Opting Out of Periods
Yes, as it happens, periods are something one can opt out of with the use of hormonal contraceptives, and there are many women that already reap the benefits.
I used to be part of the group that was in the dark about this fact, so I decided to write this short piece to spread the knowledge and give all interested a little information about existing options, plus my personal experience.
One day, my husband came to share what I assumed was going to be a fun fact he had stumbled upon. This time, however, the fact didn’t leave me laughing. It left me outraged.
Turns out that the one-week pause recommended after 21 daily doses of the combined contraceptive pill was completely unnecessary. A quick Google search delivered the FSRH updated guideline press release, which highlights that there is no health benefit from the seven-day hormone-free interval. I — as any of the worldwide 151 million users of the pill — knew this seven-day pause is the time when the period happens. Skip the pause, skip the period.
The source of my outrage was the fact that this information came after almost 15 years of my combined-pill use; years I could have lived without the monthly inconvenience. Never mind the money spent on toiletries.
But I wanted more corroboration about the safety of taking the combined pill without pause, so, like a responsible adult, I asked my gynecologist at the next appointment about all this.
During the days leading to my appointment, I browsed the internet in search of more information on the new guidelines for the combined pill and anything related to consequences of skipping periods. After all, having regular periods is an indicator of good female health. However, as for any actual health benefits or biological need of periods, the consensus seems to be that there is none. As opposed to their many downsides — from restrictions on work and social life to iron deficiencies — periods are at best a nuisance, and at worst a debilitating process.
My gynecologist listened attentively when I brought up the subject and must have detected some lingering outrage in my voice, because she was very empathetic. However, she was very clear that she could not fully recommend that I use the combined pill without pause, because the long term effects were not thoroughly studied.
But she understood that I would be open to trying other means to avoid having a period, so she recommended I try progestin-only pills, which can reduce periods in amount and frequency — or, in some cases, stop them altogether. She gave me a prescription to try the pill for 3 months and a pamphlet with more information, then sent me on my merry way.
Soon I learned that hormonal contraceptives that safely skip or downright eliminate periods have existed since a long time and are varied. Among the options:
- The combined pill (without pause)
- Extended-cycle or continuous regimen pills
- Progestin-releasing IUD
- Progestin injection
- Progestin implant
The reasons why these options (excluding the combined pill) aren’t more popular are diverse. It is true that there is a lot of room to improve in sexual education and access to information on contraception, and there’s evidence that suggests some general practitioners aren’t of much help in filling the knowledge gaps, due to lack of training and/or time. However, other factors — like costs, sexual habits, bad experiences, and accessibility — may have more influence at the moment of deciding for contraception.
In any case, always consult a doctor before attempting to skip or eliminate your periods with hormonal contraceptives. Also, be aware of the side effects and that your body, like mine, may take time to adjust.
Unlike the combined pill, progestin-only pills don’t give the body any synthetic estrogen, which forces you to start producing it on your own again. In my case, this led to several weeks of acne and one light bleeding after three months of use which lasted two weeks.
While I thought it was annoying, two weeks light painless bleeding every three months was still better than one week normal bleeding every month. To me, it still counted as an improvement.
But after six months, as my body got used to the new pill, the acne and periods disappeared completely.
After two years of living period-free I couldn’t be happier.
Besides generally enjoying a better quality of life, let me shortly enlist benefits of not having periods:
- Prevent anemia
- Prevent menstrual migraines
- Clearer skin
- Lower risk of some cancers
- Prevent ovarian cysts
- Enjoy travel and hobbies carefree
As the main takeaway I want you to be aware that living without a period is possible, safe and even beneficial with hormonal contraceptives. Consult your doctor before trying this, be aware and report any side effects. I by no means want to imply this is the best or only type of contraception to consider.
The choice is — and always will be — yours.