I knew very little about birth control as a teen. Between my conservative household and my Texas public school’s abstinence-only sex education policy, good information was hard to come by. What I did know was that if I was going to have sex, birth control would help me avoid pregnancy.
I didn’t start having sex until well into my 20s. By then, I’d done enough Googling and talked to enough friends to understand the importance of birth control — in terms of having control of my body, my health, and my future.
But even then, I was still uneducated about my options and how they would impact my body and mental state.
Now, days away from my 30th birthday and with much more experience as a birth control user, there are so many things I wish I could tell my younger self — about birth control and about how completely different the experience is for everyone.
People go on birth control for many reasons
I didn’t start using birth control until after I become sexually active. As a teen I thought that preventing pregnancy was the sole purpose of hormonal birth control. I later learned that my friends went on birth control for many different reasons.
I know women who’ve started birth control before they were having sex for acne and irregular periods. I had terrible, debilitating periods that sometimes lasted too long when I was in middle school and high school. I wish I’d known then to ask about whether birth control might have been helpful to me.
The pill isn’t always the best choice
After I became sexually active, I went to Planned Parenthood to start taking the birth control pill. They gave me a rundown of my options, but the pill was the option I’d heard about the most from friends. It was the most affordable up-front option at the time, when I had no insurance. Another benefit was that I knew I could leave the clinic with that pill the same day.
What I learned in the coming months is that I’m terrible at taking my birth control pill at the same time every day. Some days I’d forget, so I’d have to double-up the next day. Other days I’d take it at odd hours. I knew I had to be consistent for it to be effective, so I learned to be diligent, setting alarms and reminders.
But there was another issue: how it was affecting my body. I didn’t experience, like some of my friends, weight gain or a drastic change in my periods. But the pill really affected my mood. I was constantly emotional and down. One summer, I cried every single day on the train home from work.
Like myself, for many women, the pill is their first experience with birth control. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will turn out to be the best choice, out of all the possible options, in the long run.
Everyone reacts differently
After that “summer of crying,” I knew I had to make a change. I started researching other birth control options.
By then, I had much better insurance coverage. Since I wanted an option that didn’t require a constant reminder, I decided to try an IUD. My experience with hormonal birth control was so bad that I gravitated toward the copper IUD, which is hormone-free. I had heard great things about it from friends as well as online forums.
I was woefully unprepared for the experience. Almost immediately, my periods worsened. Suddenly, my periods were lasting up to 15 days, and they were so heavy that I bled through underwear, shorts, and bedsheets.
My periods were incredibly painful. I tried to use a menstrual cup to avoid going through endless tampons and pads, but I found it made the constant cramping even worse.
It might take a few attempts to get it right
About a year after I got the copper IUD, I was ready to give up. But I loved the idea of a long-term option. I started rethinking hormonal IUD options. Maybe the hormones wouldn’t be such a bad idea if they could help regulate my periods?
I decided to try a hormonal IUD that uses progestin because I heard it could lighten periods.
Six months into trying it, my periods were all but nonexistent. My mood is normal, and I don’t have to worry about forgetting to take my pill. I also don’t have constant pain.
My birth control search took a few attempts — and I finally feel like I’ve got it right.
Like many of my friends, I learned about birth control through experience. As a teen, I thought birth control was simple and clear-cut. I didn’t realize how many options were out there, and how each one might affect me differently. The truth is, it took a lot trial and error, and a million and one questions for my doctors, to find the best option for me.
Julissa Treviño is a science and health journalist based in Fort Worth, Texas. She has written about wellness trends, consumer health, and issues affecting marginalized communities for Popular Science, Medium, Smithsonian magazine, Rewire News, Vice, CityLab, Pacific Standard, Greatist, Man Repeller, and The Dallas Morning News, among other outlets. She has been awarded fellowships from the National Press Foundation and the Association of Health Care Journalists, and she is currently a board member of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Freelance Community.