Confession. One of my absolute guiltiest pleasures is watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Generally the show is an hour of mind-numbing entertainment. But last season, Kim and family presented a topic that actually piqued my interest. After deciding to go to the doctor to have her fertility checked, Kim revealed that her doctor told her that because she’d been on oral contraceptives for so long, her hormone levels were low, thereby decreasing her chances of being able to get pregnant.
As a woman who is currently on the Pill, and has been for a handful of years, I was immediately stunned by Kim’s news. “What?!” I thought to myself. “Am I ruining my future chances of getting pregnant by protecting myself now?” As it turns out, I’m not. Oral contraceptives have many risks including blood clots, stroke, and increased chances of breast cancer. But decreased fertility? Not one of them.
According to Paul Blumenthal, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, “With a few notable exceptions, immediately after you stop using birth control, your fertility will go right back to what it was destined to be.” That means, if you’re on birth control from 18 to 27, and go off the Pill to get pregnant, your fertility at 27 will remain what it would have been had you decided not to start taking the Pill. In fact, recent studies show that within a year of going off the Pill, 80 percent of women who are trying to get pregnant will get pregnant—the same percentage as the general population. Some research even suggests that women who are on oral contraceptives long term may have an easier time getting pregnant after their usage because the Pill protects against disorders like endometriosis, which negatively affects fertility.
Despite the fact that most research shows there are no negative fertility effects from taking oral contraceptives, there still seems to be a pervading fear among users of the Pill that they are ruining their chances of future children. So what’s the deal? When I think about why one silly comment from a (very decidedly) silly public figure sent me into a total tailspin, I begin to question the psychology behind using oral contraceptives rather than the actual physiological effects. Are we as women somehow programmed to fear a sort of “use it or lose it psychology?” That is, by forcing our body to go against its natural inclination, will we forever strip it of this ability? Are we fearful that the universe has some twisted sense of irony that will rob us of children when we’ve spent most of our lives trying NOT to have them? Or does this fear come from something more sinister? Is it a patriarchal psychology that tells us that we as women should not be allowed to take control over our own sexuality? That unbounded female sexuality must be punished in some way?
The fact is, fertility is an endlessly complex topic--both physiologically and psychologically. If you have trouble conceiving, there are hundreds of factors to consider. The good news is, in most cases, your birth control isn’t one of them.