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Reproductive Writes: An Introduction

Before I started writing about women's reproductive health, I'd pretty much resigned myself to being a film journalist for life. All the free movies, premieres and parties were a lot of fun, but I was beginning to think that my choice to give a film five stars or one star was being unfairly swayed by whether the complimentary pastry was stale or if the air conditioning was turned up too high.

Film reviewing is rather male-dominated, so when I ended a review of The Hottie And The Nottie with the line - 'The scandal surrounding the Hilton sex tape acts as a distraction, convincing us that sex is not a common currency that women must use in Hollywood. Paris only had to have sex with one man to get famous. She's lucky. Perhaps there's the source of the hatred' - I was quickly alerted to my feminist sensibilities. I guess the attitude had long been brewing but I'd previously attributed my views to the fact that I was educated from 11 to 17 at an all-girls school and spent a year at Mount Holyoke. I didn't think I was a feminist, I just thought I'd spent a lot of time with women.

A couple of years back I started taking the birth control pill Yaz, my fourth brand in a decade, and within months I was experiencing severe changes to my mood - anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia, rage and paralyzing brain fog. I thought I was losing my mind. After questioning every aspect of my life, and my sanity, I eventually realized it was not me, but this Pill I was taking. Yaz was then one of the most popularly prescribed oral contraceptives, so I soon found many other women - including friends - were dealing with similar side effects. My research into Yaz expanded in to an investigation of the birth control pill as a whole. My interest in its potential side effects extrapolated in to a concern for how this powerful drug is handed out like candy, and taken with a similar carelessness.

I got in contact with doctors and research scientists and found support for my concern. I put together a feature entitled "What You Should Know About The Pill" and pitched it around. The health editor at Easy Living commissioned me to produce a piece addressing women's worries about the Pill's impact - on mood, libido, fertility.

After the feature was published I began a blog. I wanted women to not suffer unnecessarily, to know that their birth control pill might be causing them to feel depressed and anxious.

Upon starting the blog I decided to come off the Pill forever. What had begun as a project to pool all the information I'd gathered soon snowballed into a social commentary on the place of the Pill in society, in history and in women's lives. As my mind cleared, my mood lifted and my energy returned to healthy 27 year-old level, I started to have some really big ideas. Feel free to take a look:

Sweetening The Pill

And that's how I got from talking Bob Dylan concerts with Colin Firth to here. And here, with this blog "Reproductive Writes", is where I'll be discussing all things related to women's reproductive health - not just the Pill. This week I'll start with infertility scare stories, move into the painless labor of Gisele Bundchen and then take a look at how and why men's spermatozoa are affectionately referred to as 'little swimmers.' Let me know if there's something in particular you'd like me to look into, and feel free to ask me anything - as long as it's not my opinion of Dear John.

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Comments

18 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Yay!

Great to see you blogging here, Holly. I'm really looking forward to reading more of your work.

I'm especially eager to see your take on the recent infertility scare stories. As I noted recently at re:Cycling, it's reminiscent of the 1980s media fear-mongering about how women over 40 were more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to be married.

Eagerly Awaiting

Eagerly awaiting your Giselle post, and hoping it doesn't turn into a "screw that stupid model and her stupid painless birth" rant because Giselle Bundchen is NOT the first woman in the world to have experienced a truly empowering, trauma-free birth. It's done - a LOT. And only the money-grubbing medical community wants women to think birth is torture without their risky procedures and pharmaceuticals. Empowered and autonomous birth is an issue largely ignored by the mainstream feminist community, but it's a serious issue worth exploring. I hope you agree.

Hurrah!

I am really looking forward to your posts----we need more critical voices out there and I can't wait to hear yours sing!

Building Critical Mass

How glad I am that you are turning your critical skills to women's sexual and reproductive health. My experience is that women are becoming much more mindful, and less "careless' as you put it, about the choices they are making in regards to their sexual, reproductive and overall health and wellness. I look forward to your take on many of the issues young women in particular are facing. But hey, there may still be a place for the odd film review - please feel free to use your former talents to critique the way in which sexual and reproductive health issues are handled and/or ignored in the movies.

I've had the same mood

I've had the same mood problems with two brands of birth control, Marvelon and Alesse. I was extremely depressed and anxious all the time after starting them. I decided that I should quit using the pill and try a non-hormonal method (my choice was a diaphragm, paired with condoms) for a while, because I was obviously really concerned about getting depressed again. However, my gyno told me that diaphragms are very hard to find in Canada because one major distributor discontinued them and a reproductive health nurse told me that as well. Neither were very enthused about diaphragms either, calling them cumbersome and just suggesting that I try a different hormonal method with less/no estrogen. I feel that now I (and probably lots of other Canadian women) have been backed into a corner when it comes to using hormonal birth control. I feel like my options are being decided for me, unless I want to spend the extra money and time (not to mention finding a cooperative health care provider) looking for a diaphragm. I'm curious to know what you think about my experience and the negative attitude I've encountered regarding diaphragms.

Diaphragms

Being told that diaphragms are cumbersome sounds very much to me like unwanted advice on your sex life - maybe you like cumbersome contraceptive methods and think they add to the experience. In my view, all methods aside from those that are hormone-based are routinely discredited, either for being ineffective or for being messy, fiddly and difficult.

They can make it sound like they're well meaning - and wanting you to have better sex, not hindered in spontaneity and the like - but really it smacks of distrust. Essentially the suggestion is that if women have to actually, really do anything to stop themselves getting pregnant they'll fail at it - hence the pushing of long-acting methods like the injection, hormonal IUD and implant which are completely in the control of doctors, and the increasing hype around women 'missing' birth control pills.

Right now using a diaphragm requires an appointment for a fitting and therefore some argument with your doctor or nurse over why exactly you want to use a diaphragm instead of the Pill. So I am very pleased that there are two new diaphragms waiting to be approved by the FDA which won't require a fitting and could be available at pharmacies like condoms:

http://www.reprotect.com/products.shtml

http://www.silcs.com/html/ovrview.html

Diaphragms were used before the Pill was released by single women who would happily carry them around in their handbags.

This whole obsession with spontaneity and contraception that does not in any way intervene in the act is very curious to me - if the intimacy of your relationship hinges on the presence of a piece of latex I think there might be bigger problems at play. I have considered this before in my blog Sweetening The Pill:

http://sweeteningthepill.blogspot.com/2009/09/this-week-hormone-replacem...

Spontaneity

I don't understand how not wanting something to be cumbersome has anything to do with trust and communication? I trust my SO, we've been together for seven years, we communicate fine about sex. However, we use condoms. Our communications skills doesn't mean it isn't a mood-killer to stop the making out/manual/oral sex, focus on a little piece of wrapped plasticy stuff, get the condom out, put it on. In a best case scenario, it takes ten seconds all in all. Often, the drawer is stuck, we can't get the wrapper open, etc etc and we have to go back to where we were for a while to get the mood back from "wrapper logistics" to "fucking". I can see how sneaking off to the bathroom to put in a diaphragm would do the exact same thing. Nobody is *embarrassed*, we're just *diverted*. (and don't come dragging with "putting in on together sexily"; it;s a little foul-smelling piece of latext.) Mind, I am not saying diaphragms aren't great for you and a lot of other people, but most people find that the ideal forms of contraception are the ones that allow you to go from wanting to fuck to fucking without any stops in between. We are looking into vasectomy, that seems to be the least invasive invasive solution, and also diversion-free.

Condoms

Condoms impact on the 'intimacy' of sex is often used as an argument against them, in magazines like Company and by medical practitioners.

Perhaps being on the Pill for a decade has so seriously depleted my libido that it's skewed my experience, but I see that condoms are put down for lessening the enjoyable-ness of sex all the time and I think this pushes a lot of women onto hormonal methods. These methods often do effect their libido negatively and lessen their enjoyment of sex in a number of other ways by desensitizing the whole body. I found the Pill not only shut down my libido over time but, more importantly, stopped me feeling sexual in any way. I felt disconnected from my physicality, stagnant and numbed.

Barrier methods are necessary for avoiding STDs and should generally be encouraged, I feel, and so the perpetual banging on about how sex isn't as good with condoms is strange to me.

Here's an interesting article on the matter:

http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2009/12/02/love-glove-ten-great-reaso...

You hit some key points

Holly,

I totally agree with this comment: "They can make it sound like they're well meaning - and wanting you to have better sex, not hindered in spontaneity and the like - but really it smacks of distrust."

I suggest this to young women all the time, that what the sexual health care provider pushing hormonal contraception is telling you, in part, is that they don't trust you to be able to make informed, responsible decisions about how, when and with whom to have sex, sex that will not put you at risk for unintended pregnancy. I find it condescending and paternalistic. Part of the problem is that many sexual health clinics see mostly teenagers, for whom it could be argued, hormonal birth control is the most effective, but it still smacks of "managing" the decision-making of the teen. And forget about protection from STIs: they have not been very successful influencing youth to always use condoms with each act of "spontaneous" sex.

The assumption seems to be that young people are having "mindless" sex, therefore they need "mindless" birth control. Something you don't have to think about. What's wrong with thinking about the connection between your birth control and your sexual activity? Shouldn't we, as sexual and reproductive health professionals, be helping young people achieve confident and effective use of non-hormonal methods if that's the service they are seeking?

What I see happening is more and more young women becoming mindful about their sexual decision-making. They don't want to consume "fast food birth control" anymore. For lots of good reasons, from both an intuitive and evidence-based health perspective. Sexual health care providers are way behind you, not yet aware just how much catching up they have to do. Many are still treating you like horny teenagers. It's time to start pushing back by demanding information, support and services to use non-hormonal methods effectively and confidently. Women have as much right to say "no" to pharamaceutical contraceptives as they do to say "yes". You shouldn't have to face a 'hard sell' or your doctor's distain when you seek out information and assistance to use alternative birth control methods.

Thanks for covering this

Thanks for covering this subject. I have a few questions about birth control. I was on the pill for a few years but due to side-effects I discontinued and have not returned. Charting my cycle and "pulling out" (sorry if TMI) has worked without issue for 8 years. However, whenever I honestly tell any medical practitioner my current BC method they cringe and offer me the pill. I also have terrible menstrual cramps that I am currenly seeking alternative treatments for becuase I cannot get any general practitioner to suggest anything but the pill for me. I even had a doctor tell me that unless I had endometriosis, there's no treatment she can offer me besides the pill for cramps.

What is this reliance on the pill for so many female issues? No, I don't want to flood my body with hormones I don't need thank you. I feel as if it's a part of the bigger problem of not trusting women's bodies; somehow the problem is my "femaleness" aka hormones and they have to be regulated. I can't be trusted to manage my own birth control, and my cramps cannot benefit from any other treatment besides an assault of hormones to regulate it's broken self.

I'm interested in just how often the pill is prescribed for uses other than birth control. And how many doctors actually know enough about the rhythm method to council patients who want an alternative to an invasive form of BC (devices, chemicals, hormones etc).

Hormonal methods

Well, 96% of education regarding contraception provided to doctors in medical school focuses on oral contraceptives alone, so there's a good chance that the doctors you have spoken with unfortunately do not know a whole lot about other methods unless they have taken the time to do research themselves.

Doctors are also subject to the coercive tactics of the pharmaceutical companies peddling the Pill - be it in the logo on the pen they use or the sponsorship behind a conference. They have come to see the Pill as not just the most effective contraception, but as an all-round jolly good idea. Despite the fact that studies have shown women are far less likely to become pregnant if they use a barrier method with spermicide, and despite the number of potential side effects associated with the Pill's crude impact.

The Pill is assumed as a cure-all because it shuts down the reproductive system, the ovaries, the hormones, and therefore any problems that may arise from those - including cramps, acne and so on are stopped. The Pill however does not 'cure' any health problems, but actually only masks the issues. The Pill doesn't regulate anything, it shuts the whole shop down and replaces it with a daily dose of synthetic chemicals. Historically the centre of all women's problems has been seen by medical authorities as the reproductive system. So still now the simplest way to deal with 'femaleness,' as you rightly put it, is to take the reproductive system out of the equation, by prescribing the Pill.

I am very sorry to hear you suffer from bad cramps and I think alternative treatments could offer help. Perhaps take a look at the website of the author of the book, The Pill: Are You Sure It's For You?

http://www.wildgenie.com/

I'm going to dissent and say

I'm going to dissent and say this strikes me as paternalistic. Women need to be able to make their own choices even if it's something you believe to be bad for them. It would be wonderful if no one ever wanted or needed to avoid reproducing and also be able to have sex, but it doesn't work like that.

I am on birth control right now. I knew about the potential of side effects, and when one brand I tried made me not-myself (extreme fatigue, brain fog, anger/short fuse, minor breathing issues, dramatic decrease in ability to feel affection), I stopped it right away and switched brands. Luckily, that one worked for me. Various other methods would not, for reasons I feel no need to justify here.

Yes, I do wish that I could be sexually active and avoid pregnancy some other way, but I can't. I'm glad you've found a solution that works for you, but it's naive to think that everyone should make the same choice. My femininity is not based on my ability to have a typical menstrual cycle.

The above post is social

The above post is social commentary. She's not trying to persuade you of anything. She's telling you about her experience.

I think the Pill deserves discussion, here. It's an aspect of our lives that deals with feminine social issues.

Response

I certainly believe women should have the choice to take the birth control pill, but I think that this 'choice' is being eroded by the dominance of the Pill over the contraception market. Women are often made to believe it is the Pill or nothing, are often pushed the method by their doctors, or prescribed it in their mid-teens, without discussion not just of side effects, but of how the drug works. Many women are told that the Pill 'regulates' their periods and that's it.

I think a big part of women being able to make a choice about the birth control pill - an informed choice - is understanding not only the implications of taking the drug but the implications of shutting down the ovulation cycle. I am happy that you are well-informed, but I am not sure that is usually the case and every day I hear from women who are not so well-informed.

I understand that the Pill might be chosen as the best option for some women. There are some women with certain medical conditions for whom the Pill is a necessary choice. I would however like all the options for contraception to be readily discussed, available and not systematically sidelined and undermined as I believe they are now.

I am not suggesting that the hormonal cycle is an integral part of being a woman, but that it is a part of a healthy human body, it has purpose, and is linked to many other bodily functions - as such the presciption of a drug that shuts it down should be considered critically. I do think the pushing of the Pill within our society does imply something about how that society views women. Taking the Pill does not, no, stop us being women - but it has the potential to impact negatively on our quality of life and general health and women should be aware of that.

Women can choose to read my blog, read my opinions about the Pill, hear of my experience and the experiences of others, and still make the choice to take the Pill. Real choice necessitates knowledge and open discussion. If my writing about the potential side effects of the Pill hinders that choice, then I think we can say that choice might also be hindered by the aggressive marketing of pharmaceutical companies, or the forceful advice of doctors or purely by lack of discussion on this subject.

Awesome reply

It's amazing how many people take any kind of critical assessment as an attack on the particular choice they have made. Why is it okay for the drug manufacturers to push hormones on women in TV ads every damned day, but a single female blogger questioning the pill is a huge threat to freedom of choice?

I took the pill when I was very young. It caused a great deal of pain in my legs that went away when I stopped. I moved to the diaphragm, then to the sponge. The sponge was awesome. I loved it. No hormones. If you're caught up in the spontaneity argument (nonsense, I say--I had no problems getting a condom on my husband as part of the act prior to my tubal ligation), then the sponge was also good. You could pop it in and leave it in for up to 24 hours. You could use it for multiple acts; it didn't have to be changed and you didn't need more spermicide in between. Of course, one manufacturer after another went bankrupt, so now the best birth control method going is in financial limbo. Funny how the drug manufacturers who push the pill don't have the same financial concerns. I guess not having an "in" with the doctors to push the method on women is a huge disadvantage.

As for withdrawal and ovulation-prediction, that's a method that I think gets unfairly vilified. Mature women who know their bodies have and will continue to use this method successfully. I used ovulation-prediction for a very long time leading up to my ligation. It worked like a charm. Not everyone is good at it. It's not good for those who aren't in a regular relationship with someone they trust. You have to do your part in knowing it's not a good time and letting him know it's not a good time, and he has to do his part in knowing when it's time to stop, if you choose to add withdrawal to prediction. Not something for teenage girls, but just fine for a married (or otherwise committed) woman who has predictable cycles.

In the end, the condom is the best way to go for anyone not in a longterm, absolutely-verifiably-monogamous relationship. If you're willing to go down the path of STIs for the sake of a fuck, you're really foolish. More than one partner has fucked around on a "committed" partner. The pill isn't going to help you there.

I had similar problems with

I had similar problems with the Pill for many years and ended up quitting all birth control. It took a lot of depressive episodes before I realized that it was the Pill, and I had tried several different ones. I saw a therapist, I ended up taking depression medication, I gained weight as a side effect of both the Pill and of the other medications I was on, and I ended up generally very unhappy.

Since I've been off the Pill, I have become healthy again, mentally and physically.

this new blog

Judging from the comments already, Holly is going to be bringing the Bitch audience not only much needed information about the Pill but about reproductive rights in general in an informative, hip and non-zealous manner. She wants all of us to have the facts before we decide which contraception works for our bodies, plus how society views (or mostly ignores) women's reproductive issues.

Whether or not the Pill is "working" for individual women will always be a matter of debate, but the fact remains that a medication that so drastically alters a woman's body is dubious at best and flat out bad for us at worst. Holly is far from naive and also not telling any of us what we should or should not do. I believe her aim is to point out the sad fact that we, as women, have very limited birth control choices and it does not have to be that way. How much money is allocated to, let's say, pills to help erectile dysfunction?

Let's give Holly the support and a chance to bring us informative and inspirational posts. Trust me, she won't disappoint.

Excellent

As a former Yaz-user, film critic and (naturally!) feminist, I have a feeling what you write will hold lots of interest for me! Welcome.