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Supporting female performance in sport and fitness
Supporting female performance in sport and fitness

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Session 3: Hormonal contraception: a solution or more challenges?


Contraceptives are the greatest life-saving, poverty-ending, women-empowering innovation ever created.

(Melinda Gates, Author and Philanthropist)
The image shows an animation of contraceptive products – the Pill, a syringe for an injection and an inter uterine system coil.
Figure 1 Hormonal contraceptive options – the pill, IUS and injection.

Hormonal contraceptives in the form of ‘the pill’ were first made available in the USA in the 1960s. Their use quickly spread around the world. There are now a range of hormonal contraceptives available including the oral contraceptive pill (OCP), intrauterine system (IUS), implants, patches and injection. Hormonal contraception use in the UK is high in the general population at 30% and even more so among athletes. Currently, 50% of (female) athletes use some form of hormonal contraception and 70% have used hormonal contraction at some stage in their athletic career (Martin et al., 2018).

Figure 1 shows three methods of hormonal contraceptives. These methods work by altering the hormonal environment. As you may know there are other non-hormonal methods, such as condoms and the diaphragm, that prevent conception in different ways.

In this session you will look at why athletes may choose to use hormonal contraceptives, how they impact the menstrual cycle and what influence that can have on the performance and health of the athlete. Coaches and trainers benefit from this information since they need to be confident and comfortable in having conversations with their athletes about hormonal contraception.

By the end of this session, you should be able to:

  • understand the impact that hormonal contraceptives have on the naturally occurring hormones
  • explain the benefits and drawbacks of hormonal contraceptives and their impact on performance.