Health: Sex: ABC of Birth Control Pills

by Aurélie Goudal (Translated from French

In some countries, birth control pills are sold freely. Here in Canada, they are prescribed by a physician or a nurse practitioner.

The contraceptive pill in Canada

The contraceptive pill was created in the early 1950s in Mexico and it was marketed in the United States starting in 1960. At first, it created a great debate. The Canadian Criminal Code made it against the law to give out information regarding the restriction of births and some deputies opposed to contraception predicted the extinction of the population in ten years (More information here).

The Catholic Church bans birth control (while permitting its use for control of menstrual problems) and the reluctance to it, at first, extended to the medical world.

Despite legal restrictions and prohibitions of the Church, the use of ‘the pill’ spread. On June 10th of 1960, the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker allowed the marketing of the first contraceptive pill and its use has continued to grow.

1998 statistics tells us that 86 percent of Canadian women have taken a contraceptive pill at some point in their lives and of these, 30 percent are regular users (according to Radio Canada).

Nowadays, birth control is considered to be a matter of personal choice. According to the CIC website, all the provincial departments of health, public health and medical clinics provide information on family planning (check it here).

Effective birth control

As France Dorion, nurse practitioner at the French Center of Toronto tells us, “It is the most effective method. Clinically we prescribe either the contraceptive pill or the IUD. These are the two most convenient, easy access methods.” Thus, women are prescribed an oral contraceptive by a physician or nurse practitioner.

Easy to get, easy to use, it is a tablet used daily. For 21 days, the woman takes a daily pill that contains an active hormone. Then, for seven days, she does not take any pills (for those using the packaging of 21 days) or she takes seven days of sugar pills (for those with the packaging of 28 days). During the seven days without pills or with sugar pills, the woman will have her menstrual period. It causes a “pause” to the ovaries and, among others things, allows women to plan their pregnancies. “Other methods of regulation exist, such as the patch for one week, the intra-vaginal ring for three weeks or the injections,” explains France Dorion. The latter is the injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera®.

Pros and cons

The widespread use of contraceptive pills has had a considerable social impact. It contributed to the liberation of women, gave them the power to control their reproduction and thus opened up new prospects in life and in their careers.

In addition, birth control is not the only use of the contraceptive pill. In many cases it is also a medicine. For example, sometimes the oestroprogestative pill may be prescribed to treat functional cysts of the ovary. Moreover, as explained by France Dorion, everyone with prescriptions will receive, free of charge, a test that helps reduce the risk of cancer of the cervix (PAP test).

This testing also allows the detection of sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea, which often do not have symptoms until the infection reaches the fallopian tubes which can lead to sterility. Also, the pill can be prescribed “for girls who have such a heavy blood flow that they get anaemia. [The contraceptive pill] shortens their menstrual cycles and thus, reduces the pain,” Dorion said.

Alesse® and Tri-Cycen® oral contraceptives are even approved by Health Canada as treatment against acne (See it here). Finally, be aware that contrary to popular belief, the contraceptive pill does not affect long-term fertility. Once you stop taking it, the cycle returns to normal the following month.

However, some points must now be highlighted. The contraceptive pill does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Only the condom – latex intact – is an effective mechanical barrier against infection by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), HSV, hepatitis B (HBV), Chlamydia trachomatis and gonococci (visit the Public Health Agency of Canada). Thus, oral contraceptives should be used together with the condom. A study in 1995 showed that only 27 percent of women who used oral contraceptives used condoms as well. It cannot be stressed too much that the pill does not protect against STDs.

Another drawback for some people may be the cost of contraception. The price of the pills runs around $25-30 per month. Injections are around $35 for three months and the IUD costs $300 (for five years). Sometimes, some methods are covered by insurance plans, which may help. Otherwise, the best solution is to travel to clinics that will sell contraceptives at wholesale prices (without any profits). The Bay Center for Birth Control is one of the centres.

From the past to now, the pill continues to influence customs and practices in Canada. As long as we do not forget the importance of condom use, it contributes to a happy contraception in your adopted country.

CNM

Contraceptive methods:

Most common are the contraceptive pill, the patch, the emergency pill (to be taken within 72 hours after a sexual intercourse), sponges, spermicides, the ring, the IUD, and of course, condoms.

For more information:
Call The Bay Center for Birth Control at (416) 351-3700 for information or to schedule an appointment. The clinic is open on Monday and Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm; on Saturday from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm.

Address: 790 Bay Street, 8th Floor, Toronto, ON M5G 1N8.