Television ads began running in June for a birth control pill that makes women menstruate only four times a year, versus the 13 periods women have when on traditional birth control, according to The Washington Post.
This new pill, Seasonale, was approved by the FDA in September and since has been named one of the “coolest inventions of 2003” by Time magazine. However, some women and doctors are raising a red flag when it comes to menstrual suppression through extended oral contraception.
Unlike the traditional birth control pill, Seasonale is taken 84 days before taking a seven-day placebo. During this seven-day period, the woman menstruates. Like the traditional pill, Seasonale has the hormones estrogen and progestin. Also like other oral contraceptives, serious risks of taking Seasonale include blood clots, heart attack and stroke, especially for smokers over 35. A side effect more common from taking Seasonale than 21-day cycle birth control pills is irregular bleeding and spotting, according to the drug’s Web site, http://www.seasonale.com.
Although the AU Student Health Center does not offer Seasonale, it is because it “simply can’t afford it,” according to former AU Student Health Center Director Bethany Chiaramonte, who resigned in June. “If we can get a good price, we will get [Seasonale or a generic brand],” Chiaramonte said.
Currently, Seasonale costs about $1 per pill, without insurance, according to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, a non-profit group founded in 1963.
Studies of women taking an extended oral contraception have not shown adverse health effects, although more studies on long-term use of birth control pills are “needed,” according to the ARHP clinical proceedings “Choosing When to Menstruate: The Role of Extended Contraception,” published in April 2003.
The report also said that while a majority of women dislike getting their periods and a majority of health care professionals have prescribed oral contraceptives to delay or stop a patient’s period, other women use menstruation to determine if they’re pregnant or fertile, to avoid sex, to feel feminine or to feel connected to a natural life cycle. AU senior Annie Person is one such woman.
“I wouldn’t use it,” Person said, “But that is because I would be afraid each month that I was pregnant.”
Some women’s rights activists have also opposed Seasonale, saying that it perpetuates the biases already existing against a woman’s period.
To that, Minneapolis gynecologist Karen Hessel said, “Those are the people who probably have no problems with their period.”
Hessel calls extended oral contraception a “great” way to avoid the inconveniences of menstruating.
Although Seasonale is the first pill to reduce menstruation to only four times per year, some doctors have helped women suppress their periods by advising patients to continue with the next package of pills after 21 days, instead of taking the placebo pills. Some women who use Depo-Provera, a birth control method which requires a shot once every three months, also have the side effect of menstruating only four times a year.