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[Book Review] This Is Your Brain On Birth Control


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birth control and adhd

True to ADHD form, I haven’t finished this yet, but I’ve heard enough of the audible version (aff) to say this is required reading for anyone who has either taken birth control, is on it now, or plans to take birth control in the future. Especially if you have ADHD.
adhd and birth control

The book is an exploration of how birth control impacts our brains. You know, that pill we were clamoring to get our hands on the minute we started having a sex life. I don’t know about you, but after decades of being on birth control, I don’t recall a single prescribing doctor mentioning the potential mental health impacts of taking this medicine.

As the book jacket explains, 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.”

The upshot? Hormones make us us. So wouldn’t it be helpful to know what exactly this means when we start to go on the pill? As Dr. Hill explains, it not only can impact who we choose as romantic partners, it “can have negative implications for learning, memory, and mood” due to “a dampened cortisol spike in response to stress.” 

Read that again: negative implications for learning, memory, and mood.

To me, this book is a love letter to women and girls all over: a long-overdue acknowledgement that our hormones and our minds matter. The call to action? Demand that science do better.

A leading researcher in the field of evolutionary psychology, Dr. Hill begins with a disclaimer: her research in no way discredits nor dismisses the lived experience of those who do not identify with her findings. Her research exists alongside the lived experience of cis women not interested in reproducing, trans people, non-binary people, and anyone else who isn’t relating to what she’s sharing. Like everything else in medicine (and in life), we are all unique and will react to birth control differently much like we already do with our mental health medications. (Side note, she’s received some interesting feedback from some readers regarding sexual orientation and the pill.)

With all that said, I found the information to be fascinating. As somebody who was on the pill during my formative young adult years, a lot of what she’s saying checks out. And while I knew the broad strokes of a portion of what she shares, there’s way more to it. I would have definitely been interested in receiving the kind of comprehensive, deeply detailed education that this book provides when first going on birth control.

For example, the female body is generally biologically optimized for the successful conception and survival of offspring. I knew that, and we all know the tropes of “clingy women” and men who’s only mission in life is to “spread their seed”. But the way Dr. Hill digs deeper into why these stereotypes exist and her elegant explanations backed by research gave me a deeper understanding of that dynamic.

Also interesting was learning how estrogen may influence partner choice. And that hormonal contraception’s impact on female sexual function is still “unknown to many patients and dubious to many physicians“.

Most surprising to me isn’t necessarily the whats of the book, but how deeply we are wired in a hormonal context and to what lengths we go because of that wiring … often without even being conscious of it.

If this is sounding familiar, you may have been on this journey when you first learned about your ADHD.  To me, learning about my hormones has been like learning about my ADHD all over again. And in a way, now that I have the hormonal context, I am learning about my ADHD all over again.



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