why not using birth control is awesome
A couple of months ago, the “pill” celebrated it’s 100th birthday. There were congratulatory articles in the New York Times and other mainstream media: one article in the Times had hundreds of reader’s comments discussing the pill. I read through them, as I am wont to do, gradually more and more shocked by the overwhelming complaints from women across the U.S. and Canada. It made me wonder– if women are so unhappy with the pill, why on earth are we celebrating it?
I took several different kinds of pills at three different junctures during my twenties. The first and third time I took it, I cried so frequently and so uncontrollably that I had to go off of it within months. The second time I took it I also took zoloft. I lasted a year, during which I also contracted painful UTIs. I have also tried condoms and a diaphragm. They both gave me horrible yeast infections. I thought about trying the depro shot, but my girlfriends who took it got fat– so I abandoned that idea.
My story is similar to the stories I read in the NYT’s reader’s comments that day. There are more stories too– one of my girlfriend reports that the pill makes her feel lonely because she has to shoulder all of the work that goes into thinking about fertility–traditionally a couple’s concern; another of my friends hasn’t had a period for three years. Her father put her on the pill when she was 16 and she hasn’t been off since. She also suffers from acute anxiety. In addition, according to the AP, there is now a major lawsuit against the “patch” due to the death of several women. Lawsuits have also been brought against NuvaRing (a hormonal ring that is inserted inside the vagina) and Yaz, a pill.
A couple of years ago, I declared that I would never use hormonal birth control methods, nor condoms, again. I was sick and tired of side effects, and found it supremely unfair that fertility management had become a women’s issue only. After some research, I discovered the Fertility Awareness Method(FAM). It is one of several new plans that use tracking methods to establish the time of the month during which a woman ovulates so that she can either avoid, or plan, her pregnancy. This method includes taking one’s temperature in the morning, checking cervical mucus, and recording all of it to establish the overall pattern of ovulation.
Here is where my story gets weird. Excited by this new, free, non-hormonal, non-invasive method of fertility management, I went to my doctor to discuss it. To say that she was unenthusiastic about the idea is to put it mildly. I then brought the idea to my friends. I got responses ranging from: “sure, it might be ok for you, but most women are too irresponsible to do all that work,” to “isn’t that the rhythm method?” (it’s not) “there is no way that could ever be accurate.” Finally, I turned to the internet. Over and over again, I found women deploring the pill, but little to no information on this alternative form of fertility management. I finally found a sympathetic nurse practitioner who wore groovy sandals, and a fascinating article on Slate.com called ‘Your Grandmother’s Birth Control Might Actually Work’. Both gave me the information I needed and the courage I was looking for to try out this new way of doing things. What I didn’t realize then, was how much I would not only get a new way of doing things– but a new way of thinking.
To me, now, this method is so much more than birth control. For the first time in my life I feel like I understand my body, it’s cycles, and the moods that are attached. Over time, I have become completely attuned to the smallest changes in my body and spirit, learning the hints that are naturally and uniquely mine. It’s thrilling and empowering and I wish I had known this before I was 33. Even more than that, I have gained an entirely different and profound respect for what it means to be a women who is capable of giving birth. I feel like I am working with my body and psyche, instead of against it. In other words– this isn’t a one size fits all approach, but a way of understanding my body that is tailor-made for me! And, when I have a partner, I will be working with him, instead of alone. That is to say, men have to be involved in the question of conception with this method, since during a woman’s fertile period we both have to abstain from intercourse (but of course, not from romance). I have been so surprised and so moved by the impact that this seemingly minor change in my life has wrought in me, that this entire question of natural fertility management has become a social justice to me.
I routinely ask women about their birth control and whether they have heard of FAM. Some have, most haven’t. The ones who have talk about it with the same kind of reverence and belief that I feel. The ones who haven’t pose all sorts of reasons that this could be impossible– as if I were some kind of fertility goddess who is uniquely positioned to undertake such a laborious project (I’m not). Women tell me that they are too irresponsible (“but you are able to hold down a job!”); that it takes too much time (“it takes as much time to take your temperature for 30 seconds in the morning as it does to get a glass of water and swallow a pill”); that there is no way they could abstain for sex for 12 to 36 hours a month (“but you haven’t had a boyfriend in two years and you haven’t died”).
The real issue, of course, is that hormonal birth control is a multi-billion dollar industry that has somehow convinced the mainstream medical community, and most of society, that women are helpless sheep who have no control over their own sexuality. I resent that. Of course, this industry claims they are doing this for women– but when women are dying, or suffering from depression, I have my doubts. And the reason why I see sinister motives writ large all over this industry that claims they are for women (all of the CEOs of companies that produce hormonal birth control methods are men, by the way) is that methods such as FAM are not even presented as an option. If we are supposedly so in favor of sharing with women the information and choices they need to make their own decisions– then why aren’t young women in high school (57% of youth in high school are sexually active) taught about natural ways of working with their fertility, instead of told to take a pill and feel liberated? Why don’t doctors present their patients– men and women– with real information about it? Why aren’t thermometers handed out next to free condoms in bathroom bars? Why doesn’t Planned Parenthood hand out pamphlets about FAM at their rallies?
As long as women don’t understand their bodies, and are taught to take invasive medications because they have no self-control over their own sexual desires, people, somewhere, will make truckloads of cash.
If we teach girls– young women– about how their beautiful bodies really function, and how we can treat ourselves with gentleness and respect… imagine the impact that might have on areas like self-image, weight issues, interactions with boys and men, STDs… the possibilities are endless. (And while it is true that FAM does not protect women from STDs, it is also true that women who understand and are careful with their bodies and spirits will do more not to engage in high-risk sex). So, instead of saying ‘hurrah’, the pill has turned 100 years old, I am saying something else. Something is wrong: STDs are on the rise particularly among young women, girls are pressured to have sex at younger and younger ages, and porn featuring women brutalized by men is rampant; indeed, porn addictions are spiraling out of control. This leads me to ask– are we really liberated? Are we really respected?
And, doesn’t respect begin in the most fundamental place possible– between women and herself? A respect that concerns her own natural, beautiful, unique way of being…her own gorgeous sexuality?