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The impact of hormonal contraception on relationships

The airing of the latest Davina McCall’s documentary: Pill Revolution on Channel 4 tonight (Thursday 8 June) is shining a much needed spotlight on the state of contraception in the UK today and its impact on women. 

First available in the 60s, the Pill was seen as revolution for women, giving them the option to have a baby by “choice, not chance” and is inextricably linked to the swinging 60s, free love and liberation.

But it’s history has been dogged by health scares, including potential increased risks of cancer, anxiety, depression, and thrombosis. And it is still shrouded by misconceptions and side effects that people are just starting to openly talk about, particularly the millennials. 

One such area is the impact of contraception on women’s relationships and marriages. This is something Dr Sarah E Hill, author of: How the pill changes everything: Your brain on birth control talked about in The Observer back in 2019

“Oestrogen is known to nudge women’s preferences when it comes to their romantic partners to favour qualities that are associated with masculinity and higher testosterone: square-cut jaws, broad shoulders and brow ridges, for example. 

But research suggests pill-taking women – in their state of artificial progesterone dominance and lacking a cyclical oestrogen urge – seem to prefer the faces of men who are less masculine. 

The implication is that if a woman chooses her partner when she’s on the pill and then goes off it – it might lead to relationship dissatisfaction, because she no longer finds herself as attracted to the person. It is a possibility that women should at least keep in mind.”

A recent survey by Stowe Family Law of 506 women across the UK, aged 18-45 years old, on the impact of hormonal contraception on relationships revealed that almost a quarter of women who had taken hormonal contraception say it caused, or played a role in, the end of their relationship

Over 85 per cent said their marriage or relationship had been impacted by the contraception’s side effects. 63 per cent of women were forced to come off a form of contraception due to side effects altering their relationship. And 73% of women feared that the changes caused by hormonal contraception would negatively impact their relationships in the future.

The research also revealed that almost nine in 10 women who had used hormonal contraception said it had affected their mental or physical health. Just over seven in 10 suffering with mood swings, almost half depression, and around three in 10 grappling with anxiety.

Stowe’s Managing Partner Sarah Barr-Young, who has over 16 years experience in family law, agrees that it is not uncommon to see how hormonal changes have affected client’s relationships in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Oestrogen, testosterone, and progesterone fluctuate during a woman’s menstrual cycle, which can affect how she feels about her partner and their relationship. For those women taking hormonal contraception, the impact on relationships is increased.

And it is not just related to contraception. Hormonal changes, particularly during pregnancy, postpartum and menopause, can also have a dramatic impact on relationships, and are often referred to as divorce danger zones.

However, Sarah is keen to stress that in her experience,

“It is uncommon for such “changes” to “directly” make a relationship fall apart”. “Instead, they shine a light on and compound pre-existing problems, and commonly, led to a breakdown in communication.”

“So for some couples, if their relationship is already struggling and communication has broken down, it may not have the resilience to survive the challenges hormonal changes can bring.“

Shining a spotlight on the impact of contraception is certainly not driven by a desire to take the pill away or scare women from taking it. The pill is one of the biggest keys to women’s rights, and many will experience no side effects or changes at all. 

The key is continuing research into the effects, education so that women can make informed decisions about what they put into their bodies, and awareness so they can monitor their personal reaction to the medication before it potentially impacts elements of their life. 

Stowe’s independent survey polled 506 women across the UK, aged 18-45 years old, who were randomly selected. 

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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