Monthly Archives: May 2010

In Opposition to The Pill

I don’t normally write about sex per se at 1×57 but the recent 50th anniversary of the U.S. FDA’s approval of “The Pill” stirred up so many thoughts about sexuality, gender, childbearing, relationships, access to information, and the government’s role in all of this that I couldn’t miss the opportunity to ask questions.

I wouldn’t be speaking about this if it hadn’t been for an email Erin Kotecki-Vest shared that was sent to her in response to the ideas she expressed in a CNN piece – What ‘The Pill’ did:

Dear Erin Kotecki-Vest,

I read your piece on CNN.com and I think I know why you are not in God’s favor. HE will take your woman parts because you do NOT obey HIM. You deserve to have much pain in your surgery and to know HIS will.

I pray for you

SG

When I saw this, I couldn’t help but think (besides how sad the author is plagued with such ignorance and hatred) we as a society have a long way to go. For someone to show such vitriol over a woman’s ability to control reproduction means there is still a prevailing sentiment in our culture that fears women having control. Period.

In the past century, we’ve experienced tremendous change, both technologically and socially, with regards to reproduction and birth control.  At the time of my grandmother’s childbearing years, even after giving birth to five children and begging for a tubal ligation, it was still her male physician’s decision to determine when she had conceived enough children to warrant the procedure. She would go on to give birth to two more children, almost dying in labor with her last stillborn child.

During the time of my mother’s childbearing years, there was an entire generation of girls who “went away.” It wasn’t talked about then and it’s not talked about today but post-World War II and pre-Roe v Wade and the prescribing of birth control pills to unmarried women, approximately 1 out of 4 sexually active American women who got pregnant were shipped off to religion-based “homes,” where they were hidden away until they gave birth, then coerced or even forced into giving up their babies for adoption. I can’t imagine how painful or difficult this must have been. Nor can I fully appreciate how relatively recent this practice is – just one generation removed from someone my age.

Which brings me to The Pill and contemporary views on birth control. For all intents and purposes, I support anything that gives women reign over their bodies and prevents the situations my mother’s and grandmother’s generations were put in. What I take issue with is how pregnancy prevention is still considered, by a large segment of our society, a woman’s responsibility, although not necessarily a right. And I wonder what a pro-Pill society means for women.

Many women, young and old, view The Pill as a symbol of personal empowerment and yet I hear too many women say the reason they’re on it is because the men/boys they’re with don’t like wearing condoms. Are women being empowered by doing what’s right for their own bodies or are they simply trying to avoid “inconveniencing” men? Add on the fact that The Pill does nothing to prevent the spread and contraction of STDs, to which women are much more vulnerable than men, as well as the plethora of unfavorable side effects it can have, and The Pill doesn’t seem like such a blessing, which is unfortunate since the trend in the United States seems to be making The Pill the norm. According to the most recent government data, from 2002, more than eight in ten American women ages 15 to 44 had taken oral contraceptives at some point in their lives. And stories of teenage girls going on The Pill as soon they hit puberty are widespread. I can only imagine this thrills pharmaceutical companies, for which oral contraceptives is a multi-billion dollar business. This makes me a little skeptical. Anytime there’s lots of money to be made, I always wonder about the costs. And who bears them.

For all the women who love The Pill, I’m glad. I’m glad it’s had a positive impact. For me it’s had the opposite. Over the course of my adult life, I’ve been on ten different birth control pills – from Depo to Ortho to Yasmin. And every time it’s had some type of adverse effect on me – from horrible mood swings to extreme lethargy to a libido without a pulse. I know I’m not the only one who has experienced or experiences this, and this is what I find disconcerting. What if an entire generation of women grow up only knowing nothing else? I also wonder if one of the reasons The Pill is effective in preventing pregnancy is because it’s makes women not want to have sex. I know too many couples (too too many) where lack of sex is a primary issue in the relationship. I’m not blaming The Pill here, but I can’t imagine it helps the situation. Women’s lib shouldn’t come at the cost of a woman’s libido.

I don’t have a universal alternative solution for The Pill. For me, it’s meant the guy I’m with has had to take an active role in making sure our actions don’t create any unwanted consequences. It’s meant either using condoms or using the pullout method (an option more viable now that Plan B can be obtained over the counter). It’s been 100% effective in my relationships but it requires my partner have a sense of his own body and what he’s doing and it also requires trust, which, in my opinion, are essential components of a healthy sexual relationship.

I don’t know what the future holds for birth control and reproduction. Maybe it will be an ultrasound procedure for males (like the one being developed at the University of North Carolina) or maybe it will be an artificial uterus. I do know that no matter what technological advances we make, it’s very much a social issue that’s at the center of debate in government, politics, and business. And it will probably continue to be. But it’s a topic that needs to be talked about openly and explored, by both men and women. Relegating it as a women-only responsibility, considering it a topic inappropriate to talk about in public forums, and allowing any one body of thought to dictate the terms, doesn’t do anybody any good.