Poppie Grant, an 18-year-old business management student at Ryerson, has been on the birth control pill for almost two years. She went through four different types of pills before she found the one that worked for her. When she went to her family doctor to get birth control for the first time, she asked specifically for the pill. “I guess I didn’t really know about anything else and it seemed like the easiest method at the time,” she said.
Critics say young women aren’t being properly educated about birth control. In high school, girls aren’t taught enough about the different types of birth control available to them. When some young women go to the doctor or clinic for the first time to get birth control, doctors aren’t explaining the different types of methods and aren’t taking the time to explain how to use the method that they do prescribe.
As a result, some young women are unnecessarily suffering from side-effects and are misusing the birth control they are on. Young women’s sexual health, safety and well-being is being put in jeopardy, say those who spoke to The Ryersonian.
They say hospitals and clinics have a responsibility to educate young women about their birth control options and they need to do a better job at it.
According to part one of a four-part Canadian Contraception Consensus published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada (JOGC) last month, over 80,000 abortions were performed in Canada in 2012. The highest number of abortions (21,000), were reported among 20- to 24-year-olds.
According to the document, “The persistent need for abortion services indicates that we are not meeting the contraceptive needs of Canadian women. Different approaches to the provision of contraception are necessary to meet these needs.”
The report made recommendations for how health-care providers can improve their patients’ use of contraceptive methods to prevent pregnancy and healthy sexuality. Part two of the study is to be published later this month with parts three and four slated to come out early next year.
According to the report, when women go to get birth control their health-care provider should be talking about typical use failure rates and should be stressing the importance of using the birth control method consistently and correctly in order to avoid pregnancy. It also said that women who are seeking birth control should be counselled on the wide range of effective methods available, including long-acting reversible contraceptive methods such as the intrauterine device (IUD).
Nicole Di Donato, 18, a first-year journalism student at Ryerson, said when she went to her doctor to get birth control, her doctor didn’t talk to her about any methods other than the pill and condoms. She said that doctors could do a better job at explaining how to properly use the pill. She recalled one time when she missed the pill. She panicked and didn’t know what to do. “Even your doctor saying, ‘make sure you take it at this time, if you miss a day, make sure you do this’ (would help),” Di Donato said.
“It’s laziness on our part,” said Jane Greer, the director of Hassle Free Clinic at Church and Gerrard streets in Toronto. Greer admitted that if a patient came in asking for the pill, she would say “OK” and write up a prescription.
Greer said she wouldn’t say, “do you know of all of these other methods” unless the patient tells her some reason why the pill wouldn’t be a good choice for her.
The JOGC report goes on to say that Health Canada processes and policies should be reviewed to ensure a wide range of modern contraceptive methods are available to Canadian women.
Despite the fact that there is an abundance of birth control methods available, like the patch, ring, injection and IUD, the pill is still the most commonly used method among young women.
According to the most recent Canadian Contraception Survey, 44 per cent of sexually active women use the pill, with 30 per cent of 15- to 19-year-olds using it.
Greer said there is a comfort level with the pill among women and among health-care providers.
“There’s a familiarity with it,” she said. Greer said it’s popular because it’s discreet. Women can be on it without anyone knowing – unlike the patch, which can be visible depending on where you stick it.
The pill also isn’t overly invasive compared to the ring, which a woman has to insert and remove from her vagina. Greer said you need to have a high level of comfort with your body to use the ring – a point she said some young women aren’t at.
The pill, she said, also comes in different formulations, which means if one type doesn’t suit a woman, doctors can prescribe a different one. There is only one ring and one patch.
But the pill isn’t the most effective method. In order for it to work properly, it has to be taken every day at the same time. With classes at different times on different days, and between a part-time job, studying and other responsibilities, this can be a real struggle for some female students. It’s because of the pill’s high failure rate that, ideally, the patch and ring should be used more, said Greer.
The pill can also come with some terrible side-effects.
“It really started to screw with me,” said Katy Benedict, 23, an artist and recent graduate from the fine arts program at Concordia University. Benedict said while she was on the pill, she would call her mom in tears late at night for no reason and she would get her period for two weeks at a time.
“I felt just not myself,” she said.
Benedict went off that pill but then went back on it when she started having sex again. She started to feel the same side-effects and stopped taking it for a second time.
“It’s unfortunate many girls experience really high highs and low lows when on the pill,” she said.
Her friend, Keshia Slowly, also experienced unbearable side-effects from the pill. She said it gave her migraines, mood swings and even depression. As a result, she too stopped using it.
According to the JOGC long-lasting reversible birth control methods, such as the IUD, are the most effective reversible birth control methods and women tend to stay on them longer than other methods.
Greer said her clinic has been doing more IUDs in young women than ever, especially since the hormonal IUD came out.
Both Slowly and Benedict are planning on getting an IUD.
Slowly found out about the IUD in Teen Mom, a magazine for teenage mothers. Benedict’s source was a friend who had one.
Neither women learned about the IUD through a conversation with her family doctor.
Do you have a birth control story? We want to hear it. Tweet me @klraskina or use the hash tag #mybirthcontrolstory.
To find out more information about your options, have a conversation with your doctor. You can also learn more at Planned Parenthood, Toronto.
This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Nov. 11, 2015.