On Choice, Contraception and Woman Power

What if choosing the contraception that best suits you was not an option?

The Pill revolutionised sex. There’s no denying it. Margaret Sanger probably wouldn’t believe how widespread the oral contraceptive she dreamed of has become. But that’s not to say it’s actually the best or most suitable method out there for you. There are SO many more options available (compared to the 1950s) that allow women to take control of their bodies. There are even some involving no additional hormones, pills, injections or heat-of-the-moment fumbles.

Why should any woman have to put my body through the shit that extra hormones bring on? Why should anyone experience the mood swings, weight gain, bad skin, headaches and other hormonal side effects for sex?

As if there isn’t enough of a power trip going on in the bedroom department already, with the stand-offish attitude that so many guys adopt when it comes to being responsible about contraception. How many men reject the use of a condom because they ‘don’t like using them’?! Yes, the woman would have to deal with the consequences of conception – hopefully not entirely alone – because it’s her body. But that rule applies in advance of the act too – every woman can take charge and in the way SHE wants to.

Stand With Women

Four years ago, I decided to take control of my own body. I’d been through a number of different Pills, being told these were suitable for my body but ultimately not enjoying having to remember to take them everyday. Particularly when I realised I’d have to take this Pill everyday for as long as my sex life continued…

I was just 18 when I got the implant – the same drug as my most recent Pill, released daily into my body by a piece of plastic in my arm. Upshot: no periods. Great (for two years). Then BAM. Two periods a month for six months. The solution? Take a daily Pill for a few months, and maybe things will settle down… A double dose of progesterone into my already imbalanced young body, how would that help?!

I had a tough time persuading the professionals that I’d made the best choice for me, but I’m headstrong and knew what I wanted. Namely an IUD. The NHS don’t like giving them out to women before they’ve had children. Admittedly, it was painful at the time, but I haven’t looked at a pill or worried about my hormones since 2010. And I won’t need to think about a new one until 2020. The last time I saw a GP, she said she was impressed by my choice of the IUD and praised me for taking responsibility for my own body and finding an effective method to suit me.

Intrauterine devices sit in the womb, preventing the fertilisation of an egg or implantation of the egg in the uterus. One type doesn’t involve any hormones and lasts for 10 years. That’s A DECADE without having to even THINK about remembering to take a pill, carry condoms or having to stock up on your chosen contraceptive.

I know that not every woman is likely to react as well to the IUD as I have. Like everything, it does have its downsides; the side effects vary depending on the individual. It goes without saying that what works for one person may not necessarily work for another and that it is always important to fully research the pros and cons of any medical decision, in consultation with a professional. But this was right for me and my body, and I’m so glad I had the power to make this decision for myself.

Yet I speak to friends of mine – all intelligent, independent and responsible young women (and men) – who have never even heard of these devices. Why?! I’m beginning to think that we’re not actually offered the choice we’re supposedly given and are entitled to.

Nonetheless, we women of the UK are pretty damn lucky really. The NHS is a major advantage. Contraception is free, readily available, and comes with advice, support (usually) and, most importantly, choice.

The US Supreme Court says employers with religious objections can refuse to pay for certain types of contraception.

This includes IUDs and female condoms, which are proven to reduce the spread of HIV.

This is the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby case and new Ohio legislature. According to them, the IUD is an abortifacient (a device that induces abortion), which completely contradicts the long-standing definition of abortion. Nonetheless, there are now 82 US companies that have publicly announced their belief – contrary to scientific evidence – that certain forms of birth control are the same as abortion (and many pro-life campaigners believe that abortion is the same as murder).

This is a country where there is no centralised health service, so most people rely on the healthcare plans that their employers provide. A country where women’s contraceptive choices apparently involve their bosses and the conservative religious beliefs of the organisation they work for, regardless of the employee’s own beliefs. How is this anyone’s business but a woman and her doctor’s (and her partner’s, should she wish to share)?

These new rulings set a dangerous precedent.

If one of the world powers begins to discriminate against certain types of contraceptives – particularly female-focused forms that give women agency in their sexual relationships – aren’t we opening the door for excuses that prevent women taking control of something that is (or should be) immutably their own?

Aren’t we denying women power over their own bodies?

My hope in writing this is to share the news (I haven’t even seen this story on any UK news programmes), and that by sharing we can open some minds to the importance of contraceptives, choice, safety and women power.

(Originally published on Aliljoy.com on 18 July 2014)

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