Alright it’s time to talk about contraception.
An area that I am both grossly unqualified in and desperately passionate about. My favourite pre-rant state.
Hahaha. I’m joking (I’m not).
I’m not a doctor. I don’t know enough about my own body and, despite the fact I’ve spent a decade of my life using it, I don’t know an awful lot about contraception.
But I am a woman. A woman who has been using contraception for the best part of ten years and who will need to continue doing so for a good few years yet, and who ought to bloody know about it.
Because my lack of knowledge isn’t okay. It’s normal. And it’s not even really my fault. But it isn’t okay.
The decision to alter our hormone levels, take regular medication and undergo medical procedures should not be taken lightly, and yet, when it comes to this area of our health, more often than not women find themselves agreeing blindly to things, often times because they don’t know they don’t have to.
Contraception has always been thought to be the ‘woman’s job’. Although obviously in lots of instances men are expected to use condoms, ultimately the responsibility is felt more by the person who would be left holding the parcel if the music stopped. The steaks are higher for women, should a pregnancy occur, whatever we decide to do next is utterly life changing.
And that’s before you even begin to consider the other reasons people turn to contraceptives; from conditions such as endometriosis which is said to be helped by the mirena coil, to the pill which has proven to be really effective in helping women with irregular periods, bad cramps and other hormonal symptoms.
It doesn’t matter if you’re sexually active or not, contraception is something that almost all women have to deal with.
And yet there is still a stigma attached to it. Thanks to the legalisation of contraception in association with the women’s liberation movement, coupled with the issue of contraception and the church (do not get me started on this), the smutty undertones that surround women taking control of their sexual health are still very much felt.
Contraception is still not widely spoken about, throughout education (I left school on the pill and with the know how to slip a condom onto a banana, but that was it), in the medical profession (8 minutes per GP appointment we don’t really have time to fully discuss our options so often just leave on the pill because it’s ‘easier’) and even amongst our peers.
Like a lot of girls, I dumbly accepted the first packet of microgynm I was given as a teenager, didn’t flinch when, apropos of nothing, that was swapped out for a different brand of pill and, upon being advised later that the pill in general wasn’t such a good idea after all, I was perfectly willing to let a stranger shove an object baring striking resemblance to a cork screw up my vag having done little to no research on the thing prior to insertion.
I currently have the mirena coil (I’ve written about that if you fancy reading about my experience with it) which I have had in for three years, and before that I was on the combined pill.
Since I was 15 I have used hormonal contraception.
Day to day I am okay with that; I am lucky in that I have never really suffered with the side effects that commonly effect those on hormonal contraception. Although I liked to blame my teenage spots and weight gain on the pill, I secretly harbour the suspicion that that was less to do with the sugar coated tablet I took every night, rather the share bag of biscuits I would eat every break time.
Which, I realised yesterday morning on my way to the Superdrug’s #mybodymychoice event that inspired this blog post in the first place, means I have got no idea what my ~natural~ state is when it comes to hormones.
That is a worry for me, I can’t lie and say it isn’t. Having had little to no education on these things I’m just blindly doing my best and hoping that that’s the right thing for my body. I trust that the doctor knew what they were doing and that I’m not making a mistake, either by potentially making it harder to conceive a child later in life or damaging my mental health now.
I wonder if I’m exaggerating when I say that problems surrounding my identity arise from time to time as a result; it’s not uncommon to find me, two minutes into a fight with Alex that I can’t remember why I picked, wondering if this scatty neurosis is all me or (hopefully?) something to do with my hormones.
And what if they’re having a detrimental effect on my body, too?
Sometimes when I have got literally nothing else to think about I recount the horror stories that I heard as a teenager and wonder what is happening to all of the periods that I’m not currently having due to my contraception: will all of this blood just fall out of me when I get the coil removed, the placenta to my new born baby? Or has it seeped back into my veins? When I get a paper cut am I in fact bleeding out one half of an unborn child??? (I know this is daft, btw).
When I watch my friends suffer with their period pains or have to fork out a fiver on a box of tampons I harbour an ugly combination of smugness and sympathy which turns into abject terror when I hear cancer research campaigners reiterate the importance of knowing what’s normal when it comes to our periods.
I don’t have normal periods. Once every few weeks they’ll be a smidge of dark brown blood or else a bit of spotting but just as soon as it arrives, it goes again. And then sometimes I’ll get period pains, but are they actually period pains? Or do I just need a fart? Is this IBS? Is this Ovarian Cancer?
My contraception, right now, is the lump under the rug. It’s one of the dust bunnies down the back of the sofa. It’s the manky aubergine at the bottom of the vegetable draw.
It’s not a problem. Yet.
But those little anxieties, the unasked questions, the uncertainty: they’re not great. And they’re something that most of us are living with.
Contraception is something that we all have to think about. The problem is… well, we don’t know what to think. We know we need IT. We just don’t know what the IT actually is.
What we do know is that over half of women (6/10) are not happy with their contraception right now, and so it’s a conversation that needs to be had.
But how do we have it?
The priority must first be to remove shame for the equation. Contraception is nothing to be ashamed of: having sex and enjoying sex is something that women have every right to do and as soon as that can be acknowledged, the better.
Feeling too that it’s not a big deal and that you might be wasting a doctor’s time by seeking medical advice is something that we have to get over. This is something that I suspect is causing a lot of us to suffer in silence. Breaking out in spots, missing a couple of periods, feeling inexplicably “down” are not, to most of us, symptoms worth troubling the stretched NHS with, and even when the symptoms worsen, it’s not uncommon to find most women cracking on regardless, scared to be seen as a time waster.
The doctor will not consider you to be time wasting, and if they do, then you have every right to find a new doctor, or a gynaecologist, who will take you seriously. You have every right to fight for your body and to demand that you are taken seriously. It is your body and your choice. Don’t forget that.
On the flip side of that, I believe the NHS still has a lot to do when it comes to the topic of contraception. The pill is by far and away the most popular prescribed contraception in England but it seems little thought is being given to the side effects that might occur, or other health issues that make the pill an unsuitable option. At the six monthly check ups required for people on the pill, blood pressure and BMI are checked, but it is rare that any questions concerning our wellbeing are asked.
Curiously too it is bizarre that the pill is so popular, given that it is an irritant, having to take medication every day and is actually only thought to be 91% effective, whereas IUDs are thought to be 99%. The pill however is cheaper, so that might go a way to explaining why it is more popular with GPs.
(As an unrelated but fun and VERY frustrating aside, earlier this year the news broke that the “21 day pill” that we are all so familiar with does not actually require us to have the “seven day break” that doctors told us we had to do. This, as it transpired, came about as a result of a catholic doctor who thought that it would be nice and natural for the female body to have the chance to bleed once a month. I told you earlier not to get me started on this but FUCK religion has no place in medicine. Read more about that story here, but basically, yes, you don’t need to take the break and actually the pill becomes significantly more effective if you just continue to take it straight through).
There has been a discussion recently about developing a contraception for men. At the moment their only option is a condom (too little) or a vasectomy (waaayyyy too big). The gender bias surrounding contraception is something that cannot be overlooked. When it very much takes two to tango, why is the issue of contraception so often left for the woman to deal with?
Even issues surrounding the dialogue show the discrepancies; women are “expected” to lower the oestrogen levels whilst in their early twenties so as not to get pregnant. Can you please find me a doctor who might be willing to say to a man: “hang on, you don’t need so much testosterone right now as you’re not reproducing. Let’s cut that way back and reassess when you think you might be ready to start a family.”
There have been reports of a male contraceptive pill being in the works, but rumour has it the side effects displayed in the trial (the same ones that us gals have been experiencing for eons) meant that it was delayed. Even if the product does pass the trial stage though there is then the issue of trusting men to take the pill every day. Leaving it in the hands of the people behind the “but sex just feels so much better with a condom on” school of thought is, quite fairly, not a popular concept.
With private vasectomies costing in the region of £300-£500, it’s small wonder that the issue of contraception is simply left to the woman to undertake. It’s cheaper and, theoretically, easier.
But it’s not that easy, this contraceptive stuff, to be honest.
We crack on with it because we have to, but that doesn’t make it easy.
It’s not a smooth road for any of us, and yet it’s just another one of those things that comes with being a woman. Another little worry that sits at the back of our mind. Or in the middle of our uterus, depending.
The problems that my friends have encountered as a result of contraception are more than I can count, my friend Peta, who hosted the Superdrug panel talk yesterday, nearly died as a result of hers, I started an Instagram chat this morning and every woman that joined has a story to share.
In lots of ways the topic of contraception needs not to be a big deal.
When it comes to having open and honest conversations with our families, friends, doctors, and teachers it needs to be an open an honest conversation.
In lots of other ways though the topic of contraception needs to be a huge deal.
Something taken significantly more seriously than it is being taken at the moment. To be shoved on a mood and body altering medication as a teenager and left to deal with the consequences indefinitely is not healthy, nor is opting to undergo medical procedures because something “really worked for our best friend”. That’s simply not how you make decisions like that. We’re not buying a new concealer, or deciding where to go to lunch. We’re playing with the big dogs here. We’re making a big decision with big consequences and we have to consider what is best for our body.
One size fits all did not work with tights, what makes anyone think it’s going to work with contraception?
You don’t need to do something because your friends are doing it or because your GP said that something was a popular option. What method of contraception you use is YOUR CHOICE and you have every right to take complete control of that situation.
If you’re not comfortable, don’t do it. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If you don’t like it, don’t do it.
And if you need support, please, ask for it. It’s there.
Which brings me onto my final and arguably most important point: there is a website that you NEED to know about.
It is called The Low Down and it is basically tripadvisor for contraceptives.
Have a look at the website: https://theldown.com/all-reviews/, it is an AMAZING place for advice and support. Basically real life women have reviewed their experiences on different forms of contraception so that you can get a better idea of what might work for you!!! I KNOW. INCREDIBLE. If you have had any form of birth control please go and share your experience, so that you can then help other women!
There is probably an awful lot that I missed out of this post, it is a HUGE conversation and one that I want to continue having (and am doing, currently, on my Instagram). There may well be a part two to this blog post in the coming weeks, but as this one comes to an end, let me leave you with this:
It’s your body. Your choice.