I had my first Pap smear at age 20. It was the summer before my third year of college, I wanted to go on birth control, and this was my first step.
As my OB/GYN wrote the prescription, she warned me that I would experience changes in my hormone levels. This would likely be accompanied by cramping, acne, and other side effects. She stressed that if I noticed a significant change in my cycle, my mood, or my weight we’d need to adjust the prescription. She ended the appointment with one final warning: if I felt numbness in any part of my body I should go to the Emergency Room immediately as this indicated a blood clot that could easily make its way to my heart or brain.
I felt a slight moment of fear, but she smiled and said not to worry—it was wonderful that I was taking steps to be responsible for my body and practicing safe sex, and everything would be fine. Slightly reassured, I shook off my fear, thinking, “Well, at least I know I won’t get pregnant” and continued about my day.
Fast forward to about three months ago: I found myself in my new OB’s office. It was time for a well woman check, a new pap smear, and a new form of birth control. I had done some research and decided on an IUD. She broke down my three main options:
Skyla, Mirena and Paragard. Each came with their own risks—ranging from slight discomfort to the potential for a uterine perforation. I would be need to check on my IUD monthly to make sure it was aligned properly, especially in the first few months. I made my choice, we made the follow up appointment and again, I went about my day.
My experiences are not unusual. Ask any woman using any form of birth control—the negative side effects are a given, but hey, at least we won’t get pregnant.
Which is why, when the recent report of a male birth control shot came out I, and every woman in my life, found ourselves completely stumped.
The study tested a male contraceptive shot in roughly 300 men. The men ranged in age from 18-45 and all were in monogamous relationships. All voluntarily entered the study.
Similar to the female birth control shot, the male birth control shot is applied once every few weeks. The shot controls sperm count levels through adjusting testosterone levels (you can find more details on exactly how it works in this article).
About 20 men dropped out of the study due to side effects including acne, injection site pain muscular pain and depression. The researchers ended the study early as a result of these side effects.
Let me repeat: The study was halted and men pulled out due to acne, muscular pain, and depression.
*insert collective female eyeroll here*
Now, I want to be extremely clear about something: My heart goes out to every man that experienced negative results from this study—especially those who suffered from depression. As someone who has experienced depression, it is not something I would wish on anyone.
But my heart also goes out to the millions of young women who are more likely to develop depression while on the pill than not.
My heart goes out to the girls and women who have put implants in their arms and plastic or copper wire into their uteruses, who have dealt with increased blood pressure levels, heavy acne and weight gain due to their birth control methods.
My heart goes out to every girl whose diaphragm has gotten stuck, who wakes up every morning at the same time to check her ovulation levels, who has had to deal with the hormonal and emotional backlash of taking emergency contraception.
And my heart goes out to every single woman and girl who has nervously walked out of her OBGYN’s office wondering if the tingling sensation in her foot is just the usual pins and needles, or if it’s an indication of something far more serious.
Because women know birth control comes with risks–we’ve known it, and lived with it, for decades. Because for women, “safe” sex isn’t really safe–it comes at a cost. And if we’re being honest, the side effects of birth control barely scratch the surface of what we need to overcome to truly claim bodily autonomy and sexual freedom. So, in short?
Welcome to the club boys.
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