Let’s Talk About The Pill
By: HG Davis-Russell
“You aren’t on the pill?”
The above is a question, or rather a statement of confusion, that’s frequented my life as of late. No, I’m not on the pill. “But you’re on some kind of birth control, right?” Again, you’ll find my answer to be No.
As a twenty-year-old woman that holds herself to a strong standard of sexual health and a very outspoken member of the pro-choice community, my decision to not use a hormonal or internal method of contraception comes as a shock to most people I encounter when discussing the topic of reproductive health.
Growing up in the Bible Belt, my exposure to opinions surrounding contraception leaned heavily conservative, to say the least. Whether rooted deeply in religious fears, hegemonic masculinity, or simply in misogyny (though these factors easily go hand in hand) the choice to take any form of contraception is seen as almost, if not more, irresponsible than partaking in unprotected sexual activity merely because it implies sexual activity at all.
In the Midwest, a leading chunk of individuals will go to their graves convinced that the “correct” and only true way for women to use birth control is through abstinence. Rest assured, my choice to be contraception-free is rather unrelated to the Midwestern standard. My journey with different birth control methods, while primarily concerning my overall health and well-being, speaks more to the underlying societal expectations women face as child-bearing organisms.
To preface my beliefs: I don’t find there’s any space for religion or the opinions of cis men in the world of women’s reproductive health. It is a right for women to have access to safe and affordable health services including but not limited to breast exams, termination of pregnancies, contraception, information regarding reproductive health, and more. As a baseline, my beliefs are rooted in choice.
My decision not to use a prescribed form of birth control is not out of ignorance or irresponsibility. Something people don’t recognize without an immediate explanation of my decision is that I’m not out having wild, unprotected sexcapades. I use condoms, get tested regularly for any irregularities in my sexual health, and be up-front about my expectations with any partners. My use of contraceptives has always been more about the supposed benefits of reaching outside of pregnancy prevention.
I first began taking a version of the pill called TriNessa when I was sixteen to help manage severe period symptoms and acne I was experiencing. While it helped regulate my body for a good two years or so, it ended up causing symptoms such as my acne to resurface and in a more intense, disruptive way as I got older. It also heavily affected my sleep patterns, libido, and, as I’ve realized through my trials using other hormonal birth controls and discussions with my physician, more than likely increased the symptoms of my clinical anxiety and caused a “lackluster” outlook on my day to day activities.
Through trial and error of four total birth control methods over almost five years, I’ve become attuned to how my body reacts to different hormonal contraceptives. Unfortunately, the side effects outlay the benefits when it comes to my body and hormonal birth control.
While I’ve mainly discussed my use of the pill thus far, and it may seem as though there are worlds of other options out there when it comes to contraception, implants such as Nexplanon, intrauterine devices (IUDs), Depo injections, vaginal rings, and skin patches are amongst other methods I’ve had to veto over the use of hormones.
That narrows the playing field to barrier methods such as condoms, sponges, cervical caps, spermicide, and the copper IUD. Unfortunately, sponges, cervical caps, condoms, and spermicide have lower success rates of preventing pregnancy.
Copper IUDs take the lead as the most preventative barrier method; however, for those with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) or Endometriosis, the inflammatory reaction copper IUDs use to kill sperm increase harmful symptoms. Due to my navigation of endometriosis, the use of copper IUDs has been crossed off of my list as well, which has brought me to my strict use of condoms. To claim that there aren’t many birth control options would be untrue. However, there aren’t many birth control options that work harmoniously for my body.
In a world where the war on women’s reproductive health is waged on a daily, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t somewhat terrified of pregnancy and its societal implications. Speaking candidly, I have little to no desire to have children of my own. I could go on and on about the counterarguments I’m met with when that comes up in conversation, but what I know in my heart is that I lack the want and mere selflessness to trade in my passions for motherly instinct. I’m the trope of the wise, eccentric “aunt” that pops in from time to time during her travels to rustle feathers and sip rosé. I’ve always been rather uninterested in the idea of motherhood, and that’s okay.
The prospect of pregnancy remains in my mind indefinitely, though. I’ve noticed as I grow older that I’m more aware that along with the unspoken expectation that we as women should be solely responsible for the children we bear, we’re also expected to deal with the brunt of any struggles associated with pregnancy prevention.
The concept of male contraception includes methods such as condoms, withdrawal or pulling out, outercourse, and vasectomy. In the trial of a male-oriented form of birth control pill, it was deemed unsafe for use due to side effects such as the development or increase of anxiety and depression, low libido, and feelings of dullness. Sound familiar?
The similarities to symptoms experienced in trials by women are astonishing, though rarely discussed as the topic gets overshadowed by societal expectations of women to use contraceptives and the effort it takes to keep women’s reproductive health accessible. In simpler terms, women largely being held as the sole body of responsibility when it comes to reproductive matters is one big double standard.
Boiled down, my choice not to partake in the majority of birth control methods is about my mission to prioritize my health and my ability to be receptive to what my body is telling me. I want to make clear that if using any measure of birth control is a way in which you prioritize your health and wellbeing, I wholeheartedly respect and support your choice to do so!
Not everyone experiences the adverse side effects of hormonal contraceptives and I encourage anyone seeking the potential benefits to discuss different methods with their physician to find something that works for your body.
I hope that discussing my journey with contraception, becomes an opportunity to open up a dialogue that sheds further light on the double standards of reproductive responsibility, and moves to promote the destigmatization of women and our choices surrounding contraceptives.