So I’m a woman. And there are a lot of things that go into being a woman. Unexpected crying fits. Menstrual cramps. Being the averagely lesser paid sex (haha, don’t get me started). And last but not least… having to decide on contraception. You know, so you don’t start spurting babies everywhere.
But the truth is that our contraception choices are crap. For every pro, there are twice as many cons. You always have to sacrifice something. Almost every girl I know has tried several forms of contraception in search of a happy medium. But I honestly don’t think there is one. Every single option has its sacrifices. You want clear skin? Have a dash of depression with that. You want lighter periods? Here’s a side dish of weight gain.
Sex education in school was stereotypically dreadful and not even out of embarrassment. They taught us next to nothing. In our first session, I remember having to put together purple plastic penises as a group and then being taught to check for tears in a condom wrapper. Then I’m pretty sure we tested how much water we could fit inside a condom. Yep. The next and only other session we had after that was about every other type of contraception. The sexual health nurse told us not to be nervous as she held up pill packets, condoms, the implant and oh my god there’s a femidom??? I remember being told that it was our choice what we decided to go with in the end and to do what was right for our bodies. But telling 14-year-olds to make choices about things they barely understood wasn’t particularly helpful. Not to mention that at 14 I thought so little of myself. As far as I was concerned I would die without ever losing my virginity. It was totally fine and not awkward because I would never have to make these decisions. I sure as hell never wanted to touch a femidom… ever.
Then, like so many girls, I was put on the combination pill when I was 16 and was fed up with my skin being essentially gross. I definitely didn’t need it for contraceptive reasons (partly because of the aforementioned grossness). My doctor prescribed me with co-cyprindiol or as she’s better known, Dianette. And so began my naive contraceptive journey of fake hormone, confusion and frantically googling ‘is it okay if you take the pill three hours late?‘…
For a long time, Dianette was my best friend. Not only was she a contraceptive that maybe I’d need one day, she helped reduce the amount of sebum my skin produced. And after a while, there were less and less pimples spurting on my face every single day. My periods were suddenly regular, lighter and less painful. Score. My mental health wasn’t any worse than it usually was. Double score. It was a luxury to be able to skip my period for holidays and big events. Triple score. So I stayed on Dianette for a while.
At some point, I began using the pill for its contraceptive purpose too (in your face 14 year old me!!!) and never had a problem with it. I was as careful as I could be, remembering to take it when I took my daily medication. I only messed up my pills once. I forgot to pack them when I went away for a week. Me being the anxiety-riddled mess I am, I freaked out. My Mum had to post them to me first class and by then I was so worried that I’d messed things up, I wasn’t even in the mood. Classic, anxious Elana.
The problems came when I had to switch pill. GP’s don’t like prescribing Dianette for long because of the health risks involved. So I reluctantly said goodbye to my faithful friend which had helped rid me of teenage acne. I was shortly switched to Microgynon, aka my slow burning mortal enemy. For a month or two, everything was exactly the same. I did what I was supposed to do and I felt no different from the other pill. Sure my skin wasn’t as perfectly clear as before but there was nothing impossible to clear. It was working just fine. And then at about three months in, the fog of depression ascended over me. I was irritable. I had next to no energy. My motivation and happiness were non-existent.
At this point, I had already struggled with my depression for years. There were some truly hard times. Having worked so hard to stabilise myself and know my own warning signs – it was truly devastating that I’d suddenly crashed so drastically again. And that was the darkest few months I’d had in a long time. It took me a while to truly realise that maybe the new pill had pushed me over the edge this time. But the evidence was there, it all added up, the timing made sense. When I went back to see my GP he told me to stop taking the pill. That my mental health was our priority. That maybe I’d feel better having some time away from contraception to let my body readjust. After all, I’d been taking fake hormones for so long now.
So that’s what I did. I stopped. And a few months later it was like a wave crashed over me. My head felt lighter. I wasn’t thinking or overthinking too much. I was sleeping better and finally finding my rhythm again. My resurfaced panic attacks stopped. Of course, I was having to deal with those annoying rubber things again but that didn’t really matter anymore. I felt free and in control of my body for the first time in a very long time. I got used to using condoms too – they’re not great and people make you feel crap for saying you don’t like them – but it was fine. For my happiness, I’d have done anything. And bonus! I didn’t have to do that awkward post-sex dash for the toilet to avoid a UTI. Winning.
Then on one extremely drunken night around Christmas, I wasn’t sure if I had been completely safe. I mean we’d used a condom but when did it go on? Was it on properly? We’re we 100% okay? My memory was foggy and as much as I trusted my anxious, over-organised self to have taken all the correct steps even when drunk, I wanted to be truly safe. After a panicky google, an emotional chat with my best friend and a struggle to get some money together – I marched myself down to the chemist. The politics of the morning after pill is a whole debate in itself, there’s such an unnecessary built up stigma. Why do smiley female chemists turn stone cold when you ask for Plan-B? Why do they treat you like a convict? Why are women judged for trying to be safe? Why are we interrogated about our relationships? Would it not be okay if it was a one-night stand? Why do we feel the need to lie? I forked over 30 odd quid and left to take my pill. And whilst that was 100% completely necessary it was also one of the most traumatic health experiences of my life.
Here’s what nobody tells you about the morning after pill. It… fucks… you… up… Like properly fucks you up. Or it did for me anyway. I didn’t have a period for the next two months. And having taken that pill for a specific reason, I was well and truly panicking. Of course, we’d also broken up a week into the New Year so in my mind there was a potential baby with no daddy. Great. I scrolled through forums trying to find women just like me who were confused by their own bodies. Other women who were two months late and really worried that a small child was developing within them. Women who had all taken tests which came back negative. Women who had read the booklet back to front and didn’t get any warning that this could happen. And sure enough, on the 8th week, I was bleeding again. Since then, my periods have been a mess. 6 weeks, 7 weeks, 8 weeks, 6 weeks, 7 weeks. Any sex since is kind of terrifying – I have to be so careful. My period tracking app is constantly freaking out. Looks like you’re late. Yeah hun, thanks I’ve noticed.
When I came off the pill my GP had suggested that we try again with something new in a few months. But I didn’t want at the time. Or maybe ever? It had dawned on me that I didn’t want to continue putting more fake hormones into my body. I was already taking synthetic thyroxine for my hypothyroidism – that was enough. But maybe if it would stabilise my cycle it’d be a good idea. Maybe if I could have condom-free sex? Right? But I didn’t want to take the pill. I still don’t want to.
So I’m currently in limbo. As I’m very much single I don’t need to be on birth control right now. However, I want to know that when the time is right there will be a clear and obvious choice for me to come back to. As it stands I’m not really happy with any of the options. A lot of them seem too much of a faff. I don’t want to have constant injections that you can’t instantly stop if your body hates them. I don’t want to wear a patch and I definitely don’t want an implant. Maybe the coil? Maybe? I’ll never trust natural cycles, no matter how many instagram influencers push it on me. And I still refuse to ever use a femidom.
So here’s the million-dollar question. Do I sign up for a life of unhappiness all for the sake of faff-less sex? Or keep myself strong and stable Teresa May style but use condoms forever? Isn’t there a happy medium? As it stands I’m happy for the time being just struggling with the rubber thingys and kicking out any guy who refuses to use one because as much as I dislike using them – I don’t want a small human dependent on me quite yet.
Nevertheless, it’s a revolution and I actually kinda love it. So many girls I know are choosing to come off the hormonal birth control they are taking and are really evaluating their options. I love women being in control of their bodies, making the right choices for themselves and talking about how crap contraception is. I sincerely hope that one day soon there will be something new. Something which doesn’t have such drastic pros and cons. Something which means we won’t have to take a cocktail of false hormones so that we can have protected and carefree sex. There needs to be a better way.
P.S. I struggled so much trying to come up with a picture for this post. I thought about using stock images. I thought about not using anything. But to be honest, there’s no way to make a condom wrapper look pretty. Also, the pill packet in the picture is my daily medication and not contraception at all but you get the idea – this post is just not about pretty pictures.