Girls coming off the pill during lockdown are seeing how much it messes with their bodies
Hormonal acne is not the kinda comeback we love to see
Every girl knows that renewing your pill prescription is an absolute and total pain in the ass. It actually involves very little effort, you just make sure you pick up your prescription when you need more. Or, if you’re one of the unlucky few that needs to have their blood pressure taken because their pill is so strong, then it’s a twenty minute trip to the doctors. It’s not a big deal. But we’ve all been silly enough to completely forget to renew our pill once or twice, and have run out for a few days at a time. Not catastrophic, usually barely noticeable. But then a global pandemic hit, and all our lazy bitch habits came back to punch us in the tits.
Girls have forgotten to renew their pill prescription, left packs at uni or simply chosen to come off because they can’t be bothered with it the hassle right now. You can still get your pill in lockdown, it’s not impossible. But for ease, a lot of people have just gone cold turkey for a bit to see how it affects their bodies. And overwhelmingly… it ain’t good.
Women are now finding themselves with hormonal acne, excruciating periods, mood changes and extreme, incapacitating levels of horniness. Like sexting your boyfriend over Minecraft (yes, I’m being serious) level horniness. And, for a few, a genuine improvement in their livelihoods. Good or bad – girls taking breaks from the pill are realising just how much of an impact it has been having on their bodies, silently, for years. The Tab spoke to some of the women who chose to do so, and got a look into the side effects they’ve been experiencing.
‘If you’re thinking of coming off, don’t do it. It messes with your hormones unnecessarily’
Emily has been on the combined pill for over a year, since she decided that the implant just wasn’t working for her anymore. She says that coming off the pill in lockdown made her skin so bad that she went back on it within a month, as she just couldn’t handle it. Emily told The Tab: “My second implant (you have to get them replaced every few years) caused severe acne so I was advised to get it taken out and go on the pill instead. After going on the combined pill and a course of antibiotics my skin cleared up. At the start of lockdown I thought it would be a good idea to take a break from the pill because why not? I wasn’t going to be seeing my boyfriend for a while. But after a few weeks my skin started to break out LOADS. I couldn’t figure it out as I wasn’t wearing make up and was still sticking to my skin care routine.”
“I later twigged that the main reason I went on the pill in the first place was because of my skin. I started taking it again after a three week break and my skin improved again after a few weeks. My advice to anyone would be if you’re thinking about taking a break DON’T do it. It’s messing with your hormones unnecessarily and there’s no proven benefit to coming off the pill for a short period of time.”
This has been echoed by doctors, who have suggested that there really is no tangible benefit to coming off the pill for a “break” in lockdown. Cosmopolitan interviewed GP Dr Anne Lashford who told them: “There is no reason to have a break from the pill. There’s no benefit if you’re happy on it, and not having any problems. If you’re having issues with your pill, that’s a different matter, and you should schedule a phone or video call with your GP.”
She added that people often forgot they went on the pill for a certain reason to begin with, so coming off for a break may mean that this issue resurfaces, regardless of the time period that has lapsed since. She told Cosmo: “I speak to a lot of women who’ve been on the pill for years and had forgotten that, before they took it, they used to have a few days a month when they were bleeding heavily and getting pain. It’s often only when they stop the pill that they realise it was giving them some very positive effects on their bleeding patterns.”
As for girls that take the pill to stabilise moods, regulate periods or deal with acne, she said: “In all three of those situations they can stop it if they want, but their acne is going to get worse, their periods are going to get heavy and their mood may go back to where it was before. So I can’t see much advantage in stopping it.”
‘I’m so horny I sexted my boyfriend over Minecraft’
One side effect of coming off the pill girls have been noticing is slightly less… medical. It is new found high levels of persistent, unavoidable horniness. Evie, an Exeter student on the combined pill, told The Tab: “I’ve been on the pill for five years now – although I usually take it more like the mini pill, only taking a break every couple of months. I stopped taking it for several weeks at the start of lockdown and whatever it had been doing to suppress my sex drive before obviously stopped and quarantine horniness took on a whole new meaning!
“It got to the point where I was actually sexting my boyfriend on Minecraft (that was definitely a low point in my life). I started taking it again after realising how impractical it was to not be on it but my cycle is totally messed up now. My period keeps stopping and starting randomly which is quite annoying but luckily it’s not like I’m going to be out and about anywhere for it to cause a problem.”
‘It’s pretty messed up that we do this to our bodies in the name of not getting pregnant’
Both Emily and Evie felt that ditching the pill was the wrong move, so eventually went crawling back to our cruel Pharmaceutical Mistress. But for some girls, it’s not so simple. The pill is, notoriously, full of benefits and costs. It’s not always so easy to see that the benefits outweigh the costs. Lucy, a King’s student on the combined pill who has gone pill-less during quarantine said: “I’ve been on the combined pill for about two and a half years. After about two weeks coming off the pill I noticed my general mood just so much better, I felt way less sluggish and lethargic, even being in lockdown with not much to do. It’s hard to say for sure because, as someone who’s struggled with their mental health in the past, I made sure going into lockdown that I would exercise regularly and do what I can to avoid getting myself into a bit of a hole during lockdown, as I recognise that being isolated and having nothing to do definitely makes my mood dip anyway.”
“But the fact that the opposite has happened makes me think the pill was having an effect before, exercising is obviously releasing endorphins etc but I feel so much better in lockdown than I thought I would going into it that I think letting my body reset and just chill on taking hormones every day has played a massive part. My low mood is usually kind of an emptiness/hollow kind of feeling of a depression cloud coming over you rather than being emotional/crying a lot. And I literally feel like since I’ve stopped taking the pill this veil has been lifted and I’m so much brighter and more energised.
“Negative side effects are that my skin has got really bad and my first ‘natural’ period since coming off the pill was two weeks late, but I feel these could both be things that would level out over time and was probably my body just adjusting to the changing hormone levels. I’ve had bouts of acne in the past that is always concentrated around my chin/jaw and is quite cystic, but since coming off the pill I’ve had breakouts more around my forehead and nose so I’m hoping that’s just a side effect which will calm down as I’ve never experienced that before.
“Overall I think coming out of lockdown I will definitely look at other options for contraception because I’m fairly sure the pill was contributing/exacerbating my low mood and depression which is pretty fucked all in the name of not getting pregnant.”
‘It has definitely made me reevaluate which contraceptive I’ll be using in future’
Katie, a Sussex student who’s also come off the combined pill in lockdown, has also experienced a lifting of her mood. She told The Tab: “I was on the combined pill for 2.5 years consistently. It cleared up my acne, made my periods barely noticeable, I thought the effects of it were great. I’m not sure if it’s being away from the stress of uni but when lockdown commenced I came off it (as I had left my supply at uni) and thought it would be a good chance to give my body a breather, and my mood and general state of wellbeing went up drastically.”
“Physically, my periods are agonising and I had to write yesterday off and confine myself to an evening of Pinot, Normal People, and chocolate. I’d forgotten how crippling the first day is for me as it’s the first natural period I’ve had in years. I’ve noticed my skin has become quite dry and I’ve never suffered from really bad acne but I’ve noticed that when I do get spots now they are deeper and hormonal as opposed to being a surface level thing. Coming off has its ups and downs, but for the time being its right call of action I think, and it’s definitely made me reevaluate what contraceptive I’ll be using in the future.”
‘I’m happier but spottier’
That’s the thing about the pill. It offers up the promises of good skin, no bloating, easy periods, and happiness and then says: you can only have two. And actually sometimes only one. And then maybe sometimes none and instead they all get worse! It’s a fun game we play. The trouble is that these are not easy things to toss up. As Hannah, a Southampton, told me: “I’ve realised how much happier and bubblier I am off the pill like I look back and I used to cry so much, it had made me question going back on it. But it got rid of my acne which had started to come back. So I’m happier now but spottier.” Choosing between stable moods and acne seems like a no brainer, but anyone with hormonal acne can tell you it’s quite the opposite.
‘I’m experiencing a lot more joy… I’d rather not worry about getting pregnant, though’
Some women have had wholly good experiences coming off the pill during lockdown though, truly realising it was not the contraceptive for them. Lois, a Manchester student coming off the combined pill, told The Tab: “So when I was on the pill I’d say my average mood was just kind of moderate, like I never really experienced any extremes of emotion so I was never overly happy or overly upset or depressed either except on rare occasions, it was like everything just felt a little bit foggy. But I’ve noticed since going off of it my average mood is now generally quite happy, I’m experiencing a lot more joy and I’m actually experiencing emotions rather than that kind of fogginess.”
“I’d definitely consider not going back on it, the only reason I would is because I’d rather not worry about getting pregnant.” And therein lies the ultimate catch with the pill: it’s a contraceptive. Even though the mass of side effects can make us forget sometimes, and question whether it’s all worth it, it’s core purpose stops us from defecting every time.
Being on and coming off the pill is different for everyone, for advice on getting your contraceptive pill see the NHS website. If you’re struggling with side effects of your pill or coming off it, contact your GP.