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I asked Australians why they stopped taking the pill

WORDS BY AMY FOCIC

Because no two people’s experiences are the same.

Whenever the contraceptive pill is brought up in conversation among people with vulvas, it often elicits stories about adverse side effects or forgetting to take it (guilty). 

While the side effects of the pill have become less common since its groundbreaking invention, the conversation around its potential risks has been heightened in recent months. When news broke of the very small risk of blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, people quickly and correctly pointed out the relative risk of blood clots is much higher from the contraceptive pill than the AZ vaccine.


Interested in women’s health? Find more in our Life vertical. 



I’m lucky that my experience of taking the pill for nearly five years has been a hassle-free one, but this isn’t the reality for many. I wanted to hear the stories of women who have stopped taking the pill and why they did it. As we know, listening to others’ experiences is a critical part of the ongoing improvement of birth control. 

Jessica, 22

When I was 16 (and supposedly sexually active) my mum thought it was appropriate I jump onto the contraceptive pill like all the other women in my family had. One mythological symptom stuck in my teenage mind: “you’ll gain weight”. This had me pushing my body through fitness regimes that became ridiculous. My sister had told me that I was being moody too. 

I didn’t question my mood swings until they left me explosively crying in a bathroom stall at a dinner where they didn’t have a vegetarian option for me. It took until I finished school, lost my fitness routine and travelled Europe to realise that it was time to listen to my body. I eventually stopped taking the pill, and I noticed myself feeling less emotionally explosive.

Catherine, 38

I first went on the pill when I was 20 to help with my irregular periods and painful hormonal acne. It solved both problems almost immediately with no other obvious side effects. It became part of my unconscious daily routine for almost 10 years and I didn’t think much about it. 

I was turning 30 and I felt an almost instinctive need to stop taking it. I felt strongly that I needed to feel and understand my body off the pill, and to give myself the chance to function normally. I was struck by a number of changes, most notably an increase in my sex drive. I also became acutely aware of just how out-of-tune I was with my cycle and the intricacies of each phase. 

I felt great, healthy and happy, but the cystic acne returned along with a diagnosis of PCOS and my GP recommended I go back on the pill to manage both. Reluctantly, I did for another five years. 

I’m off again now, it’s the right time for my partner and I to start a family. It’s been a smooth transition so far, aside from some cyclic emotional waves, I have a more regular period, healthy sex drive and no acne. I feel empowered with a greater awareness of how my body feels and functions off the pill.

Brooke, 23

I stopped using the pill because I wasn’t me for a long time, my head felt clouded and I felt sad too often. I had also put on a lot of weight. It took a while to figure out the pill had made these changes – it’s hard to even notice yourself becoming something different when you’re there. Since stopping the pill, I feel like the cloud has cleared. I am really me again, and I have found an alternative contraception that works perfectly for what I need.

Rach, 30

When I was put on the pill at age 15 for adenomyosis (endometriosis’ nicer sister), I loved it. I had an enviable bust, glowy skin and the ability to skip a period – which I would do for as long as possible. 

I later ditched the little yellow pill when I decided I wanted to drop a few kilos and to give my body a break from its decade spent in a hormone-suspended fantasy. Not being one to swear off sex for long, I opted for a Mirena IUD instead of the pill, so I could ‘set and forget’ (for five years) and to rid my body of the added oestrogen and hormones in the pill. 

Looking back now, five years later, I realise the pill had had such a big impact on my mood and short temper. With the pill gone, so are the mood swings, water weight and (unfortunately) my D-cup. My skin has had to work harder as a result, but at 30 years old now, it has forced me to more closely consider what I put in my body and on my skin. I’m quite happily never going back!

Nadia, 23

I stopped taking the pill because I was never very good at taking it in the first place, and I often missed days at a time. I had already tried Implanon, but the irregular bleeding it caused was extremely difficult to manage, so I had it removed. I primarily used the pill to avoid pregnancy. 

After about three months of regularly using the pill again, I found that it had a strong effect on my mood and again, it was hard to remember to take it in a way that actually made it effective. So I’ve since stopped and I’ve noticed my mood changes have actively improved. 

Giselle, 55

I had been married for years when we decided I should get off the pill. I’d been on it since the age of 16 and despite having no specific complaints, we were concerned about me taking it for decades. It didn’t fit with our organic, hippy dippy lifestyle. We were perfectly happy with condoms until we decided to have kids.

Jonti, 24

I originally went on the pill at age 13 or 14 to help my pretty intense cystic acne, and that was really the beginning of the end. I tried multiple hormone combinations/pill types, all waiting to surprise me with a plethora of really fun side effects. One of the most consistent was a week-ish-long roller coaster of cramps that started at mildly annoying to ‘oh my god, am I legitimately going to die? I might pass out?’ (because as it turns out, it was making my PCOS worse).

I chose to stop taking the pill at 21 because I suspected it was making my severe PMDD mood swings worse; I was thankful to discover I was right. It was systematically ruining my relationships on a three-to-four-week cycle. It took about a year for my body to detox from the pill, and you’ll never guess what happened – my skin got better.

Beth, 22

I have used contraceptive pills since I was 16 and always felt like they didn’t really suit my body. Over five years, I trialled four different pills but whenever I was not regularly sexually active, I would stop because I felt better without it. In 2020, I entered a new relationship and was anxious about finding a pill that suited me.

Six months into using a new pill and my periods were regular and relatively painless, but my emotions were all over the place. So, after a doctor’s appointment, I decided to try an IUD instead. I’m really liking it and my only regret is that I didn’t get one sooner!

Ellen, 32

I started using the contraceptive pill around age 15 due to problematic and persistent acne. While it was initially great, my hormones began changing as I got older causing the acne to re-emerge as well as debilitating hormonal headaches. After having my two babies, I decided enough was enough, as I was sick of constantly putting various hormones into my body. At 32 years old, my body is done, it’s time for my husband to do his part.

Milly, 23

I didn’t really have a choice to stop using the contraceptive pill, as my doctor said it was too dangerous to keep taking it with the aura migraines I had suffered throughout my teenage years. I was a sporty kid, so I originally opted for the pill to take control over when and where I had my period. 

With the first pill, I bled constantly for three months with no avail. The second pill I tried had no side effects until the risk of stroke became too great with my condition. I’m off the pill now, and condoms do the trick just fine for contraception.

Lucy, 21

The pill ruined my skin, caused my weight to fluctuate, set my hormones out of whack and fucked with my periods for life. I didn’t start the pill for contraception, I started it because my doctor said it would be good for my skin health, it would control my heavy bleeding and allow me to skip my periods for special occasions. 

I stopped using the pill as a last-ditch effort to remove the things in my life I thought could be causing my mood swings, skin issues and weight problems. At first, it was tragic – but after my body was allowed to regenerate and re-regulate itself, life has been so much better. I won’t touch contraception again. 

Millie, 30

The pill and I have had a love-hate relationship for as long as I can remember! I started on it young, as a way to combat my teenage acne, at about 15. It just became part of my everyday routine, and I didn’t think about it much until a few years ago, when I decided I wanted to see whether I’d feel any different without it. I went without it for about a year before actively trying to get pregnant, and have since started a low dose again after my GP recommended it since I’m breastfeeding with a newborn. It suits me, and I’m definitely not ready for another baby yet!

Ruby, 22

I had been taking the pill for about a month before I noticed any problems. At first, I thought changes to my skin were related to stressors in my life at the time, but my skin continued getting worse with each day I was taking the pill. On the days I took the sugar pills, I would not have any new breakouts and I would become hopeful that my acne was getting better. 

Before taking the pill, I don’t think I’d ever had more than one pimple on my face at any given time. After about three months of taking the pill, I stopped and I haven’t looked back. However, my skin hasn’t gone back to its bright and smooth self since. 

Emily, 22

When I was 13, I had quite bad hormonal acne and heavy painful periods. After exhausting every topical and non-pharmacological treatment possible, my mum took me to the GP to get the pill. It did clear my skin up really well and helped control my symptoms but after six years, I became concerned with the clotting risk long-term. 

Over the last three years, I’ve switched pills multiple times to attempt to combat a plethora of side effects including break-through bleeding, lowered sex drive and acne flares. I finally settled back on Yasmin, but $90 every three months was not justifiable as a student.

Lulu, 39

I’ve gone through periods taking the pill in my early twenties, early thirties and mid-to-late thirties for various reasons. Initially, as a form of contraception and the other times, to combat my heavy painful periods. Each time I had negative reactions or experiences including weight gain, skin breakouts and more notably extreme mood swings and high emotions. I literally felt I was a basket case or going crazy.

I had tried various types of the pill and I consistently experienced negative side effects. The enormity of the side effects led me to stop taking the pill and instead suffer the painful heavy periods. To me, this was a more favourable trade off. As soon as I stopped taking the pill, I instantly felt calmer and more in control mentally and emotionally. Though I still endure strong PMS symptoms, they are nothing like what I experienced taking the pill. Energetically, I feel more like myself off the pill than on it.

If you want to know more about the potential side effects of the pill, head here.

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