Last year I stopped taking the hormonal birth control pill and it changed my life. I have since learned a lot about how it works and why it was making me feel foggy, anxious, and bloated and had killed my sex life. I believe that most women are not aware of the many insidious side effects of hormonal birth control because our doctors never tell us about them.
My aim is not to tell you that you should stop taking it, there are many excellent reasons to take it and everybody is different and will react in different ways. I just want to share my own experiences in the hope that it offers answers for other women out there who might be struggling with some of the same things.
Why I stopped taking The Pill
My mental health had been a struggle for a while. I had been feeling low with a lot of anxiety, low self-esteem, and bloating and I had an almost complete loss of sexual desire.
I had been taking the pill packs together as that was the advice the nurse gave me on my last pill check. I knew my body didn’t like me doing that for too long as I’d find I felt very tired and achy after a few months (like I had the flu) to the point where I had to take sick days to sleep it off. I would also get some irregular brown spotting. If I then took a break for 2 or 3 days I’d have a withdrawal bleed (which is not the same as a real period) with awful cramps and headaches, and then I would feel better for a while afterwards.
The pattern started to clue me into the fact that my body was not liking the pill, and I began to consider trying to come off.
An almost complete loss of sexual desire was another huge factor that was eating away at me and causing a lot of additional stress, anxiety and guilt. My partner is amazing; he is very understanding and never made me feel pressured; but I could feel that we were missing the physical intimacy, and the sense of closeness we get from that.
I knew that my lack of desire has nothing to do with him, or how attracted I was to him. I could feel that it was something inside me that was “off.” I was already aware that low mood and bloating can be side effects of the pill and at the time I assumed that those symptoms were what was causing my lack of interest in sex.
I decided I needed to know if it was something wrong with me or if it was the pill that was causing these symptoms. My partner was immediately on board with my idea to try coming off the pill, and totally happy with going back to using condoms.
Looking back now I can see a pattern in how my self-esteem has fluctuated along with taking the pill. I had put this down to my relationships with men creating more anxiety, but I think now at least at some of those times the synthetic hormones were heightening those feelings. The happiest times in my life, when I felt the most like myself and I can clearly recall a feeling of lightness in my being, were the years I spent single and not on the pill!
Side effects of the Birth Control Pill
The last pill that I was on was Rigevidon which is very commonly prescribed on the NHS. Before that I was on Yasmin for many years, and before that the first one I was on was Microgynon. I don’t think I had as bad an experience with them as I did with Rigevidon but this was many years ago now and well before I knew to pay attention or had enough life experience within myself to have a sense of may or may not feel normal for me.
Rigevidon is a combined pill of two synthetic hormones.
- 30mcg Ethinylestradiol (synthetic Oestrogen)
- 150mcg Levonorgestrel (synthetic Progesterone aka Progestin) 
It has had some controversy in recent years after a young woman in the UK died from blood clots not long after she was prescribed it . Personally, I have always been made very aware that blood clots are one of the biggest risks of taking the pill (my GPs and nurse have always made that clear), it’s the other more insidious ways that it affects you that I did not know. It is the small changes in how you feel and think, and the level of energy that you have that can completely change your quality of life. Not to mention there is a physical effect that it can have on your genitalia (more on that below)!
Reading the booklet that comes with Rigevidon  I now realise how common the side effects that were bothering me actually are!
I have bolded the ones that I experienced.
Common Side Effects (1 in 10 experience)
- Vaginitis, including vaginal candidiasis (aka Thrush)
- Mood swings, including depression
- Altered sexual desires
- Feeling sick
- Being sick
- Abdominal pain
- Breast pain
- Breast enlargement and discharge
- Painful menstruation
- Irregular bleeding, no or reduced bleeding
- Abnormality of the cervix (change in cervical ectropion) and vaginal secretion
- Fluid retention/oedema
- Changes in weight
Uncommon Side Effect (1 in 100 experience)
- Changes in appetite
- Elevated blood pressure
- Abdominal cramps
- Chloasma (yellow-brown patches on the skin)
- Excessive hair growth
- Hair loss
- Altered blood fates including increased triglycerides
I was experiencing mood swings, nervousness, lack of sexual desire and bloating. I would also sometimes, especially when I was in a period of fatigue, get a feeling like dizziness where it felt like the whole world was a little bit “off” and thinking about it now I don’t think I have felt that since stopping the pill.
I also had gotten thrush repeatedly over the course of a year after having never had a problem with it before in my life! It felt like anything coming anywhere near my vagina was suddenly going to give me thrush. This was the same year I started Rigevidon and now I think it could have been the cause of increased sensitivity. I’ve not had problems since I stopped the pill, but I am also now very careful with washing and thoroughly drying my menstrual cup, as well as what soaps etc I use! I can’t rule out that those may have been the problem too.
I have spoken to a few friends about this and it was interesting that of the four I spoke with half had the same experience with losing their sexual desire, and stopping the pill (which they for medical reasons and to get pregnant) brought it back. Not a great sample size but I think it shows it is a side effect that is common (and studies have been done  on this) but nobody seems to know about it!
How I feel now without The Pill
For as long as I can remember I have felt tired and sluggish, and my thoughts have felt slow in a way that I knew was not normal for me. It made me feel stupider than I knew myself to be like there was this thick fog over my brain preventing it from living up to its potential.
Since I stopped taking the pill this has lifted. I have times when I have brain fog and I’m exhausted but that is now only for about 5 days each cycle when I am menstruating, which I now know is completely normal (after reading Period Power!). The rest of the time my thoughts are quicker and clearer, and I’m now more creative, and I can make connections between different ideas in a way that I couldn’t access before.
Emotional stability and resilience
My emotional and mental health is also so much better now. Now I get the benefit of my full cycle of natural hormones I have highs and lows, instead of nothing but the lows I had before. I feel light and silly, I feel sexy and confident, feel introspective and insightful and yes I also do feel anxious but I now know when to expect these feelings, and more importantly, why I am feeling them. This deeper understanding of my body and my hormones means I am can recognise them as a part of the normal, healthy processes of my cycle. I find this very comforting and makes me feel so much more emotionally stable.
This also makes me a better partner in the various relationships in my life because I can better communicate my moods and reactions. If I find myself wanting to snap at my boyfriend because he asked me a perfectly innocuous question one day I now know it’s a sign that my period is coming near, and I can ask him to try not to ask me too many questions for the next couple of days!
More confident and positive
The highs I have now are absolutely worth the lower times in my cycle. I generally feel so much more confident and my self-esteem is so much higher than it was. Once my period is over and my oestrogen is on the rise again I feel amazing and weightless and so full of ideas and possibilities. I can laugh more, I feel sillier and more open to fun and new experiences.
Guys.. the sex. They do not tell you how much the Pill can ruin your sex life. Sex around ovulation time especially is incredible now. I was convinced that I was one of those women who through some anatomical unfairness would not be able to orgasm through penetrative sex. That was not true!
The synthetic hormones in the pill work by lowering your testosterone which in turn will lower your sexual desire. A study of forty women was done in 2014 which shows for all of the subjects the clitoris shrank!
After therapy, the testosterone levels were reduced in both groups, whereas estradiol decreased only in group I women. The SHBG increased in all the subjects, and both FAI and FEI decreased. The clitoral volume decreased in all the women. The PI of the dorsal clitoral artery increased only in patients on OC. The hormonal contraception was associated, in both studied groups, with a significant decrease of the two‐factor Italian MFSQ score, which was more marked in OC users. In group I subjects, there was a reduction of the number of intercourse/week and a reduction of orgasm frequency during intercourse. The pain during intercourse worsened after OC use. The vaginal ring users reported a vaginal wetness.Clitoral Vascularization and Sexual Behavior in Young Patients Treated with Drospirenone–Ethinyl Estradiol or Contraceptive Vaginal Ring: A Prospective, Randomized, Pilot Study 
So not only will you now want to have sex but when and if you do ever get in the mood it won’t be as pleasurable and it might even be painful.
Without the pill, I can orgasm a lot more and a lot easier than I could before!
I wasn’t expecting this one, especially as many women are put on the pill as teenagers to help with acne. My skin has been clearer and brighter off the pill. I still get a few nasty spots now and again but it’s been less frequent, as usually only if I am particularly run down.
Off the pill, I get the full benefit of my natural oestrogen that every month works to make my skin softer and smoother, so I now have days where my skin looks amazing.
I still get bloated but now it only happens for about a week before menstruation when my progesterone levels are high and go away right afterwards. For the rest of the cycle, I feel so much lighter!
This is miles better than feeling bloated every single day which is what happened with I was on the synthetic hormones in the pill.
What are the alternatives to hormonal birth control?
If you think you want to try coming off the hormones there are a few options available for birth control.
You can get a non-hormonal copper implant. I have heard horror stories from friends about getting that thing fitted, and I have a low pain threshold so I was not keen on going that route. Many women do swear by them though, and I have heard that the key is getting it fitted by a sexual health clinic nurse who has more experience with them rather than at your local GP where they are less used to it.
We now use condoms and that has been working fine for us. I do hate how expensive they are (thankfully we can afford them, and you can bulk buy online to keep costs down), especially as the pill was free on the NHS. They create some waste, which I don’t love. But on the other hand, it means all the mess is for my boyfriend to deal with now, and I am the one that can just roll over and go to sleep! I am always very paranoid about them splitting but we are very careful to fit them properly, watch the use-by dates and always check for breaks!
“Birth Control” apps
Some people opt to manage their fertility by tracking their cervical fluid and ovulation times. There are apps, such as Natural Cycles, that do this and market themselves as being birth control and claim to be 93% effective (more than condoms). I have a friend that did this, and it is advocated by Maisie Hill  and Nicole Jardim . Personally, that seems way too dicey for me and I’d recommend against that method unless you’re in a committed relationship and have a plan ready for handling any unplanned pregnancies!
Should you stop taking The Pill?
I have no idea – you’re you and I’m me (absolutely not an expert in anything!), and the way your body reacts to hormones will be different to how mine does. Millions of people take the pill every day and are perfectly fine.
There are also very compelling reasons to take hormonal birth control as it is very good at preventing pregnancy! If you are living somewhere without reproductive rights and accessible options for unplanned pregnancies, then the extra assurance of taking the pill may be worth the trade-off for more peace of mind.
My aim in sharing my own experience here is to share information that very few women are ever told! I don’t want anyone else wasting more years of their life being exhausted and anxious and not enjoying sex because nobody told them that it might be the pill causing those symptoms.
I went to the GP many times complaining about fatigue and feeling like I was falling ill all the time because I was so exhausted, and that I was suddenly getting thrush repeatedly when I’ve never had a problem with it before… they never suggested that it could have been the pill, in fact, they never offered me any answers.
I feel so much better now, like I am finally myself… I just want to share that message.
If you would like to learn more about this I recommend the following introductions:
- Listen to What You Should Know About The Birth Control Pill with Ricki Lake & Abby Epstein. iWeigh with Jameela Jamil Podcast, ep. 107. Coincidentally this podcast episode came out about a month after I had already stopped taking my pill, and it was amazing to hear this conversation which was so in line with what I was experiencing.
- If you do stop the pill and your menstrual cycle returns I recommend reading Period Power by Maisie Hill. This book has taught me about my cycle and empowered me to better understand myself. You can read my review!
- You can also learn more about Period Power when Maisie was on iWeigh with Jameela Jamil Podcast Ep. 88 Period Power with Maisie Hill. (I know two iWeigh recommendations but I love this podcast!).
- Rigevidon. The Lowdown.
- Hanna Price. Women are calling for the contraceptive pill Rigevidon to be banned. Cosmopolitan, 18 May 2021
- Rigevidon. drugs.com. (and the leaflet in my last pill pack!)
- Huang, M. et al. Is There an Association Between Contraception and Sexual Dysfunction in Women? A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis Based on Female Sexual Function Index. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, vol.17, 10 (2020): 1942-1955. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2020.06.008
- Battaglia C. et al. Clitoral vascularization and sexual behavior in young patients treated with drospirenone–ethinyl estradiol or contraceptive vaginal ring: A prospective, randomized, pilot study. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. vol.11, 2 (2014): 471–480. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsm.12392
- Maisie Hill. Period Power. London; Dublin: Green Tree, 2019.
- The Pill and Your Sex Drive. nicolejardim.com, 20 May 2021.
- Lee, Monica et al. “Clitoral and vulvar vestibular sensation in women taking 20 mcg ethinyl estradiol combined oral contraceptives: a preliminary study.” The Journal of Sexual Medicine vol. 8,1 (2011): 213-8. https://doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2010.02074.x
- Progesterone. https://www.yourhormones.info/hormones/progesterone/. May 2021.
- Is The Pill Destroying Your Sex Life? Top 3 Ways Hormonal Contraceptives Obliterate Your Libido, And Why It Might Be Permanent. Fertility Friday 21 March 2017.
- EP. 107 — What You Should Know About The Birth Control Pill with Ricki Lake & Abby Epstein. iWeigh with Jameela Jamil. 21 April 2022.
Did you know about these side effects? Have you had a similar experience with hormonal birth control? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments, I think these are conversations that we should be having!