How the Pill is Eroding Our Civilisation

The pill, or the combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP), brought about a revolution for women in the 1960s when it was first commericially available.  The COCP allowed women to easily, safely and cheaply take control of their reproduction.  It was no small deal that women in greater numbers than ever before now felt safer from the risk of getting pregnant by accident, for many women it was truly the concrete reason pushing forward women’s liberation. COCP was also of great benefit to women who suffered from endometrious and other menstral disorders and it has contributed enormous good to society by reducing the numbers of unwanted children in our society to a point where we now import unwanted children from other countries to meet demands for adoption.

However, like all drugs, it needs to be treated with respect.  Many women today take the pill as though it’s their entitlement and consequently may have a poor understanding of how it works and that there are serious side affects that can harmful not only to them but to everyone else.  This is not a cheap shot at shaming women, it is a sincere desire to warn women of at least one of the side effects of the pill.

The Sweaty T-Shirt Experiment

In 1995 a Swiss scientist carried out an experiment into human mate selection.  He, Claus Wedekind, discovered that women were most attracted to the shirts worn by men with the least similar Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC).  Other studies found evidence that children born to parents with signficantly differing MHC have greater resistance to disease, including HIV and hepatitus.  Indeed, there is a lot of evidence that sexual reproduction’s greatest benefit is providing a strong immune system for complex organisms like human beings.

Women appear to have good noses; good noses for men who would help them to produce healthy disease resistance children.  This could explain why many women might reject an otherwise very attractive man because his smell just might be warning her that he’s too much like her genetically.  Sorry for this particular attractive man, but nonetheless good news for the species.  Good evidence that it’s most helpful to let women decide whom they think is best for them to have kids with.

Miss-directed Lust

However, the COCP has an unexpected side effect: it reverses women’s scent preferences for men.  It is important to remember that as far as a woman’s body is concerned, when she’s on the pill, she’s perpetually pregnant.  While no one knows why pregnancy might reverse a women’s preferences for male body odor some have speculated that once pregnant a woman no longer needs to risk going out to meet unfamiliar men with differing MHCs.  Instead, she would be safest being protected by her father, brothers, uncles and male cousins whom she now feels more comfortable being around because their MHC is most similar to her own.

However, women on the pill these days will go out and meet the potential fathers of their children while they are on the pill; while their bodies think they’re pregnant.  While they’re attracted to men with similar MHCs instead of differing ones.  This is potentially a whole load of bad news.

Women should be suspicious of the pill's influence

One-Child Marriages

Since the pill was introduced there has been an explosion of women having one child marriages.  This is one hypothesis to explain why this might be the case: young woman on the pill meets strapping young man she falls in love with.  After a while said woman and man decide to get married and have children.  Woman comes off pill and while she’s still with the man she loves and knows so well… something about him is different.  He’s just not as exciting and heart-thumping sexy as he used to be.  Putting these feelings aside because it’s probably just nerves or stress at work she soon finds herself pregnant and as if to confirm her suspicion it was stress she relaxes again.  However, after the baby is born she once again finds herself feeling obstinantly unattracted to her lover.  Her libido hasn’t changed, because she’s feeling turned on by other men, but she just doesn’t seem to have any lust for her husband anymore.

So it might end.  Why it ends though is still difficult to answer.  She still loves him, but at the same time she’s not attracted to him sexually.   She feels trapped and frustrated with her relationship and quickly both parties clutch onto desperate reasons to explain why it had to end: all of which could be neither person’s fault.  All of which could be the result of the pill.

The damage, however, does not stop at the failed relationship and a family interupted.  The couple may have unwittingly brought a child into the world with a lower resistance to disease and greater risk of congenital problems.  If all women used the pill in this way our civilisation socially, culturally and genetically might well be eroded out of existence.  The low birth rate of western countries might well be caused by this and not simply women’s conscious choices not to have smaller families.

What we can do about it

I’m not proposing that we ditch the COCP, it is an extremely valuable drug, however, we definitely need to wisen up in how we use it.  Women could choose to wait until they get to know a man better before going on the pill or they could go off the pill for a few months before deciding whether or not she wants marry him or start a family with him.  I don’t know how good the education in girl’s schools are about the COCP but I suspect it could be much better than it is.  Please let me know if you’re a woman reading this how and what you learned about the pill.  Also, there are other pros and cons to taking the pill that women should learn about but I’ve not mentioned in this article.  The pill should never be treated as though it is a simple remedy for a simple problem.  Instead, women should think carefully about why, when and which COCP is best for them.  Ultimately though, everyone else can put some confidence in women’s noses to know what’s best for them too.

Further Reading

How the pill could ruin your life.

Pill users chose wrong sex partners.

MHC genes, body odours and odour preferences.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Gender issues, Health, Medicine

Author:Jason Sutherland

Resist the temptation to assume that you're always right or wrong. Never succumb to thinking you're so insignificant to trust your own thoughts and feelings. Always be responsible and listen carefully to others before passing judgement. Don't trust governments bearing stolen goods.

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26 Comments on “How the Pill is Eroding Our Civilisation”

  1. Anonymous
    October 22, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    Jason, there are many reasons for going on the pill not just to avoid unwanted pregnancies. I find it a great insult that you think women go on the pill very uninformed about the side effects. Before going on the pill women have consults with the doctors, talk about their bodies, what is happening with them and work to find the pill that will best suit their particular situation. Women know a great deal more about their own bodies than you seem to give them credit for. Maybe for once you can stop blaming women’s supposed ignorance for the world’s issues.

    • October 22, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

      Anonymous, did you even read my article? Please, be honest. You didn’t did you?

      I addressed nearly all of these points. As for doctors, frankly, do you honestly expect them to know everything? I’m not sure how long the clinical trial for COCP was for, I think it might have been 6 months. 6 months. And how many things did people not know about it in 1960 when it was released? That’s not a failure of women, that’s more a failure of corporate greed.

      As for “Maybe for once you can stop blaming women’s supposed ignorance for the world’s issues”

      When did I ever do that?

  2. October 22, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    Interesting article. I don’t dispute your facts, but I think that in following them through to their logical conclusion you oversimplify things somewhat, and totally overstate the potential outcome.

    I have used hormone-based contraception in the past, and was certainly very aware of its effects on my libido and state of mind. Perhaps because I’d had lots of comprehensive sex education, had studied biology myself, and tend to read package inserts in the pharmaceuticals I take I was more aware of this than the average woman, but I think it would be rare for a woman not to notice at some level the changes brought on by commencing hormonal contraception, given that most of us are well aware of the changes experienced during the normal menstrual cycle. Women’s magazines also regularly feature articles on this kind of thing.

    There are so many factors influencing mate selection in women that I find it hard to believe that this has any major effect on mate choice and offspring fitness. Now that we no longer live in small tribal groups, the risk of accidental inbreeding is much lower than during our evolutionary history, even in Tasmania where I live! I would expect personality, intelligence, connectedness to social networks and economic status to have much more of an influence over one’s potential to be a successful partner and parent in this day and age.

    Many – I would even guess most, although I don’t have the data – would only go on the pill (or contraceptive implant or other form of hormonal contraception) once they are in a serious relationship and having sex regularly. So that will lessen the impact on mate selection, and is the reversal of your proposed scenario where the woman only comes off the pill once she is in a long-term relationship. In my experience, an increase in the progestagen:oestrogen ratio results in an overall drop in libido (after all, if you’re already pregnant, what do you need libido for?) in comparison to which any change in the type of man one finds attractive is negligible. In the study you cite, the women were only asked whether they found one body odour or another more “pleasant”, not “attractive” or “sexy” or anything of that sort. Although being pregnant (or the hormonal equivalent) may increase a woman’s preference for the smell of male relatives, I can assure you it does not make us find them “exciting and heart-thumping sexy”, so is unlikely to lead to us preferentially seeking out guys we are related to to have babies with.

    Remember that while long-term use of the pill may seem “unnatural” in terms of its effects on reproductive biology, in the not-too-distant past it was the norm for a woman to be pregnant or breastfeeding for a large proportion of her reproductive life, so the overall
    hormonal effect would not be as different as it may seem.

    Finally, supposing your hypotheses are true: Is it better for women to be getting together and having babies with men who are poorly suited as partners and fathers just because they smelled right? Is it better for women to risk unwanted pregnancy so that they have slightly less risk than the already very low risk of producing offspring with inbreeding depression? And is it better for us to be having bigger families anyway, given the strain the human population is already putting on the earth’s resources?

    There’s no doubt that the availability to women of safe, effective, affordable contraception has changed society. I just doubt that mate selection is the main factor, or even a major factor in these changes.

    • October 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

      This wasn’t meant to be a comprehensive article, so thanks Emily, for providing some more food for thought.

      Just to clarify:

      THIS IS NOT MY HYPOTHESIS AND I NEVER CLAIMED IT WAS

      Referring you to the further reading section for more information.

      Also, what makes you think pregnant women suddenly don’t like sex? Any pregnant women like to comment on this? Do women only have sex for reproductive purposes?

      Also, I wasn’t talking about inbreeding. I simplified the whole discussion quite a bit and while I admit the headline is sensational the piece is filled to the brim with subjunctive statements.

      The issue is sexual compatibility, smell plays a big role in this. A sexually incompatible couple are immediately on shaky ground.

      “Is it better for women to be getting together and having babies with men who are poorly suited as partners and fathers just because they smelled right?”

      That’s putting words into my mouth. I did not say that, nor did I intend in any way to imply that.

      “There’s no doubt that the availability to women of safe, effective, affordable contraception has changed society. I just doubt that mate selection is the main factor, or even a major factor in these changes.”

      Please humour me and reassure me that you know I completely believe that? My time in intentious is making me cynical about people’s infinite ability to misinterpret what I actually write.

      • October 23, 2011 at 11:20 pm #

        Sometimes you just have to put into your article all the disclaimers and seemingly obvious social agreements just to avoid commenter extrapolating what you write into areas beyond rationality. Readers, just know that we’re out here to expose just a small fraction of an issue – not cover our asses on every tiny aspect of that issue. Also, we’re here for you – not against you.

  3. October 22, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    Sorry Jason, that should read “the hypothesis mentioned in your article” rather than “your hypothesis”. Lazy sentence composition on my part.

    As I said, “IN MY EXPERIENCE, an increase in the progestagen:oestrogen ratio results in an overall drop in libido”. This has been my experience with using hormonal contraception. I know it’s not the same for every woman, but I don’t think I’m Robinson Crusoe here.

    Any yes, you were talking about inbreeding, if indirectly, because choosing a mate with a differing MHC means they are less likely to be related to you. I am making the assumption that the decrease in fitness seen in the offspring of couples with more similar MHCs is a result of inbreeding depression.

    Agreed that sexual compatibility is an important contributor to a healthy relationship, but it’s not the only contributor; nor is smell the only contributor to sexual compatibility; nor is the contraceptive pill the only thing that affects the way women evaluate the way men smell. Apart from the fact that, all other things being equal, you may well react differently to the smell of a man at different times of the menstrual cycle, the MHC isn’t the only thing that affects the way men smell either. Deodorant may well be a bigger contributing factor to destroying civilisation as we know it!

    I didn’t mean to imply that you had suggested anything with my questions towards the end. They were questions that I was asking to stimulate further reflection amongst you and other readers. Likewise, I in no way implied that you disagreed with my conclusion in the last paragraph. That is my view and you are free to agree or disagree with it as you choose. Remember you are not the only one whose comments can be misinterpreted, and don’t assume that because someone comments on your article they disagree with you on every point.

  4. Anonymous
    October 23, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    Have you heard anything about this?

    http://www.livescience.com/16501-birth-control-relationship-satisfaction.html

    “Comparing the relationships of women who were on the pill when they met their partner with those who weren’t, researchers found that pill users were less sexually satisfied, but happier overall with their relationships than women not taking birth control when they first met their mate.”

    So if they are happier overall with their relationships, you’ll probably find that will cancel out problems with sexual attraction in the break up stats.

    • October 23, 2011 at 10:16 am #

      Yes I have. I have quite a few ideas why this is the case. Personally, I think the level of discussion about what makes a good relationship in our society is abysmal. No one can speak their mind without fear of being labelled sexist, narrow minded or perverse. There is a very narrow “safe zone” for conversations about sex and both men and women err on the side of caution by either not talking about it or simply lying about their sex lives.

    • October 23, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

      Anonymous, it’s no surprise that the pill affects mood, libido, attraction, a whole slew of psychological changes all to varying and differing levels depending on the girl. Therefore it’s also no surprise that even a percentage might be affected in exactly the way the article describes. It may not be a majority of women, as the article implies, ie: not *every* girl is affected in this way when using the pill. But some very well may be. And that is worth every girl’s consideration, at least for a moment. I think the article is helpful in informing women of a lesser-talked-about possible side-effect.

  5. October 23, 2011 at 11:08 pm #

    Finally, someone is taking the science of pheromones and psychology and giving it the media attention it deserves. This is not your General Practitioners speciality. In fact all GPs are clueless when it comes to psychology and gene-hormone relationships. Pheromones and MHC are real phenomenons, and they do affect our choices, despite us all liking to think we’re in control of our choices. No one is ever in control of who they instinctively find attractive. Emerging gene science in these areas is finally unlocking this mystery and women would all do well to take the above article a little seriously. Food for thought.

    Every year, scientific studies are finding out interesting, and sometimes alarming new facts about the things we take for granted. For example, first the FDA said cellphones were 100% safe, then studies came out linking them to “mild to moderate” increased tumor risk in teenagers, and now, in 2011, another study comes out saying the opposite. And jeez, that is just one thing: radiation waves. It’s taken 20 years and we can’t even agree on that yet? Why is anyone surprised to learn alarming things about drugs that affect the human psyche?

    Then there’s aspartame, the world’s most marketed sweetener. Long said to be safe by FDA-approved studies, but more and more independent studies are finding the opposite. Strange that a multi-billion dollar industry might be receiving some industry protection…

    The pill is no different. It’s one of the most lucrative drugs ever invented. There are a long list of accepted side-effects and dozens to choose from, all a different cocktail of hormones and synthetics. I’m not surprised that emerging studies of pheromones, hormones and psychology might implicate the pill. I’m also not surprised that any such findings will be swiftly squashed and laughed at to protect the integrity of the industry. We all love the pill – especially us guys, trust me. But sexual attraction is and has always been highly implicated by the pill. Do some digging.

    • October 24, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

      “This is not your General Practitioners speciality. In fact all GPs are clueless when it comes to psychology and gene-hormone relationships.”

      I was personally disappointed when I found out how limited GPs’ training was. I saw them as fonts of limitless wisdom when growing up. But after taking many of the same classes as med students, physiology, pathology and anatomy for instance, I go to my GP these days and just see a person just as bamboozled by and overwhelmed by how little we actually do know about how the body works as I am.

      That said, training for GPs is improving all the time and while I’m brutal against homeopathy and other pseudo-science posing as medicine I accept that well trained naturopaths can play a very valuable role in the medical community that could do with a lot more to support. But that’s for another day, another post. 🙂

      • October 24, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

        I get quite irritated with GPs for that reason. The majority of them want to shove you out of their office in 5 minutes and tell you to take panadol ($ca-ching) or neurofen ($ca-ching) for the pain without anything more than a stethoscope to check your breathing. I could write a whole Intentious article about the uselessness of GPs unless you whinge to them that you want referrals to get tests done.

        • October 24, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

          I heard Dr. Norman Swan, former health advisor to the Federal Government, say to a lecture theatre full of academics that GPs are a waste of talent because we get the highest quality students and we give them a job that any nurse nowadays is sufficiently qualified to do with half the training. That was a controversial lecture where he was talking about radical changes to the health system from an individualist orientation to a community based system.

          The more patients a GP sees the more money they make, there’s no incentive for a GP to take their time.

          • October 25, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

            Sounds like a topic worth writing on, in itself! Can you dig up that lecture?

            • October 28, 2011 at 7:12 am #

              I had a quick google and couldn’t find it in any of his radio transcripts. He actually said lots of controversial things at this presentation. It was about longevity and how the biggest single variable in predicting an increase in life expectancy was female literacy.

  6. Anonymous
    October 26, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    HI Jason, as usual another thought provokoing article you certainly can push the buttons. As a health professional and nutrionist in the Pharmacy world , Im glad to see people like yourself starting to accept the role Naturopaths etc play in the medical community. I agree strongly with the fact made by Andrew that a lot of doctors give their 5mins of consultation and send you on your merry way with script in hand and very little info as to what you will be putting into your body,especially for women and the pill. My profession needs to be supported by the general public as I feel we provide unlimited support and more importantly very detailed information and often we are the front line for women and girls to gain the understanding they need about this medication. The pill has and always will have its good and bad points to it . It is a complicated medication and should not be taken lightly its side effects in some cases can be very serious especially if taken long term. As a user of the pill in my early days and now a much more mature women,I can identify with the rollercoaster of emotions it caused and the libido issues it had but Im seeing first hand the long term conditions it can leave certain women with, especially Thrombosis,stroke ,breast cancer cervical cancer etc which seems to have taken a back seat in these discussions somewhat. Maybe drug companies could think about producing a pill for the smell and attractiveness factor only for women in attracting men and then we could take a seperate pill just for the contraception side . Just a thought . Chez,Sydney

    • October 28, 2011 at 7:24 am #

      The biggest problem with GPs is their woeful knowledge of nutrition in comparison to their knowledge of pharmaceuticals. That’s because the pharmceutical companies spend more time selling drugs to GPs than the GPs spend with their patients simply because the pharma reps wine and dine the GPs.

      Now if the government courted the naturopaths and introduced regulation into their qualifications we could get around the rigidity of the GPs and produce an affordable alternative for many chronic, harmful but not immediately life-threatening conditions that plague our society. It should not be acceptable how comfortable people are with just popping pills for every minor ache and pain.

      Thanks for the support Chez

  7. Anonymous
    October 28, 2011 at 7:09 am #

    Hi Jason, I just really wanted to thank you for the article you have written. I recently heard a professor talk on this topic and I was shocked by the possibility that womens receptiveness to pheromones changes when she is on the pill. It makes sense to me from the girl to girl conversations that I have had with my friends over many a break down. It is my strong personal opinion that their is not enough research into supporting the development of strong supportive healthy families. Our friend who is a doctor my husband and I attended a talk by a lady of the name of Vicky Thorn who has a large amount of research she has been collecting in this area that you have written in your article absolutely fascinating! Stuff I WISH MY FRIENDS MALE AND FEMALE AND I HAD LEARNT ABOUT IN SEX EDUCATION!!! As relationships are the building blocks to a family I think that this issue is important to our communities in the long run and may effect all people male or female or undecided genders. I will email my doctor friend who was going to get the articles from Vicky. He was also interested in this new area of research. I hope to be able to contribute further to this discussion I will post a small clip of her talk on here. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for bringing to light such an important topic that I know their are lots of women who would be interested in your research article.

  8. cheergirl
    October 29, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    Great article, you said you wanted women’s experiences on the pill? I was prescribed it in college, like every other freshman. It is expected you will be having sex. I gained weight, maybe 10-15 lbs. I was on it for about 9 mos maybe a year and then i stopped taking it wanted to try something else and I immediately shed that extra weight which was a slim svelte me that had been hiding. That was it! Vanity made my decision. I was a naturally slim person, the pill made me fat. It wasn’t a side-effect I was prepared to live with. Also, logically it made no sense to have a contraception that worked on my whole body , mind and soul and I didn’t even have a steady BF. I decided after that on barrier methods only, been using the diaphragm/condoms since then… I am happy because I know I am me… If that makes sense. Also, my LTRs have been awesome; my ability to attract an attractive mate whom I stayed attracted to was definitely NOT impaired, Thank God!

  9. November 3, 2011 at 5:57 am #

    Jason–some studies posit that the pill also cause3s women to choose “Mr. Wrong” who is bad in bed, but comfortable to live with, i.e.–he’s not the guy she is sexually attracted to per se, but he is the one who will stick around.

    And don’t get me started on the male pill….

    Now, in other topics, you don’t know me, but I am a lurker here on your site (actually your other site RLE). I think you are generally on top of it, and with a bit more research, and shorter paragraphs, you could pull out some excellent articles.

    And in light of the fact that I don’t read a ton of blogs, and the fact that I am charged with the task of awarding someone the versatile blogger award, I hereby give you the Versatile Blogger Award, for your potential!

    You can pick up a badge for your site over at my site if you would like to participate. I will be writing a follow-up post as well.

    http://pornalysis.wordpress.com

    • January 20, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

      Sorry! I just realised I hadn’t replied to this comment. Thanks… I do struggle with the shorter paragraphs. I wish my memory for citations was better, I’m great at remembering tons of little tit-bits from magazines and books I’ve read, but awful at trying to link them back to the appropriate article/book. Ahhh Google, I would be helpless without you.

  10. January 5, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    Some genuinely intriguing details, properly written and broadly user pleasant. 755746

  11. Roxanne
    May 8, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    Hey,
    Thank you for providing this article. It’s an interesting issue, and perhaps I’m an exception rather than a rule in my distrust for pills in general. Also I have heard about the smell factor and it attracting people to dissimilar immune systems. I have been with my partner for the last 5 years and only ended up on the pill for other medical reasons, but that was about three years into our relationship and so I felt reassured in the fact that the attraction was not ’caused’ or ‘interfered with’ by the pill. However, I worry about the lack of information from GP’s. I was on the normal or common version of the pill for the last two years and recently got told I should be on another more specific version of the pill. It worries me how little I know about this new pill, and yet I was given no choice to continue my normal prescription by this doctor and due to..well… life, I didn’t have time to go somewhere else. These kind of limitations make me lost faith in the medical field and wish that I didn’t need to take the damn thing in the first place.

    I do find it interesting that the male side of this issue hasn’t been brought up. Maybe it’s something I’m assuming would happen but doesn’t.. but wouldn’t the changes in hormones caused by the pill also change the smell of the woman for men. Therefore the men that would be attracted to her may be different to those who would be if she were not on the pill? I would think that if that is true it would also affect mate selection and the development of healthy relationships and families. I would be interested to know if this were the case or not.

    Anyway, thank you for bringing up this topic and giving voice to an issue that I think needs more education in general, for men and women.

  12. October 1, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Other Pill - January 20, 2012

    […] to menwith similar MHCs instead of differing ones. This is potentially a whole loadof bad news. http://intentious.com/2011/10/22/how-the-pill-is-eroding-our-civilisation/ Many couplesmeet when the woman is on the pill. They go out for a while, like each other alot, and […]

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