Some half a century after its launch, cracks are beginning to appear in the image of the contraceptive pill. But why are more and more women turning away from it? Lottie Winter finds out in this piece first published in Vogue‘s November 2017 issue.
The pill. Love it or hate it, chances are at some point you’ve used it. In its glory days it represented the liberation of women from the fear of unwanted pregnancies, allowing them to act freely and safely for the first time ever. But if you’re a millennial (born, roughly, between 1982 and 1996), it’s likely your attitude is more complex.
In fact, younger women are turning away from the pill in droves – an NHS study found that the number of women in contact with sexual and reproductive health services who used user-dependent contraception, including the pill, had dropped by more than 13 per cent between 2005 and 2015. It’s hardly surprising: a quick Google search chums up some alarming reports, from articles on possible links between the pill and cancer to claims that are outright bizarre, such as “contraceptive pills flushed down the toilet are turning fish transgender”.
As at so many points in history, if women want change, they’re not going to get help from the top
And that’s not even to mention the everyday side effects that many women reportedly experience: mood swings, bloating and weight gain top a long list. In an age where we’re all obsessed with health and wellbeing, young women simply don’t want to settle for so many symptoms. “I decided to go vegan a few years ago as I found myself increasingly aware of what I was putting in my body,” says Abbie, a 26-year-old radio presenter. “At the same time, I was still taking the pill and it started to feel incongruent with my new lifestyle. It was only apt that I started looking for an alternative method of contraception.” Small wonder so many women are rejecting the pill in an emerging cultural backlash against hormonal contraceptives in general to try to reclaim autonomy over their bodies.
The problem is, the pill hasn’t moved with the times. Since its arrival in Britain in 1961, there’s been a kind of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. But there’s an argument to say that actually, it is broken; cracks that were initially masked by its own social significance are becoming harder to ignore the more ubiquitous it becomes. Combine this with the information revolution – where everyone with access to the internet becomes an overnight expert – and suddenly the cracks are getting wider and wider.