Written by Anonymous.
Between the ages of 21-24 I had the most horrendous time with my pill/vagina issues. It’s a long and complicated tale, so bear with!
My boyfriend and I got together when I was 19, and we fell head over heels pretty quickly. We used condoms for the first 6 months, and then (once I decided he was probably worth the faff), I had the contraceptive implant.
Unfortunately, my body was not a fan, and I ended up bleeding non stop for 3 months, and I was completely knackered the whole time (not ideal when trying to revise for uni exams). I did visit the GP, who prescribed the mini (progesterone only) pill to take whilst maintaining the implant. After 3 days of taking the pill I threw up all over a bus and fainted (not the classiest of journeys), and so the doctor and I agreed that, as fun as that was, this pill probably wasn’t the best shout.
I had the implant removed, and they put me on a pill called Yasmin – something which affected me worse than anything else I had tried. I felt either totally emotionally numb, or randomly had complete breakdowns that left me sobbing for hours. The worst part, however, is the way it made me feel towards my boyfriend. The amazing feelings of love I had towards him just disappeared, and my libido evaporated. I was devastated, as he was absolutely everything to me. I had a constant underlying nagging feeling that I needed to break up with him, and these thoughts became so overwhelming and convincing that I burst into tears whenever we spent time together.
I tried my best to hide the way I was feeling from him, and he was unbelievably supportive. I can only compare the constant nagging sensation to having OCD (something which I had experienced mildly when I was younger). I couldn’t concentrate, could barely sleep and ended up being diagnosed with a stomach ulcer, which the doctor believed had been caused by stress. My university results took a bit of a dip, though honestly amazed that I was able to sit the exams at all. I was ‘unofficially’ diagnosed with depression and anxiety by a friend studying medicine, who had seen the way I was behaving.
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t come off this pill immediately. As stupid as it sounds looking back, I didn’t immediately make the link that it was my pill that was causing these issues. I had only ever experienced physical reactions to hormonal contraception as opposed to mental reactions, and every GP I spoke to tried to convince me that this wasn’t the pill, it was an underlying mental problem. One older female GP even went as far to say (whilst I was sat crying in her office) that I “was probably just being a bit silly”, and suggested that I sought counselling.
I did attend the counselling session, as I thought there might be some link between my issues and being a child of a messy divorce. However, I came out of the session feeling worse, as talking about it made me over think the issue more.
I then began getting intense recurring bacterial vagenosis, something which I felt extremely self conscious about. I showered regularly and bought numerous packet treatments, and for months nothing changed. I was too embarrassed to take my underwear off to have sex, which again my boyfriend was really understanding about. The BV came in ‘waves’, and so when it died down, I wasn’t confident that it could be linked to my pill, as I had been taking it consistently.
After getting a bit desperate, and having tried every prescription/herbal remedy under the sun (something which wasn’t cheap as a student), I sought help online. I stumbled across a blog dedicated to women feeling like they were falling out of love with their partners, despite having recently been completely smitten. It was only after a few posts that we realised we had all been taking Yasmin, and couldn’t believe that we had all been feeling this way. A number of women on the blog had gone so far as to break up with their partners, something which they intensely regretted afterwards.
Thankfully, despite this constant turmoil and doubt in the relationship, I hadn’t gone this far, and looking back I am amazed I was strong enough not to.
I came off Yasmin, and had 6 months pill free. It took me a couple of months to get back to normal, and the relief I felt was indescribable. He was over the moon to see me feeling better, and confessed that he had been worried that he was losing me on a couple of occasions.
The BV calmed down, and only reoccured once every 3 or 4 months. I changed shower gels to cut down on chemicals, and wore loose fitting underwear and skirts instead of skinny jeans/leggings.
Stupidly, I allowed myself to be convinced by the doctor that I had just had a reaction to that specific brand of pill, and was then put onto another one called Gederal. I was willing to give it a try, as the only alternative to hormonal contraception was the copper coil, and as I already experienced heavy periods the GPs weren’t keen on sending me down this route (the IUD is known to increase the intensity of periods/period pains).
I started taking Gederal at the end of my final year of university. Although I did feel like this pill caused some mood swings and headaches, these symptoms were nowhere near as bad as those I’d felt previously, and so I was pretty happy taking it.
I finished uni and all was well for around 18 months – I’d got a grad job, moved in with some friends, went on a few holidays, and most importantly continued to avoid pregnancy (wooo!).
Then one night, my boyfriend and I tried to have sex…and he just would not fit. Now, as much as I want to compliment him, he’s a pretty average Joe in the size department (enough to do the job). I couldn’t understand it – it was like my vaginal walls had completely contracted and it had become a no go zone. We kept trying, but it became too painful and we had to stop.
I put it down to me just having an ‘off day’, and tried not to overtime it. But after the sixth occasion of trying, I realised there was something really wrong. The skin around my vagina had become chapped and enflamed, to the point where walking would lead to the skin breaking and bleeding.
Sex was nearly impossible – I became so determined not to let it beat me that I occasionally kept trying until he eventually got in, but then we could only last a few minutes as I was in agony. Each time we tried I tore the skin, and on some occasions had to sit in a cold bath for hours to try and ease the pain, which would then last for days.
Again, I was back at the doctors, who prescribed me cream after cream. The bacterial vagenosis came back, along with intense reoccurring thrush, which was horrific. I was unbelievably itchy all the time, and struggled to concentrate at work. I became vigilant against anything that might be causing it – I used all natural products, washed my intimate areas only with warm water, even cut sugar out of my diet off the back of a rumor that this can cause thrush. The doctors gave me strong steroid creams, powerful antibiotics, recommended counselling (again) in case there was an underlying reason that I didn’t want to have sex with my boyfriend.
There wasn’t by the way – in all honesty it’s probably my favourite pastime. The suggestion that perhaps ‘something bad had happened in the relationship that subconsciously put me off being intimate with him’ kept coming up, but it just wasn’t relevant. Everything was absolutely fine between us – this was completely out of the blue.
This lasted for around six months, a long time for anyone to be reluctantly celibate (and in constant discomfort). I must have seen about ten different GPs/nurses/gynaecologists (after being on the waiting list for referral for months), and underwent a number of invasive and painful procedures to try and diagnose the problem. Prior to this whole palaver I had only flashed my bits to a handful of guys – a boyfriend and then a guy I was seeing in college, two guys I had been seeing first year at uni and my current boyfriend. So needless to say, I wasn’t immediately confident in having multiple middle aged blokes shoving utensils up there.
I then ended up coming off my pill (since we weren’t able to have sex), and after a few weeks the symptoms eased off. We were able to have sex (it was still quite dry and a little painful, but possible at least) and the thrush, BV and irritation gradually all went away. Honestly, I felt like a whole new woman, and it took composure not to run through the streets shouting ‘Everyone, look how healthy my vagina is!!’. Obviously my boyfriend was also chuffed to bits he could wiggle in there again, and we had a couple of months of at least daily sex.
One thing that had to be different about the sex is that we needed a hella lotta lube. The gynaecologists explained that it was probable that my ovaries had reacted badly to Gederal, and the pill had basically ‘dried them out’ a lot. I had far less discharge in my underwear, and found it hard to get ‘wet’ when having sex. Again, this left me more prone to thrush/BV, as discharge is the vagina’s way of naturally cleaning itself, so I have to be very careful to avoid anything that might trigger an upset (e.g. perfumed soaps, washing powder, etc). They went as far as to give me 2 months worth of free, water based lube (something which I felt weird about receiving NHS funded), the type of which I have now tracked down online to buy myself.
The only (only!) problem with being able to have a load of sex with the bloke you love is that you run the risk of popping out an unwanted human. As such, I had to find another method of contraception. And you might be thinking ‘can’t you just use condoms??’ but to be honest, I can’t stand them. I think it feels like getting it on with a plastic bag. So I turned to the only remaining option – the coil.
I took my best friend along with me to the procedure – as amazing as he is, I couldn’t help but feel like she was a better option than my squeamish boyfriend, as she’s a trained nurse and basically my honorary sister. We got to the surgery, and the doctor fitting the IUD was lovely; she explained how the whole process would go, and all of the important information about the device itself. You’re supposed to have it fitted whilst on your period, and as much as I’d grown accustomed to strangers staring between my legs, this had been a terrifying thought. However, she put me at ease, and I felt happy that I was at last in the hands of someone who knew their way around a vagina.
Then came the moment of truth – legs akimbo, period flowing, dignity out the window, I took a deep breath and prepared myself. My bessie sat and held my hand (as we reached a whole new weird level of friendship), and the doctor got underway. It was PAINFUL, but only for around 20 seconds. She then gave me a few minutes to compose myself and get dressed, and then I was told to sit back in the waiting room for 10 minutes to make sure I didn’t suffer from any adverse effects.
Of course, I suffered adverse effects. Whilst sat in the waiting room, I felt an intense pain where the coil sat, and started feeling very faint. My friend rushed out to buy me some Ibuprofen, and the doctor brought me back into the clinic area. Unfortunately (a clear symptom of our underfunded health service), the only space that was free was a store room that they quickly wheeled a bed into. They lay me down and inspected me with a large, penis shaped internal camera, the images of which were displayed on a screen (a short film that no-one should have the misfortune of seeing).
She explained that, due to my unusually narrow cervix (note; cervix not waist, *sigh*), the coil was being ‘pushed out’ of me. I was basically having contractions, contractions to push out a particularly sharp piece of plastic. She quickly chopped the IUD in half and pulled it out, and told me that I wouldn’t be able to have a smaller one fitted as it would have to be ‘specially made’ (interestingly, the only bespoke thing I own). Also, she said it would be ‘inadvisable’ to put my vagina through any more trauma in one day.
The nurses sat with me until I had composed a little more, and we’re lovely enough to bring me a cup of tea and biscuit. I was booked in for the following week, and sent home to rest.
The next week came, and my trooper of a BF was by my side again. Thankfully this one went in fine, and has stayed in. The difference between having a non-hormonal method of contraception vs hormonal has been amazing. I don’t have many mood swings, I don’t feel sick, my vagina works at 85% capacity as opposed to 0%.
However, it isn’t without it’s downsides. My periods are SO heavy, to the point where I feel very faint for over a week. They’re also really long – 10 days on average. The cramps are almost unbearable, to the point where I’ve had to pull over driving on multiple occasions, and avoid motorways when I’m ‘on’. There’s been two or three times where I’ve had to (conspicuously) crawl into the disabled toilet at work and have a bit of a sob clutching my stomach. But, I would take it all and more if it means I can avoid any more hormones.
The whole experience has made me realise just how little there seems to be in the way of consistent understanding and clear approaches to women’s intimate health. As lovely as all of the NHS staff were, it became extremely frustrating not being able to find a diagnosis and cure for my various issues. I can’t help but feel that, despite getting there eventually, I shouldn’t have had to feel this bad for 3 years.
I am so unbelievably thankful that my relationship was strong enough to survive, but for others the help wasn’t there in time. And although I am obviously a minority, more needs to be done to understand the potential effects of hormonal contraception on women’s minds and bodies.