Sarah Hill Talks About Impact of Hormonal Contraceptives

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On Thursday, Sept. 29, students attended a speaker series sponsored by the psychology department entitled “Women, Hormones, and the Birth Control Pill: How Hormonal Contraceptives Impact the Female Brain.”

In the Green Center for the Performing Arts’ Thompson Recital Hall, Dr. Sarah Hill, a psychologist and professor with expertise in women, health, and sexual psychology, presented students with useful information about the relationship between birth control hormonal contraceptives and women’s health.

Before coming to speak at DePauw, Sarah Hill had published her book “This Is Your Brain On Birth Control: The Surprising Science of Women, Hormones, and the Law of Unintended Consequences” in 2019. It shed light on how women became the different versions of themselves due to birth control pills, which influence attraction, sexual drive, moods, and more. She also has a research laboratory located at the department of psychology at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. 

According to Hill, she became interested in this topic when, after giving birth to her two children, she decided to go off the pill and suddenly felt more energized. As she mentioned in her lecture, Hill began to enjoy cooking again, listened to music again, enjoyed sex and realized there might be a correlation between coming off hormonal birth control and her change in habits. Hence, she wanted to study why this was happening. 

Her research showed that birth control had a huge impact on women’s relationships and sexual affection, as well as stress responses. With this understanding, she was eager to share this information with women so they were more aware of their choices.

“Women should be able to make the best decisions for themselves, such as who they want to be and how they want to protect themselves from pregnancy,” Hill said.

Hill informed the attendees that hormonal birth control changes everything, since it significantly affects women’s sex hormones which impact sex, attraction, hunger, and more. Students were taught about specializing hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, and how they function in women’s bodies.

Also, Hill shared a study that demonstrated the difference in sexual affection between on- and off-pill womens. “Partners chosen when off the pill: greater satisfaction with sexual aspects of their relationship. Partners chosen when on the pill: greater satisfaction with intelligence.” Another study that Hill was involved in partnered with the non-hormonal birth control app, Natural Cycles, to find that users who met their partners on hormonal birth control have less sex with their partners than those who met their partners off birth control. This study showed the potential effects of hormonal birth control on libido and the ability to experience pleasure. These contraceptives not only have effects on women’s sex life, but also on their moods. 

In light of this, Hill said,“Most women who discontinue hormonal contraceptives because of side effects do so because of changes in mood.” 

First-year Claire said, “The information that birth control pills do have negative effects on women’s bodies is highly surprising. Normally, women take birth control pills to protect their sex life, but it turns out that this method can worsen our sex experiences. There are more ways to protect our bodies other than the well-known tools like birth control, so we really need to be aware of that. I think the university is a good place to cover or support the understanding and use of those tools.”

First-year Amzie Maienbrook shared: "Dr. Hill was a refreshing speaker in an era where misinformation and rumors about birth control run wild. She was able to provide new, accurate, and thought-provoking information that every woman should hear when considering going on birth control. My friends and I talked about it for days." 

More information about Dr. Sarah Hill and her research can be found here at https://www.sarahehill.com/.