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This Is Your Brain on Birth Control: The Surprising Science of Women, Hormones, and the Law of Unintended Consequences

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An eye-opening book that reveals crucial information every woman taking hormonal birth control should know

This groundbreaking book sheds light on how hormonal birth control affects women--and the world around them--in ways we are just now beginning to understand. By allowing women to control their fertility, the birth control pill has revolutionized women's lives. Women are going to college, graduating, and entering the workforce in greater numbers than ever before, and there's good reason to believe that the birth control pill has a lot to do with this. But there's a lot more to the pill than meets the eye.

Although women go on the pill for a small handful of targeted effects (pregnancy prevention and clearer skin, yay!), sex hormones can't work that way. Sex hormones impact the activities of billions of cells in the body at once, many of which are in the brain. There, they play a role in influencing attraction, sexual motivation, stress, hunger, eating patterns, emotion regulation, friendships, aggression, mood, learning, and more. This means that being on the birth control pill makes women a different version of themselves than when they are off of it. And this is a big deal. For instance, women on the pill have a dampened cortisol spike in response to stress. While this might sound great (no stress!), it can have negative implications for learning, memory, and mood. Additionally, because the pill influences who women are attracted to, being on the pill may inadvertently influence who women choose as partners, which can have important implications for their relationships once they go off it. Sometimes these changes are for the better . . . but other times, they're for the worse. By changing what women's brains do, the pill also has the ability to have cascading effects on everything and everyone that a woman encounters. This means that the reach of the pill extends far beyond women's own bodies, having a major impact on society and the world.

This paradigm-shattering book provides an even-handed, science-based understanding of who women are, both on and off the pill. It will change the way that women think about their hormones and how they view themselves. It also serves as a rallying cry for women to demand more information from science about how their bodies and brains work and to advocate for better research. This book will help women make more informed decisions about their health, whether they're on the pill or off of it.

310 pages, Hardcover

First published October 1, 2019

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About the author

Sarah E. Hill

8 books59 followers
Sarah E. Hill, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology and a leading researcher in the dynamic and rapidly expanding field of evolutionary psychology.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 835 reviews
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
526 reviews57.6k followers
April 21, 2022
While I appreciate that more research is being made on the topic of hormone, reproductive health and birth control (being let's be real, it's massively understudied). I had issues with the tone of this book.

At time it felt like "I'm not like other mom, I'm a cool mom". Sentences like "It’s SO not a good time". Not a big deal until... we get to the ones like this:

"probably because the word vulva is so ugly"

We're absolutely not doing that. We're grown ass adults and the author has a PhD. We're not going to continue perpetuating that crap.

You can hear it for yourself: https://youtu.be/_1AmEWgpw0E?t=761

I want to read more on the topic but I can't really recommend it
Profile Image for Janne.
5 reviews1 follower
November 27, 2021
Unfortunately, I was highly disappointed by this book. I was expecting an informative book on the pill, hormones, and how they affect our bodies, but was presented with a book that was deterministic, sexist, heteronormative, and many other things. I've tried to condense my main issues with the book in 5 points, but honestly there is so much more I could mentioned that did not sit well with me.

- Someone who writes a book on the pill, the female body, and sex, should avoid euphemisms such as ' your area down there', 'making love', etc. It was distracting to me, and also felt belittling and made her less believable as an author writing about women, gender, and sex.

- She draws upon a lot of research to inform the reader, followed by saying other research has been done that states the opposite and that the reader should not take it as advice or truth. The book is full of speculation, which leads her to constantly weaken her own statements ("it may affect.. it could be that...), whilst simultaneously trying to convince her readers of her argument. For example (and this example also leads to the next problematic point of this book), she spends a lot of time talking about how women on the pill date less-sexy men and they might not find their partners attractive anymore once they go off the pill. She then proceeds to state that this does not happen to everyone and that more research is needed, so you shouldn't jump to conclusions just yet.

- Sticking with the previous example, one of the biggest issues I had with the book is the extreme heteronormativity and its binary view on gender. The book includes a statement that the book is also useful for lesbians and trans men and women, as she states, yet she only discusses heterosexual relationships, penetrative sex, and pregnancy prevention. People take the pill for more reasons than just pregnancy control, so if that is what she wants to discuss than it should be presented as such and not as a book for women, lesbians, and trans people. The issue becomes worse when she discusses masculine and feminine traits. As she explains, certain types of the pill can make women more 'testosterone-y' than women who don't take the pill, and she assumes that 'that's probably not what you wanted to happen', also linking this to a very binary understanding of gender where men like to watch football with their friends and women spend their time shopping and gossiping.

- Furthermore, the book is filled with messages that women live for men, are very concerned with what men think of them, and will be unhappy if men do not give them the attention they want (which, according to her, might be because of the pill). She states that men are less attracted to women who take the pill, as if that is the biggest concern women deal with, and spends a big part of the book discussing male-female relationships and how taking the pill can affect this. Not all of this is problematic (for example, learning about how the pill can affect your libido and sexual experience overall is useful and important), but the main underlying message is very focused on wanting a heterosexual relationship and making sure that men still like you and find you attractive. She even states that women are jealous of other women who are in their high fertility period, because those women are more attractive to men.

- Finally, the book is very deterministic. She states at the beginning of the book that her book is 'also suitable for feminists', despite the fact that she bases herself on evolutionary biology. However, the ideas that are then presented and worked out throughout the book, make it clear that this book is, in fact, not for feminists. She presents ideas such as:
1) Women want men who are muscular and rich, because of evolution and the need of our ancestors to have a strong man by your side
2) She also makes a distinction between 'bad and good guys' and argues that we fall for the bad guys because of our hormonal/evolutionary tendencies to go for the strong looking hot guys, and not the soft-spoken sweet guys
3) Women have an evolutionary urge to have babies, and their life and partner choices are influenced by this
4) Men have a lot of sperm to give, women have limited number of eggs. Therefore men are more likely to 'sleep around' whereas women want a partner for life.
This is made worse by the total lack of acknowledgment that there are more factors than evolutionary biology that influence our behaviour.

All in all, this could have been an important and educational book about the pill and hormones, but left me feeling angry and disappointed. Would definitely not recommend.
Profile Image for Tilly.
1,249 reviews148 followers
November 9, 2019
4 stars

I was both excited and nervous to read this book as being someone that suffers from endometriosis and is on a combined pill for treatment (and which massively helps me cope), I didn't want to be completely put off taking it! But I am a scientist at heart and so I wanted the information anyway, as we all should.
Dr Sarah Hill is a brilliant writer and the book is split up nicely for different areas the pill can and does affect. I like to think myself well read within everything gyaecological but I learnt a great deal which made the book thoroughly interesting. There is some vital information and advice for women both on the pill and thinking of taking the pill, so it is a must read. Dr Hill was also very careful not to give advice on what you as a reader should do, but gave you the necessary information to make up your own mind.
What I found was missing was information about the many illnesses and conditions that the pill may be used to treat of manage. It fully focused on the not getting pregnant aspect and handling PMS when in fact many women take it for other medical reasons. I also found that there was quite a bit of repetition which I could have done without.
Overall, the science and explanations were great but there were a few things missing for me. However a very good and incredibly important read for women.

Please note that I received this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Sarah.
56 reviews5 followers
February 15, 2021
I have mixed feelings about this book. I'm thrilled that the author wrote it - I think hormones and reproductive health and birth control are all massively understudied subjects, and ones that the public tends to massively misunderstand. It's nice to see this type of work laid out in fairly simple (if sometimes a bit condescending) language. Hill takes a feminist approach to her concerns about birth control, and her acknowledgement of the importance of the pill for many young folks who are trying not to get pregnant is a huge point in her favour. She notes that the pill has allowed financial, educational, and relationship freedom for many people who would otherwise not have it, and she's absolutely right. I think she's also absolutely right in her main stance: that taking the pill is a much more significant choice than most of us realize and that the powerful hormonal changes induced by the pill are not to be taken lightly.

But the devil's in the details. I have the same degrees and similar research training as Hill, and I've read most of the work she cites in the first half of the book. My understanding of that material, and of psychology research in general, makes me seriously question the way the author makes her case.

And she is, indeed, making a case. Many of my issues with this book stem from the fact that Hill is just too invested in her hypothesis to tell a balanced story. She starts the book by comparing cultural vs. evolutionary explanations for behaviour, suggesting that, "The 'women as a cultural construction' perspective describes women as passive receptacle [sic] of social roles imposed on us by men. The evolutionary biological perspective describes women as being the benefactors of millions of years of inherited wisdom from our female ancestors." Ugh, stop. Literally all we're talking about is what things influence behaviour, and we know from decades of research that the answer is almost certainly "both", so let's stop twisting words around to make one sound more appealing or politically correct.

Similarly, Hill will spend three pages talking about a study that found significant differences in women's behaviour based on their pill usage, and then throw in a one-line footnote saying that several other studies haven't found this effect at all. Um, what? Maybe tell us about those too?? As if to illustrate her perspective on this, late in the book, Hill tells us that "research has a high failure rate", and that experiments that don't find significant effects are worth "doodly-squat". Listen, academia certainly has a file-drawer problem, but this attitude of non-significant findings being viewed as "failure" is EXACTLY why that problem persists.

Hill also does a lot of speculating in this book, and some of it based on pretty shaky theoretical ground. She does at least acknowledge that it's all speculation, but still - it seems borderline irresponsible to publish a book intended for the less-educated masses to consume, establish yourself as an authority that they should trust, and then start wildly conjecturing about things you think might be true but which no one has any data to support.

And finally, Hill doesn't acknowledge until 70% of the way through that most of the science in this book is pseudo-experimental. After 179 pages, she finally notes that most studies on the pill do not involve random assignment, and therefore, we can't conclusively say that birth control "causes" much of anything. (Of course, carefully controlled studies and thoughtful research design can be the next best thing in establishing causality, but as far as I can tell most of these studies did not address 3rd variable problems in a satisfactory way). I cannot imagine why Hill would have waited so long to discuss this, when it is crucial to understanding the studies presented throughout the book.

Like I said: I actually agree with Hill's main point here. I think that behind all the conjecturing and cherry picking, there's some real cause for concern regarding the long-term and wide-ranging effects of birth control pills. So why hide your message behind all of that? Why spend all this time and energy twisting the message to sound more convincing when it was already pretty convincing in the first place?

(Also, other reviewers have noted that this book is heteronormative and cisnormative as hell, and they are not wrong. I'll leave it to folks more well-versed in that area to cover this, since this review is already long, but suffice it to say that there is a lot of gender essentialism going on and only a meek 1-page conciliatory note for people who "colour outside the lines" to counteract that.)
Profile Image for Sophia.
223 reviews72 followers
April 20, 2020
This kind of book is a must read for women on or planning to use birth control. It tells you all the changes that are not on that enormous information sheet that comes with the box but instead are far more likely: psychological side effects. It opens your eyes to all the things that may have changed in your life that you attributed to anything but the pill.
Having said that, there were a few things I didn’t like about the author’s communication style.

For one, she treats numbers as if they were toxic. There are some nice plots, but otherwise the reader has no way of knowing how large effect sizes are or how likely something is in the population. So when she says the pill decreases libido, by how much? How many women are actually on the pill? How many of those have ill effects? By not providing these numbers, she makes the phenomenon seem enormous, because when you say “women on the pill have a harder time discriminating odors” you imagine scent-blindness, not a 5-10% difference. I honestly don’t know what numbers are behind any of the studies she cites, but because of her writing style, I was ready to stop birth control right then and there, and a decision like that should not happen without numbers.
The other thing I didn’t like was her way of presenting still uncertain research with a lot of optimism and promoting theories in a similar way. She’ll make a strong statement, then walk back a little saying “not all research agrees” then undoes that by adding “but it’s something to keep an eye on!” If you’re a scientist talking to other scientists, the moment you declare you like a theory but it’s not universally accepted, the listeners will appreciate being informed of this new idea and evaluate it for themselves. When you do this with the general public, they look to you as an authority and would most likely just trust your expert opinion (unless they already have a reason to not agree with you). I think she should have held back on ideas that aren’t so solid.

Then she has a few ideas that I just think aren’t correct or at least not as big a factor as she thinks. Two examples of this: the idea that the introduction of the pill is the main driver for women’s increased college education; and the possibility that it is the reason for men’s decreased college education. In general, the author has a bit too much of a “nature” interpretation of behavior, attributing almost everything to evolution, hormones and genes, viewing all social phenomenon as a consequence of these. In reality, society can change arbitrarily, and if you only look at western research on western people, you really don’t have the data to affirm whether large scale changes are really due to a single factor like the use of birth control. In the case of explaining the increase in percentage of women in college, just like you can say the introduction of the pill increased women’s chances of higher education, obtaining higher education increased women’s awareness of the need for birth control. In developing countries, it’s not enough to just provide the pill, you need to also provide the education that allows women to want and benefit from the pill.
I’m not denying that the pill was a social game changer, and I really think there’s something to the idea of a lot of these changes being unintentional and unanticipated, but such statements require a lot more caution and a harder look at other societies.
A similarly bold idea is that men actually have decreased their interest in higher education because they no longer need to compete too hard for sex like in the bad old days where women had to be picky because they were essentially always choosing the father of their children. For one thing, from one of the few graphs she provides, she states that there is this decrease; I don’t see it. I see both genders increasing in the 60s and 70s, women exponentially and men logarithmically. The very fact that the percent of men obtaining college degrees increases makes it almost impossible to say that anything specific had a negative impact on their overall desire to study; you don’t have some clear “baseline” time period where all the men that wanted to study could study, until basically the present day! There are no grounds for saying men want to study less than before rather than they just want to study less than women.

So all in all, I think it’s a super relevant topic, the author is clearly an authority in the field, I just think the book promotes the effects of the pill being worse and larger than they may be.
Profile Image for Valerie.
402 reviews23 followers
July 9, 2019
A fantastic, must-read for all women on and off birth control. Not only is this book chock full of information about the pull, birth control in general, and the effects of it; it is also PACKED with information and facts about sex, hormones and women in general.

I won this book on a goodreads giveaway and it is my favorite won book thus far. Non-fiction books are not typically my style of reading, but a book like this practically begs to be read. I ate up every word, soaked up the information that seems to be kept from women, and more than doubled my knowledge on the science behind us women.

I highly recommend this book, not just to women on birth control, but to all of us women out there. Not only do you better understand your body, but you can glimpse into your own psyche, mind, actions and every day life.

Thanks Avery Books for this fantastic read, I look forward to reading more!
Profile Image for Nashwa S.
225 reviews130 followers
May 30, 2021
DNF @ 56%

I really wanted to like this book or rather, I was looking forward to reading it. I was looking for a book that would give me a neutral perspective - benefits and side effects of taking hormonal contraceptives. And what impact these pills have on anxiety in the long-run. But I couldn’t get through it, I tried it as an ebook and then wasted one valuable Audible credit on the audiobook :(

This book caters to one kind of relationship i.e. heteronormative (male/female) relationships. It hardly takes into consideration that trans people are usually prescribed hormonal contraceptives after a major sex-change operations, or that oral contraceptives are prescribed for people suffering from PCOS and other diseases.

Additionally, I didn’t believe everything in this book. I don’t believe in the notion that “you are your hormones” which essentially reduces fully grown human beings to bodily functions/parts. Just like I’m not my lungs, my heart or just my stomach - I’m not my hormones. Yes, hormonal contraceptives change things in your body but they don’t erase the essence of your being.

There were also some other wild speculations in this book - e.g the fact that women who are high fertility or in their ovulation phase are likely to cheat on their partners because they are attracted to traditionally good-looking men during those days ( WTF!) And I also don’t believe that ovulating women become femme fatales and attract every man in the vicinity (actual BS) as it is implied in the book. I didn’t believe that pill taking women give birth to less healthier babies. Other wild speculations included that women who are on birth control are attracted towards mediocre looking men while naturally cycling women are attracted to the Jason Momoa’s of the world. Gym bros, super muscular, square jaw and the like - those who have raging testosterone.

The writing really riled me up. The author is extremely condescending, makes inappropriate jokes as if her audience are a group of giggling 13-year-olds. If a book is meant for adults, then talking down to the target demographic really doesn’t make sense. Referring to men as “slightly less hairier than apes” is one example, “sperm germs” is another one.
The quirky footnotes were distracting and really started to piss me off, and the bad puns were just off-putting. Yes, we know “thrust” can be used in multiple ways. The fact that she said contraceptives give you hair in “embarrassing places” instead of explaining what she meant is another example.

I need a better book on the subject.
Profile Image for Shannen.
372 reviews
May 5, 2020
I only read the intro and chapter 1 of this book, and that was enough for me. I expected it to be propaganda for or against birth control, but it turned out to be propaganda of a different kind. Apparently women (despite the note saying there are many ways to define a woman) are defined primarily by the size of their gametes and reproductive viability. Does your body make eggs? Then you are a woman! And the only type of woman worth discussing (if you're heterosexual).

There is a disclaimer for why the author chose to exclude lesbians and trans men and women: because if they use the pill it's not primarily for pregnancy prevention. She couldn't just say that the research primarily concerns birth control used for pregnancy prevention though (that I believe - why would we do research on "women's" health unless it was in the context of their ability to make babies?!); what I don't believe is that all of the studies looked at checked to make sure all their participants were cishet. The one that rang this alarm bell for me in particular is where they had actors of the opposite gender ask strangers on a college campus for a date/to go back to their apartment/to have sex with them (the author notes that "male" and "female" brains responded differently; but by her definition this is determined by the size of your gametes and I doubt they stopped and measured them on all study participants). I also don't understand why just the criteria of pregnancy prevention would exclude people of the LGBT+ community (just because someone's not cishet doesn't mean they can't get pregnant). I don't like that the author made a point of excluding these people from all the studies she looks at in a blanket statement at the beginning of the book.

As a side note to this I was annoyed by the exclusion of taking birth control for any reason other than pregnancy prevention. Sure, it's plausible that research done doesn't concern people outside this bubble (I think the author even noted it as a narrow group of study), but I wish that had been pointed out in the book summary. Lots of people take birth control for other reasons. The author encourages you to read on even if you don't fall into this "narrow" category, but I have other qualms with that (noted below). Alternatives to the pill aren't discussed if you're not using if for birth control because why would you be using it for anything else? Likewise based on the author's own assertion that most research concerns pregnancy prevention and other reviews, I don't expect the effects of birth control on people who need it for other reasons are discussed. That was my primary interest in picking up the book.

I was increasingly skeptical of how scientific her approach really was. This caused me to seek out end notes on my own (not mentioned in the text) and then try to piece together how they were cited in the text - usually by a * and not a number, as is the typical standard. Sometimes they were not noted at all (I found two consecutive references unmarked in the first chapter). Also I expected the * to lead to a foot note or note at the end of the section or chapter, not a citation at the end of the book (based on typical usage). She also consistently referred to biology and psychology as if they were interchangeable. This grated on my patience. Granted, the last book I finished was a thick biography where the author mentioned his sources in detail and the context and/or bias of the authors of his sources. Maybe I'm just spoiled, but this author's approach struck me as sloppy and unprofessional. The tone is also condescending; she constantly tells you that you don't know what you think you know and assumes what the reader believes. Aren't you lucky she's here to educate you? It's not like you picked up a nonfiction book on your own initiative to learn something new.

So my doubts about the text were piling up, despite the odd disclaimers about how even if you're not a cishet woman taking the pill to prevent pregnancy your experiences are still valid (which felt forced), when she rolled into another aside which really put the final nail in the coffin for me. After repeatedly hammering home that "women" are reproductively viable egg producers, she takes a moment to address how this shakes out under a feminist lens. She wants to reassure the reader that they are not defined by their uterus! Isn't it more feminist to think that you've inherited the biological wisdom of your female ancestors than to think you're so gullible that you're swayed by socio-cultural circumstances? Dissing sociology for a biology-is-destiny stance seems pretty brazen for a psychologist, whose field is closer to the former than the latter (ignoring her continued treatment of psychology and biology as the same subject). After asserting that she is indeed so feminist she really slams on her own definition of a "biological woman." Take pride in the fact that you are a woman!* People might get offended, but she's not saying that people should have babies just because they can. She's just saying that if you can't, you're not a woman. She tries to slip that in there with a lot of PC sounding bullshit that clearly wasn't written with any understanding of the people in the groups she's isolating, but she is basically saying if you can't carry an egg to term you are not a fucking woman.

*Assuming you produce eggs and are reproductively viable.

Infertile? Not a woman. No ovaries? Not a woman. Trans? Not a woman (she specifically cited trans men among her "these people don't take birth control for pregnancy prevention" group, just in case any non cishet person slipped through; granted many trans men probably meet her definition of a woman; I think of this as an "it hurt itself in its confusion" moment - trans men are in fact men). You can be a woman if you're a lesbian, but if you're not producing biological offspring to carry on your genes you are useless to her narrative. Bi/Pan/Ace? Do those people exist? Are they reproducing with people with the other size gametes? If not, irrelevant. She didn't exclude these people on purpose, it's just that scientists don't care about them. You matter! Just not to science. She's not a TERF, she just thinks women are primarily defined by their reproductive capabilities (but still a feminist!). Like women's psychology has evolved based on their production of biological offspring, because they've never cared for children that they didn't spit the egg out for I guess? (She specifically mentions the evolution of women and parental investment based on their biological offspring while ignoring/discounting any other influences.) All kinds of concerning exclusions here. All kinds. Anyway that really did it in for me. Fuck her for trying to shove her TERF ideals down other peoples' throats.

I spotted this in the library and picked it up, and am so glad I didn't waste money (or that much time on it). The author tries to justify her grossly limited view of woman, her research may be well done but is poorly cited and interpreted, and she's condescending. I don't trust her to present unbiased science and conclusions to me; I suspect her data was cherry picked to suit her needs and her theories are written through an incredibly narrow lens based primarily on her own experiences and perceptions. There are probably a lot of interesting things to learn about the effects of birth control on the body, but I'm not going to learn it from this author.

As an edit to my already lengthy review - the more I think about this the more it bothers me. The author takes a deliberately exclusionist view of history - taking into account only the direct biological ancestors of people living today - and assumes that no LGBT+ people participated in this process and can therefore be excluded from her view of history. She went out of the way to emphasize the people excluded from her view of the world repeatedly and acted as though the science somehow justified this perspective - as if these people never existed and have no relevance to our psychology today.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,660 followers
April 12, 2021
All I can say about this book is HOLY S***! I mean, TMI, but I have never been able to use the pill. I've tried over and over again with different versions and for different reasons (at first for the obvious reason of birth control, but then for other reasons that had nothing to do with birth control but for which the pill seemed to be the answer from my doctors). Every single version and every single time I used it, it made me either crazy, sort of depressed, too emotional, or just incredibly uncomfortable. So I stopped. I've used other methods of birth control instead. Reading this book was just so eye-opening for me. Because every time I've shared my experiences on the pill with friends, everyone seemed to think that the pill made them feel no different than not taking the pill. So I thought I was the crazy unlucky one. But apparently, there are others! And research that backs it up! Some of the research in this book is highly speculative and Hill is very careful in flagging those sections, but some of it seems like common sense. Why wouldn't your hormones determine your mood, sexuality, and a whole bunch of other things? And why wouldn't an artificial hormone disruptor make some of those drives work differently? This is not a book that is anti-pill. She is very careful to say that too and I appreciate it. Without effective birth control, none of us would have been able to do what we did. And ultimately, for many women, taking the pill is the right decision even given the tradeoffs. However, maybe if it's not for birth control, we shouldn't be prescribing the pill for teenage acne or peri-menopausal cramps or whatever else ails those with ovaries and the hormones that accompany them. She doesn't go into other forms of non-hormonal birth control like IUDs without hormones but there are certainly options. In any event, this book is mostly geared toward the young and how the pill my affect your mate preferences.
Profile Image for marta the book slayer.
382 reviews802 followers
October 6, 2021
I really appreciated that this book left the reader with the choice to decide whether to remain on the pill or not. There was no hidden agenda from the author to persuade you to one side. Thus, she really tells both factual sides of the story, gives various personal examples, and research. I learned so much and female health is an area I have become increasingly interested in (no surprise as I am a woman so I should really learn as much as I can to live my healthiest life). Glad to have picked up this recommendation from the Healthier Together podcast.

For those looking for a reason to pick up this book, did you know that a women's cycle determines who she will be attracted to (basically it varies as a woman goes through her cycle every single month)... if you did know this and are curious to learn more I encourage you to read, if you had no idea, well then no worries I didn't either until I read this book!
Profile Image for ✨    jami   ✨.
655 reviews3,852 followers
September 17, 2022

Some chapters (especially those more toward the start) were SO good and some were a miss. The tone of the writing annoyed me at times. I also didn't like that a lot of the examples presented in this book were just assumptions made by the author - while I understand this is an under-researched area, I really didn't like that entire chapters were based around concepts that might maybe be real potentially if our assumptions are onto something.

That said, the chapters that were good were GOOD. The section about different generations of the pill and the impact of the pill on mental health and mood were great. It was just when it leant too heavily into speculation and evolutionary psychology I was put off. Overall, still worth the read for me.
Profile Image for Diana.
9 reviews2 followers
December 17, 2019
The book was very informative and definitely gave me great insight on birth control and how it works (against) in your body. However, the author added so many “quirky” footnotes that constantly left a bad taste in my mouth. I felt like she was bragging about how intelligent she is the whole time, as well as making the readers know that she is “trying her best” to put everything in a simple way, so that even WE could understand. I liked the book, but the author made me uncomfortable. I’ve never been so off-put by the voice of the author in a book before!
Profile Image for Jillian Doherty.
348 reviews58 followers
June 18, 2019
This book should be in every counseling center - chocked full of factual affirmations, opening one's eyes with paradigm-shattering data.

This book provides an even-handed, science-based understanding of who women are, both on and off the pill. It will change the way that women think about their hormones and how they view themselves.

The truth about how the pill can affect women is hidden but crucial and only starting to be known. No researcher wants to be on record as the person who took down hormonal birth control, but every woman who is using it needs to know. The consequences can range from casual (mild mood swings) to devastating (suicide).

Galley borrowed from the publisher.
41 reviews
December 18, 2020
This book was hugely disappointing. I should have looked at the author’s credentials as an evolutionary psychologist before reading, given that the entire frame of the book is built on biological determinism (e.g. “you are your hormones” and not much else) and the assumption that humans are driven almost entirely by sex-driven, reproductive-seeking behavior. Evolutionary psychology is essentially a theory and yet it is used to no abandon in this book to interpret data related to research on the pill.

The author’s heterosexism is on display throughout the text, as she consistently ignores queer people’s experiences, because they don’t fit in tidily to evolutionary theory. Her upholding of the gender binary through constant citing of sex differences research (including some pretty poorly-done studies on attraction to “feminine” vs “masculine” faces on and off the pill) are based on antiquated assumptions. Despite believing in a theory which allegedly explains all of human history, her sense of history is poor in that she seems to have thought women have had a significant say in their “mating” choices/marriages/etc. Not only is this fairly inaccurate for all women, it is especially true for certain populations based on race, class, social position, etc. Naturally she doesn’t touch on any of these aspects of identity.

The only redeeming parts of the book were where she explains the actual science of how hormones impact our body, as well as a chapter toward the end that discusses women’s historical exclusion from medical research. Unfortunately her book perpetuates the same exclusion of populations by focusing so narrowly on reproduction and heteronormative cultural narratives.

Lastly, and this is likely the publisher’s fault, but the censoring of curse words (e.g.: sh**) throughout is so obnoxious for a book that talks about labial secretions. If you’re going to write in a tone supposedly made for adults, own it.

Profile Image for Hope.
13 reviews1 follower
October 6, 2019
This book was so freaking interesting. It should be required reading for anyone on birth control - not to scare anyone - but because better information leads to better decision making. I learned a lot from this book that can explain some of my experiences on hormonal birth control, and that information will likely help me make good decisions if I ever decide to go back on it.

My one complaint about this book is that I thought the author generalized a little bit too much about women’s experiences of birth control. Access to birth control is not, and has never been, evenly spread across all populations of women, and I wish the author had considered that a little more. I also find it hard to believe that the current male-female achievement gap can be explained by the rise of birth control and men’s sexual motivations... but that’s maybe just me expecting too much from men!
Profile Image for Haley Baumeister.
75 reviews46 followers
June 20, 2022
If a naturally cycling woman gets to experience the 4 "seasons" every month, those on hormonal contraception are forever in the fall & winter of their cycle (albeit in a synthetic form). Though not a perfect replica of the luteal phase, this comes with its own set of hormonal implications that effect things such as mood, energy, interests, sexual attraction and arousal, and overall zest (or lack there-of) for life in general.

The author does a decent job of explaining the natural cycle of women and how hormonal contraception does not *just* affect your ability to get pregnant. A woman's ability to get pregnant is a result of ovulation... which is a result of a set of hormonal cascades involving rising estrogen and the LH spike... which effect our mind and body.... which are part of the delicate makeup of our hormones that predictably fluctuate throughout the month..... which make us who we are.

In this book the author is focusing on the mind, and she does so with a heavy dose of evolutionary theory (although a lot of this can be attributed to, well, being designed as men and women). Using data gleaned from scientific studies, she covers FASCINATING data research on how women on the pill (vs. naturally-cycling women) are effected by mood changes, depression and anxiety, sexual attraction and arousal, the ways in which we choose partners/husbands, circumstances that lead to weight gain, motivation & brain fog, the suppression of cortisol's stress response, the oxytocin released (or not!!) when we see our partners/husbands or NEWBORNS.

I wish she would have gone further into how hormonal contraception is *still* pushed by providers for postpartum women already susceptible to crazy post-birth hormones, the baby blues, postpartum depression & anxiety, lack of sleep and new mom stress. It is WILD to me that I see so much talk about about postpartum depression and anxiety (rightly so!) without the caveat: "HEY, MAYBE IT'S BEING WORSENED BY THOSE ARTIFICIALLY MESSING WITH THEIR BODY'S DELICATE BALANCE DURING AN ALREADY DELICATE TIME."

One time on Twitter, I posed the question of whether women who had gone to the doctor for depression had been asked *at all* whether they were on hormonal contraception...... sounds like it's not a basic, routine question! That is also wild, since everyone I know of who has been on hormonal contraception has talked about having depression or being diagnosed with some sort of mood disorder. What a terrible oversight in the care of women, or getting to the root of problems for them.

It bums me out that so many women are suffering unnecessarily because of the easy prescription written for contraception (we're only fertile 6ish days a month).... for "iRrEgUlaR pErIoDs" as a teenager (probably a deeper cycle issue that's only being masked, not treated, and will have to be dealt with eventually... potentially when the woman wants to have children and it might be a time crunch to get to the actual fertility problem.)

I'm aware the author was focusing on the effects on the brain, so I'm glad she mentioned that medicine is so focused on the PHYSICAL safety of prescriptions and procedures, we often put up with the "other" effects as if they are an afterthought. But as her research shows, all those "other things" in our mind, which affect our lived experience.... ARE who we are. We can't just take the pill to target the one part of us that releases an egg in ovulation. Our hormonal makeup is a whole, interconnected package that effects everything.

She does touch on some physical side effects, too though. A glaring one she neglected to add is that hormonal contraceptives are classified as a Group 1 Carcinogen. The widespread embrace of the pill from the 60's onward has now led to studies on the connection between its use and breast cancer in women years afterwards...!

Anyways, she weaves in a lot of talk about how the pill has revolutionized women's participation in the workplace and furthering our education, control our family planning, etc. At times this started to grate on me, because goodness..... it's 2022 and we have more knowledge than ever about how women's bodies (and our natural cycles) work to allow us to be fertile only like 6 days a month! Taking the pill is not a given, and more women are learning this! The author touches on how charting/journaling your mood and physical signs could be beneficial on and off the pill. I wish she would have advocated more for charting in general. Some women still do not know the basics of how their female body works to affect their mind and body in predictable ways throughout the month, via the stages of their cycle. I would say it's far more empowering to have such knowledge and ownership of your body than.... suffer the consequences chronicled in the data of this book.

She certainly wanted it to be known that women should have more options, know them, and take personal ownership themselves (even as we wait for the world of medicine to catch up and stop pushing things on women that often do more harm than we're willing to admit in the name of "empowerment" or masking symptoms.)

Good resources for women include: FactsAboutFertility.org / NaturalWomanhood.org / NaProTechnology.com.

I also hope to get through many of these books eventually: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list... (In particular, "The Fifth Vital Sign").

It was a pleasant surprise that in the last third of the book, where she's ruminating on the social implications of easy access to contraception.... and the dating/sex market vs. the marriage market... she mentions the data-filled book "Cheap Sex" (https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/sho...) by sociologist Mark Regnerus. (My husband took his class at the University of Texas, Austin). We as a society think we can make sex (in hook-up culture, dating, in pornography, etc.) cheap, easy, and commitment-free.... and then are surprised that it's hard to find someone willing to put in the work and commitment the privileges of marriage require.

As for the portion on how data in medicine and scientific research skews male (because of women's natural cycles & their corresponding hormones "messing things up" and making the research more nuanced), I was reminded of the book "Invisible Women"(https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4...) by Caroline Criado Pérez.

I could have done without her often-times immature and girl-bossy phrasing....... but all in all, a good primer for anyone not familiar with any of the effects of artificial hormonal contraception. I found the data from research studies some of the most valuable, eye-opening information this book had to offer.
Profile Image for Laura Noggle.
670 reviews383 followers
December 10, 2019
*Note: Despite the star rating, this book should still be read by anyone who's ever taken birth control for extended periods of time.*

I'm glad this topic is being talked about, but as the author states, more conclusive research is needed.

Yes, there are many unknowns when it comes to ingesting birth control, and much of this I think I've already gathered throughout my years. When I lived in Asia, I stopped taking birth control as I really didn't trust getting it in China where "controls" and "standards" are laughable at best.

After a brief return to it, I've been off birth control now for almost 5 years. I'm not sure if I was ever a different person on it, but intuitively, I lean more and more towards not messing around with man-made hormones. There are so many unestablished risks and possible long term effects.

The author did an admirable job, although it could have used a tighter edit with less repetition.

Conclusion: More research and stats are needed, but it doesn't hurt to err on the side of caution. Consider taking a break for a while and trying a new method while recording your own personal case study.
Profile Image for L.R. Lam.
Author 24 books1,047 followers
January 10, 2020
I found this really interesting. Learned about:

- how hormones work in AFAB bodies
- how birth control is made and the hormones synthesized
- that most research studies use male subjects, even male rats and even cells (!)
- a lot of the time this is due to the pressure for academics to publish often--takes longer to control for hormonal cycles etc.
- plus of course how birth control affects the body and mind, which is the bulk of the book
- the potential wider ramifications of birth control, e.g. the divorce rate

What I would have liked more of:
- birth control as medical treatment (for things like endometriosis, PCOS, etc)

I also appreciated the caveat at the start that most of the studies were done on white, straight, cisgender women and therefore was lacking in intersectionality.

Overall, super interesting. Really recommend to people both on and off birth control, because we're not really informed and knowledge is power.
Profile Image for Sam.
348 reviews109 followers
March 22, 2022
This was a good read! Don’t be alarmed - this book isn’t full of fear mongering or negativity regarding birth control. It’s really not one sided at all. It’s scientific, and discusses how the pill affects all women in so many different ways, and that it’s the woman’s decision to take it. Women really need to be outspoken about our health, since we are rarely listened to, so I think this book would be great to read for all women.
2 reviews
December 10, 2019
Brilliant summary of current evidence about what being on the pill does to your body that is extremely needed - however I would want readers to bear in mind this is how one person explains their (well researched) interpretation since, as someone with a scientific background, there are many points in the book I would be more critical of the evidence and therefore the interpretation. Not all scientists think evolutionary biology/psychology is an explanation for everything, which the author does not touch upon. I gave the book three stars for this reason; that the author does not discuss other perspectives, which is a failing given the book is intended for consumption by people who may not have the tools to critique the evidence and opinions themselves. Some other points I thought could be improved on. Unfortunately the book talks about ‘the pill’ and doesn’t separate out evidence much for the combined pill and progesterone-only pill (probably because there isn’t enough evidence to begin with). The book is also entirely about “women” who take the pill for birth-control - whilst the author does caveats that the book is also for people taking the pill who don’t identify as women, I don’t think the language throughout the book reflects this. Finally the book constantly references making a choice about taking the pill for birth control and doesn’t talk about people who take the pill for medical reasons e.g. what should people with PCOS (a very common condition) do with this evidence?

I hope more similar literature and research into this field comes! The authors summary about why the field of research is so lacking is very good and I wish more people knew about this!!
Profile Image for Mehtap exotiquetv.
358 reviews239 followers
April 14, 2022
In diesem Buch werden unterschiedliche Nebenwirkungen der Pille besprochen. Diese Nebenwirkungen können laut Autorin folgende sein: Stimmungsschwankungen, Unlust zu Sex, Thrombosegefahr für die Pillen der dritten Generation, Unattraktivität gegenüber Männern, falsche Partnerwahl.

Dabei argumentiert die Autorin nicht immer sachlich und wissenschaftlich. Gerade bei der Partnerwahl berichtet sie von Anekdoten ihrer fremdgehenden Freundinnen, die beim Absetzen ihrer Pille bemerkt hätten, wie doof und unattraktiv doch ihr Partner sei.
Ziemlich absurde Argumentation, die nicht auf Daten basiert, sondern an subjektiven Empfindungen. Und Frauen, die die Pille nehmen würden, wären sexuell nicht attraktiv und Männer wollen kein Sex mit ihnen haben wollen.

Dann greift sie bei der Argumentation auf sexuelle Unlust auf Daten zurück (endlich), die dann auf unterschiedliche Generationen der Pille und ihre Bestandteile zurückzuführen ist. Denn nicht jede Pille hat dieselbe Zusammensetzung. Und nicht jede Frau reagiert pauschal gleich. Leider betont das die Autorin sehr selten und unterschwellig, dass diese Nebenwirkungen nicht alle Frauen zutrifft.

Ich hätte mir wirklich gewünscht, dass in diesem Buch sachlich die Vor- und Nachteile aufgelistet werden, was aber sehr kurz kommt. Die Anekdoten ihrer Freundinnen, die kontextlos die Pille erklären sollen, empfand ich dann doch sehr verwirrend.

Etwas enttäuscht war ich schon von den Inhalten, die auch sprachlich betrachtet sehr metaphorisch waren.
1 review
October 8, 2019
As an evolutionary social scientist---I'm professor of experimental psychology at a large research-focused university---I had very high expectations for this book. It exceeded those expectations.

Dr. Hill is an incredible author and her work is not only readable, but it's also plainly fun to read.

I will be assigning this book to students and recommending it to those interested in women's psychology and behavior, evolutionary medicine, hormones---and simply to all who are interested in better understanding the mysteries that still wait to be discovered about women's bodies and minds. (For the record, given what this book reveals about the impact of birth control on women, everyone should be interested in better understanding its effects on women.)
Profile Image for Divya Shanmugam.
71 reviews12 followers
April 7, 2020
I really liked this book. It gave me questions I'd like to ask my doctor and this /very/ cool table that breaks down the types of progestins used in different birth control pills and side effects you could expect from them. I appreciate the author's inclusion of contradictory studies - it eased my skepticism towards lines about a study that studied X and showed Y. The only comment is that its written sort of colloquially, so I found myself skimming over some paragraphs.

I learned that the endometrium is one of the most hostile environments for an embryo to implant in ! This is meant to weed out the weak embryos and studies on mice have shown that embryos thrive easily (almost parasitically) in other tissues.

and then there's a story about a fish with three genders that I won't spoil!!
Profile Image for Mary.
113 reviews1 follower
January 6, 2020
I didn't quite finish this all the way. I found the research and information presented in a clear, fairly unbiased way. It was scary to read how much we don't know about the effects of hormonal birth control on personalities, emotions, reactions, mating preferences, smells, musical taste, etc. and to think about how simply the question is usually presented - don't want to get pregnant, take the pill, easy! Bottom line - the pill has made huge impacts on society and lives for good and, sometimes, bad. This book was a great reminder to ask more questions.
Profile Image for Kelsey Stallter.
19 reviews
August 29, 2022
I highly recommend this book. There is so much new research about how birth control pills affect our brains (as women). We are not taught nearly enough about these possible side effects (not just physically but socially and how we function). This book took awhile to read because there was so much information I wanted to absorb. This author educated me, made me think, and made me analyze my own experience with oral contraceptives. Additionally, while reading this book I found myself frustrated with the education my doctors have provided me in the past. Now I feel like I have enough knowledge to have a constructive conversation with my doctors.

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was some of the language. At times it was hard to follow and at others it seemed repetitive. Nonetheless, I would highly recommend this book to both women and men.
Profile Image for Lindsay Nixon.
Author 19 books706 followers
March 12, 2021
HOLY F—— s—-!

READ THIS BOOK ASAP. Even if you aren’t in the pill or are in menopause. This is a mandatory read. It’s also the most comprehensive book on women’s health (mental, endocrine and reproductive) I’ve ever read and I read 13 books on periods alone last year.

This is also a must read for any feminist.

If you are a woman that has difficulty with happiness, depression, promotion/success, stress, feeling mute, weight management, feelings sexy, feeling content with your partner, motivation, energy levels, relationships, definitely do not miss this book!
Profile Image for Julia.
244 reviews9 followers
September 27, 2020
Are you on the pill? Are you aware of the effects, besides preventing ovulation and thereby pregnancy, that this little pill has on you? Yes, on you, not just your body but your entire being? Probably not. If you’ve gone as far as to read the package insert, you’ve been informed that being on the pill may have some side effects such as acne, headaches and emotionality , but you haven’t been told that this pill may fundamentally change who you are.

Dr Sarah Hill is on a quest to educate her readers, and tell them what they aren’t likely to have been told by their doctors. Her biggest claim is that the pill has a dramatic effect on a (cisgender, heterosexual) woman’s hormone regulation, and that since your brain regulates everything that happens in your body by means of hormones, the pill changes who you are. Basically, her point is that the pill has many - previously unstudied and largely unknown - side effects, and that women are taking a huge gamble “in the name of contraception, clear skin, or a more regular menstrual cycle”. How the Pill Changes Everything is divided into three parts, in which Dr Hill takes the reader by the hand and explains all there is to know. First, she discusses women from a biological perspective, and explains women’s reproductive cycles and (sex) hormones. Then she explains how the pill works, and how it has side effects that reach much further than you’ve likely feel told: not only fundamental changes in mood, but also stress response, partner selection and sex drive. Lastly, she sets out how it can be that the impact of the pill is relatively unknown, and that science has only just began to study these effects.

How the Pill Changes Everything is hugely informative. It explains many things that I did not know about my own body, and the effect that the pill can have on many of my bodily processes, and many more processes outside of it besides. This is also Dr Hill’s aim. She is not a crusader against oral contraception; her intention is to reduce the blind spot that exists when it comes to the pill, so that women can make an informed decision about their health and hormones. Dr Hill is a psychologist and clearly knows what she is talking about, but she manages to describe and discuss countless studies done on the topic without it becoming tedious or incomprehensible, but she also doesn’t sacrifice the credibility of these studies. The book, however, also has some weak spots. First of all, it’s is exclusively about and for cishet women. Hill states that this is because “research hasn’t quite caught up” on pill-taking gay women and trans folk, but she makes little effort to include the (social) experiences of these people into account. This brings me to my second criticism, which is Hill’s assertion that women are essentially ruled by their sex hormones, and I find this incredibly hard to believe. Thirdly, the book only discusses the pill as a contraceptive, and doesn’t speak a word about IUDs, contraceptive patches, or other methods. Since most of these contain hormones as well, it would have been nice to have a word on these as well. Lastly, the book generalizes almost every claim that is made. Hill produces a lot of science to back up her claims, but she does not provide numbers for how many women are affected in different way by the pill. Probably because there isn’t a lot of research on this, but I for one didn’t recognize myself in many of her claims, and I was wondering how many women would.

All in all a very informative book, and despite its shortcomings I would definitely recommend it for its educational value alone.
December 18, 2020
I read this book to make a decision about quitting my own birth control pills—whose purpose are not for birth control. I was then informed by the author that this book is only going to discuss birth control for the uses of pregnancy prevention. Ooooookay then. That would have been nice to know beforehand, but I’ll keep reading anyways because I’m sure I can still learn a lot.
This book was informative (although I’m not sure how much of it to believe), but it ended up rubbing me the wrong way. The author was trying to be “woke” throughout the entire book by defending her positions with feminism and telling us not to be offended, and her tone just seemed downright condescending at times, which I have picked up on in several other reviews as well.
I knew this book was specifically about the brain, but I was still disappointed by the lack of neuroscience and the abundance of sex that was discussed. (I know, it’s a book about hormones. But still.) On top of that, I got absolutely none of the information I came here hoping for, and a decent amount of the book is pure speculation anyways.
I completely understand why this book has such high ratings, but it just didn’t work for me.
Profile Image for Aubrey Hill.
85 reviews3 followers
December 27, 2021
Bottom line: science doesn’t take women seriously enough or understand us enough, and there needs to be more thorough and holistic deeper dives into the effects of hormonal contraceptives on women.

And yet… this book had a lot of problems for me. There were some concerning pieces of research that caught my attention but I don’t think the author approached it with enough skepticism nor did she seem to dig into methods or rule out correlation.

I also got a little frustrated when she listed different types of birth control pills and didn’t list the pharmaceutical name that people know them by. I’m not gonna go digging to find out what category mine belongs in- sorry, I am lazy- but if you’re gonna do an “expose” type of book, you may as well go all in.

And it was definitely binary and heteronormative. She acknowledges the limitations of research in the beginning but I didn’t see her doing much about it.

Anyway, interesting yet problematic book in my view!
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