Friday, November 19, 2010

Guest Blog - Impacts of Oral Contraceptives on Sexually Transmitted Disease

This article is courtesy of Kristin Davis.  She is an advocate for women's health who enjoys writing and aspires to be a journalist in New York City one day. Let me know what you think!

Although instances of unwanted pregnancy have declined recently, rates of sexually transmitted disease continue to climb. This might be explained by society’s views toward sexuality and which behaviors are acceptable and which are considered taboo. While society still clings to social stigmas regarding unwanted pregnancy, sexual promiscuity has largely been accepted. This discrepancy in societal attitude is ironic because sexual promiscuity is actually more dangerous than unintended pregnancy. While young women have several safe options in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, women who become infected with these diseases risk spreading the illness to others, permanent damage to their bodies and even death. Unfortunately, with this fixation to avoid pregnancy, many women ignore protection against this physical risk. Based on recent health trends, it is obvious that measures to prevent pregnancy do not ensure safety from disease as well.

Social stigmas regarding contraceptive use have also largely been replaced. However, many issues remain when choosing which method, including effectiveness, convenience, health risks and long term consequences. While condoms might have been the most accepted preventative tool of unwanted pregnancy, oral contraceptives have now stepped in as the leading product. These products are easy for women to use, highly effective at preventing pregnancy and affordable. Unfortunately, these contraceptives also give couples no protection against sexually transmitted disease, which could explain the rise of disease seen in America today.

It is obvious, then, that women are unaware of this method’s limitations. In fact, a serious lack of available information regarding their effectiveness and safety remains. While tempting to trust manufacturers of these contraceptives, it’s important to realize that because of this drug’s popularity, oral contraceptive manufacturing has become a major industry with huge profit potential. Drug manufacturers now promote their products heavily and send promotional materials to many health facilities. The U.S. government even endorses the use of these drugs, sending these contraceptives to family planning clinics targeting indigent, unmarried women.

Unfortunately, this heavy marketing and wide use often misleads young adults into believing these products are total health safeguards. Many oral contraceptives also advertise their products as cures to many other health conditions, including acne and mood swings. Although these products have led to the welcome decline in unwanted pregnancy, the increased rate of sexually transmitted disease might actually be a result of misconceptions regarding these products. Teens protected from pregnancy might be emboldened to have unprotected sex, believing disease prevention is just one more benefit of these “miracle drugs.”

Indeed, manufacturers of these contraceptives have little motivation to dispel these misconceptions. In fact, several manufacturers have been found guilty of contributing to the rampant misunderstanding surrounding their products, regularly failing to point out important details regarding safety. One oral contraceptive producer, Bayer HealthCare, was cited by the FDA for their misleading television advertisements. Labeling their product a total quality-of-life aid, the FDA found these ads further misled teens with unproven claims. Furthermore, Bayer was cited for substandard conditions in a plant its ingredients were manufactured in. However, the drug company’s annual multi-million dollar advertising campaigns continue to overshadow these revelations and keep its product the most popular form of oral contraception today.

Although Bayer’s lack of corporate integrity is disturbing, the severe physical consequence of these drugs is even more striking. Oral contraceptives are hormone-altering pills and can actually lead to permanent side effects, like the possibility of infertility. Originally introduced in the 1960’s, evidence today links the growing use of these drugs with the rise of cancer seen in U.S. women. Although easily dismissed by their harmless appearance, these drugs literally upset numerous significant aspects of women’s physiology as they trick the body into believing it is pregnant.

The growing number of Yaz lawsuits today highlights just how serious the health consequences of these pills are. Users of Yaz, the most popular oral contraceptive sold today, have experienced severe side effects including heart attack, stroke, blood clots, pulmonary embolisms and gallbladder disease, with some cases even ending in death. However, until sexually transmitted disease becomes the focal point of reckless sexuality, pregnancy prevention will continue to be the focus of young women, to the exclusion of other risks. A reversal in the growing trend of sexually transmitted disease requires women first learn about the limitations and dangers of this contraceptive option before blindly trusting their health and safety to it.

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