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.

0 thoughts on “In Opposition to The Pill”

  1. Honestly i hate the pill. Every girl I have ever been with had some serious problem with it. Not only did it affect their bodies it affected our relationship and my sex life.

    So when it comes to calling it the liberating savior of the female world I laugh. Maybe it is and it just hasn’t reached the poor the people of the world.

    I can tell you this. My brother is in the Peace Corps in Namibia. His crew is teaching about health. I have often thought about what this means in a society without big-pharma.

    You think he is telling the Namibian women to “just get on the pill”?

    It forced me to think about the world outside of the big-pharma. Now dont get me wrong drugs save lives, but in our society drugs are “lifestyle choices”. If we didnt have that choice, like Namibian women dont, what would I tell them about healthy sex?

  2. I would say that it is inarguable the freedom it gave women when it was first widely distributed, but you are right in saying that we have not progressed since then. There should either be a viable men’s version by now (50 years is plenty of time to develop this) our at least something that has much fewer negative effects on the woman’s body.

  3. What a thoughtful piece. Yes, I too am in favor of technologies and norms that allow women not to be forced to have children and that protect unwanted children from being conceived (and possibly aborted). Bravo to birth control! Bravo to all that!

    But it’s time for us to move on to something much better. The Pill just isn’t good enough. It has wide-spread side effects that are physical and psychological. What about safe, non-hormonal options? Cervical caps, for example, are safe and highly effective. But no company in the US produces them any more because they cost about $5 and you only need one every few years. The Pill – $50/month or more, in the pockets of drug companies. Why would they cut off that gravy train?

    The establishment push to be on the Pill is huge. From the time I was very young – before I started needing birth control for anything – every doctor I saw tried to push the Pill. Yes, they want to prevent unwanted pregnancies. But even as an adult, I have been bullied into being on the Pill by docs who deny or minimize the serious side-effects.

    Like you, I tried them all – and wound up with depression, mood swings, weight gain, and a libido so dead that I had no use for birth control in the first place. It was like being a half-dead zombie, or some female equivalent of castration.

    These days, my partner often comments that I have sex-drive “like a man.” No – I have a sex drive like a healthy, biologically-intact woman – a woman who isn’t on the Pill!

    SO: What is to be done? Social norms that make reproductive decision-making solely the woman’s concern and drug companies who profit extensively from the Pill … Where does the impetus for change even start to come from?

  4. [email from a friend]

    Amy, so well said! I loved your commentary. I think the beauty of living in this country is that women do have the options of birth control which are both effective and affordable. For me personally, it’s anything but liberating. Taking hormones daily which alter my mood and libido is definitely not what I consider to be an acceptable option for me any longer (although I agree it’s probably a dream come true for both pharmaceuticals and men!). Don’t get me wrong, I used the pill for several years, and it served its purpose, and I know many women who are happy with it. But now after being off of it for several years, I truly notice a huge difference with my body and I won’t ever go back to taking it. Now that I’m older, and realize my body deserves better. And maybe someday there will be better options out there for women, and hopefully more focus will be placed on the man sharing in the responsibility. But that won’t happen until women start demanding it and realize they deserve better.

    -J

  5. Amy – thanks for writing this. There is no woman who’s life experience isn’t deeply affected by her fertility.

    The invention and availability of the pill was an inflection point in human rights and women’s free will and free choice. That does not mean it is the final word, so to speak, and the ability to reflect on its contributions and impacts – both positive and negative is in itself a luxury and a responsibility. Who was it who said that freedom must be earned by every generation?
    This type of reflection is what is required to enable the next generation of progress in understanding gender, equality and free will.

  6. btw – I looked it up. It was Coretta Scott King who said –
    “ Freedom is never really won you earn it and win it in every generation.”

    The pill should not stand as the end of the conversation or science of reproductive and contraceptive rights.

  7. I have worked in Pharmacies where certain Pharmacists refuse to dispense birth control while they are working, due to their religious beliefs.

    I grew up in a state (Utah) where birth control was never talked about when I was a teenager. I was brought up that you only have sex when you are married, so I never really worried about it. As I grew older, the “waiting till you were married” was thrown out the window.

    I’ve taken birth control for 8 years and luckily I haven’t had any side effects. (Including libido, moody, etc) This may have something to do with me taking the active pills (skipping the last week) for 3 months and giving my body a week break. Besides that the point is Drug Companies are “trying” to replicate hormones in our body, and whenever you put something foreign in your body, there’s a potential for side effects.

    I’m glad that women have the right to decide if they want a child or not. It hurts knowing people like your grandmother had to go through that. I also agree that guys have a responsibility to protect themselves too. STD’s are still at risk, and even condoms won’t give you 100% guarantee from them.

    Great post Amy!

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