Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Birth Control for Teens?

This week’s Friendly Debate with the Danielles is about whether or not you should provide birth control for your teen daughters.  My daughter is only 8 weeks old; I won’t be dealing with this issue for a long time, but I already know my answer: absolutely not!  I could answer this question from a faith-based perspective, but instead, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to share my own personal experiences taking birth control as a teenager because I believe that even if you put faith completely aside, birth control is not a healthy option for teens.

I started taking birth control when I was 12 or 13 years old for “heavy and irregular” periods.  I put that in quotation because, while they were heavy and irregular, most young women who have just started menstruating need a year or two for their cycles to regulate.  I never had that chance.  My mother took me to the doctor who referred me to a gynecologist.  My appointment was about five minutes long, during which the gynecologist said that I needed to go on the pill and that there was a good chance I would have difficulty having children.  I won’t go into the devastating effects of the second statement except to say that it was completely unfounded and caused me great anxiety until my daughter was born healthy just a few months ago.  As for the prescription of birth control, there was not discussion of the potential side effects or other possible treatments.  My mother and I left believing that there was something innately wrong with my reproductive organs, that the only treatment was birth control pills, and that it was a medication without risks or side effects.

When I look back on that appointment, I do so with great anger.  Why was the doctor so quick to prescribe birth control?  Why didn’t she discuss the side effects with me?  Over the past few years I have been angry with my mother as well.  Why didn’t she ask about the risks?  I was too young to make the choice myself, so I depended on my mother to make the decision for me.  Thankfully, I am no longer angry with her and I know that there are many other mothers in her position.  She took birth control herself for many years and was never warned about any health risks or side effects.  She also was raised in a time when a doctor was never questioned.  While I hate that birth control is now being peddled to women in TV commercials, I think that the required “side effects spiel” is a good thing because women are becoming aware that there are side effects and some of them are potentially life threatening.

That appointment was the beginning of over 10 years of birth control.  Every year or two I would return to the gynecologist because my birth control was no longer “working” and would be prescribed a new type.  I was on the pill, the patch, the ring, and even shots during that time.  There was one thing they all had in common – dangerous side effects.  And certain risks, like that for certain cancers, increase the longer you take it.  

Had I known about all these risks and been able to adequately evaluate my need for them, I would have never started taking the pill in the first place, especially since I didn’t actually have any real need for them.  When my husband and I became engaged, I decided stop taking the pill because we wanted to remain faithful to the Catholic Church’s teachings on birth control when we married and started having sex.  However, knowing that the Church allows birth control for medical reasons, I acknowledged that if my periods were too heavy or painful, I would have to return to the pill.  After a few months, once the birth control hormones were completely out of my system, I was shocked to discover that my periods were regular and, while perhaps heavier and longer than most women experience, were still in the range of “normal”.  I had taken birth control for years, lived with the side effects (which for me, included mild depression), and increased my risk for cancer for no reason!  

As a mother, I do not want to give my child unneeded medication with some pretty nasty and dangerous side effects unless it is absolutely necessary.  Teenagers are unable to make such serious decisions without the guidance of an adult.  There is a great deal of research that suggests that teenagers’ decision-making abilities are not fully developed, especially when it comes to making choices regarding long-term risks and consequences (such as the risk for cancer 20 years in the future). 

But what about sex?  Although it wasn’t specific, I assume this debate was framed in the context of giving your teenage daughter birth control to prevent pregnancy.  I often hear the argument that providing birth control for your daughter does not condone sex, and while I may agree with that statement, I will say that it makes it a whole a lot easier.  

Because I was taking birth control pills for a medical treatment, I was never under the illusion that my parents condoned sex.  Even if my parents had given me birth control as a “just in case” measure to prevent teen pregnancy (which they never would have done), I would have known that they disapproved.  However, the fact that they put me on birth control would have told me that they had low standards for me; either they had little regard for my self control or they believed that sex was so tempting that is was impossible to resist.  Those certainly aren’t lessons you are to impart on your teen daughter regarding sex.  Actions speak louder than words, and what you do usually trumps what you say.  

Being on birth control made it much easier for me to have sex.  So much so, that I ended up having sex the first time the opportunity came up and I did so with the conscious thought that I was already on birth control so it wasn’t a big deal.  Had I not been on birth control, I certainly wouldn’t have had sex that night.  Even if the young man had a condom, I would have said no, because I believed that they were less effective (which they are).  I’m not saying that I never would have had premarital sex had I not been on birth control, I’m just saying that I would not have rushed into it and that my first time having sex would have been a much more informed decision.  I would have had to decide to get birth control, make a visit to the doctor, and take the pills for an extended period of time before having sex.  Perhaps it would have prevented me from making such a disastrous choice (and it was truly disastrous because it marked the beginning of a two and a half year relationship with a very abusive man).  

When I was first prescribed birth control, my father was very upset.  He didn’t want me on birth control because he didn’t want me to think that I could have sex when the opportunity arose.  Both my mother and I assured him that that would never happen and that the birth control was necessary.  We both thought he was just being a little overprotective.  And he was.  But that was his job as my parent, as my father (no, this is not just an issue for mothers!).  His fears were warranted.  He was right to believe the way he did and I wish he had fought harder for it. 

I write this, not as a mother, but as a young woman not much past her teen years.  And as this young woman, I beg you, be informed, be open with your child, and have high standards for them.  Even if they don’t want to, they depend on you to make the right decision for them.
How do you stand on this issue?  Join the debate and link up your opinion at Friendly Debate with the Danielles.

See my response to other Friendly Debates with the Danielles topics:


  1. Very, very well said! It is insane that you had to put up with that for so long. And I seriously think that doctors should be censured for making unfounded assertions about future reproductive issues. When my mother went to the doctor before she was married she was told that it was unlikely she would be able to have children. I have 10 biological siblings.

     A former coworker put her 14-year-old daughter on the pill "just in case" even though the girl was not so much as dating, the pill made the girl sick, and the mother had gotten pregnant *twice* while on the pill! The girl's doctor wanted them to consider an alternative pill for fewer side-effects, but the mother didn't want to change because it was one of the brands that she had been using when she got pregnant most recently! (And yes, I do realize that there are a zillion other options they could have tried, but clearly they were operating in a whole different world).

    I am so glad that you will be able to guide your daughter into better options, and I hope that your story will reach women like my former coworker.

  2. My mom put me on the pill when I became sexually active at 17 and she had good mind to do so. I probably will do the same thing once it comes up because I was going on 18 and leaving for college. I think it's one thing at 17 or 18, but 14 or 15 is a different thing. It's a very personal decision that no parent should have to make, but I'm glad my mom did what she did and I don't disagree with those who chose for their daughters to not do so.

  3. I hurt for you. A doctor telling a 12 year old they may not be able to have children! That is so sad :( especially since to me having heavy periods doesn't seem like a big "omg there is something wrong with you" but I guess it just depends on the situation. But like you said your system isn't fully developed then.

    I can remember in high school and even now having bad cramps and my mom would just tell me take some advil/aleve/excedrin whatever pain killers we have and move on. I guess you'd say it was "tough love" and I guess I was lucky that I was able to deal with the pain. I had friends who literally once a month they'd stay home from school for bad cramps and I guess it's one of those things that until it happens to you, you won't know.  But my mom was also a mom that didn't take her kids to the doctor for every little thing. We had to be really sick for her to take us to the doctor. 

  4. What a great post. How brave of you to share this story. Doctors are trained to not trust their patients when it comes to their reproductive health. (I don't know how many times I've heard "If it's a female in reproductive age the first thing you do is run a pregnancy test.") I think it's a sorry state we're in though. 

    I've had so many friends on BC for acne, irregular cycles, or other problems who've had the same experience. They ended up having sex because they knew they could get away with it, not that it was their original intention for birth control though.

    All the more reason to teach FAM/NFP to our daughters from the get go. :)

  5. Thank you for sharing your story, Mandi. It is shocking and sad to see how careless some doctors are about prescribing birth control pills for young girls.  I am so glad that you are no longer on it!

  6. Thank you for sharing your story. I'm sorry you went through all of that. And knowing that it's perfectly normal and healthy for teens to have irregular cycles just made me cringe reading it. After a full-term pregnancy, 85% of breast tissue becomes cancer resistant, and another 10% after each successive pregnancy...so I hope that knowledge puts you more at ease. :)

  7. Thank you for sharing your story. I'm sorry you went through all of that. And knowing that it's perfectly normal and healthy for teens to have irregular cycles just made me cringe reading it. After a full-term pregnancy, 85% of breast tissue becomes cancer resistant, and another 10% after each successive pregnancy...so I hope that knowledge puts you more at ease. :)

  8. This was great for me to read because, as someone who is only 3 months clean from birth control, I struggle with how to teach and guide my future daughters on the subject. I think I was focusing more on the sex aspect and not nearly enough on the inherent evils of birth control aspect. This brought me back to what's really important!

  9. It's truly a disservice to women that so many physicians simply turn to birth control pills to manage such conditions as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, irregular cycles, and painful cramps. The pill is not a cure, it simply masks the symptoms without addressing the underlying problem. Thankfully, there is an alternative which women need to be made aware of  www.naprotechnology.com 

  10. Thank you for this reflection on your experiences with birth control. As a teenager of 18, I was also using birth control to regulate my heavy, and oftentimes irregular menstrual cycles. I was not cognizant of the Church's teachings on the immorality of birth control at that time, but fortunately still remained a virgin. I was dating a jerk, whom eventually attempted to convince me to sleep with him. Through the mercy of God, I did not, and the relationship ended.
    I went off the birth control when I was 19, so I was not on it as long as you. I did, however, experience certain side effects, such as mild/moderate depression (though, I do believe this was partially compounded by the negative relationship). Now, several years later, I am thankful that God taught me the truth of His teaching.

    God bless you, and may God encourage you to continue following the way of the Lord!

  11. I completely agree, religion aside, the Pill is just a bad
    idea all around. I find it really reprehensible that doctors seem to prescribe
    birth control for anything and everything these days.  All those hormones that the Pill pumps into a
    young woman’s body are certainly going to have some side effects. Like you, I
    would have been angry about the whole situation. I find it so interesting that
    your Dad was against the idea from the start. His natural inclination to
    protect you and his father’s intuition must have told him it was a bad idea. Thank
    you again for sharing!

  12. Great post Mandi. I have a similar story; it's funny how much we have in common...including the wanting to stop it due to getting married & wanting to be within the church's teachings.

    Thank you for sharing, it means a lot!

  13. That's why they're always giving me pregnancy tests, no matter what I go in for!

  14. My mom took me in at 15 to get on the pill because I became sexually active, and she thought she was doing the right thing by at least preventing a pregnancy. Only after 10 years of BC (accompanied by plenty of poor sexual decisions), I learned about the serious health risks associated with hormonal contraceptives.

    Amen to teaching women about NFP/FAM. It's important to remember the connection between sex and babies, not deny it.  And aside from religion, knowing what your body does is just plain helpful.

  15. Amen!  I'm finally off the pill (since August 2011) and still having irregular periods, which is why I was prescribed birth control at 15 years of age.  My new doctor instead of putting a "pill patch" on the issue is running a full blood work up to see if there are any glaringly obvious reasons for my irregular/missing period.  Hopefully this helps to shed light so that we don't struggle with fertility.  If I had known the side effects, I would have never taken the pill and probably wouldn't have so easily had premarital sex either.  Oh the world we live in...we must strive to stay above it and obey God's laws.
    Great post!  I definitely needed it as it is the issue I'm dealing with currently.  I just *HOPE* that my doctor doesn't try to convince me to take birth control.  If I have to I will pull the Catholic card on her!  Haha!  She seems pretty open and seems like she won't push what I don't really want.  So far very impressed with my new doctor!  Follow-up appointment on Wednesday for my lab results.

  16. AMEN!  "knowing what your body does" I have NO idea what my body does because I allowed the pill to mask it for almost eight years.

  17. Thank you for sharing your experience. I'm sorry that you went through all that you did, but it is wonderful that you are being open about your experience, it IS making a difference in the lives of women who have to make decisions about birth control now and in the future.

    I posted my response to question of birth control for daughters here:  http://wp.me/paFhR-mr

  18. Thank you for sharing your story and for your raw honesty. I agree with so much of what you said, though our experiences were different. 


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