What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Taking the Contraceptive Pill?

The Pill is like the Swiss Army knife of birth control: It does so much more than you’d think. Oral contraceptives prevent unplanned pregnancy, regulate your cycle, tone down menstrual cramps and help to clear up your skin.

But what should you expect when you finally go off the Pill? We asked real women to tell us what it was like for them when they chucked their packs.

Melissa F., 20

“I started noticing more acne all over my body,” she says of her post-Pill life. When you’re on the Pill, your testosterone levels dip, which can lead to less breakouts, says DR Alyssa Dweck, co-author of V Is for Vagina. But when you stop taking it, those levels go back up again, so your acne could get worse, she explains. Another weird side effect: “My sex drive kind of increased and decreased when it wanted to,” Melissa says. “It’s like it was all out of balance.” According to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, women taking hormonal birth control may experience a lower sex drive and more discomfort during sex, thanks to the testosterone. As a result, some women report having a higher sex drive when they go off the Pill.

Sarah D., 23

The Pill helped Sarah manage symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a condition that causes depression, irritability and tension before menstruation. But after five years on oral contraceptives, she decided to stop. “I was in Uni and didn’t trust myself to remember to take it every day when my life had little to no routine,” she says. “I also started to experience break-through bleeding in the middle of my cycle.” Unfortunately, quitting the Pill made her PMDD symptoms way worse. “My PMDD came back full force: extreme emotional changes, unexplained sadness, anger, anxiety. I only had one good week per month.” (Again, experts note that any period issues you had while on the Pill can come back in full force once you’ve quit.) The one upside: She no longer relies on lube during sex.

Kaely D., 28

“I went off the Pill about six months ago, because my husband and I want to start a family,” says Kaely. “But I wish I’d gone off years ago. I love how I feel without any other hormones in my body than my own. My periods are a little irregular and unpredictable, but that’s not a deal breaker for me.”

Jane T., 35

After 15 years on the Pill, Janie decided she no longer needed it. “I’m single now, and I insist on condoms any time I sleep with someone, to prevent pregnancy and any STDs, so why would I take the Pill, too?” she says. “But quitting any habit after that long is rough. It took about a year for my periods to regulate themselves. And the PMS is terrible now that I’m off, but that’s nothing unusual for women. Losing a few kilos and having my sex drive return were nice perks, though.” Research shows that a third of women who stop taking oral contraception lose weight, a third gain weight, and a third stay exactly the same, says Dweck. If the scale goes down, it’s most likely water weight, since being on the Pill can cause water retention.

Kathy H., 31

“I took birth control pills for nine years continuously,” says Kathy, who went off them when she wanted to start a family. “When I stopped taking the Pill, my period became very irregular,” she says. Since the Pill regulates your hormones, your period will go back to the way it was once you stop taking it, says Dr Mary Jane Minkin, M.D. So if yours didn’t always come on time every month, you should expect to have that happen again. “I did notice that I mentally and physically felt better,” says Kathy. “I didn’t feel as sluggish, and I had a lot less headaches than I did while taking it.” (One study published in the Journal Neuorology found that throbbing headaches can be a side effect of some forms of hormonal birth control, due to the steep drop in estrogen.)

Birth control—whether it’s oral contraception, condoms, or an IUD—is essential for preventing unplanned pregnancy. Talk to your doctor for more info on different birth control methods and how to get them.

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