The power of options.
I went on the pill shortly before I turned 19, in preparation for a moment that was both so monumental in my mind and also serves as the most unsatisfying sexual encounter I have ever experienced. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I would need to be on the pill in order to have vaginal intercourse, in addition to using condoms, of course. My gynecologist at the time specialized in adolescents, and although she wrote the prescription, she made judgemental remarks after she prodded me about my current relationship status, concluding that I should be careful with what I called “a friend with benefits.” Nonetheless, I went on my way, script in hand, feeling empowered by my own decision to avoid unwanted pregnancy.
My biggest concern with the pill, in typical American teenage girl fashion, was gaining weight, which I later realized would possibly occur because the pill increased my appetite. This, along with other symptoms, like moodiness and spotting, only lasted about three months, and then I was smooth sailing on the pill like it was something I was born taking. I always defended the pill when friends said they tried it and instantly felt like a monster, explaining that it could have a difficult adjustment period, but that the emotions would regulate over time. I also never had any issues taking the pill every day, since I added it to my bedtime routine. Regardless, I respected any one’s choice to ditch the pill and try one of the numerous other contraceptive options.
However, I’ve been so obsessed with what birth control everyone is on that I forgot that just as it is a choice to be on the pill, IUD, etc., it is also a choice to be on no birth control at all! So when the gynecologist suggested during my last visit I go off the pill for a couple of months and reevaluate my options, I saw so clearly for the first time, that I don’t necessarily need to be on birth control. I haven’t had a real period for almost seven years, and I’m one of those rare people with a vagina who love their period. The last authentic period I can remember having is about a year before I went on the pill. I was having my first consistent romance with a boy from high school, and we were exploring all of the exciting sexual activities without going “all the way.” One day, I was packing up my room to go to college, and he was lying on the bed, sulking over the inevitable breakup that was coming. I laid on top of him in just a bra and loose-fitting jeans. My stomach was so bloated, and my breasts were so tender. It was an oddly emotional moment between us, as he felt my swollen body in fascination. That kind of change that my body is naturally supposed to go through fascinates me as well, and I hope I’m not being too optimistic in hoping I have future moments like this with my current boyfriend of three years. (Maybe we should catch up after a couple of months because I could actually have terrible cramps and erratic emotions since the pill makes my period light to non-existent.)
I’m ready to embark on my new journey, free from hormones, because for the first time in my adult life, I am going to get acquainted with a more natural side of my body. I am a bit nervous to rely solely on condoms and the withdrawal method, as I have always used both of these methods in addition to the pill. However, the doctor reassured me that these are acceptable options, given my experience and knowledge. In fact, according to Planned Parenthood, condoms are 98% effective if used correctly. Withdrawal is 78% effective, so it’s wise to have emergency contraception around as a backup.
I feel confident that today vs. when I was 19, I am more informed and stable, and there is a lot more information and innovation in the world of contraception. My seven years on the pill have been so good to me, but I feel empowered that I have the ability to make a change and do what I want with my body!
Header image illustrated by Marcy Gooberman, the author of this article!