Right now, 60 percent of women who are currently in their reproductive years use some form of birth control. The reasons are varied, from managing cramps or skin conditions to simple pregnancy prevention. But there are other long-term benefits to birth control you may not have considered.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, when women have early access to the pill, it’s linked to “attainment of postsecondary education and employment, increased earning power and a narrowing of the gender gap in pay.”
Here, four women who believe birth control plays a role in their past and future success share their contraceptive journeys.
Dana, 45, first went on birth control when she was in college and had a long-term boyfriend. She knew she wasn’t looking to have children and credits birth control with many of the career goals she’s been able to achieve since then.
“I started taking birth control pills when I was about 22 years old. I was in college and a little bit of a late starter, but I was kind of owning my life as a woman at that point, and I think birth control played a big role in that. It was one of my first major decisions as a full-grown woman and I was really looking forward to it. I wanted the security of birth control on my terms and to know that I was safer not risking a pregnancy [than with just condoms].
“I’ve had a child-free mindset my whole life. I was very, very focused on my career and what I wanted to do with my life—be a musician—and I didn’t want anything to get in the way of that. I was really hot and heavy to start my own business, and that’s what I did. I started an independent record label and over the years, it became more of an advertising resource.
“I’ve had a few bigger moments of success that I can’t [imagine] happening in an atmosphere where I was tagging a family along. In my earlier career, I opened up for bands like Cheap Trick. I’m not saying women can’t achieve things with a family, of course they can. I think birth control is just as important for family planning as it is for trying to avoid family planning. Being able to plan for my career long-term and know what my life was going to look like, without any bumps in the road, meant a lot. I grew up not having a lot of security, so I gave myself security with that.”
Cindy, 35, has polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, an issue caused by a hormonal imbalance that can result in acne, weight gain, and painful, irregular periods. Cindy credits birth control with helping her regain control of her life and make a big career transition.
“I was around 15 or 16 years old when I first started experiencing horrible abdominal pain and really bad acne. My skin was so bad that my mom took me to all these dermatologists—we didn’t know it was actually hormonal. All these doctors poked and prodded me, and it was really traumatizing because, you know, I was a teenage girl. My acne just got worse, and it really hindered my life. I didn’t have any confidence at all in myself. I didn’t date, I didn’t have any boyfriends. And not only that, it was the pain. Every time I had periods, I missed school because my periods were so bad. It held me back from a lot of things; I didn’t feel confident dating or going into job interviews. I couldn’t function.
“Then, when I was 25 and in law school, I got my diagnosis. I found a doctor who specializes in hormonal therapy, got a blood test, and he confirmed I had PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). After that, he started me on birth control pills and some other medications. Now my hormones are more regulated. It helps a lot to know when my period is going to come so I can plan for it. [Since] my period is a lot shorter, I don’t have to carve out two weeks of my life every month to just hole away at home.
“My skin has definitely gotten much better and I’m a lot more confident now. I was finally able to focus on my work instead of the pain. It was when I finally got diagnosed and started feeling better that I felt like I could pursue my dream of being a photographer. I used to be a lawyer; when I was in a lot of pain and suffering, I thought I needed a stable career, but it turns out that’s not actually what I wanted. [Now] I’m pursuing photography and am an overall happier person. I can do that now because I have birth control and medication to help me. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have that.”
Cate, 26, has been taking birth control pills consistently since college to combat debilitating cramps, and hopes the security contraception provides her will propel her toward her future professional goals.
“In high school, I had really severe cramping. It just made it really hard to focus. I was out of school a lot and calling out of my weekend job frequently. For the first couple of months of college it was the same thing. I would get these ridiculous cramps for two or three days and only be able to do the bare minimum. I could maybe attend class, but not be able to pay attention. I would have to bail on plans with friends because my period was just too much and I couldn’t move from my bed.
“When I was 19 and in college, I was in a serious relationship and decided it was time to go on birth control, so I spoke with my doctor regarding all my concerns. She worked with me and helped me figure out the best kind [of pill] to take, and I’ve been on it ever since.
“Not having to worry about cramping every month made a difference. I focused on everything I wanted to do, and I started a magazine, my school’s chapter of HerCampus. I also love fiction writing, so I’m looking into making a collection of short stories or a novel. I’ve been playing around with it for a couple of years. I have so many ideas.
“I’ve been in a serious relationship now for almost nine years and we’re young. I’m 26, he’s 28, and we’re not ready for a baby. Birth control has also removed the stress of worrying about getting pregnant from our relationship and our career paths. We can focus on what’s in front of us, and when the time does come to have kids, we have that option.”
Ran, 38, has been diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition where tissue that lines the inside of your uterus—the endometrium—grows outside your uterus. Some of the symptoms include severe abdominal pain and heavy periods. Ran has an IUD that helps her focus on work instead of pain.
“My endometriosis was really well controlled for a long time, but I went off the birth control I was using in 2014 because it made me stop getting my period, and I just wasn’t informed enough at the time to realize that that was actually okay. In late 2017, I started getting a random shooting pain here, a random shooting pain there, and the pain just became more and more regular to the point where there were a couple months that I could barely get off the couch. I couldn’t sit up or walk, really; I had to be lying down. I would have dreams where I was having labor pains and would wake up feeling like I was in labor.
“I primarily work from home as a book editor, so I’m lucky that my situation allows me to lie in bed and work, but there were days where the pain was so bad that looking at a computer screen and trying to read a manuscript was impossible. There was a month or so where I had to turn down a lot of projects because I just wasn’t able to focus on anything but the pain. I’m still feeling the financial ramifications of that. This fall I got an IUD and it’s been a complete turnaround. I’m in so much less pain and can get off the couch and move around. I was able to just go back to my life.
“My partner and I are planning on having kids in the future, and we’re in a good place in terms of being on the same page for our family planning. But at this point [my birth control] just gives me such a huge sense of security that I don’t have to worry. I really feel like reproductive freedom is 50 percent of the equation to women really being as free as men.”