Warning: Today’s post is going to be a long one so grab a cuppa.
Ok so, contraception is something we’ve probably all been vaguely aware of since sex ed classes when we were 14, and then much more aware of since the time the nice nurse stuck a condom on a banana when we were all in Year 11 and we didn’t really know how to react.
We’ve got much better at it the older we’ve got, especially since the first time we put a condom on an actual willy, and no matter our sexual preferences it’s something we’re all going to be aware of throughout our sexually active lives. So what happens when contraception stops being nice and easy, and starts becoming nothing short of an absolute disaster?
My history with various forms of contraception hasn’t been great, and while I’ve learned a lot about it over the years, it’s always been at the expense of either my physical health, mental health, or sexual enjoyment. Therefore I thought I’d put together a little post talking about the less glamorous side to contraception – just to start the conversation. I’m sure I’d have found the whole situation a lot easier to deal with had there been more information out there about what could go wrong and how normal it actually is, rather than the long list of terrifying sounding side effects listed on my pill packet.
For anyone having penetrative sex, I’m assuming (although please correct me if I’m wrong here!) that condoms will probably have been your first taster into the world of contraception, and may still be the only form of contraception you’ve used. Their ability to protect against STI’s as well as pregnancy is undeniably great, however lets face it, when they break or fall off they’re just an absolute nightmare, not to mention a bit of a mood killer.
I’m allergic to condoms, however this wasn’t something I even knew was a thing until it happened to me. I just assumed that the horrific burning sensations, the numerous UTI’s and kidney infections and the general unpleasantness that I suffered were normal. Clearly I was incredibly wrong, and after talking to my GP we deduced I was allergic to latex. Fab. So I picked up non latex condoms only to discover the same symptoms occurring.
After much experimentation, I can now confidently say I am allergic to every kind of condom on the market.
The pill comes in various lovely combinations, with each one having its own vast array of perks and also pesky side effects. I first went on the pill when I was 20 having decided that since I was in a long term relationship, I was ready to leave condoms and their horrible allergies well behind me. Due to having incredibly painful periods at the time as well (soz TMI) my GP recommended me the first of the four pills I was to end up trying, Cerazette.
Cerazette is a variation of the mini pill, and it is a pill that you take continuously throughout the month rather than having a break period. This means that when you’re on Cerazette, a lot of women don’t actually experience a period at all which was a perk for me then as aside from the painful periods I was also a competitive dancer, and coming on before or during a competition was always a total nightmare, not to mention highly uncomfortable for me.
I began taking Cerazette at a time in my life when I was also on antidepressants, and although at the time I didn’t link the two together, since coming off that particular pill my mental health has improved drastically. I think if you’re already suffering from depression, taking a pill that has even the slightest possibility of making it worse isn’t wise, and maybe looking for an alternative could be a better idea. I also experienced what is known as breakthrough bleeding for three months – this effectively means I had a constant period for three months solidly which is about as fun and delightful as it sounds. When I did eventually stop bleeding and had sex for the first time on Cerazette, I noticed it was really uncomfortable – since my experience with condoms however, I thought that maybe that was just how sex was so I didn’t think much of it. I also noticed my sex drive went almost completely, and it was only after coming off it when my relationship ended and I no longer needed to be using contraception that I discovered this is actually a common side effect of this particular pill.
When I decided to try the pill again last year, I mentioned to my GP the side effects that I had experienced on Cerazette and so therefore he decided to try me on the combined pill instead. I began taking Microgynon in February, and I actually felt fine. The combined pill is a pill where you have a break week once a month which triggers a period – I much preferred this as I felt like I was keeping my body’s natural rhythm going. I noticed no disturbance to my mental health, my libido was definitely still there, and I didn’t experience any discomfort during sex. I did notice a very rapid weight gain however, and it was only after six months of this that I decided I couldn’t cope with my ever expanding waistline again and I came off it.
When I met my ex towards the end of last year, I went back to the doctors for advice, as I wanted to go back on the pill but I didn’t want to experience any of the symptoms I’d had before. This time he tried me on Norgeston, another variation of the mini pill. While my libido and mental health stayed intact, this time I experienced constant heavy and painful bleeding for three months at which point I couldn’t take much more and went to see a gynaecologist instead. He listened in great detail to my history with contraception, and decided that there were only two options really left for me – either try Yasmin, another variation of the combined pill, or try the coil.
I opted for Yasmin, as the coil sounded nothing short of absolutely terrifying, and I wanted to give the pill another go. You might be wondering why I wasn’t offered the injection or the implant – the hormone combinations in both of these forms of contraception were the same as some of the pills I had tried in the past (Cerazette and Microgynon I think, although I could be wrong) and therefore it was unlikely my body would agree with them.
I was on Yasmin from February of this year, up until last week and it was great. I had no side effects whatsoever and I felt fine, however unfortunately last week I developed terrifying migraines with awful visual disturbances. After ringing the NHS direct line last Sunday, I was told to immediately stop taking the pill as developing migraines could be a sign that you’re at an increased risk of a stroke or a blood clot in the brain.
This meant that effectively, aside from the coil, I was out of options for contraception – unless I decided to become a nun and live a life of celibacy.
With that safely ruled out (I mean have you seen my boyfriend?! Aint no way I could stay celibate around him for long) I made my way to my local sexual health clinic this morning to have the coil fitted.
There are two different types of coil available on the NHS in the UK – the Mirena Coil and the Copper Coil. I originally wanted the Mirena Coil as that was the one recommended to me by my gynaecologist, however the Doctor at the clinic I went to today advised me against it, as the Mirena Coil works by releasing hormones into the womb, effectively protecting against pregnancy in the same way as the pill. As I haven’t reacted well to hormones in the past, he said it was pretty pointless for me to have it put in, as chances were I’d probably want it taken out again.
The Copper Coil works by essentially making it impossible for an egg or sperm to attach itself to the womb. Apparently, the more copper in a coil the more effective it is, and therefore a coil with a lot of copper in such as the copper coil (duh) can be over 99% effective against pregnancy. Of course there’s always still that risk, as with any contraceptive, but it does seem like a safer option! For more scientific-y bits about the coil, click here.
For me, the coil is convenient – it’s in for 5 years now which means I no longer need to worry about my pill running out, or taking it late, or forgetting it altogether. Because I opted for the Copper Coil rather than the Mirena one, I also don’t need to really worry about any side effects – the only effects likely to occur is that my periods may become heavier and more painful for the first 3-6 months while it settles in my body. After that though, it’s all gravy!
Sometimes, if a woman was to get pregnant while on the coil (of any description) it can increase the chances of an ectopic pregnancy. It is also possible – although very rare – for the coil to perforate the womb when first fitted, or for the womb to reject it completely. Luckily, you’d know about any perforation almost instantly according to my Doctor, so I’m not worrying about that now as I sit here 8 hours later typing away merrily on my laptop. The Doctor can teach you how to check that your coil is still safely in place, and if your partner has a penis he will also be able to tell if it moves as it will make sex painful for him.
I made today a lot worse for myself than it needed to be by Googling the process of having the coil fitted – this came up with numerous horror stories online from girls describing it as the worst pain they’d ever felt, describing fainting episodes, severe pains afterwards and of course the usual horror stories about something going Desperately Wrong.
While I’m sure that for these girls, their experiences truly did happen (and my God do I feel sorry for them) I just wanted to set your mind at rest if you’re thinking of getting it done yourself. I won’t sugarcoat it for you – it hurt. I cried, and cried out in pain a few times too BUT it was by far not the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life, and the whole process was over in a matter of minutes. My Doctor was great and described each step of the process to me while it was happening so I knew exactly what to expect, and I had a lovely nurse there to hold my hand and distract me too. They kept me at the clinic for 20 minutes or so after, just to make sure everything had gone well before I was allowed to head off home and into work.
I have had mild cramps this afternoon, which the Doctor told me to expect, but none of these were worse than any regular period pain I normally experience, and none of it was unbearable. Everyone’s body will react differently though and while it’s so far, so good for me and the Coil, others might find it more or less painful and may experience more side effects.
Have you tried any of the contraceptive methods above, or are you having difficulty finding something that works for you? I’d love to open up this discussion, so let me know in the comments below!