Birth Control Nobody Talks About

There’s a good reason why the pill is the most popular method of birth control in the United States: It’s really good at preventing pregnancy (when taken correctly, it’s up to 99.9% effective). But family planning is not the only benefit of hormonal birth control.

In fact, out of the 11.2 million American women who take the pill, about 14% of them (or roughly 1.5 million) take it only for non-contraceptive reasons. Another 58% of women use it partly for non-contraceptive reasons, according to 2011 research from the Guttmacher Institute. (And with male birth control now a step closer to reality, that number may rise even more in the future.)

Ultimately, the best type of birth control for you will probably depend on multiple factors, says Beatrice Chen, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive services at the University of Pittsburgh. If you’re thinking of making a contraceptive switch, though, here are seven benefits of being on the pill.

 

Your skin might clear up

About 14% of women take oral contraceptives in part to get rid of their acne, according to the Guttmacher survey. Doctors often prescribe combination birth control pills (which are the most common type and contain both estrogen and progestin) because they can lower the body’s levels of androgen, a hormone that helps produce oils in the skin, says Dr. Chen. One 2011 review by the Cochrane Collaboration found that since combination birth control pills can reduce the amount and severity of breakouts, they might be a good option for women who want a contraceptive and are trying to clear up their skin, too.

 

Your periods may get a lot less painful

More than half of women who get their periods experience at least one or two days of pain during their cycle, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. That could be why 31% of women who use the pill partly rely on it to help relieve menstrual cramps or pain. Birth control pills reduce the amount of prostaglandins that the body produces, explains Dr. Chen. That, in turn, prevents the lining of the womb from thickening, which results in lighter periods.

 

They may get more regular, too

Your weight, medications, stress, and other health conditions can mess with your period, and even a healthy woman may not get her period at the exact same time every month; the average cycle is 28 days, but anywhere between 24 and 31 days is considered normal. Taking the pill can help make your period more predictable. With most birth control pills, you take 21 days of hormone-containing pills, followed by seven days of placebo pills. During the placebo week, the break from synthetic hormones triggers bleeding that mimics a period. (Note: spotting between placebo weeks isn’t unusual within the first three months of starting a new type of pill, and can also happen when you miss pills or fail to take them at the same time every day.)