New Study: Birth Control Pills Make Women Smarter!

Amie Newman

A new study which concludes that women using oral contraceptives actually increase the size of certain parts of their brain.

Editor’s note: Though this piece was written with heaps of sarcasm, I’d like to add an amendment.  After hearing from the first commenter below, I want to note that these sorts of studies may be extremely productive and allow for progress on women’s reproductive health. There is no replacement for well-conducted research and solid evidence. 

From the marginally sexist study files of “women on the birth control pill find ‘macho men’ less attractive” or that the pill “makes women broody and able to detect cuteness more acutely” and the startling (!) discovery that “ovulation changes a woman’s behavior” comes a new study which concludes that women using oral contraceptives actually increase the size of certain parts of their brain. And until a newer study is released indicating this might not be true and that this too shall be filed away as another marginally sexist study, this will incite headlines. 

From The Daily Mail:

The study found that the contraceptive of choice of 3.5million British women  –  a quarter of all 16 to 49-year-olds  –  increases brain size by around 3 per cent.

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The regions of the brain that increased in size included sections shown “to already be larger in women compared to men, like those involved in conversation.” Sadly, the pill won’t help us women improve our darn map reading and spatial skills. That’s still the domain of the male:

However, the contraceptive appeared to have little effect on areas more dominant in men, including those associated with spatial skills such as map reading.

In case you’re wondering, then, why on earth you’d start taking the pill to increase intellectual capacity if your female nature just won’t ever allow you to understand how to put together an Ikea table, don’t fret. The pill might improve your memory and verbal skills:

Dr Belinda Pletzer, of Salzburg University, said the sex hormones in the Pill were clearly having a ‘tremendous effect’ on the female brain. She added: ‘Larger volumes of a brain area could lead to an improvement of the functions this area is responsible for.

‘Looking at the brain areas involved in our study, which are larger in Pill users compared to naturally-cycling women, this could concern several higher order brain functions, especially memory and verbal skills.

‘The behavioural changes due to contraceptive use are likely to affect those skills that are already better developed in women compared to men like, for example, memory.’

The research is not conclusive yet on whether these changes are maintained after a women stops taking the pill. I’m waiting on the edge of my seat.

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