You’ve probably seen the memes regarding the unspoken camaraderie of drunk girls in a bathroom complimenting each other. Well, get ready for the unparalleled sense of intimacy and bonding that comes with college girls discussing birth-control experiences and methods at late hours.
Yes, I can definitely relate to stumbling into a bathroom at a party and having a girl I’d never met before tell me I have the prettiest hair or eyes she’s ever seen. But in my experience, there have been a lot of mixed emotions regarding discussing birth control experiences that lead to the atmosphere being more supportive and honest.
From the pill, to the patch (which I learned about from watching One Tree Hill when I was 13), to the shot, to the IUD, to implants, condoms, and more, it’s obvious no method works for everyone. And of course, there are tons of health benefits to taking birth control beyond staying protected if you’re sexually active.
In high school, I listened to friends explain how they were using birth control as a last resort for combating horrendous periods. It was only after over-the-counter pain medication, heating pads, and herbal tea hadn’t offered any relief, after their doctors said birth control was the best way to relieve excruciatingly painful or heavy periods.
The stigma surrounding birth-control use never completely registered with me. It just allowed people freedom in their reproductive health—for whatever reason. When I was younger, I likened the pill to a multivitamin—we were all just taking a pill to benefit our health, right? And there’s definitely no stigma in taking a gummy vitamin. So why should there be stigma surrounding using any birth-control method to benefit our health?
At the time, I definitely wasn’t aware of the trials and tribulations that come with birth control, whether in a bureaucratic sense—insurance, co-pays, and doctors writing prescriptions—or in terms of physical and emotional side effects.
In the United States, the FDA only approved the first oral contraceptive in 1960. But contraceptives existed long before that, dating back to ancient times in many different forms.
Throughout my sophomore year of college, there were many times when I found myself in a circle of girls, spilling all the personal details of our reproductive health—even if we’d just met each other.
I met girls who proudly showed me the tiny, faded scars from their Nexplanon (the birth-control implant) insertion. They’d proudly lift one arm, Rosie the Riveter style, and say depending on the angle, you could sometimes see the outline of the Nexplanon. To be honest, I thought this was literally the coolest thing ever.
I had friends who were super excited to receive their birth control in the mail from sites like Nurx or Pill Club—after all, the latter includes stickers and chocolate in every package. My friends also always noted that clinics like Planned Parenthood operate on a sliding scale when it comes to payment, which proved to help in different scenarios.
I told a group of girls I met at a dorm party in the fall of sophomore year that the combination pill did nothing to help my history of excruciatingly painful cramps—that last month, I spent almost an hour bent over in the fountain at Washington Square Park at night because it hurt too much to walk the 15 minutes back to my dorm. Also, I had started to suspect that the hormones were exacerbating my anxiety.
Immediately, the girls shared that it took them multiple tries with different methods and doctors before they found the birth control that works for them. One girl liked the low maintenance of NuvaRing, but had problems with side effects. They all assured me it was definitely possible to find a method that would work with my body chemistry and lifestyle, if I wanted to continue with birth control. Their reinforcement of the idea that this was my personal choice—that my comfort and health were the top priorities—really resonated with me.
So as we continue in 2020, I’m hoping to approach birth-control discussions with an open mind and a clearer vision. I have my own story, and sure, I won’t know everyone’s stories, but I’ve found that sharing our experiences creates a bigger, much-needed dialogue surrounding public and reproductive health.
Your physician or OB/GYN, Planned Parenthood, or online organizations such as Nurx, the Pill Club, and PRJKT RUBY can all provide different resources for anyone seeking information about birth control.
Photo by Becky Harlan for NPR