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on 9 September 2013
`Femaleness has `historically' been considered to be a mental illness that needs constant management. That statement is just one of the many wake-up calls that Holly Grigg-Spall proclaims in her groundbreaking book, "Sweetening the Pill." If women understood the history behind the development of psychotropic medications, and synthetic hormones, they would understand that they have been duped into "enthusiastically and unquestionably accepting drugs and devices as their liberator."

Women's ovaries are not `organs of crisis' and there is no reason for their entire endocrine system to be suppressed for years at a time when ovulation takes place a few days out of the month. We have bought into the no muss - no fuss- white skirt convenience of pill-popping female castration - but at what cost? Suppression, repression, depression, disconnection in a culture that denies the validity of our negative experiences on synthetic hormones?

"Sweetening the Pill" breaks through the myth of the largest uncontrolled experiment in medical history. It is time to stop the masquerade and reclaim our bodies.

Leslie Carol Botha, WHE
Co-Author,Understanding Your Mind, Mood, and Hormone Cycle
Radio Show Host on Holy Hormones Honey! on the VoiceAmerica Internet Radio Network
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on 12 September 2013
My God. The first ten pages of this book had me reading it all the way through in one sitting.

"Who am I when I'm not on the Pill?" This is the question in SWEETENING THE PILL, posed in the first chapter, that grabs you by the ovaries, the heart and the mind and won't let go.

While taking Yaz/Yasmin, Holly Grigg-Spall thought she was losing her mind. Her sanity, her work as a writer, and, she thought, everything she held dear was collapsing. She felt a "nothingness," paranoia, rage, loss of interest in sex, and thought she was losing her mind. In delving into the problem with a trusted girlfriend, a doctor who did not dismiss her concerns, groundbreaking books, her then-boyfriend now-husband, and women that had taken to the Internet to air their personal stories, Ms. Grigg-Spall realized that Yaz was wreaking havoc with her body and mind--and yet, even after stopping it for good, the allure of the Pill in general beckoned. The last thing she expected was for pro-choice (which she notes has been coopted, in terms of contraception, to mean pro-Pill) women to pile on her.

Ms. Grigg-Spall has plenty of attitude, wit, and insight and spares no one in the birth control debate, as well she should not--population control advocates, the treadmill of success, our warped commercialized view of sexuality, the patriarchy, pharmaceutical companies, the religious right, the Pill evangelical feminists on the Left who silence any criticism of the Pill's and in particular Yaz's serious emotional and physical side effects. It is refreshing to see Ms. Grigg-Spall take on all comers and argue for a portrait of women that isn't perfect, that allows, nay, encourages dissent. There is a lot to criticize about this drug, Yaz, and hormonal BC as well and the way cultural icons "Om NOM NOM" the Pill and Yaz in particular. The labyrinthine daisy-chain forged by the pharmaceutical companies, society, eugenics, the culture, the success treadmill, even other women (!) gets skewered and dissected here.

"Who am I when I'm not on the Pill?" This is a question the author asks herself. She also comes to the conclusion that she, like many women, is still discovering who she is off birth control, which she took for ten years, including the infamous Yaz, because she became dependent on it. Who the author is now is a fearless, dynamic, take-no-prisoners, yet compassionate voice. She may upset the sexual and social apple cart, but speaking as a Yaz survivor who loathes this drug and distrusts hormonal contraception in general, I think it is long overdue.

The women that have actually lost relationships, jobs, marriages, their own self-worth, and even more, the sense of self that is sacred, to say nothing of their health and wellbeing, while on this drug have been ignored because their stories are 'anecdotal,' treated with all the respect of an email hoax or an urban legend 'old wives' tale'. I would actually have liked more women's stories in the book, and another helping of the author herself. The scholarly and meticulous research and cultural trends are important but, true to the author's contention that we need to listen to women's actual experiences, the stories give faces and life to the research.

This is an important book because it also gives a roadmap for women that are wondering where they go from considering the Pill, taking the Pill, getting off the Pill, rediscovering the reason for their menses. I for one had never been all that enamored with my period (except when it worked), but now I come to understand the reason for ovulation: keeping our fluids in balance, keeping our bodies in balance, whether we have children or not. As much of a hassle as menstruation is, it's better than being silenced and not having someone love you for who you are. It is better than taking a Pill that promises to cure PMDD but makes you feel worse.

Is it desirable for women to make themselves sick by eliminating their own hormonal balance--and in so doing, alter their own characters? Those who say 'biology is not destiny' have no idea of how hormones, proteins, our brains, and our beautifully interlinked systems work. Why is it anti-feminist to say that we shouldn't just put young women on birth control? Why is it anti-feminist to say that Yaz was marketed in a misleading way, which the FDA agrees with? Why are we automatically labeled as abetting the Religious Right (Ms. Grigg-Spall is correct when she says both sides have botched the debate) if we question whether the Pill is healthy? Why does the pro-Pill lobby automatically dismiss women who have major depression on the Pill that disrupts their life badly so that they cannot function and in some cases self-harm or attempt suicide (such as Autumn Plevniak, who tragically succeeded while on a cocktail of Yaz and Accutane) with no prior history of depression (or even if they have!), as "well, she's a headcase anyway, it works for me, it's her fault"? The hypocritical pro-Pill lobby blames women with a ferocity that, had Michelle Bachmann or John Boehner said anything comparable, these politicians would have been attacked with organic cotton tampon blow darts.

The eco-feminists, those who believe that the domination of women is connected to the domination of nature, campaign for everything else that betters our health and our planet such as organic everything, natural cotton tampons, cage-free and free-range and hormone-free chickens, pigs, and cows, a vegetarian or vegan diet, cleaning products from Whole Foods, cruelty-free products, and so many causes. Why, then, do they cheerfully accept that pumping our bodies full of hormones we don't need (and that in the case of drospirenone are especially toxic), no questions asked, to change our cycles and change who we are (silencing us) is as unacceptable as hormone-sick cattle, chickens, and pigs? Are we worth less than cattle? Why will we avoid white sugar/high fructose corn syrup, bad cholesterol and bad fats that have no health value but pump hormones in our bodies that also only have no health value and are detrimental?

Why don't we demand a higher standard of care from the men in our lives (the book notes that Japan, which gives us blow-up dolls and manga with big-eyed childlike women in schoolgirl uniforms, demands that men use condoms to show their devotion to their partner)? Ms. Grigg-Spall's then-boyfriend and now husband (and the other supportive husbands and boyfriends I have read of) had the sense to understand what was going on--in his case, he could see a connection between his battle with cigarettes and her battle with the Pill. (Thumbs up to him.) As Marilyn Monroe once said, "[I]f you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best."

There is another aspect to the Pill. It silences conversation between men and women about sex, about taking care of each other, about being able to express our needs and our desires and our concerns. If you want to get a sense of who your partner is, buy this book and give it to him. If it starts an honest conversation and he is concerned about you (and your children if you have them), he's okay.

SWEETENING THE PILL has opened the debate (although there is no debate for me), which is what we needed. It also makes the thought provoking point that we allow ourselves to be controlled by others' expectations, sometimes with life-changing consequences.

Finally, those who criticize what women have suffered while on Yaz or on other birth control pills with drospirenone or pills that deliver four periods a year have no clue what it is like to have your sense of self violated, your creativity stifled, your personality altered, blood clots, strokes, major depression, and all the life-threatening conditions. One prays that they never experience this suffering, but even if they reject us, we will continue to speak out without fear.

Because that is who we are when we're not on the Pill.
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on 9 September 2013
Finally, finally someone speaks up! A must read for all women who are not happy with hormonal birth control. It's a very informing, deeply
researched book with true facts and real people's stories. Holly Grigg Spall explains her own experience with the pill and how she came off it.

She brings up all the points every woman feels and thinks about, but barely anyone talks about. This book is a very exciting and easy read, I swallowed it down in days.

Not a lot of people have the courage to speak up and tell the truth about these very big players out there like Bayer, FDA, doctors, planned parenthood. It's everyone's choice to choose how they use contraception in their life, but to close the eyes towards the side effects hormonal contraception can cause, and doctors who deny the fact that side effects can happen, is not ok. The media is biased to the big players out there, not giving its readers alternatives and choices by speaking about all forms of contraception. Where is the education? Where is the truth? The effectiveness of the pill is always talked about, but the fact that natural alternatives can be just as effective, as easy and actually way cheaper, is not talked about. Instead, those who choose to use natural alternatives are stereotyped as being eco or not from this world.

Safe and effective family planning comes from within the woman's body. Education about alternatives to those who want to use natural methods is a start.

Read this book if you are not happy with how you feel towards hormonal contraception.
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on 2 September 2013
Women, how much do you really know about The Pill? That it prevents pregnancy, lightens periods, can help with your moods? But have you ever stopped to ask how it does all of this to your body and is it actually healthy? Anyone that has or is taking hormonal contraception should read Sweetining The Pill. Inspiring, enlightening and in some places down-right frightening, it may well change your perception of this little-known thing women so absent-mindedly administer every day.

After reading, I certainly felt a sense of shock at how little I had considered why and how The Pill had the ability to so radically change my body and moods. However, I also felt solidarity by the end of the book knowing that other women had experienced the challenges and that there are alternatives.

You don't necessarily have to agree with everything in Sweetining The Pill, but Holly Grigg-Spall's excellent ability to bring together a range of informed experts and scientific research about hormonal contraceptives means readers are at least able to make an informed decision of their own. Highly recommended.
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on 18 September 2013
Although I now realise there is quite a lot of literature on the subject this is the first book I read about hormonal birth control and the many (non contraceptive) ways the pill is prescribed.

Underpinned by the author's own experience of the pill and her, at times funny at times scary, account of the experiences of others the book gives a facinating insight into things not often talked about, even among close friends. It sparked a few lively pub conversations between me and my friends and I realised how little I know about my friends experiences of birth control and the strong personal opinions they have on the subject.

Grigg-Spall has managed to critique and question the establishment, and the ways in which hormonal birth controls are marketed and prescribed, without questioning or criticising the women who choose to take them. The book eschews judgement of individual women's choices but seeks to tell a story about people and encourages us to question the world we live in. If knowledge is power Grigg-Spall shows us how to take the power, over our bodies at least, back.
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on 12 November 2013
A rollicking read for anyone who cares about women's health. Sweetening the Pill includes loads of completely valid reasons for mistrusting the pill, reasons that should be heard, not just dismissed as the paranoid ramblings of a conspiracy theorist. Just read Bad Pharma: How Medicine is Broken, and How We Can Fix It if you're sceptical.

Yes not all references are included, and there is a strong left-wing and feminist bias - which might make one suspect cherry-picking of the evidence. The arguments about the inherent "misogyny" of the medical profession don't always ring true for me - I prefer to think of the profession as paternalistic. I can't swallow all the population control arguments either, or the idea that revolution will come if we all throw off the Stepford Wife style chains of hormonal contraception and get in touch with our cycles. And yet it is a fantastic read - so many stories and so much research presented in a wonderfully readable style.

Above all, Sweetening the Pill validates the negative experience that so many women have with hormonal contraception. Holly isn't anti-pill, she appreciates that it is a great (and hard-won) option. She just feels that women are let down if the only ones listening to concerns are those who are anti-contraception. I think she deserves a hearing.
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on 9 September 2013
Presents a powerful argument for the need to address conventional use of hormonal contraceptives in our culture, I encourage everyone to read it.

Sweetening the Pill uses a combination of personal testaments, medical evidence and critical theory to reveal how widely and deeply significant 'The Pill' really is. For a book which is so concise and easy to read, I found it incredibly rich in information and thought-provoking ideas. Different sections of the book will resonate with different people in different ways, but I genuinely believe that anyone who is a woman, or knows a woman, or even just cares a little about humanity can take something from it.

For me, reading this book has been an opportunity to begin to understand something which for most of my life I only really knew to be normal, accepted, expected, but which is actually, I believe, horrific - ideologically, as well as in terms of the physical and chemical effects it has on the body. I really hope a lot of people read it, and share it, and discuss it, so that it can move more women to make informed personal decisions about what they put into their bodies.
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on 9 October 2013
Sweetening the Pill' is an account of real women's experiences.

This book resulting in me asking many questions I had not asked myself before. It opened up the routine decision to take a pill every morning. I found myself asking wether 'best interests' were at the forefront of the amount of options I'd been given for acne to family planning. It gave way to much informed reflection.

Thanks for making yourself heard.
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on 17 December 2014
a very revealing book, made me think much more about the contraceptive pill which i have taken every month for the past 10 years without ever considering what the long term effects are. well worth a read!
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on 24 February 2016
This book was extremely powerful. Holly's approach is clear, concise and informative and helped me through an extremely tough time when coming off the pill. It talks candidly about the terribly oppressive nature of the pill (both on the body and sociologically) and it truly was very apt and instrumental in educating me on the poison that I was taking every single day. This book is potentially life changing and life saving. Read it.
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