Incurably Curious

Thrills & Pills: A Guide to the GUM Clinic

Icon24-ThePillI can’t even begin to comprehend the rapture of the female population when the Pill first became properly available back in the 1960s. Imagine! With just one tiny pill came a solution to irregular periods, stomach cramps and the ever-present and terrifying prospect of parasitic growth pregnancy every time you got laid. Although it signified a new era of gender equality and gave women true control over their fertility for the first time ever, the drugs were far from perfect. It wasn’t 100% reliable and came with countless side effects, including headaches, weight gain and – in extreme cases – blood clots and other life-threatening conditions. Fifty years later, the fertility boffins have fine-tuned oral contraception and there are now hundreds of choices on the market for the discerning gal who wants to take the reins of her own uterus and not be plagued by its constant inconvenience and bad manners. However, we still haven’t got the Pill down to an exact science. Every body is different and one girl’s wonder-drug is another’s harbinger of pain, spottiness and psychotic mood swings. It’s rare that somebody finds that their perfect Pill is the first one they try, so it’s important to keep switching it up if it’s not working for you. Unfortunately,though, we don’t live in a perfect world and the NHS has a responsibility not only to dole out free healthcare to all (including contraceptives), but also to balance its books. It’s not ideal, but money is a finite resource even for the world’s largest institutions (the NHS is the world’s fifth biggest employer) and it needs to try and distribute its cash as effectively as possible. This can sometimes get in the way between us and the best possible drugs for our bodies.


Almost everyone has a horror story about the Pill, usually to do with its gruesome side effects. Microgynon is the one you’re most likely to be started on, simply because it is the cheapest for the NHS to provide. More recently some new drugs, Rigevidon and Leveste, have been introduced, which work in exactly the same way but are even cheaper to produce. Consequently, many clinics and practices are trying to get people to switch to the more budget-friendly options. Of course, just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it isn’t good; I know many people who have been on Microgynon for years without a problem and have never needed to seek out a better alternative. Although it’s important to consider you’ll probably never find a Pill with zero side effects whatsoever, you also need to be confident asking for a different one if the effects of the one you’re using become very uncomfortable. For instance, after years of reasonably painless, cramp-free periods, Microgynon managed to simulate the prolonged sensation of being brutally winded for hours on end. I recall lying face down on a bank of cheap foam chairs in Sixth Form, wondering if this is anything like how Sigourney Weaver’s character in Alien 3 felt just before the beastie burst out of her in a torrent of goo and Alien placenta. After that I switched to Femodene, which gave me colossal headaches, then Micronor, which turned me into a crazy and had completely unpredictable bleeding patterns. After that I was on Cerazette for awhile, which surely is made of Satan’s gallstones. I have never known anyone to have a good word to say about it; it makes you mental and angry. You know the ‘rage’ disease in 28 Days Later? Yeah, like that. But fatter. Because Cerazette makes you hungrier than a cannibal in a mosh pit. And that’s before you get to the actual physiological effects, because Cerazette is an onslaught on your jigglypuff like you’ve never experienced before. It’ll lure you into a false sense of security and then BAM! Before you know it you’re at the emergency walk-in clinic at 1am because you are essentially BLEEDING TO DEATH OUT OF YOUR TWINKLE.

Ahem. Sorry for any readers who are faint of heart/blokes; this is all getting a little icky. The story has a happy ending though, because I moved onto Cileste a year ago, which for me is as near-perfect as it’s going to get. But it took five years and a lot of fannying around – excuse the pun – to get there. I have a lot of respect for our hard-working medical professionals, but unfortunately I’ve found that most of the time nurses and GPs will try and fob us off with the cheapest possible options. I know somebody whose GP refuses to prescribe them a course of drugs for a double hit of fungal toenail infections because it is too expensive (the treatment is long-winded; it takes about six months and costs £150 using over-the-counter drugs) and they aren’t in enough pain to justify it. If you look at the bigger picture, it’s harsh but fair. Money is limited; why should that cash go to curing a relatively painless nail infection when it could go on life-saving kidney dialysis? Frankly though, when it comes to healthcare everybody should be looking out for number one, and that extends to contraceptives too. If I was that bloke with the nail infection I’d go to the doctors and scream like I was taking a red-hot poker up the arse until they gave me the drugs. But then that’s me, maybe I’m just bloody-minded.

On that note, here are the rules for when you next go to collect your stash of egg-dissolving morsels of liberation:

Be shameless
Some people get embarrassed talking about stuff like contraception. Leave that at the door right now; if you’re not mature enough to have a frank conversation with a medical professional about what your rosy-lipped batfish gets up to, you’re certainly not mature enough to be getting laid. Take up knitting or crochet instead.

The nurse you’re talking to is a nurse. If she wasn’t bound by patient confidentiality agreements, she could probably tell you some stories that’d make your toes curl. You’re going to get asked a lot of questions about things that most people would consider pretty private. Shit like ‘how many people have you done the dirty with?’ and ‘when did you last have unprotected sex?’ It is okay if any of the answers to these questions are ‘zero’ or ‘never’. Genuinely, outside of her professional sphere, the nurse does not give a shit. It doesn’t matter if you’re the village bicycle or as pure as the fresh driven snow, it is so important to be 100% honest when you’re being questioned by family planning staff. They can’t advise you if they don’t know all the facts.

I know it can be a little bit daunting going to the family doctor you’ve had your whole life, especially if he’s a dude, so if this is the case go to a specialist family planning clinic. I’ve been going to Brook clinics since I was seventeen and their staff are generally pretty ace. I’ve had the same lady now for three years and she gets to hear EVERYTHING (even the stuff she doesn’t ask for, poor sod.)

Assert yourself
Most doctors and nurses are wonderful, dedicated people. However, dickheads are universal across all professions and sometimes you do stumble across some right turds. You may also run into those budgetary problems I mentioned above, which means you may be pressured to switch Pills when you’re happy with the one you’re on or swap to a different form of contraception entirely such as the implant, injection or Coil. Personally, these more invasive alternatives to the Pill have always seemed a little too Frankenstein for me. A couple of years ago a nurse tried her very best to get me to agree to the implant. I’d read all about it – on the surface it sounds fabulously convenient – but I knew for sure that I didn’t actually want it. I listened to her carefully and then told her I was happy on the Pill and that I’d heard a lot of things about the implant that made me uncomfortable. She tried to persuade me but I remained firm; after all, they can’t force you! Stand your ground and always get second (and third, fourth and fifth!) opinions before agreeing to any radical change.

Respect the professionals
On the other hand, don’t be rude to staff. They are, after all, there to help you, so if that nurse tells you to go and piss in a pot, then you damn well go and do it. I think they have targets to meet or something for chlamydia tests, so even if the most action you’ve had in the last three months is sitting on the back seat of a bus, you get yourself into that toilet and you squeeze out s0me juice. It’s the least you can do. I swear, I’ve been made to take so many of these (unnecessary) tests over the years I must be an expert at weeing into a tiny plastic beaker by now. Maybe I should join the army.

Research your options
The internet is heaving with information and there’s really no excuse not to do your research before getting yourself down to the GUM (genitourinary) clinic. Don’t go in blind; make sure you’re armed with good-quality information so you can make informed choices. For instance, if you’re having problems with a particular side effect on Mercilon, Google it and see if you can find other people who’ve experienced the same problem. Join online forums and ask questions. Of course, be mindful that this is still the internet and nothing on it is gospel, but an hour perusing Cosmo’s health message boards can give you a pretty good overview (do me a favour and don’t buy their shitty magazine though).

Don’t give up
Finding the right Pill can take a long time but it’s your right to keep swapping until you find one that agrees with you. At the end of the day, these mother-lodes of hormones on your fragile girl bits is a lot like throwing petrol on a raging bushfire. We are just not designed to take these extra chemicals into our bodies, so it’s no fucking wonder most of us don’t react well to them. Don’t be afraid to keep going back and being that difficult bastard that all the staff secretly hate. Hopefully you’ll find one that doesn’t give you migraines, ruin all your favourite knickers or make you foam at the mouth, but in the meantime keep calm and try not to throw that jar of tepid piss all over the nurse when you’ve finished filling your thousandth jar.

13 comments on “Thrills & Pills: A Guide to the GUM Clinic

  1. Connie
    June 26, 2012

    So true! I went through 6 different pills and a runaway diaphram due to GPs recommendation or my own bad reactions.

    • CuriousEmily
      June 26, 2012

      Oh gosh, how dreadful! But the phrase ‘runaway diaphram’ made me laugh…! x

      • Connie
        June 26, 2012

        I laughed when it shot over the curtain and hit the nurse in the face. Nurse was not amused.

      • CuriousEmily
        June 26, 2012

        Oh my God, how hilarious…! That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard, I don’t think I’d have been able to contain myself if that was me.

  2. Princess Paula
    June 26, 2012

    I have been on about 8/9 different pills. Now on Cerazette … and love it! If anything it has calmed my rage as I was like a monster for 4 days of the month! But what do you mean I’ll bleed to death?!? lol what? What is this point where it changes? I’ve been on it for about 8/9 months. I’d like to know if I’m gona go mad in the next few months . Lol great post, I honestly think the pill is one of the greatest things ever created! xx

    • CuriousEmily
      June 26, 2012

      9 different pills! Looks like you’re winning, haha. I was on Cerazette for awhile but one day out of the blue my knickers just became geyser country. IT WOULDN’T STOP. Nobody could explain why it happened but it didn’t seem common – don’t worry about it! :)

      Although this is what I mean, Cerazette is dreadful for me but perfect for you! x

  3. Leanne
    June 27, 2012

    I’ve been on so many pills I’ve lost count! I was originally put on the pill at quite a young age for my acne. I’ve since swapped and changed for various reasons including acne, migraines, mood swings, etc. I’m now on Cerazette and you’ve scared me haha! I’m getting on really well with it. Its the first mini pill I’ve ever tried and I absolutely love not having periods! It also seems to have calmed down my mood swings, for now….
    xx

  4. Carla
    June 28, 2012

    I’ve been romantically attached and exclusive to Micrgynon for eight whole years, it’s getting pretty serious ;)

  5. Sarah barton
    June 28, 2012

    Just got to say this post is amazing – and very well written! I’ve been on the pill for almost 10 years and don’t even know side effects anymore – I can’t remember the real me, haha! I’ve been on so so many, just like you have! I’m considering changing again as this one does give me migraines, but other than that it’s actually fine…! I think I’m running out of choices.

  6. Fashion Bandit
    June 28, 2012

    This is a great post, and so very true. I’ve been on no less that 7 different contraceptive pills in my time. It took me years to find one I liked, which turned out to be the mini pill (progesterone only). It was awesome except for one thing, it gave me AWFUL skin. Worse than when I was a teenager. So bad make up couldn’t touch it. So 6months ago I decided to bin the pill for a while. You know what, going without is actually suiting me alright..

  7. Just Jesss
    June 30, 2012

    I had the same bleeding-to-death problem with Cerazette, Microgynon gave me horrific migraines, I’m not on Micronor but I’ve started getting annoying irregular bleeds so I’m off to change again next week :S
    Great post, really informative and well written!

  8. Madeleine
    June 30, 2012

    My only complaint is headaches and migraines that I’m not even sure are caused by it anymore. Thanks for your informative post – although now I feel like sticking with the devil I know ;)

  9. seonaidbee
    July 4, 2012

    This post is perfect. Like you (and I suspect the vast majority) I was stuck on Microgynon from the outset. It made me absolutely fucking mental; I was afraid of crowds and started crying in town all the time. My mum says she had a similar issue followed by blackouts, so I quickly nipped down to the GP and got switched off it. I went through three other variants before finally coming to Cileste, which as you said, seems to be a near to perfect as I’m getting.
    Also like you, the idea of a more long-term contraceptive makes me afraid because after having had such a severe reaction to the pill, I’m reluctant to implant a longer term option into my body for fear that the side effects will be less easy to get rid of.
    Very informative without being preachy :) Love it.

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This entry was posted on June 26, 2012 by in Dating & Sex, Good Advice, Lifestyle and tagged , , , , , .

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