Updated: Nov 15
Just a gentle reminder that you are influenced by media every day of your life. Sorry to break it to you - but everywhere you go, the words, images, and conversations that you have are media-heavy, media-driven, and likely skewed towards your own personal values and beliefs, because media and marketing has gotten so personal that it gets existential if you think about it too much. That’s a convo for a different time, though. Today, we’re talking birth control in media, and how it has, can, and will continue to be underrepresented, improperly (and likely misogynistically) depicted, and what the f*** to do with that information.
Birth control itself has a long history of being misunderstood and criminalized, with legal battles dictating its accessibility to society for most of the 18th century. Money, politics, and women’s rights (or lack thereof) were at the forefront of policy making, and birth control conversations were flooded with controversy. The invention of the birth control pill extended an unheard-of control over reproduction, for the first time allowing people to truly separate vaginal intercourse from procreation, but it was far from perfect. As expected, popular media followed suit.
In a study conducted from 1985-1994, Author M.A. Lebow polled radio station managers and public respondents in an attempt to better understand the changing views of contraceptive advertising in the United States. Their study concludes with this; “The major obstacles to contraceptive advertising today are media reluctance, government regulation, lack of consistent effort on the part of the advertisers, and a lack of consensus in society about the importance of this issue”. Basically, the people who made the decisions about what could be advertised were worried about what the public would think, while the majority of the public polled said that contraceptive advertising was A-OK with them.
It’s important to note before we move on from the history of birth control in media that the media itself will always have an impact on the society consuming it, which is what makes this conversation so important in the first place. If birth control isn’t widely accepted and normalized in media, then it won’t be widely accepted and normalized in life (the same goes for representation of people of colour, the LGBTQ+ community, disabled folks… the list goes on. Representation matters and makes a difference). To make matters worse, it is well-known
that media has an especially life-changing impact on adolescents, making puberty the prime-time for media influence, aligning with the need for an even better understanding of sexual health and wellness.
Oh, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet (or at least not enough)
Okay, okay, I KNOW you’ve already started trying to compile a list in your head of all of the media you know of that mentions or references birth control. But hear me out… does that list get smaller if you take away any of the inaccurate, kind of crappy takes on it? Rom-coms that have the starlett lead of the storyline stop for Plan B on her walk-of-shame do not make the cut for accurate birth control representation in media. Neither do jokes along the lines of ”screaming kids are good birth control” or “holy shit I don’t want to be pregnant, what now?”.
On the bright side, I’d like to think that the storyline is starting to change. There are popular shows like Grey’s Anatomy that often get down to the nitty-gritty of proactive and progressive health discussions. There’s at-your-fingertip access to non-mainstream media and an increasing ability to curate and cultivate individual media consumption to align with interests and values. Shows like Netflix’s Sex Education (highly reccomend) or The Principles of Pleasure are breaking down daily barriers to sexual health and wellness conversations. There’s definitely something to look forward to.
What are we missing?
Societal understanding and a push for more accuracy and openness. That’s it, that’s the Tweet.
Just kidding. What we’re missing is just more of the good stuff we’re already starting to see. Corporations like Disney need to keep making movies like Turning Red, having a massive cultural impact and pivot on conversations around menstrual health and wellness, especially for young folks. Although I will never forgive that movie for making my 8 year old nephew call the boy-band obsessed lead characters “cringe” when that was me in 2008, I can see the important conversations it has started around adolescent education in menstrual health, and I’m here for it.
We need more people responding to media representation like this person’s dad, who can talk openly about menstrual health and wellness without judgment or weirdness, and who also apparently deeply cares about cinematic accuracy. Go off, Dad.
We need to continue pushing for a shift in society’s ability to give a damn about menstrual health. That’s the real tea.
Well, now what?
If you’ve read this far, I’m sure we are on the same page about birth control - how it isn’t just condoms, abstinence, and pregnancy scares, but instead literal health and wellness, and needs to be treated as such. The good thing is, with unlimited access to all types of media nowadays, you can do your own work to curate your media consumption to be what you need it to be. Social media can be a really great tool (and resource) to make sure that you are consuming accurate and diverse conversations on the daily.
Here are some of our favourite places to get your fix of sexual health and wellness resources:
@reyahealth on TikTok and Instagram. This one should be obvious - we overshare about birth control and periods (in a good way), and we’d love to have you around.
@shophereforher on Instagram, a health education and activism account that also happens to have the cutest merch.
@nadyaokamoto on Instagram, an entrepreneur and menstrual health and justice activist
Hollywood might be a bit behind inaccurate birth control representation, but you don’t have to be. Share some of your favourite resources by sending us a DM on instagram, we’re always down to build a better and brighter birth control community.