I’ve been on birth control twice—once seven years ago, again six years ago. The experience was shit, but because the pills screwed with my hormones so badly, my time with them is not to be forgotten. I saw multiple doctors and was prescribed two different levels of birth control, each time for my ovarian cysts.
Though everyone who menstruates gets ovarian cysts, few people experience them in so much pain they decide it’s totally appropriate to pull a Mindy Lahiri and lay on the floor in the middle of a conversation.
“Keep talking. I’m just gonna lay down, because what gravity giveth, gravity taketh away.”
That kind of judgment from gravity not working in my favor I can take. People understand that pain, because there is an obvious physical aspect to it. They want you to go to extreme measures to cure it, even.
Unless that cure involves birth control.
Except birth control didn’t work for me; it put me in more pain. Turns out, I’m highly allergic to yeast, and every birth control contains yeast—a key ingredient that makes it “it”—and lactose. (I’m lactose intolerant.)
But birth control is still a part of my story that is important to my life today. I stopped using contacts, because the pill dried my eyes. Ever cut your eye with a contact lens before? I don’t recommend it. I tried artificial tears, but my eyes would still dry out to a point where I could blink out my contacts. After I lost a pair at the barn, I was done—goodbye contacts, and good riddance contact cuts! I pulled my glasses from high school out of their case and have been using them ever since. I need to get a new pair, but my priorities are out of whack; I’m a Millennial, after all.
So because the aftermath of birth control still plays a prominent part in my present, it comes up in conversation from time to time. And let me tell you, when it comes up? The entire aura of everything that ever existed before between the other person(s) and myself changes drastically. Hello, the oh-no-she-didn’t apocalypse.
I surmise it’s because my mom had me at seventeen that everyone assumes I went on it to avoid getting pregnant—it’s called birth control, after all—but when have I ever showed any such interest in guys? I made it through every relationship without being groped, save that one time the last-ever boyfriend of mine decided to assault me with his lips outside church. I surpassed the teen pregnancy statistic by a landslide, and I attribute it to having been left to my own devices while my teenage mother left to party all throughout my childhood. Or was it her constant blaming me for a lack of a proper high school experience? We can never be too sure with these things, so we should probably choose c) all of the above.
It’s not enough that ovarian cysts and birth control led to ridiculous issues I’d never dreamt of, I now had to defend myself harder than I have to when I go to the hospital and the ER nurse can’t quit asking, “Are you sure you’re not pregnant?” even after I’ve said I’m not sexually active. Because even if I was sexually active, I’m pretty sure he’s only interested in whether I’m getting the D because that’s usually the correlation they’re going for. But again, I’m not. I’m not even physically active, unless you count the trips I take to the kitchen and the occasional dancing when I cook “physical exercise”. Whatever the case, it’s always a man asking me these questions, and I always have to give them smart-ass remarks because that’s the kind of person I am. (Like, pretty sure I go so long without a menstrual cycle because of anorexia, but whatever, let’s blame procreation because that makes more sense somehow.)
How do I respond to this? How do I respond to the slamming-on-the-breaks, hold-my-Starbucks, Unmarried Redhead said what? ‘Cause, you know, us redheads…you gotta watch out for us. Your men fetishize us when they’re out with their friends and remember us when you ask them to do the dishes. We can’t be trusted. And when our mothers have us at 17, training to use our finesse begins in the womb. And if we’re taking birth control?
Ah, but maybe it’s because this is Texas. It’s not a sex-positive state. Sometimes, I feel like the men here would put all the women in vending machines if they could. The ones I’ve met like to pride themselves in not being “like those foreigners who tell their women how to dress”, but then I remember all those times in school when my bra strap fell down my shoulder because I relaxed a little bit and was blamed for being a “distraction” to the boys. I had to put on my sweater even though the school’s AC was broken and it was 90 degrees outside and I have asthma, because I couldn’t be trusted to keep it from falling down, and all that mattered was my effect on boys and men as a minor going through puberty.
Or is it the outdated, traditional thinking of older generations who—despite favoring conventional values—push modern medicine and demand breasts be covered while breastfeeding?
They never say it directly when The Big Reveal happens, but I can feel it—the judgment. I may be crap at reading between the lines, but there is venom in their voice. They don’t even try to hide it. I may as well have told them I slept with their husband or committed murder. I am forever different to them now, as if my body was a vessel for the devil’s spawn. How dare I interrupt God’s plan and take something that interrupts it?
Birth control may not have benefited me as it was intended to do, but I feel like I have to defend every woman in the world regardless of why they take it, but especially for those who use it for reasons beyond birth control.
It doesn’t matter what my sexuality is or whether I want to sleep with men—just that I took this thing that no woman should have a right to go on. What people think when they find out is that I am a slut, and it’s expressed through their constant attempts at controlling what I wear and what I think about dating.
According to a 2011 study (US), 58 percent of all birth control users rely, in some way, on the pill for reasons beyond pregnancy prevention. 14 percent (1.5 million women) rely on the pill exclusively for non-contraceptive purposes. It seems no one’s performed a similar study since, which is unfortunate.