So how-to-girls, I think we need to have a chat. Namely, I think we need to have a chat about how we chat about birth control.
Picture this: you’re a virgin, but you decide you’re ready for the next step. Although you intend to use condoms, you’ve done your research and you know there’s a possibility that they could tear or fall off, so you decide you’d better protect yourself a little more. So who do you turn to for advice?
We may spend hours googling the different options as our brains slowly explode from information overload, but ultimately we’re probably going to end up turning to the ladies around us and say “So, what do you find is good for you?”
And here’s where it gets messy.
Birth control is a matter of trial and error. Birth control, by default, means messing with our bodies in some way. For females, it either means messing with our hormones, or messing with our lady bits. In both cases, for many people it will be absolutely fine and there will be no adverse affects whatsoever. Unfortunately though, I think most women out there have tried a birth control method that turned out to be complete… well… bollocks. This is simply because when dealing with something so incredibly complex like our hormone levels and lady bits, every body is different. But THAT is the message we need to send, rather than scaring the absolute shit out of each other.
Now imagine our previous scenario. Imagine the virgin-you has decided you might try the pill. Now imagine that the first girlfriend you ask goes on to tell you that the pill made her gain weight like a manatee and mood swing like a see saw. Are you likely to feel comfortable trying it for yourself?
I get it – if something has gone horribly for you, you want to be a good friend and warn your mates, right? That’s what good friends do, right? But the problem is that you’re dealing with a topic that many women are uncomfortable with to start with, as well as something that is entirely subjective. Something may work for you that totally sucked for your friend – that’s normal and totally okay, and that’s what we need to be saying to each other, rather than regaling each other of graphic details of weight gain, bruising, tears in places there should never be tears, and the pain akin to a thousand suns singeing you going on in your abdominal region.
This is important among us women for a variety of reasons. Protecting yourself is a good habit to be in, but it can be a scary process. If all we ever hear are the stories of things going wrong, then the idea of trialling something new can be really daunting.
Take me for example. Long before sex was even a thought in my brain (which, at that time, was far more worried about Neopets and Tamagotchis), I started taking the pill because a dermatologist recommended it for my teenage acne. She was right about the skin benefits – it certainly cleared up the good ol’ pizza face. However, what was never brought up with me was the possibility of the effects the pill could have on my mood. It took me ten years to make the connection and realise that maybe the pill was a factor to my fairly significant depression (one of many, admittedly, but present all the same). In that time, I’d tried many different brands, but it became apparent that the pill was simply not for me.
Cue me doing my research (which I should have done in the first place, but again, I was more focussed on my MySpace page when I started, and the fact that depression and the pill might be linked never even crossed my mind).
I started looking into alternative methods and I was concerned because it seemed to me that everything on the market was hormonal (apart from copper IUDs), and therefore I feared likely to affect me the same way the pill did.
I considered the possibility of Implanon, hoping that perhaps the lower dose and steady release of the hormones would be sufficient to eliminate the mood effects I’d had on the pill. I inevitably turned to my girlfriends, because that’s what we do, right?
Oh the floodgates I opened. The handful of girls I asked told me tales of their own experiences, or of friends of theirs, where they’d been bruised, battered, had the implants stuck, put on a tonne of weight, had unbearable mood swings etc. I’m not saying those girls meant any harm – they didn’t. It hadn’t worked for them, and they wanted to warn me of that fact.
But here’s the clincher – for every person who has an adverse affect to a particular type of birth control, there’s probably ten to twenty more who have had zero issues with it whatsoever.
So afraid was I of the alternatives that I didn’t even bother making the switch for many years (putting up with the side effects all the while), until I mentioned my fears in passing to a different friend. She was surprised by my concerns, and told me she’d had Implanon for years and that it was fine. She was honest with me, and explained that she’d had a few problems at one stage, but that her body had soon adjusted and after that it’d been perfectly smooth sailing. She didn’t make those problems sound like her uterus was about to fall out somewhere it shouldn’t, or that she’d been so moody she’d threatened a partner with a rusty knife. In fact, she didn’t go into details at all (though I’m sure if I’d asked she would have).
It was what I’d needed to hear all along. After hearing her reassuring tale, I went and tried it, and it turns out it works fine for me. Zero issues of which to speak.
So here’s the thing.
If someone asks me what my experiences of the pill are, I’m not going to tell them the gory details of the ways it didn’t work. I’m going to tell them that, unfortunately, it wasn’t great for me, but that I’d still highly recommend they give it a shot to see how it works out for them. I’d also encourage them to try different types and brands before writing it off forever. And that’s what we should be doing with one another.
The rumours surrounding different types of birth control abound. And whilst, yes, it is up to us as individuals to sort fact from fiction, when we’re aware that companies are only going to publish information that casts their products in positive lights, we’re going to turn to the anecdotal evidence of the women we know as support. And that’s where we, as good friends, need to separate our own experiences from the likely reality. This is so important because we never want to scare people off of trying something that might allow them to protect themselves. Think back to virgin-you. That’s often a terrifying and daunting experience in the first place, so adding to that fear with tales of birth control gone wrong do nothing to soothe the transition. We do not help our inexperienced and possibly already terrified friends with these facts. And don’t forget – contraceptives are changing (and usually improving) all the time. Just because something didn’t work for you ten years ago doesn’t mean it’s going to be an epic fail now as well.
I know that my reaction to the pill was unusual. I now know that the horror stories I heard of Implanon were unusual. I therefore question how much of the rumours surrounding the other forms of birth control available are true as well.
So do your research, and yes, by all means ask your friends. But remember that every individual body is different, and their horror stories should not scare you off giving something a try. Talk to your GP about what will work for you. And for the love of all that is holy, find a GOOD GP who will actually talk with you in depth about it rather than acting as if it’s all common knowledge and you shouldn’t be asking questions. You have a right to ask all the questions you can come up with.
It’s your body. Love it, treat it well, and do what works for you and for it.
Be safe, be kind, and take care of each other girls!
P.S. and don’t forget – condoms are still the only form of contraception which protect against STDs, so always worth using them as well as whatever else you decide upon 🙂