Disclaimer: Having children or not, taking contraceptives, food habits, access to it and individual needs are very personal and I respect anyone with other views than stated in this article. This article reflects my personal opinion and comes from being outraged at the needless guilt-producing rhetoric around contraception and environment protection, which appears to me to be more harmful than anything with the greater picture in perspective. Please do comment and let me know if you feel I missed a point somewhere down the line.
You probably heard about how the contraceptive pill (and other hormonal contraception methods) is “killing the environment” making fishes and men infertile. Frequently, one particular synthetic estrogen has been singled out for purportedly detrimental effects on the environment: ethynyl-estradiol, or EE2, a synthetic estrogen used in birth control pills, patches, rings, and injectables. However, these sensational statements seem to be yet another science-shortcut used by everyone with vesting interests in what you should do with your body.
So let’s cut the crap and say it out-loud: corporate lobbies, religious and political organisations, all want to control what we (women) do with our bodies and they are bullshitting us big time, all the the time. It is far, faaaaaarrrrr more important for our Mother Nature and our society that we slow down on the children-making, than it is to make the pill evil and start popping babies like in the 60’s again. While I personally think hormonal contraception is not perfect with many serious side effects, I do also think it’s better to fill big Pharma’s pocket than loosing control over unwanted pregnancies. Many women to this day don’t have the privilege to do so, because of their country’s law, cultural beliefs imposed on them, poverty, lack of access and education. This is actually another debate where I won’t be heading, today I just want to look at the real causes of our unhealthy oceans and pollution.
Unlike the mentioned rethoric, the big ocean polluters are not women under : they are the big industries we all know about, driven by our love for plastics, unhealthy food, industry farming and fast fashion. So if the pill works for you and you are environmentally conscious, consider digging a little bit deeper before skipping the pill, there are many other things to do first to save the planet.
I admit I fell for it at first. I fell into many mis/disinformation traps for the reason that it takes time and effort to decipher the scientific truth in the chaos and make my own informed judgement. It is easier to believe a mildly trusted source than doing the work, but since everyone these days want a piece of your cake, you got to do it. So I have researched this matter because something did not sound right about it and it was important enough for me to know, as a woman first, and a women’s rights and sustainability advocate. As it happens – it wasn’t quite right.
Our oceans are unhealthy but not because of pill-taking-women
What’s true though is that our waters do contains endocrine-disrupting compounds that affect wildlife and humans alike. What’s not so true is that these pollutants mostly comes from women taking contraceptives. In fact, women taking oral contraception release ridiculously small amounts of these hormones to our waters. Actually, pregnant women also excrete high levels of natural estrogens, and nearly everyone (both women and men) produce some amount of natural estrogens also released into wastewater.1
Other major sources of these endocrine-disrupting pollutants include an unknown number of industrial chemicals, like plastic additive bisphenol-A (BPA). Industrial chemicals may enter waterways either through chemical plant runoff or the disposal of products in landfills. It is also known that chemicals in pharmaceuticals such as anti-seizure medications and anti-depressants may also mimic estrogen.3
Additionally, dairy and livestock activities release both synthetic and natural oestrogen’s. Yes, most dairy cows are fed hormones to increase milk production. It is already pointed out that possible unwanted effects on human health by consumption of meat from oestrogen-treated animals cannot be excluded, such as men fertility issues4 .
So why have we never heard of these other sources of endocrine-disrupting compounds I wonder?
If you want to save the world and our oceans, you’d better do that than stopping hormonal contraception:
- Consider not having children as a life option, adopt or have fewer children, and prevent unwanted pregnancies. Not having children’s one of the most effective way on preventing your carbon emission to spike up. One fewer child per family can save ‘average of 58.6 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions per year.5
- Live car free: it will saves about 2.4 tonnes of C02 equivalent per year
- Become vegan or decrease your meat and dairy intake: eating a plant-based diet saves 0.8 tonnes of C02 equivalent a year
- Become plastic free or reduce your plastic consumption. Plastic bits ending up in the ocean attract harmful chemicals which when eaten by wildlife pose a threat to them, and to the humans that eat them.
- Cook: eat wholesome, pesticide free produce to stay healthy and avoid over use of medications. What you eat is your pharmacy!
We must spend our energy fighting preventing industrial and agricultural pollutants to enter our waterways, not guilt eco-consious women for taking the pill. Let’s regain our free-will. Whatever contraception method you are using is GOOD FOR THE PLANET. Making more [especially unwanted] babies is not going to help. Oral contraceptives, no matter how imperfect they are, are still one of the most reliable way of doing just that.
- 1. Wise A, O’Brien K, Woodruff T. Critical review: are oral contraceptives a significant contributor to the estrogenicity of drinking water?. Environ Sci Tech. 2011;1:51–60
- 2. https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/5235182/Statistics-Dairy-cows.pdf
- 3. Natural Resources Defense Council . Dosed without prescription: Preventing pharmaceutical contamination of our nation’s drinking water. 2010. Available from http://www.nrdc.org/health/files/dosed4pgr.pdf
- 4. Hormones in Dairy Foods and Their Impact on Public Health – A Narrative Review Article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4524299/
- 5. Having children is one of the most destructive things you can to do the environment, say researchers