Millennials are said to be the most pro-sexual health generation and have been advocating for access to the pill – even calling it a "moral right" – for years. Yet, reality paints a different picture.
According to the South African Medical Journal, 70% of women in South Africa use some form of contraception, with the Pill and the contraceptive injection at the top of the list.
But the South African Demographic and Health Survey for 2017 found that the use of the once-popular, primary go-to methods of contraception has steadily declined during the past two decades, and the reasons for this vary. So if they value it this much, why aren’t they using it?
According to a 2019 international survey, lifestyle and stress levels in millennial women (between the ages of 21-29) make it challenging to adhere to taking a daily contraceptive. Participants in the survey admitted to either forgetting to take the pill entirely, or not taking it at the same time every day.
Not just about convenience
More importantly, though, younger women are more cognisant of what they’re putting into their bodies and want to make informed decisions, and considering alarming reports on potential dangers and side effects of oral contraceptives, such as depression, they feel it’s best to steer clear from these.
But while traditional contraception seems to be coming to a (slow) end, are the alternatives millennials are turning to necessarily the safest and wisest choice?
The problem with the 'natural' method
While there are a plethora of contraceptive alternatives that don’t have as many side effects as the pill, younger women and their partners are increasingly opting for the old-fashioned "pull out" method.
Fertility apps have also increased in popularity over the past few years and have made the rhythm method a favourite. The apps are designed to tell a woman when she’s ovulating (and therefore likely to become pregnant).
In fact, Natural Cycles became the first app certified for contraception in Europe. But are fertility apps the safest option and sufficient to prevent pregnancy? When used alone, it’s really not, says the experts. A 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine also backs this conclusion.
Physicians also explain that the anxieties about the hormonal birth control are exaggerated. A 2017 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that while hormonal contraceptives do slightly increase the risk of breast cancer, the risk is highly dependent on age, family history (of breast cancer), and other factors, such as smoking cigarettes.
If your goal is to avoid pregnancy, hormonal birth control is the best option, New York-based physician Tania Elliott told the New York Post.
“When used perfectly, the pill is 99% effective.”
Statistics reveal that approximately 22% of women will fall pregnant if using the "pull out" method, and 9% on the pill.
What’s the solution?
That women are taking their health into their own hands is great, but it’s important to be cautious of being solely reliant on the pull out method and fertility apps.
"Natural methods won't work for all women. Anyone who has an irregular cycle – maybe they've just had a baby, or they have polycystic ovaries or other hormonal imbalances such as diabetes – should be very careful,” said Dr Jane Dickson to Vogue.
While natural family planning can be as reliable as the pill, it would have to be used perfectly 100% of the time, and that can be really hard to do.
“Any slip-ups – you record the wrong temperature, or you just forget one morning – and the failure rate rises dramatically," she added.
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