My Journey On The Pill: Navigating Stigma and Celebrating Autonomy
By: HG Davis-Russell
“You aren’t on the pill?”
The above is a question, or rather a statement of confusion, that’s frequented my life as of late. No, I’m not on the pill. “But you’re on some kind of birth control, right?” Again, you’ll find my answer to be No.
As a twenty-year-old woman that holds herself to a strong standard of sexual health and a very outspoken member of the pro-choice community, my decision to not use a hormonal or internal method of contraception comes as a shock to most people I encounter when discussing the topic of reproductive health.
The taboo surrounding birth control
Growing up in the Bible Belt, my exposure to opinions surrounding contraception was primarily conservative. Whether rooted deeply in religious fears or misogyny, the choice to take any form of contraception is seen as taboo simply because it implies sexual activity to begin with.
In the Midwest, many individuals will go to their graves convinced that the “correct” and only true way for women to use birth control is through abstinence. Rest assured, my choice to be contraception-free is unrelated to this Midwestern standard.
My journey with different birth control methods, while primarily concerning my overall health and well-being, speaks more to the underlying societal expectations women face as child-bearers.
My decision not to use a prescribed form of birth control
To preface my beliefs: I don’t find there’s any space for religion or the opinions of men in the world of women’s reproductive health. I believe it is a right for women to have access to safe and affordable health services including but not limited to breast exams, termination of pregnancies, contraception, information regarding reproductive health, and more. As a baseline, my beliefs are rooted in choice.
My decision not to use a prescribed form of birth control is not out of ignorance or irresponsibility. Something people don’t recognize without an immediate explanation of this decision is that I’m not out having wild, unprotected sexcapades. I use condoms, get tested regularly for any irregularities in my sexual health, and be up-front about my expectations with partners.
My prior birth control experience
I first began taking a version of the pill called TriNessa when I was sixteen to help manage severe period symptoms and acne I was experiencing. While it helped regulate my body for a good two years or so, it caused my acne to resurface in a more intense, disruptive way over time.
It also heavily affected my sleep patterns, libido, and, after discussions with my physician, it more than likely increased symptoms of anxiety and a “lackluster” outlook on my day-to-day activities.
Through trial and error of four birth control methods over five years, I’ve become attuned to how my body reacts to different hormonal contraceptives. Unfortunately for me, the side effects outlay the benefits when it comes to my body and hormonal birth control.
The pros and cons of other birth control options
I vetoed other contraceptive options such as intrauterine devices (IUDs), Depo injections, vaginal rings, and skin patches because of hormonal side effects.
So what options are left?
That narrows the playing field to barrier methods such as condoms, sponges, cervical caps, spermicide, and the copper IUD. Unfortunately, sponges, cervical caps, condoms, and spermicide have lower success rates of preventing pregnancy.
Copper IUDs take the lead as the most preventative barrier method. However, for those with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) or Endometriosis, the inflammatory reaction copper IUDs use to kill sperm can increase harmful symptoms. Due to my experience with endometriosis, copper IUDs were crossed off my list, which has brought me to my strict use of condoms.
The double standards surrounding contraception
In a world where the war on women’s reproductive health is waged on a daily, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t somewhat terrified of pregnancy and its societal implications. Speaking candidly, I have little to no desire to have children of my own. I’m the trope of the wise, eccentric “aunt” that pops in from time to time during her travels to rustle feathers and sip rosé. I’ve always been rather uninterested in the idea of motherhood, and that’s okay.
Along with the unspoken expectation that women should be solely responsible for the children we bear, we’re also expected to deal with navigating pregnancy prevention.
The concept of male contraception includes methods such as condoms, withdrawal or pulling out, outercourse, and vasectomy.
In the trial of a male birth control pill, it was deemed unsafe for use due to side effects such as the development or increase of anxiety and depression, low libido, and feelings of dullness. Sound familiar?
The similarities in symptoms experienced by women are astonishing, though rarely discussed as the topic gets overshadowed by societal expectations of women to be responsible for pregnancy prevention.
Women largely being held as the sole body of responsibility when it comes to reproductive matters is one big double standard.
Navigating stigma and celebrating autonomy
My choice not to partake in the majority of birth control methods is about my mission to prioritize my health and be receptive to what my body is telling me. I want to make clear that if using any measure of birth control is a way in which you prioritize your health and well-being, I wholeheartedly respect and support your choice to do so!
A disclaimer: Not everyone experiences the adverse side effects of hormonal contraceptives and I encourage anyone seeking the potential benefits to discuss different methods with their physician to find something that works for your body.
The goal: I hope that discussing my contraceptive journey can create dialogue that sheds light on the double standards of reproductive responsibility and help destigmatize women’s choices surrounding contraceptives.