It’s almost Earth Day and you’re thinking about what you can do to help the planet. An article blaming your birth control pill for a plethora of environmental woes, from intersex fish to male prostate cancer, shows up in your twitter feed. So, in honor of Earth Day, you’re reconsidering your contraceptive of choice.
We applaud anyone who wants to use an eco-filter when deciding on a contraceptive method. But before you ditch your pill, make sure you have the facts right. And remember: Any birth control is better than nobirth control when it comes to helping the planet.
First, the facts:
The notion of unsuspecting Americans drinking water filled with birth control hormones may get headlines—but thanks to a study published in Environmental Science and Technology, we know it doesn’t accurately describe the state of the science. The study debunks the myth that birth control pills (and other estrogen-based hormonal contraceptives like the patch and the ring) are a major contributor to the presence of estrogenic compounds in waterways and concludes that EE2, the active ingredient in birth control pills, is minimal or nonexistent in drinking water.
It makes more sense to focus on agricultural and industrial waste. The volume of endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) from livestock alone should cause pause: the total yearly volume of veterinary estrogens is more than five times that of oral contraceptives. In addition, estrogenic compounds are found in common herbicides, like Atrazine and Roundup, as well as in common industrial chemicals, like the plastic additive bisphenol-A (BPA).
A word of caution: it can be tricky to compare the impact of different EDCs since some are more potent than others. For example, industrial chemicals have lower potency than EE2, but they are often present in much higher volume. Surfactants, a type of chemical used in detergent and other products, are one of the most frequently detected EDCs in surface water. But most people aren’t giving up on laundry, now are they?
Now, the action:
While birth control pills aren’t to blame for all the EDCs in our environment, that doesn’t mean EDCs in the environment aren’t a problem. EDCs have been linked to early puberty, infertility, and developmental defects. Scientific research strongly suggests that reducing EDC exposure is critical to protecting reproductive health.
Unfortunately, current laws aren’t doing enough to keep estrogenic chemicals of all kinds out of the environment. So instead of ditching your pills or whatever birth control method you use, make a difference by buying organic when you can (to reduce the use of synthetic crop fertilizers) andtelling Congress to support the Safe Chemicals Act.
And if you’re a purist and want only the greenest contraceptive, consider the copper IUD. It’s hormone-free, long lasting (up to a decade, epitomizing the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra), made from small amounts of cheap, plentiful metal (copper), and 99% effective. The copper IUD is a great birth control option—but if it doesn’t seem like a fit for you, choose another method rather than going without. When it comes to having sex, the greenest thing you can do is use birth control.
Kirsten Moore is the Executive Director of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP).
Thanks for sending this in!
Hormonal birth control does not generally stop menstruation, but it is used to regulate it. Although there are some methods (like Mirena) that could lighten your period or make it go away temporarily, birth control pills usually do not do this.
If your period is causing these health issues and your doctor thinks this is the best way to treat it, I would recommend giving it a try. As far as I know, there is nothing else that will help regulate your period in this way, and it sounds like you are dealing with some pretty severe symptoms.
As far as “messing with hormones” go, your body usually goes right back to its normal state soon after discontinuing whatever method you are using. I would recommend speaking with your doctor more about this concern. They might be able to give you specific suggestions and information to help ease this anxiety.
According to a 2009 report commissioned by the city of San Saba, an estimated 34 percent of households live on an annual income of $25,000 or less, just above the federal poverty level. More than half of San Saba residents work in blue collar, farm or service jobs. In fact, Ball told me that many of these low-wage earners—pecan shellers, quarry workers and service staff—had frequently relied on the family-planning services provided by Hill Country Community Action. Only 3 percent of her clients can afford to pay full fee, Ball told me. Now that the Legislature had defunded them, San Saba’s family-planning specialists had to take away affordable reproductive services from Central Texas’ working poor. In a reversal of what they’d trained to do, they removed cancer screenings, STD tests, pregnancy tests and birth control for 2,000 men and women per year.
Hill Country Community Action wasn’t the only provider to suffer. The cuts to the state’s family-planning budget wreaked widespread damage on women’s health care in Texas. By summer 2012, a survey conducted by the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas for The Texas Observer found that more than 60 family-planning clinics had closed statewide. By late fall 2012, the Texas Department of State Health Services estimated that the number of people receiving family-planning services would be reduced by 138,000. Public-health experts were alarmed. The Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition—composed of 33 nonpartisan organizations—recently formed to advocate for restoration of family-planning funding. “Lack of access to contraception means more unplanned pregnancies, higher risks of child abuse and neglect, higher Medicaid costs, and, unfortunately, more abortions,” the alliance’s position statement notes.