The biggest advantage of hormonal birth control is a fairly obvious one — when used properly, it drastically reduces your odds of getting pregnant from vaginal sex. Beyond this, the benefits of the birth control pill are surprisingly vast.
From clearing up acne-prone skin to making your period shorter, many women notice advantages beyond pregnancy prevention in the weeks and months after they start taking the pill.
In fact, according to a study from the Guttmacher Institute, approximately 14 percent of all women who use the pill do so primarily for reasons unrelated to its ability to prevent pregnancy.
Below, 10 of the biggest non-pregnancy benefits of the birth control pill, along with the science behind each one.
One of the most common benefits of birth control pills other than preventing pregnancy is their ability to treat and prevent acne.
The birth control pill comes in two main types. The first, the combined pill, uses a combination of synthetic estrogen (ethinyl estradiol) and a progestin hormone to stop ovulation and prevent you from becoming pregnant.
The second type, the progestin-only pill, blocks pregnancy using only a small dose of progestin hormones.
The synthetic estrogen in the combined pill not only stops you from becoming pregnant; it can also reduce your body’s production of androgen hormones such as testosterone, which are the key contributors to hormonal acne breakouts.
This means that if you have hormonal or cystic acne, taking the birth control pill could help to reduce breakouts and bring your acne under control.
Right now, the FDA has only approved three birth control pills as treatments for acne. They are Yaz®, Estrostep® and Ortho Tri-Cyclen®. All of these pills are combined birth control pills, meaning they contain a combination of synthetic estrogen and a progestin hormone.
Most of the time, it takes about three to six months before the pill will clear up your acne. If you have severe acne, you might need to use the pill in combination with another treatment, such as tretinoin or clindamycin.
Interested in using the pill to treat your acne? Our guide to birth control and acne goes into more detail on this topic, with science-backed information explaining how the pill can get pimples and acne breakouts under control.
And when it comes to the benefits of birth control pills other than preventing pregnancy, you might be surprised to know that many women in the United States and around the world take the birth control pill to better regulate their menstrual cycle.
Most packs of combined birth control pills are actually made up of two different pills. There are active pills, which contain ethinyl estradiol and a progestin hormone. These pills actively block pregnancy by releasing hormones into your body.
There are also inactive pills. These pills either contain no active ingredients or a small dose of iron for optimal health.
If you use a conventional, combined birth control pill, you’ll switch over from the active pills to the inactive pills after three weeks. This starts your period at a predictable time, meaning you don’t need to worry about unexpectedly early or late periods.
This consistency makes it easier to plan your period around important events, improving your quality of life and making your menstrual cycle easier to manage.
Some extended cycle birth control pills let you extend your menstrual cycle, letting you avoid some periods. We’ve covered these pills, as well as how you can use them, in greater detail further down the page.
After you start taking the birth control pill, it’s normal for your period to become lighter, shorter and less uncomfortable.
The combined birth control pill prevents pregnancy by stopping your body from ovulating. This means that your ovaries stop releasing eggs. With no eggs released, the chance of any sperm from your partner coming into contact with and fertilizing an egg drops to nearly zero.
Normally, your uterus develops a thick lining to protect each egg and create a safe environment for pregnancy. This lining, called the endometrium, is shed during your period, creating a certain amount of blood flow.
When you stop releasing eggs, the lining created by your uterus starts to get thinner, resulting in less bleeding and a shorter, lighter period.
In fact, if you use a combined birth control pill, your “period” is actually just withdrawal bleeding — a type of bleeding that occurs as a result of lower hormone levels, not because of your body shedding the endometrium.
Sometimes, you might not get a period at all after you start taking the pill. Instead, you might only experience mild spotting for a day or light bleeding during the days you take the inactive, no-estrogen pills.
If you normally get a heavy or annoyingly long period, starting birth control may be a great way to make it easier to tolerate. It can also make cramps, discomfort and other PMS symptoms far less severe in some women — something we’ve covered in more detail below.
Like we mentioned above, not only can the birth control shorten your period and make it more predictable, but it can also make cramps, abdominal bloating, painful breasts, constipation and other common PMS symptoms lighter and easier to tolerate.
Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is extremely common. About 90 percent of women will experience some PMS symptoms before and during their period, ranging from mild abdominal cramps and hormonal acne to severe mood swings and discomfort.
While there’s no cure for PMS, the hormones in the birth control pill can make PMS symptoms lighter and less severe.
Before and during your period, your body starts to produce higher levels of hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. This rapid increase in hormone levels contributes to PMS, causing everything from physical discomfort and bloating, to swollen or tender breasts, cramping, increased light or noise sensitivity, irritability, mood swings and others.
When your estrogen and progesterone levels suddenly increase, it can also affect your body’s production of serotonin, affecting your emotions and mood.
When you use the pill, instead of a sudden increase in hormone levels before your period, your body maintains steady levels estrogen and progestin levels. This makes both the physical and psychological effects of PMS less severe, giving you a more manageable period.
If you have a heavy period, the birth control pill could reduce your risk of getting iron-deficiency anemia.
Iron-deficiency anemia occurs when your body doesn’t have enough iron. Iron is an essential mineral for carrying oxygen inside your red blood cells, helping you to maintain normal energy levels and overall health.
Without enough iron, it’s easy to feel fatigued, weak, short of breath and dizzy. Iron-deficiency anemia can also cause visual side effects such as hair loss, damage to your nails and overly pale skin.
During your period, a small amount of iron exits your body via bleeding. If you have an overly heavy or long period, this blood loss can be enough to put your body in an iron deficient state, affecting your overall health and wellbeing.
Iron-deficient anemia is common in women of childbearing age. In fact, research shows that about five percent of all non-menopausal women have or will develop iron-deficiency anemia due to menstrual bleeding.
By making your period lighter and shorter, the birth control pill can lower your risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia. Other hormonal forms of birth control, such as the IUD, patch and shot, are also linked to lower rates of iron-deficient anemia.
Migraines during your period are surprisingly common, affecting millions of women in the United States alone. Known as menstrual migraines, these migraines might be triggered by the drop in estrogen that can occur during your period.
Before your period, your body increases its production of estrogen, progesterone and several other important hormones. When you start to menstruate, these hormones can suddenly drop, triggering migraines and numerous other symptoms.
Experts believe that estrogen — or, more specifically, low levels of estrogen — is the hormone most responsible for migraines and recurring headaches during your period.
Scientific research shows that menstrual migraines are most common in the first three days of your period, although they can occur at any time during menstruation. Migraines triggered by a fluctuation in your estrogen levels can also occur outside your period.
Combined birth control pills, which contain estrogen, can help to reduce the sudden rise and fall in estrogen production that can accompany your period. Because of this, they’re often used as a long-term treatment for preventing menstrual headaches and migraines.
It’s worth noting that while the pill can prevent menstrual migraines, it isn’t an effective form of short-term pain relief. If you frequently get menstrual migraines, your healthcare provider might prescribe a pain relief medication such as ibuprofen in addition to hormonal birth control.
Sick of dealing with your period? If you use an extended or continuous cycle birth control pill, you’ll gain the ability to delay your period, reduce its frequency or even avoid it completely for one year at a time.
While most birth control pills use a 28-day cycle length, with 21 active pills and seven inactive pills, some types of pill are available with a longer cycle.
Extended cycle birth control pills like Seasonale®, Seasonique®, Quasense® and LoSeasonique® have a 91-day cycle length. This means you’ll take the active, hormonal pills for 84 days in a row before using the inactive pills for one week.
If you use this type of birth control pill, you’ll only get your period four times a year. Like other birth control pills, the extended cycle pill also shortens and lightens your period while making PMS symptoms easier to manage.
It’s also possible to avoid your period completely using a continuous cycle pill. Right now, the only continuous cycle birth control pill is Amethyst® (previously sold as Lybrel®). This type of pill offers a continuous dosage of hormones, meaning you’ll skip your period for an entire year.
Interested in skipping your period using birth control? Our guide to delaying and skipping your period goes into more detail on how extended and continuous cycle birth control pills work, as well as how you can use them to avoid your period.
Before your ovaries release each egg, they develop a small follicle around it. This is a small sac that contains fluid designed to protect the egg during release. Sometimes, these sacs can grow larger than normal, developing into a small, fluid-filled ovarian cyst.
Ovarian cysts are relatively common — most women will develop them at some point in life. For the most part, they’re harmless. However, ovarian cysts that are overly large can cause you to experience bloating, pelvic pain, pain during sex and a heavy feeling in your lower abdomen.
Very large cysts can also cause serious health problems, such as dizziness, fainting, nausea and fever.
When you take the combined birth control pill, your ovaries stop releasing eggs. In addition to preventing you from becoming pregnant, this also causes your ovaries to stop creating follicles for each egg, significantly lowering your risk of experiencing an ovarian cyst.
If you have an ovarian cyst, your healthcare provider might prescribe estrogen-based birth control to help it disappear. Because the progestin-only pill doesn’t stop you from ovulating, it usually isn’t used to treat and prevent ovarian cysts.
As well as stopping cysts from developing, the pill can also reduce your risk of getting ovarian cancer. In a 2014 study from the National Cancer Institute, researchers found that women who use the pill have an approximately 40 percent lower risk of ovarian cancer.
In short, the pill can make life much easier for your ovaries, all while helping you stay protected from pregnancy.
Endometriosis is a disorder that causes your uterine lining, the protective lining that protects a developing embryo, to grow outside your uterus. Endometriosis can affect your fallopian tubes, ovaries and even parts of your body such as your bladder, bowel and rectum.
If you have endometriosis, it’s common to experience vaginal pain, severe menstrual cramps, painful bowel movements and other uncomfortable symptoms. Endometriosis can also affect your fertility, making it difficult or impossible to become pregnant.
By preventing you from ovulating, the combined birth control pill can provide relief from most endometriosis symptoms, helping you enjoy reduced discomfort and a higher quality of life.
Worried you might have endometriosis? Our guide to birth control and endometriosis goes into more detail on why endometriosis develops, how it can affect you and how birth control can be an effective treatment.
Because the hormones in the birth control pill reduce your production of testosterone and other male hormones, they can cause you to grow less body hair than normal. In fact, the pill is widely used as a treatment for hirsutism — a condition that causes male-like hair growth in women.
After using birth control for several months, most women notice a slowdown in hair growth on their legs, arms and abdomen. This can be a massive advantage if you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or any other condition that can cause excessive body hair growth.
Even if you don’t have PCOS, the body hair reduction effects of the birth control pill can help you save time and money on shaving, waxing and other hair removal products and services.
From getting rid of acne to providing relief from cramps, migraines and other common PMS symptoms, there are many benefits of the birth control pill beyond its ability to prevent you from becoming pregnant.
However, like most hormonal medication, it’s not completely perfect. From nausea to breast tenderness, fluid retention and spotting, the birth control pill side effects are numerous.
Our guide to the common and uncommon side effects of birth control covers everything you need to know about potential birth control pill side effects, from minor issues to potential libido, vision and cardiovascular issues.