Hormone-free birth control is often an afterthought – The Columbia Chronicle

Luke Martinez

Throughout high school, Libby Thomas’ days consisted of the same routine. Waking up, going to school and settling into their first class of the day. The only problem was that she was unhappy.

Thomas, a film and television arts major, initially took hormonal birth control pills to help with her chronic acne during her junior year of high school.

Instead, she struggles with depressive mood lows, a lack of motivation at school and general sadness. She didn’t know what to do. After trying five different brands of the pill, Thomas gave up.

Since quitting, Thomas received the non-hormonal copper IUD implant in January 2021 and has had no regrets. She is happier, she has her drive back and she feels relieved.

“I didn’t have to make a big decision because I didn’t want to take any hormones at all…even the slightest hormones,” Thomas said. “Everything with hormones scared me.”

Hormonal and non-hormonal contraceptives differ in that non-hormonal contraceptives do not contain any hormones and therefore do not affect your cycle at all. These methods may include copper IUDs, diaphragms, and spermicides.

On the other hand, hormonal contraceptives consist of the oral pill, the patch, the vaginal ring, the progestin IUD, the depo-vera shot, and more. Hormonal birth control options can affect the user in a variety of ways, including changes in her mental health, fluctuations in weight, and changes in her menstrual cycle.

For Kaya Lane, a senior journalist major, she falters when it comes to taking her hormone pills. Lane also took birth control pills in high school, but she used them to relieve her periods.

“I had horrible period pains, it got to the point of cramping up really badly and throwing up… I couldn’t really do anything because my period was interfering with everything,” Lane said. “Without birth control, my periods were almost brutal.”

Lane, who was initially prescribed hormone treatment by a hospital, said what’s stopping her from trying a new method of birth control is the potential cost of other birth control methods.

“I’ve always thought about using other forms of birth control, but I think they’re a bit more expensive,” Lane said. “I think the pill is one of the cheaper alternatives, so for me that was the reason I stuck with it.”

The Columbia Health Center offers its students a wide range of medical care, however the clinic offers the oral pill and Depo-Provera injection – excluding students looking for a non-hormonal and long-term option. The center also offers female condoms.

In a Feb. 3 email to the Chronicle, Beverly Anderson, associate dean for student health and support, said the school’s clinic decided to offer the oral pill and Depo-Provera shot to support the contraceptive services that the Students might not find duplicates anywhere else in Chicago for free.

Anderson said if the school offers birth control devices like the IUD, it would require an obstetrician or gynecologist to perform the procedure, which would increase the health center fee that all Columbia students pay to bring the doctor to the staff.

The University of Illinois Chicago’s CampusCare, the on-site clinic, offers both hormonal and non-hormonal birth control options. Similar to Columbia, UIC students pay a mandatory fee that goes to the school’s Student Health Service.

Yvonne Oldaker, associate medical director at Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said there are a variety of reasons a person might choose a particular birth control method, such as choice.

“The philosophical basis here is that people have access to the birth control of their choice,” Oldaker said. “Out there in the world, cost is a big issue for people, some methods are more expensive than others.”

Oldaker added that birth control options with implants — including the arm implant and both hormonal and non-hormonal IUDs — are becoming less available across the board, posing accessibility issues for those trying to access them.

Chloe Skerlak is a Licensed Holistic Reproductive Health Physician and Certified Fertility Awareness Educator who runs a business that teaches clients how to approach all aspects of menstruation and fertility in a holistic, non-invasive way.

“I was looking for a non-hormonal contraceptive and discovered the fertility awareness method,” said Skerlak. “It was super easy, super empowering for me that after learning it and using it as contraception for two years, I was really excited to help others do the same.”

Skerlak, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in kinesiology from the University of Alberta, Canada, said she educates her students to look for their fertile window based on a three-step daily routine that focuses on what actually happens happens to your body and how it feels.

For example, Skerlak teaches her students to examine their vaginal mucus first thing each morning to determine when they are entering and exiting their fertile window. Second, Skerlak teaches menstruators to take their basal body temperature either orally or by placing an average thermometer under their armpit. Skerlak said the basal body temperature method works by having a person take and record their temperature every morning. After one cycle, they could confirm that they have passed their fertile window and are now post-ovulatory as the temperature would rise during ovulation.

Finally, Skerlak said that the cervix itself changes shape and size depending on what stage someone is in their cycle. The final step in her practice is for menstruators to physically feel their own cervix to determine where they are in their cycle.

“The cervix also changes during the menstrual cycle. So, noticing the subtle changes in your cervix can help confirm where you are in your cycle,” Skerlak said.

Skerlak said this three-step method could be helpful, especially for a college student, since the most common cause of delayed ovulation is stress.

“A favorite tease of mine is when people say, ‘My period is late.’ Your period is never late, it always comes on time, what is late is ovulation. … If you can tell when you’re ovulating, you can predict when you’re going to get your period,” Skerlak said. “The number one thing that delays ovulation is stress, whether it’s emotional stress, physical stress, chemical stress… and I would say it’s a really stressful time at school.”

Skerlak added that while the copper IUD is hormone-free, it doesn’t come without its own drawbacks.

“The copper IUD is non-hormonal, which is great and doesn’t affect your ovulation, but it’s not without consequences,” Skerlak said. “The main goal of the copper IUD is to create a hostile environment in your uterus through inflammation. … It acts like a poison to sperm, so it will act like a poison to your body too.”

Oldaker said one of the most important determinants of a person choosing a particular birth control method is how it fits into their life, as some individuals may get used to taking a pill at the same time every day or waking up and taking their basal body temperature on Tomorrow, but some may want a longer term solution.

Oldaker said when a person is looking for a specific form of birth control or weighing their various options, there’s Planned Parenthood right on the South Loop.

the South Loop’s Planned Parenthood location is currently in the process of moving to a larger building with a higher client capacity. Doors at the new location will open on the upcoming Valentine’s Day, February 14 at N. Wabash Ave. 16 open.

“Planned Parenthood has a clinic in the Loop, just down the street from Columbia. … We stock several brands of birth control pills … we have all the IUDs available, including the non-hormonal ones, we have the implant, depo, the pill, the patch, the ring,” Oldaker said. “If they make it, we have it or we prescribe it for you.”

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