The Emotional Effects of Birth Control Pills

To date, there's no scientific evidence that birth control pills have negative emotional effects on all women. However, they do on some.
The Emotional Effects of Birth Control Pills

Last update: 28 July, 2022

Many women in the world have reported that birth control pills have negative emotional effects. However, the subject has become almost anecdotal and it’s even been said that it’s a myth.

The most problematic thing is that, despite the fact that many women speak of the negative emotional effects of the pill, several studies have appeared with rather different conclusions. In fact, some of them even claim to prove the opposite: that the pill improves mood.

On the other hand, more recently, there have also been several independent studies that seem to agree with those who speak of negative emotional effects as a result of regularly taking birth control pills. Nevertheless, for now, there’s no consensus on this.

“ The pill makes her crazy? She is crazy. The Pentagon should use her hormones for chemical warfare .”

-Woody Allen-

Woman taking a pill

Studies on the negative emotional effects of birth control pills

It should be noted, first of all, that not all women report that they suffer or have suffered negative emotional effects due to the use of the pill. However, the complaints have reached a sufficient volume that some researchers have started to take them into account. Indeed, there are at least four major studies on this topic.

In 2003, a study was conducted with 658 women who regularly took birth control pills. The conclusion was that there was no evidence that the pills altered their mood. There was only a slight increase in discomfort in those with a history of depression.

In 2007, another investigation was conducted, this time in Australia. In this study, a sample of 6,000 women was approached and a similar conclusion to that of the 2003 study was reached. They added only that women with a history of depression felt a slight increase in emotional distress, but that this faded over time.

Two other investigations were conducted in 2011 and 2013 in Finland and the United States, respectively. Again, the same conclusion was reached. There was no evidence that hormonal contraceptives led to negative emotional effects. When they did appear, they were residual or insignificant.

The questions

Although all the studies mentioned reached the same conclusion, this has been questioned for a couple of reasons. The first refers to the difficulty in establishing stable parameters as to what constitutes the idea of ‘being well’. The second concerns the size of the significance of the studies.

Added to this is the fact that in all the studies conducted, it’s mentioned that, for ‘the majority’ of women, the use of oral contraceptives doesn’t generate any undesirable emotional effect. This means that there’s a minority that does experience difficulties with the use of this type of contraceptive.

In the same way, this raises a more than reasonable question: since contraceptives exert a change in hormonal cycles and hormones affect mood, wouldn’t it be logical to think that, in some organisms, they generate negative emotional effects?

Woman thinking about the emotional effects of birth control pills

Professor Angelica Linden Hirschberg, from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, with the support of the Stockholm School of Economics, conducted a study using a different method. Their goal was to determine if there was any evidence of a connection between taking birth control pills and women’s physical or mental well-being.

To do this, they started with a group of 380 volunteers, all aged between 24 and 35 years old. They were initially evaluated, then, unbeknownst to them, they were divided into two groups. One group was given classic oral contraceptives, while the other group was given a placebo. At the end of the study, those who’d taken contraceptives reported experiencing lower self-control, energy, and mood.

On the other hand, an article appeared in the journal, Frontiers in Neuroscience, in which another study was discussed. They followed up 42 women who were taking the pill and 53 who were not.

All of them were tested to determine if they recognized complex facial expressions. Those taking the pill were, on average, ten percent less accurate.

Scientists agree that there’s still much to investigate. For now, the important thing is to review this debate so that women who want to use the pill have enough evidence available to support their decision. It’s also important that they have alternative methods at their disposal if they think that birth control pills are causing them harm.

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  • Negret, M. M. A., Despaigne, M. D. J. L., Hechavarría, V. M., Imbert, N. S., & Carbonell, M. M. A. (2013). Efectos secundarios de los anticonceptivos hormonales en usuarias del método asistentes a las consultas de planificación familiar. Medisan, 17(3), 415-425.


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