Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Going Green" and the Pill

As I watch all the efforts of corporations to "go green" and the craze in our country to consume organic, natural, or more healthful products, I can't help but see a paradox. Over 30% of women in the U.S. were on the Pill in 2002 (see here), presumably more now. The Pill uses artificial hormones to control a woman's fertility. So as we worry over what hormones are in the meats and milk we consume (see here), we willingly pump our bodies full of hormones to control fertility. I honestly don't get it. 

My husband's and my reasons for using natural family planning have more to do with our understanding of the meaning of human sexuality as God-given than not wanting extra hormones coursing through my body to "fix" my unbroken reproductive system, but there is a growing trend of health-conscious people - especially vegans and vegetarians - who recognize the paradox and are using some form of natural family planning or fertility awareness method.

As many are "going green" because they want to prevent global warming, I wander how many people are aware of the possibility of global infertility. Aside from the low fertility rate, that is the reproducing at such a low rate (less than 1.5 children per woman in most first-world countries, as far as I know) such that whole countries are in danger of not replacing themselves, there is another, scarier potential problem. With the high numbers of women on the Pill in addition to the tendency to "flush" pills down the toilet, there has been documented such high levels of synthetic estrogen in natural waterways that there are male fish becoming infertile and producing eggs! The question is how high the levels have to be to effect male humans. (See here, here, and here.) 

It's one thing to make a conscious decision not to reproduce, but it is another altogether to have your reproductive capabilities stolen from you. This is the stuff of science fiction. (Has anyone seen Children of Men?) It also reminds me of a hypothetical situation posed in one of my moral theology classes about a tyrant who puts some kind of contraceptive chemical in his country's water supply to prevent his people from reproducing. We tried to determine the moral licitness of actions of different people in such a situation (i.e. the couple who is aware there is contraception in the water and wants to contracept, the couple who is aware but does not intend to contracept, the couple who is not aware, the tyrant). Such a scenario may be less hypothetical than I realized. I wonder if the Culture of Death has become the tyrant.


Michelle said...

I found this to be a really interesting post. Sexuality/sexual health/women's issues and health are all fields of great interest to me so I enjoy hearing stuff like this. While I do often wonder of the danger of taking birth control pills for extended periods of time, as a pill user to treat my PCOS symptoms, I have always felt like the benefits outweighed the risks for me. While I do feel like birth control pills are often over prescribed to treat various women's health issues that aren't really "problems", I think this is a bit sensationalized. First of all, very few women would ever throw away birth control pills. Not when they run from 25 to 35 or 40 dollars a pack! Secondly, the fish source cited that the unnatural levels of estrogen come from excreted hormones (not flushed packs!) both natural and induced. So presumably pregnant women are just as dangerous as those on the pill. And I'm pretty sure we'll all die from MRSA or drug-resistant TB long before our lack of procreation does anything to stem worldwide population growth. I think it's extremely Eurocentric to consider only developed countries in the question of whether or not the world is overpopulated because one look outside of Europe and North America shows that it most certainly is, at least until we get some equal distribution of resources.

AB said...

It sounds like we have some shared interests! I don't mean to be unsympathetic to women who are prescribed the Pill for various medical reasons, and I do not want to downplay those issues. However, as you mentioned, the Pill is grossly over prescribed. This bothers me for many reasons, including

1. It's often the first, rather than last resort. For instance, someone close to me may or may not also have PCOS. She has a few symptoms that may or may not point to it. However, before he had any real evidence of PCOS, the doctor put her on the Pill. This seems to be common practice, as far as I've researched.

2. There seem to be more and more alternatives to treating the problems traditionally treated by the Pill. However, some of these remedies are underdeveloped, I would say, due to lack of funding for research and manpower. Why research something new when the Pill can treat everything and makes pharmaceutical companies money? (For example, have you heard about this treatment for PCOS? See

Back to some of the other things you brought up... I meant to emphasize throwing away pills as a secondary possibility for the hormones in water. However, statistics show that "Fifty percent of woman taking the Pill discontinue it within the first year because of side effects, the development of benign breast disease, or some abnormality of the sexual organs." (See here for this and other info on the Pill:

So it seems to me that there may be a lot of Pill flushing - even if it was expensive. Aside from that, let's just use the 2002 statistic that there are 30% of women on the Pill - essentially, they have synthetic hormones in their bodies at all times (like a fake unending pregnancy), which they excrete. Depending on how long they are on the Pill, that's a significant amount of hormones going into the water. On the other hand, any given woman is pregnant for about nine months, and statistically, women in our country have less than two children on average. That's less than 18 months of hormones being excreted per woman. Therefore, I would conclude that pregnant women make up a negligible amount of the hormones. (Look at it this way: we didn't see these kinds of problems in nature before the Pill came about, and women had more children back then.)

Finally, although I'm not sure what your final point was, I'll try to address it as I read it. (Please correct me if I've misunderstood.) I think I see the point you're making about overall negative population growth because many non-first-world countries are not experiencing such a problem (althoughthey would if UNICEF, Planned Parenthood, etc. had their way.)

The last part of my post was to follow the trend to its logical conclusion if it continues. By all means the Western world is not going to be implicated in overpopulation - but neither should the rest of the world. One of my favorite illustrations of this point is this: "If you allotted 1250 square feet to each person, all the people in the world would fit into the state of Texas." (See here: Overpopulation is a myth; distribution of resources, as you pointed out, is a real problem.

Nod said...

Excellent points. I had mused on similar stuff here.

Thanks for contributing to the Sunday Snippets.