Yes, this again.
This is part of a series addressing an organization called 1flesh, which argues against contraception and for the use of one method of fertility awareness. Please start with Part I.
Next up: hormonal contraceptives.
1flesh, and others, make an argument that hormonal contraceptives contribute to environmental degradation. Basically, women taking hormonal contraceptives pee extra estrogen into the water cycle, and estrogen-like chemicals that can cause endocrine disruption have been linked to an increase in intersex fish, and possibly fertility issues in humans.
Endocrine disrupters are a serious concern. However, a synthetic hormone used in contraceptives, ethynil estradiol, is not the only method by which extra estrogen-like chemicals can make their way into the bodies of organisms. Pesticides used in agriculture, for example, and chemicals used in adhesives, fire retardants, plastics, lubricants, detergents, and paints, have been identified as major sources of endocrine disrupters.
This is an interesting snippet in an article linked to on the 1flesh website. It’s easy to miss, because, not being the focus of the article, it’s merely included as a footnote at the bottom.
Concerns about estrogen contamination resulting from widespread pill use seem misplaced, given that the urine of a woman in her 40th week of pregnancy contains 10,000 times as much hormone as that of a woman taking the pill. (Source: Environmental groups support Japan’s ban on oral contraceptive, Population Headliners, 1998, No. 265, p. 6.)
Holy cow! I guess that means the environmentally responsible thing is to have far fewer children. Right? Because if we’re concerned about estrogen contamination, pregnancy is clearly a much bigger problem than hormonal contraceptives. Right?
Even if fish are, according to one scientist cited by 1flesh, 10 times more sensitive to the synthetic hormone ethynil estradiol than to naturally produced human hormones…a pregnant woman is still 1,000 times more harmful to fish than a woman taking hormonal contraceptives. It seems like a high concentration of reproducing humans is a bigger threat to fish populations than the use of ethynil estradiol. And humans exist in much higher concentrations than they ever have before.
Also, it appears that issues attributed to an increase of estrogen in the environment, particularly a decline in human sperm quality, have occurred quite recently–decades after the introduction of hormonal contraceptives. In an article about sperm banks in Israel, the head of the top bank notes that 1 in 100 donors make the cut for top-grade sperm, but a decade ago 1 in 10 donors qualified. What’s changed in the past decade?
According to the article, many Israeli researchers believe the issue is increased estrogen due to the country’s dairy farming methods. One scientist did find traces of ethynil estradiol in the water, but also theorized that phthalates, chemicals used in plastics production, could be creating reproductive problems.
And even if hormonal contraceptives are found to have a significant impact on the environment, it’s still not an argument against the use of contraceptives, it’s just an argument for better research into different options. Copper intra-uterine devices (IUDs) don’t contain hormones, and they’re very effective, although (like all methods) not for everyone. Or the injection of a non-hormonal gel into the vas deferens, which is doing well in clinical trials in India.
And yes, hormonal contraceptives come with potential side effects, just like any other medication. People have different bodies, and what works well for one person won’t work well for another.
[Side note: hormonal contraceptives are often conflated with oral contraceptives or 'the Pill'. In fact, hormonal contraceptives can be delivered via a number of other methods: skin patch, implant, injection, vaginal ring, or hormonal IUD.]
Update: This blog post from Heather at Antigone Awakens does a better, more scientific job of handling 1flesh’s claims on this topic. She has a series going as well, and I’d recommend reading it–she tackles their arguments differently than I do.