Tuesday, February 06, 2024

One Thing Leads to Another

Actions have consequences. That’s easy to say, but the implications are not always so easy to unpack.

I was thinking about this a few days ago when a friend asked what the church can do (pre-emptively, rather than after the fact) about the frightening increase in children from Christian families who are identifying as gay, lesbian and trans.

My answer was immediate: Encourage committed Christian parents to work less and get by on lower incomes in order to free up time to home school their children from kindergarten on.

The Invisible Chain of Cause and Effect

After all, that’s when the LGBT programming begins these days, and one thing leads to another. (The propaganda also continues more than eight hours a day, through their public school peers, until your children either buy into the LGBT program as participants / enablers, or else finish university.)

Surprisingly, this solution had never occurred to my friend, but she saw the previously invisible chain of cause and effect instantly. It may not be the only pre-emptive move a church can make, and it might not succeed 100% of the time, but I am very confident it would make a significant difference in outcomes, especially if couples who elect to home school their children have strong, church-based support systems.

Anyway, that’s what I mean by ‘actions have consequences’. The consequences are easy to see for those who are paying close attention to societal changes, predicting their likely outcomes as they are being implemented, and then noting what they predicted coming true.

However, that process does not work quite so well in reverse. When all you see are the consequences, you may not so easily trace them back to their most likely source. Moreover, as a parent making choices for your children, you may have difficulty accepting the hard, cold reality that your decisions — whether made for the sake of convenience, keeping up with the Joneses, financial necessity or simple inattention — have negatively impacted your children and are having what will probably be permanent consequences in their lives. Denial doesn’t help anyone, but it’s an easy panacea when you can’t change what’s happened.

Your Brain on Birth Control

Sarah Hill is an evolutionary psychologist, so Christians should probably take her area of expertise with the massive grain of salt it merits; the fundamental assumptions of her discipline are egregiously flawed from more than one angle. However, that doesn’t disqualify her from reporting research data about the human brain or observing patterns of behavior in the subjects she studies. What Hill has to say about the observable outcomes of using the birth control pill should make all Christians pay serious attention.

“The pill” has been around in various incarnations for over sixty years, long enough to study its effects on four generations of women and build a data set worth taking a serious look at. Hill’s book, This Is Your Brain on Birth Control: The Surprising Science of Women, Hormones, and the Law of Unintended Consequences, is a major eye-opener in that it documents the many negative side effects of hormone-based birth control.

The Side Effects of Sex Hormones

Here’s an excerpt from Hill’s promotional material:

Although women go on the pill for a small handful of targeted effects, sex hormones can’t work that way. Sex hormones impact the activities of billions of cells in the body at once, many of which are in the brain. There, they play a role in influencing attraction, sexual motivation, stress, hunger, eating patterns, emotion regulation, friendships, aggression, mood, learning, and more. This means that being on the birth control pill makes women a different version of themselves than when they are off of it. And this is a big deal.”

The biggest takeaway from Hill’s research is that artificially changing your hormone balance changes your personality. In some cases, this is subtle. In others, it can be extreme.

For men, increasing testosterone will not only give you more upper body strength or increased libido, it’ll supercharge your natural level of aggression and competitiveness while muting your normal level of self-control. This has been noted for years, which is why anabolic steroid use is highly regulated and efforts have been made to eliminate steroids and other hormone treatments from sports.

The changes for women are subtler than ’roid rage and therefore more difficult to detect. They are also far more numerous and potentially long lasting. Often users do not attribute what’s going on in their brains to the use of hormonal birth control at all, especially when doctors have prescribed the pill to sexually inactive young girls for reasons other than birth control: acne problems, irregular cycles or bad cramps. But artificially changing your hormone balance will not just stop you getting pregnant or help you get rid of your acne, irregular cycles or bad cramps, it will change who you are while you are on the pill: the things you like, how you respond, etc. And it may well change your life and choices afterward in ways you do not and cannot anticipate.

Top Three of Ten

Hill’s list of potential brain changes in the above quotation is lengthy and far too easy to gloss over. Exploring real-life outcomes and the data sets they generate is a whole lot more alarming. The following quotations from Hill are taken from her interviews in two 2023 podcasts, one with Jordan Peterson and a second with his daughter Mikhaila. Both videos can be accessed from YouTube or from the “Podcasts” tab under “Media” in Hill’s website. I’ll limit my more detailed examination to only three of the ten potential side effects of the pill on her list, but all are quite significant. If you want more, you can always read the book.

1/ Mood

On the subject of mood, the likeliest outcomes of hormonal birth control use are depression and anxiety. Here is Hill again, from three separate places in her video interviews with the Petersons:

Depression and anxiety are some of the things that we know that being on hormonal birth control put you at a significantly greater risk for. All of these things are what you would expect when you have a blunted cortisol response to stress.”

“Using hormonal birth control during adolescence puts you at a risk of developing major depressive disorder over the course of your lifetime even after you’ve discontinued it. Not something you want your daughter to be suffering from so that she doesn’t have acne. I don’t think this is being very well communicated to the parents of girls. I think it’s a travesty, I really do.”

“When you look at the risk of depression, or even the suicide risk, for women who are on hormonal birth control, especially in adolescence, so 19 and younger, it’s really high during the first three months of use.”

The blunted cortisol response she refers to is important, and we’ll come back to that again. Hill notes that she used birth control herself over a ten-year period while getting her doctorate, with no idea about some of the effects it was having on her own personality. She says she often referred to herself during that period as depressive, but never thought to connect her emotions with her use of hormonal birth control. It wasn’t until she finally stopped using the pill that she realized how profoundly its use had affected her personality.

2/ Learning

This is where I think the blunted cortisol response caused by hormonal birth control use may be most significant for some young women. Hill writes:

“Women on the pill have a dampened cortisol spike in response to stress. While this might sound great (no stress!), it can have negative implications for learning, memory, and mood.”

She later tells Peterson (Jordan):

“There’s no way it doesn’t affect brain development. Post-pubertal brain development is coordinated by our sex hormones.”

And here is the specific learning issue and how it relates to a blunted cortisol response to stress:

“Women who are on hormonal birth control have a harder time encoding emotionally valenced events when you stress them out.”

That’s highly-educated gobbledygook that basically means the pill can keep a woman from experiencing an appropriate aversion reaction in a stressful situation, and from storing the memory of the event with sufficient visceral repulsion to make her reluctant to repeat it.

Stress is a great teacher. Put a normal young woman in a stressful situation she didn’t expect — say, for example, showing up at a college party and finding a lot of drunken young men manipulatively or aggressively trolling for sex partners — and her cortisol response will teach her to avoid similar dangerous situations next time around. And yet I have noticed many young women expose themselves to the same sort of dangers repeatedly, apparently making no association between their previous experiences and the increased potential for an adverse outcome this time around. I had always put this down to naivety or plain old stupidity, but even otherwise-intelligent young women do it too. The blunted cortisol response may well be a huge factor in such situations.

So then, women on the pill are not necessarily rendered less intelligent by its use, but they may be profoundly unwise because they never learn aversion from stress. I’d love to be able to ask every young female risk-taker I’ve known over the years whether she was on hormonal birth control at the time. It would make for an interesting study.

Y’all Come Back Now!

The third risk factor I’d like to look at for young women is the way hormonal birth control can influence sexual attraction, but that one is complex enough to require its own post. It’s also easy to miss.

Come on back. It’s a doozy!

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