The OCP – Empowering women to take control of their fertility since the 1960s

In the realm of women’s reproductive health, few advancements have had a more profound impact than the development of the oral contraceptive pill (OCP). Since its introduction in the 1960s, the pill had empowered millions of women worldwide to take control of their fertility, offering a safe and convenient method of contraception.  Here we explore the OCP’s mechanism, benefits, potential side-effects, and its impact on society.

Understanding the Mechanism of the OCP

The OCP, often referred to simply as ‘the pill’ is a hormonal contraceptive that combines synthetic forms of oestrogen and progestin (or just Progestin) to prevent pregnancy. By altering the body’s hormonal balance, the pill inhibits ovulation making it less likely for an egg to be released from the ovary. Additionally, it thickens the cervical mucous making it difficult for sperm to enter the uterus and alters the lining of the uterus to reduce the chance of implantation.

Benefits of the Oral Contraceptive Pill

  1. Reliable contraception: When used correctly, the pill is highly effective at preventing pregnancy, with a failure rate of less than 1%. This reliability has given women greater control over their reproductive choices, enabling them to pursue education, careers, and personal goals.
  2. Regulated Menstrual Cycle: The pill provides women with the ability to regulate their menstrual cycles, reducing the frequency and severity of menstrual symptoms such as cramps, bloating, and heavy bleeding. It can also be used to manage irregular or painful periods.
  3. Treatment for Hormonal Imbalances: Beyond contraception, the pill is prescribed to treat various hormonal imbalances, including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, and acne. It helps regulate hormone levels, alleviating associated symptoms and improving overall quality of life.
  4. Reduced Risk of Certain Cancers: Long-term use of the oral contraceptive pill has been associated with a decreased risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers. It offers women additional protection against these diseases, adding to its overall health benefits.

Potential Side Effects of the Oral Contraceptive Pill

While the oral contraceptive pill has proven to be safe for the majority of women, it is essential to be aware of potential side effects. Common side effects include:

  1. Nausea: Some women may experience nausea, especially during the initial weeks of pill usage. Taking the pill with food or before bedtime can help alleviate this symptom.
  2. Breast Tenderness: Temporary breast tenderness or enlargement may occur due to hormonal changes induced by the pill. This symptom typically subsides within a few months.
  3. Mood Swings: Hormonal fluctuations can affect mood stability in some women, leading to mood swings, anxiety, or depression. It is crucial to consult a healthcare professional if these symptoms persist or worsen.
  4. Blood Clotting: While rare, there is a slightly increased risk of blood clot formation (venous thromboembolism) associated with the pill. This risk is higher in women with certain underlying medical conditions and in smokers.
  5. Increased risk of certain cancers: Long term use of the oral contraceptive pill has been associated with increases in breast and cervical cancer. The increased risk for breast cancer disappears 10 years after stopping the pill and similarly the risk of cervical cancer declines once the pill is stopped.

Impact on Society

The introduction of the oral contraceptive pill has had a profound impact on society, ushering in a new era of reproductive autonomy for women. It has played a crucial role in empowering women by providing them with the ability to make informed choices about their reproductive health.  It has helped reduce unplanned pregnancies, contributing to increased educational and career opportunities for women. Reduced birth rates have increased the number of women in the work-place, and for many, due to financial obligations, it is no longer a choice to remain at home to care of children.

Impact on women

Using synthetic hormones for contraception or medical reasons requires an informed, balanced and individualised approach. The individual needs of women and the needs of society are not necessarily the same thing.  Clarity is important.


The use of the Oral Contraceptive Pill in Adolescent Gynaecology

We will provide a separate blog post on this topic. If your daughter has been prescribed the OCP for period related issues, our course “All about Periods” has a full video dedicated to the use of the OCP in Adolescent Gynaecology. See All about periods – My Girls Gynae

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