Birth control was invented back in the 60s and marked a big moment in the progression of women’s liberation. Its creation, teamed with rise of bachelor’s magazines like Playboy, put the nuclear family in steep decline, giving both men and women sexual freedom and independence from the traditions of family life that existed after the war. The contraceptive pill was seen as a major advancement in women’s rights – the chance to have sex without getting pregnant, with a seven-day break each month to have your period.
Only, since that time, doctors have actually kept us in the dark about one tiny thing: having a period isn’t, and has never been necessary. As we wrote last year, if you’re on the Pill, you can safely skip your period. You don’t have to experience the monthly bleed, the bad skin, the mood-swings, or the agonising cramps that come with them.
This week, the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare updated its guidelines to state that there’s no risk with taking the pill without a seven-day break. According to John Guillebaud, a professor of family planning and reproductive health, we can all blame John Rock, one of the gynaecologists that helped to create the Pill. As a devout Catholic, Rock included the break to please the Catholic Church and get the respect of the Pope.
“He hoped that the Pope would accept the Pill and make it acceptable for Catholics to use,” Professor Guillebaud told The Telegraph. “Rock thought if it did imitate the natural cycle then the Pope would accept it. When his campaign to get the Pill accepted by the Pope failed, he just simply stopped being a Catholic, having been a committed one for his entire life.
“How could it be that for 60 years we have been taking the Pill in a sub-optimal way because of this desire to please the Pope?” Guillebaud concluded – our thoughts exactly.
Women often have a very complex relationship with menstruation. Research from last year revealed that more than half of women are ashamed by their periods, with 73% admitting they hide sanitary products on the way to bathroom and 29% cancelling plans to avoid telling someone they’re on their period. Further research by Plan UK has shown that one in 10 girls have been unable to afford sanitary wear, instead having to improvise or borrow from friends.
But perhaps the most telling research comes from Pandia Health. A 2017 survey shows that 57% of women aged 18-30 would like to stop their periods, but were wary about the safety implications. So why haven’t doctors been telling us that it is safe to take? Dr Christine Ekechi, Consultant Gynaecologist at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA UK told us last year: “New research continues to show there isn’t a greater risk of side effects with continuous use, so doctors and family planning practitioners now feel more comfortable giving this advice – whereas before, many didn’t.”
If the new guidelines are followed, 365-day pill prescriptions for a full year of combined hormonal contraception to become widespread in the UK. Currently, the combined pill is still commonly packaged in rows of 21 instead of 28, so there aren’t enough pills in a single pack for a full month. But it’s a start – and let’s never let men trying to please other men get in the way of what’s best for women again.