Please Stop Telling Me Why You Use Birth Control

There are things I care very, very deeply about.  Especially when it comes to women's health, and women's lives.  This isn't because I think that women are special.  This is because I care deeply about people's health, and people's lives, and for some reason still incomprehensible to me, many people do not view women as people.  And so I care deeply about women's health and women's lives. What I don't care about is a woman's use of birth control.  I've suddenly found myself - inexplicably - on the receiving end of all kinds of excuses and explanations from the women in my life.  They all want to tell me that they use birth control, or their friends use birth control, for non-sex-related reasons.  They have medical conditions, debilitating cramps, awful headaches, and whatever else might necessitate the use of birth control. This kind of justification makes me sad.  By justifying our use of birth control, we are accepting the conservative premise that it needs justification.  This is like saying that we agree with the conservatives that using birth control for safe sex is wrong.  After all, that's not why we're using it. I've written about this before - how the feminist movement tries to demonstrate that we agree with basic conservative premises about women and sex.  Just as when we said, "Planned Parenthood only uses 3% of their funds for abortion," we are now implying that really very few of us use birth control for reasons relating to sex.

The problem with explaining ourselves - besides the fact that we are, you know, having to explain ourselves for heaven's sake - is that we are actually appearing to accept the conservative premise.  It's almost as though we're saying that we agree that having sex is wrong, using birth control for safe sex is wrong, and that we should still have access to it because we're using it for what are legitimate (ie non sex-related) purposes.

Blink. Actually, most people I know on birth control are using it to ensure they don't get pregnant when they have sex.  Which seems perfectly reasonable, rational, and frankly responsible, at least to me.  So why all the excuses? The problem is no better illustrated than in Nicole Neroulias' recent well-meaning but flawed Huffington Post piece, entitled "I Was a Virgin on Birth Control."  She writes:
 As a teenager, I had debilitating menstrual cycles, but the perceived stigma of going on the pill deterred me from getting the help I needed. I finally started taking it in college, as a virgin with no foreseeable pregnancy panic . . . Since then, my mother and sister have also taken the pill on medical grounds, as have dozens of our relatives and friends. We're talking about a well-established legal medication routinely prescribed for a range of symptoms and sicknesses."
Why is she telling me that she was a virgin?  Why is she telling me that she wasn't having sex?  She doesn't need to qualify, or justify, her use of birth control.  Neither should any of the other women who commented on her post, saying that they, also, were not having sex, or even worse, were virgins, when they started using birth control. This just feeds into the same old problem we've always had - trying to make ourselves appear just as morally superior as our conservative, anti-women fanatic enemies.  I don't care that Nicole was not having sex.  I definitely don't care that she was a virgin.  This qualification is especially problematic to me because she's really hitting hard on the moral high ground here.  She might as well have said "I agree with you conservatives so much about women and sex that I even agree with you about the importance of women's virginities.  I was a virgin!  Leave me alone!" Shudder. Women need to stop doing this.  We all do, in fact.  Because the truth is that I have not come across any conservatives who want to deny women access to birth control who would change their minds if they heard that a small portion of women were using it for anything other than sex.  All they would do, I'm convinced, is enter an "exception clause."  They'd write a law that said women shouldn't have access to birth control unless they need it for non sex-related, medical reasons.  Want to know how I know?  They've already started.  The Arizona legislature has just advanced a bill that would require women to provide employers with a doctor's note saying they are seeking birth control coverage from their health insurance plan for medical conditions unrelated to pregnancy prevention. What could be next?  As Nicole put it,
How would [Catholic leaders] have their institutions apply these directives?  . . . Would ovarian cysts and infertility make the cut, but acne and bad cramps be more along the lines of God's will? And what if religious authorities and their hospitals disagree on these theories in practice, as they have in cases of abortion to save a woman's life?"
I'm all for trying to compromise with people in theory, but the truth is, we always end up getting the short end of the stick.  I don't agree with the idea that women shouldn't be having sex, I don't agree with expecting women to justify their use of medicine, and I don't agree with anyone except a woman and her doctor legally having anything to do with a woman's health care. If we try to cede the battle, we will most definitely lose the war.   Photo Credit: MartinAK15 via Creative Commons License.

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  • Shannon

    Thanks for this post, Abigail! I completely agree with you. We shouldn’t have to justify using birth control, and the recent stress on non-sex related birth control use seems to only support the GOP rhetoric.

  • Nicole Neroulias

    Thanks for linking to my post. Just to clarify: I wasn’t saying “birth control” pills are OK for non-contraceptive reasons and not for actual birth control. My point was that the debate (which is supposed to be about health insurance coverage!) has ignored the wider uses of the medication, and that it’s hugely problematic to assume that the conservative religious leaders opposed to contraception are perfectly OK with it when prescribed for other reasons. Because even if clergy technically take that position and direct their institutions to follow suit, it hasn’t exactly worked out in practice so far — and couldn’t work without gross violations of privacy and disturbing assumptions about who gets to make medical judgments about women’s health needs.

    Also, I thought I was being hypothetical with those questions near the end of my post. Little did I know that Arizona would take me seriously…

  • Abigail Collazo

    Definitely, Nicole. I think your questions at the end really put the whole thing in perspective for me – I mean, gracious, who knew they would take that literally?! As you pointed out in your piece and I agree with, these conservatives aren’t looking at the whole picture, aren’t taking women’s lives into consideration, and aren’t thinking about the practical applications of their opposition. You definitely hit the nail on the head when you say it “couldn’t work without gross violations of privacy and disturbing assumptions about medical decisions”! Sigh, as we’re learning . . .