What Does the Pope Have to Do With Birth Control Pills?

Simple Health

What does the Pope have to do with your birth control? Two words: placebo pills.

If you’ve taken birth control pills, you know the drill: three weeks of “active” pills followed by a “placebo” week, during which you get your period. Most women assume this is necessary for the efficacy of birth control, but actually, there is no medical reason why women need to get a period. Periods act as pregnancy tests and fertility trackers, and that’s about it. What’s more, the developers of the birth control pill knew this to be true. The placebo week was not inserted into birth control regimens for any medical reason; rather, it was inserted in an attempt to please the Pope.

Yep, you read that right. John Rock, one of the scientists who developed the birth control pill in the 1950s, was a devout Catholic who was eager to earn his pill the approval of the Catholic church. He thought it might appease the Pope if the pill mimicked a woman’s natural menstrual cycle and also figured the placebo week might make it easier for Catholics to practice the rhythm method, which was the Church’s only approved form of birth control at the time. Unfortunately for Rock, the placebo week did not garner the Pope’s approval. The Catholic Church maintained its strong position against birth control, with Pope Paul VI even releasing a statement in 1968 calling birth control “intrinsically wrong.” After John Rock’s placebo campaign failed, he stopped practicing Catholicism, bitterly disappointed that the Pope had not embraced the pill, but the format of birth control pills never changed.

So, this is the real reason why women have been taking birth control pills in this manner for the past 60 years—because John Rock wanted the Pope’s approval, not because it provides any health benefits. It’s taken a while for medical professionals to catch up, with the first continuous-use birth control pill only getting FDA approval in 2007, and the United Kingdom’s Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare organization only decrying the birth control placebo week as of January 2019 (American officials have yet to make such a statement). This is unfortunate, as a number of women might choose to not get their period if they knew the choice existed. In a 2018 Pandia Health survey of women ages 18-30, 57% said they would elect out of their period if it were safe to do so. Yet, almost two-thirds of women surveyed said their doctor had never told them they could safely skip their period with birth control.

If you’re interested in skipping your period, use Simple Health to get a birth control prescription online, without the hassle of an office visit. Complete our doctor-designed online consultation, and based on your health history and birth control preferences, a doctor will prescribe a brand that will best work for you. Birth control pills are free with most insurance plans, and start at just $15 a month without. Best of all? Once you’ve received your prescription, we’ll deliver your pills right to your door for free, so you never have to make a pharmacy run again.

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