmitted illnesses, capable of raising any surprise kids, married, comfortable with the possibility of abortion, have predictable menstrual cycles, etc. FABM requires careful attention to one’s body, and doesn’t allow for the wide range of sexual freedom that mainstream methods do. To promote natural methods as being good for everyone strikes me as being somewhat regressive, a metaphorical slap in the face to the women who have been fighting hard – and continue to fight in many places, even the United States – for reproductive rights.
When I first read The Atlantic article about FABM, I thought it sounded fascinating, but I knew I’d never try it. “Once burned, twice shy,” they say. After opting to go natural with a diaphragm, I got pregnant at 22 and had my first child. It was a big price for staying hormone-free. Since then, I’ve become a fan of IUDs, which are as close to ideal birth control as I’ve found – but they don’t prevent STIs and also have low-level hormone disruption.
While conventional birth control methods are far from ideal, I don’t think women should be so quick to reject them.