Three and half years ago, I inserted the popular contraceptive Implanon into my arm. But when the side effects outweigh the benefits, it's time to get rid of it. As scary (and boring) as going back to normal contraceptive methods might seem, you might love yourself for it.
Implanon image via Shutterstock
Once inserted, Implanon stops your body from releasing an egg, stops eggs from sticking to the womb, and prevents sperm from getting through. It's described by Family Planning Victoria as 99.9% effective, and has become popular because it's largely an insert-and-forget system, requiring a new rod every three years. But as I recently discovered, when the side effects start appearing, it's just not worth it.
The first three years I was happy with it — it worked, and it was convenient. But after the third year, it was time to have my first one removed and the second put in, and my body started going haywire. Something definitely wasn't right.
For months, I was bleeding about 80% of the time. Not large amounts, but enough for it to be very annoying. At this rate I wondered if Implanon worked as birth control by making you bleed so much you just never felt like sex. How could it be so good on one course, and so horrible on the next?
It turns out this isn't too uncommon. I spoke to a handful of my friends and they were going through the same thing, even on the first dose. One even commented, “I’m starting to think my boyfriend thinks I'm using bleeding as an excuse not to have sex. But it's not an excuse, it's true!"
We laughed. We thought Implanon would decrease the barriers to sex, and instead they were increased.
For about four months I put up with it, thinking it would settle down, but it never did. Then when I noticed a funny smell (sorry to be so blunt, but if this has happened to you, know that you’re not alone) it was time to have it removed.
Within days, the bleeding stopped and things went back to normal. It has been three months since then and I feel so much better. In a word, I feel "sexy" again. Firstly because I am not bleeding all the time, but secondly my whole body just feels like it is working properly. I hypothesised that my boyfriend feels more sexy again too, because I'm more interested in having sex and my orgasms are coming easier and stronger.
We were lying in bed the other morning after testing that hypothesis (for science - you understand), and I said – “I used to think I had more control of my body with my mind, particularly related to sex and orgasms, but now I have to believe my body is doing its own thing, and we just don't have complete control." I think Implanon was influencing my body’s sexual responses negatively. Now it’s being so much more responsive and doing again all those things I like it to do.
It’s true that I now have to think about new types of birth control, but after that experience, I'm keen to explore non-hormonal methods. Implanon isn't the only treatment with side effects. First up will be the ovulation method, which isn't recommended because it's risky, but can work if implemented properly. And I like this idea because it's about listening to your body and coming to understand its rhythms. It takes months to implement the ovulation method and to determine the exact times you are ovulating, though some tools can help. It's definitely not as simple as picking a date right in the middle of your period. So don’t use it without intentional and dedicated planning.
I’m still in the process of implementing it, and condoms have to suffice sometimes. I'll look into diaphragm as well. But for now, I am the voice that is saying Implanon can make a woman’s system go crazy, and if you are not happy with it, get it taken out. If you're at all like me, you’ll feel a lot better for it.