Being the founder of a contraceptive counseling platform, I talk about birth control a lot. I have open conversations about sex, sexual health/wellness, and contraceptives on the regular. I find these conversations fun and a means of moving the needle forward in reproductive health. However I didn’t always feel this way, and with many sharing that they lacked comprehensive sexual health knowledge and felt awkward talking about it in school, I know I’m not alone.
It occured to me how significant my perspective and knowledge base has changed over the years since taking my reproductive health into my own hands. I thought it would be fun to do a little comparison!
1. Going Into a Bathroom Stall to Take my Pill vs. Taking It in the Open Deliberately
I remember my first birth control pill pack. The little buttons were turquoise and I hadn’t told many people I had them. I didn’t want to face any public scrutiny for being on birth control, so I naturally retreated to where every teenager goes for a private moment at school - a bathroom stall. I recall timing the flush of the toilet with taking out a pill from the crinkly package so no one would be the wiser.
Oh the sweet sweet chance to normalize birth control use! Now, when I’m on an oral contraceptive I willingly pop that pill out in any public setting I find myself in. Sometimes I feel like the more attention I can grab doing so, the better. I think it’s important to break down harmful ideologies about contraception and show other vulva owners that using birth control is nothing to be ashamed of. I hope people see this small act for what it is: me being proactive about my health.
2. Feeling So Embarrassed and Uncomfortable with my Older Male Doctor vs. Talking Reproductive Rights to Men on a Daily Basis
I was about 16 or 17 when I first went on birth control. I went to my family doctor who is an older male and the doctor for my entire immediate family. I was nervous about asking for the pill, let alone talking about sex with a lackluster man over twice my age. I wanted to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. I didn’t have any questions - mostly because I didn’t know what to ask. All I knew was that I was getting more sexually active and I didn’t want to get pregnant. The visit was short, concise, and without much room for discussion. I left with some pill packs and instructions to read a pamphlet.
As a startup founder I’m always spreading the mission and vision of Reya. Especially when it comes to schmoozing investors. Recent findings state that 81% of venture capitalist investors are men, and 58% are white men. So you can imagine that I am trying to convince many older white men that there is a real struggle to find the right birth control option. Sometimes I get frustrated when I hear responses like “I don’t know anything about birth control” or “I’ll have to ask my wife about this”. Like what giant rock have these people been living under?! Other times and luckily for me this happens more often than the former, I’m excited to educate these people on the problem! By introducing them to the negative experiences 75% of women have with birth control, it can instigate a thoughtful and compassionate conversation with the vulva owners in their own lives.
3. Thinking There Was the Condom and a Pill and That Was About it
vs. SO.MANY.OPTIONS. (Yet Not Nearly Enough)
A quick revisit to the fun little trip I had to my family doctor when I was in high school brings up the memory that I was literally clueless when it came to birth control and the options available. Rumor had it that there were condoms and the pill. I thought the pill would be easier for pregnancy prevention than getting the condom thing right every time (how I thought about STIs in high school vs now should be a whole other post). I also had no idea what taking the pill would mean for my body and the changes it would undergo. I was largely unprepared for this medication and I think that had a lot to do with the negative experiences I endured in the years to come.
I don’t mean to brag but… I know quite a bit about birth control now! I’m still learning and growing into this space, but I am certainly aware that there are many more options than just condoms and the pill. I am a huge advocate for thinking about other options if your birth control is making you feel uncomfortable in any way. Today, we have so many to choose from there is no reason why your health care should make you feel uncomfortable. There is a method out there for you! Yes, we need more options. We need more non-hormonal methods that are low maintenance and effective. We need more affordable options and equal access to all of them. There is so much room for improvement in this department and it starts with talking about it.
4. Thinking That Girls* on Birth Control Must be Having Sex vs. Being Way Smarter Now
I’m sure part of the reason why I hid out in the bathroom to take my pill was because I didn’t want people to think I was sleeping around. This is problematic for many reasons:
So what if I was sleeping around? I’m obviously being safe by using birth control and taking actions to prevent STIs. Also, I think consensual sexual exploration is a positive thing.
It puts unnecessary and harmful judgement onto those who are using birth control for other things than pregnancy prevention, which many young teenagers do.
To reiterate my points from above, people use birth control for all sorts of reasons and really that’s no one's business unless the birth control user themself invites you to engage in a conversation about it. You can read more about reasons why someone might go on birth control here.
5. Feeling Like I Couldn’t Talk to My Sexual Partners About Birth Control vs. Probably Talking About It a Little Too Much
When I first went on birth control it was because I was starting to get sexually active with a partner. I never once told this person I wasn’t on birth control or that I started birth control. They never asked and I never told. This was a common recurrence for me with sexual partners even into my university years. They just never asked. I never brought it up until one time I had to take an emergency contraceptive pill in university and I told the person I was seeing at the time. They looked at me quizzically and asked, “Well aren’t you on something?” Yikes. This certainly plays into the “whose responsibility is it anyway?” conversation. We talked about this with some friends recently!
You can bet that given my line of work I now talk about birth control a lot. I bring it up almost any chance I get with friends, family, investors, and of course - my partners! It has become easier over time, especially while building Reya. But there are a few conversations I’ve had with partners that I feel everyone should think about having:
The Cost of Birth Control. It can add up! Does it make sense in your situation to share that cost with a partner? Besides, it can be a benefit to you both.
Shared Accountability. I was pretty terrible at taking my pill on time despite multiple alarms. My partner showed his shared responsibility in the birth control department by setting an alarm on his own phone and calling me or pestering me until I confirmed that I took it. This support strengthened us in a lot of ways and made things feel less one-sided.
What Option I Use and Why. It’s up to you how much detail you wish to share, but for my own health journey I like explaining my previous experience with birth control to partners so they can understand why I’ve chosen which method. This opens up interesting conversations and creates a space for mutual support, connection and honesty (which in my opinion is a recipe for great sex and intimacy).