Author/Historian Elaine Tyler May is writing a book about the history and impact of the birth control pill. To that end, she is requesting stories from both men and women about their experiences with The Pill. I found the query interesting and figured I’d respond and include an excerpt of my reply here in this space. I encourage you all to submit your own answers to the questions. Hey, if she uses your response, you get a discount when the book comes out!
The Pill is often considered one of the most important innovations of the twentieth century. As I investigate this claim for a new book—set for release on the 50th anniversary of the Pill’s FDA approval (Basic Books, 2010)—I’m looking to include the voices and stories of real people. I hope yours will be one of them. I’m eager to hear from men as well as women, of all ages and backgrounds.
Have you or any of your partners taken the Pill? Why or why not? How did it work for you—physically, emotionally, and ethically? How has it compared with other contraceptive methods you or your partners have used?
I have taken the Pill on and off since I was 15 or 16 years old. When I first considered getting it, I knew exactly where to go, Planned Parenthood. I walked down there one day after school by myself. I think I was kind of nervous because I didn’t want any adults who knew my family to see me, but otherwise I wasn’t afraid. A few of my girlfriends had already been taking it for a little while. I had a steady boyfriend and we were having sex. I knew I didn’t want to get pregnant and teenagers aren’t the most consistent condom users, so the Pill was a good choice. I thought the other benefits were good too: reduced acne, lighter periods. I ruled out the other methods like Norplant (which was still offered at the time) and Depo because I heard they made you fat and moody. I think the idea of taking the Pill made me feel grown up, smart and responsible.
Physically, I had no problems with the Pill. I was first prescribed Ortho Tri-Cyclen. I didn’t have any nausea, weight gain or emotional issues like mood swings. Ethical concerns did not factor in. I was not raised in the kind of environment where anyone believed birth control was immoral. I am sure that if my family knew I was on the Pill, they would be more relieved than outraged.
I have tried a couple of other birth control methods including condoms, Ortho-Evra (the patch) and the Nuva Ring (the ring). In between all of those methods, I have returned to the Pill. I don’t see the Pill as an alternative to condoms, just as a companion method. More for my peace of mind than anything else. The Patch was just really annoying. My college roommate and I were using it at the same time. We had the same experience being concerned that the Patch would come off. It would itch and leave a sticky residue around the perimeter. It was VISIBLE. I don’t know anyone who wants to literally wear their birth control on their arm, butt or pelvis. Less important but a factor nonetheless, was the fact that the Patch came in that “flesh-tone” color that only matches a small segment of society. I think I was inconvenienced by that as well as slightly offended. Later on, I tried the Ring. Some of my friends rave about it, but I found it uncomfortable because it threw off the amount of vaginal discharge produced. Quite annoying.
What has been the impact of the Pill on your sex life, relationships, political or social attitudes, and beliefs about the medical or pharmaceutical establishments?
Do you have opinions about public policies related to access, availability, approval or limitations on the development and distribution of the Pill and related contraceptive products (the patch, the “morning after pill,” long-term injections, etc.).
I don’t think the availability of the Pill has changed my sex life unless you count the peace of mind I get from having a “second layer of defense” against pregnancy. I think an argument in the beginning was that the Pill would lead women to become more promiscuous. First of all, what’s so wrong with that? Secondly, that’s not what happened. Politically, however, I appreciate the access I have to convenient, low-cost birth control. I tend to judge medical providers (clinics, hospitals, pharmacies and university health centers) on whether they provide low-cost or free birth control. As a public health issue, it only makes sense to make the Pill available and to continue to develop similar methods of birth control.
The growing trend of pharmacists and pharmacies refusing to fill prescriptions for the Pill and for the “morning after pill” is, to me, offensive and disgusting. We have already established that the right to privacy and right to choose extends to a woman’s choice of whether to use birth control or not. The very idea that a pharmacist can make those personal decisions for me is scary.
A positive trend, in my opinion, is the availability of Plan B over the counter. I have not yet taken advantage of this, but just knowing it’s there is comforting. I remember when I was in college, you could just walk to the health center or Planned Parenthood and get Plan B for nearly nothing. Then they stopped offering it in-house and you had to take a prescription to the pharmacy. There, the price would skyrocket, making Plan B a hardship instead of the safety net it was intended to be.
Anything else you think I should know?
I think the Pill was a significant breakthrough for sexual liberation, the right to choose and family planning. The fact that I, myself, keep going back to the Pill is telling. The Pill is becoming more and more mainstream. I have a colleague who thinks nothing of popping out her pill and taking it in front of folks like it was a Tic-Tac.
I don’t want to make it out like the Pill is nothing but great, though. When you take it, you worry about how much your own human error factors in. Did I take it at or around the same time every day? What if I miss one? Two? You worry about the possible side effects like blood clots. For every positive report on the Pill, there’s a negative one. So while it isn’t perfect, I find that it’s the best method for me, especially after trying some other types of birth control.
Send me (email@example.com) your most richly detailed answers to any and all of these questions (and don’t forget to include your age, gender, where you live, occupation, ethnic/religious/racial background, sexual orientation, marital status, political party affiliation, or any other biographical info you think is important).
If you would like to participate in my study but would prefer to respond to a questionnaire, please let me know and I will happily send you one.
I’m interested in hearing from men and women who have used the Pill and those who have not, those who used it briefly or a long time ago, or who use it now. I am also eager to hear from people who work in fields that relate to the use and availability of the Pill (such as medicine, public health, social work, education, etc.). You will remain anonymous. I will use your contact information only to respond to you directly and to let you know when the book will be available for purchase (at a discount to contributors!).
And just one more thing. I not only want to hear your voice, but the voices of those you love, teach, preach to, learn from, and work with. Please pass this request on! The more responses I receive, and the greater the diversity of respondents, the more the book will reflect the wide range of experiences and attitudes that have shaped the Pill’s history over the last half century.
Thanks very much!
Elaine Tyler May