All the recent hoopla surrounding whether government should cover such things as contraception for women or pills for erectile dysfunction for men distracts us from very real, basic issues about health.
Men and women may have any number of reasons for wanting or not wanting to have children. Who’s to judge the validity of these reasons?
And hormones marketed as being for birth control are not always prescribed for that reason. Some young women, in consultation with their physicians, often choose to take birth control in order to even out their cycles. Maybe they have painful periods. Maybe they have headaches and it’s suggested that taking “the Pill” can help.
But when the birth control is hormone based, then physicians really need to explain the pros and cons as well as what hormones do in the body. For example, do physicians explain to women that when they are on a hormone-based method of birth control that they are not ovulating—they are not actually cycling?
If not, they are doing a disservice to their patients, because suppressing a natural cycle can interfere with their overall health. This is not to say that women may take the Pill for years and go off and be able to easily conceive and bear healthy children. And of course, in today’s rush-rush world, the appeal of not having a period is pretty obvious, though also sad in that we don’t revere a process that in the deep past was celebrated.
Reproductive health, fertility—whether women’s or men’s—is really the Holy Grail of health and indicates not just the health of an individual, but the health of the ecosystem the individual lives in. The fact is, our bodies are wise. Anovulatory cycles in women and low sperm counts in men raise deep and, often for us, troubling questions about our own vitality: Are we vital enough to reproduce? Is the planet vital enough to provide us the energy to carry on such activities?
That’s why use of hormones is so troubling, whether birth-control pills, hormone replacement therapy, or steroids used by bodybuilders. Why? Because these are not fully metabolized, so they get excreted and, like other pharmaceuticals, end up in our water where they not only disrupt the hormonal balances of other species such as fish, but end up inside us as well.
How is it fair to someone who chooses not to partake of these things to be dosed anyway, without consent?
The fact is, there are alternatives. For fertility itself, an excellent book is Katie Singer’s The Garden of Fertility, which teaches women or couples how to chart a woman’s monthly fertility cycle so that she knows if she’s ovulating—and when. This can help a couple to plan when they want to have a child or to abstain from intercourse or use some other method if the time is not right. (Note: This is not the rhythm method, which uses the past to predict the future, but taking temps and checking cervical fluid daily to know when a woman ovulates.)
Likewise, if a newly menstruating young woman is having cycle issues, there are diet and lifestyle changes and plant remedies that can help—many herbs are quite kind to women in this regard to help regulate the liver and kidneys which govern flow and rhythm, respectively, throughout the body, including the reproductive organs. Herbs can also help with the pain when there’s dysmenorrhea. And plants may also help women to more easily conceive.
Male fish with eggs. Lowered sperm counts in humans. Increasing infertility among women. Dumping of toxic wastes and cleanup of Superfund sites, though still a problem today, seems like a 1970s-era issue. Hormone-based and other kinds of pharmaceuticals being found in our drinking water is our era’s Love Canal and truly underscores the idea that there is no “away.”