Ms-guided: I Was A Teen On Drugs
When I was 17 years-old I was put on the birth control pill. I had painful, heavy periods that would get me out of gym class, but that wasn't the only reason I was taken to the doctor. My mum, who became an adult in the 1960s, just as the Pill was introduced as a tool for female liberation, was afraid I would get pregnant. Not that I had a boyfriend, or even had sex - and, in fact, I wouldn't for another four years. It was just the responsible thing to do, the right thing to do, and I swallowed that, quite literally, without question. I had no idea how the Pill worked, nor even how my own body worked. Aside from some embarrassing and misleading classes at my all-girls school in small town England -- in which we were told all penises were the same length and acne was a result of not washing properly, for example -- I only had the real-life story pages of magazines to aid my understanding. I continued to take the Pill, a number of different kinds, for the next ten years. I can't say I knew much more at 27 than I did at 17.
I didn't know, for example, that the Pill has a whole body impact, that every tablet has an effect on every organ in your body. Nor did I know that it switched off my hormone cycle, a cycle that played an important part in things like my attraction to particular men, my sense of smell, my ability to concentrate, my absorption of vitamins and my energy levels. I didn't know that replacing my natural hormone cycle with synthetic estrogen and progesterone could lead to depression and anxiety. Even as I experienced these side effects I wasn't aware they were caused by the Pill. That is, until I started to teach myself about how the Pill works, and how my own body works. Once I did know, I knew I had to come off the Pill for the good of my physical and mental health.
At the time, my depression and anxiety reached such levels that I thought I was losing my mind. I was taking a type of the Pill called Yaz. My decision was based on the little knowledge I had gleaned from their aggressive advertising campaign and the suggestion of my doctor who had come to consider it a new wonder drug, a cure-all. Yaz is currently under intense investigation, specifically its synthetic progesterone component drospirenone, which has been connected to an increased likelihood of producing blood clots.
Back when I was 17, it was the Pill or nothing as far as my parents, teachers and doctors were concerned. I was not told about alternatives. I was handed the Pill like it was a harmless piece of candy or a vitamin supplement and was told to take it for as long as I didn't want to get pregnant. I believe that enforcing ignorance and casual prescription not only leads young women to suffer unnecessarily from the Pill's side effects, as I did, but is also problematic on a greater level. I think failing to educate teens about the Pill when it's prescribed leads to a far less effective form of contraception than is hoped.
If something is given to you casually like candy, then it will be taken as such - without thought or care. The general attitude behind giving teenage girls the Pill is that they should not know more than is absolutely necessary, that they can not be trusted to be responsible if armed with more knowledge and that they don't know what's good for them anyway. The main goal is to keep them from getting pregnant and nothing else matters. Today, this issue of trust is all the more important, as long-acting contraceptive methods such as the injection, the patch, the IUD and the implant are being pushed on young girls. These are just repackaged forms of the Pill with the added benefit that they will help women who forget to take a tablet every day. However, they cause their own health issues - the injection, for example, is also given in the same form to sex offenders to eliminate their sex drive.
Teaching young women about how their bodies work allows them to address their relationships with themselves and others with confidence. A young woman that is educated about the Pill is far less likely to become pregnant than one that is put on the Pill in ignorance. I believe that consent can only be procured with full knowledge and thus I think it is time to question our priorities as a society. We are saying that young women are incapable of understanding themselves, that their bodies are not their own and should be treated as dangerous and in need of constant control from the outside.
A young feminist today needs to question not only what feminists have questioned for decades, but also the beliefs of older feminists. While their intentions in promoting the Pill may be founded in a genuine care for our well-being and rights, they may not be going about it in the right way. Older feminists, like my mother, grew up in a time when the Pill served its purpose as an agent for social change - and it admittedly was an amazing thing for the feminist cause and women at large. But now we know more. Now we are more concerned about what we eat, wear and products we use to clean than ever, yet we are encouraging millions of otherwise-healthy women to take a powerful medication every day with proven unhealthy side effects, for years.
This Pill-mania has eroded the fundamentals of reproductive rights and women's liberation – choice, freedom and education. And the only way to bring about change is to educate ourselves.
Holly writes about education about the Pill on her blog Sweetening the Pill
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