I'm blogging this as part of the Day of Action around the Back Up Your Birth Control Campaign.
I’ve had various moments in my life where I could have used e.c. (emergency contraception), but a few are more crystal-clear than others. There was a time in early 2006 when I thought it was on the market without a prescription and it turns out it wasn’t, which was not a fun little while. Then later that year, with a man who was kindof a mirror image of the first one, I also needed it again, because I’d again had unprotected sex.
I thought that I was past that, that I had moved on to a more responsible, early-thirties, sexually active person, so the last time I needed e.c. was really the most wrenching for me, something I think about a lot as I contemplate possibly being (hetero)sexually active again (which is a story for another time, but suffice it to say, whether that’s in November or earlier, I don’t want to make the same mistake). At the time, I was on and then off birth control. I was using the NuvaRing, and when I had the money ($50, with insurance), I would buy it, but otherwise, I would just use condoms.
But then I started seeing someone where we weren’t using condoms, and while I was using the ring, it was fine. There was a while where I wasn’t, though, and I was pretty sure, in my head, that I was ready for that. I told him I wasn’t using anything and we couldn’t have intercourse and yet that’s precisely what we wound up doing and for the longest time I felt so stupid about that. I still do, to a large degree, and am so grateful that I was able to get e.c. Now, I was waiting for a check at the time, as I often am, and waiting out the time between when that payment arrived, and when I could get the pills, was excruciating. It was also a very lonely time because I couldn’t turn to the person involved, and I felt like if I told my friends about it they would just tell me I was stupid for having done that in the first place.
I didn’t quite realize that, well, life happens. That a lot of women, smart, strong, powerful, amazing women, some of them my friends, find themselves in similar situations. I wish my friends had had e.c. handy, or handier, than they did. I don’t say that because I think abortion is morally wrong; I am completely pro-choice. I say that because even from my limited perspective, that was not a choice they wanted to make. I’m not going to speak for anyone else but seeing up close how challenging an unwanted pregnancy was for at least one friend, I wish all of us who either suspect or are sure we’ve had unprotected sex that might lead to pregnancy could easily assuage those worries.
Yet even as I’m participating in the blog carnival, I can tell you that after that incident, though it changed how I thought about my own sexuality, changed how I thought about who I wanted to sleep with, changed how I looked at my own sense of agency and responsibility (and made me 100% convinced that I, as a woman, owe it to myself to never, ever rely on anyone else to possess that responsibility for me), it did not mean that I walked around, or am walking around now, with e.c. on me. I guess I figure that if I do need it, I will go down the block to the drugstore and get it. Maybe there is a teensy tiny part of me that thinks that if I have it handy I’ll be more sloppy with my birth control, if and when I do need it, because of that safety net. But this year I am all about working on myself and not “fixing” old errors, but learning from them. That made a huge impression on me because it showed me that I am not always as responsible as I'd like to be, whether regarding my sexual choices or my financial ones, and that as someone who does, in fact, want to be a parent one day, that is not the kind of behavior I want to model, and not the kind of person I want to be. (Please note: I am not saying there is a "kind of person" who doesn't use birth control or forgets to use it, but that in this specific incident, I actively went against my own self-interest and that certainly made me question why I'd be willing to do that.)
That was a turning point for me because I realized some of the falsities I was telling myself about myself and my own responsibility and autonomy when it comes to this issue. I thought that I had everything so neatly under control and to realize that I didn’t, that I was willing to risk something so huge, for something so momentary, threw me in a major way. It made me realize that I need to pick who I share my body with a lot more carefully, and that I can only do that with people who I can also share everything else with—my mind, my fears, my mistakes. I couldn’t do that in that situation, and yes, I am getting to what this has to do with emergency contraception, and that was what really did a number on me.
So, in conclusion, I fully support more awareness around emergency contraception. I think so many of us are too hard on ourselves too much of the time, to the point that we are self-defeating. Having e.c. on hand just in case, for you, or for a friend, is not a sign that you are planning to have unprotected sex, and even if you are, or think you might wind up in a circumstance where you might, it is worth the peace of mind.
And if we are talking about emergency contraception as a health care issue, I can tell you that those days I was waiting to get that direct deposit were some of the most stressful of my life. There is no way they were anything approaching “healthy” and I am naturally prone to worrying so that certainly exacerbated it. If you are going to use e.c., while it is effective for up to 120 hours (5 days), it’s best taken as soon as possible.
According to Planned Parenthood:
Emergency contraception can be started up to 120 hours — five days — after unprotected intercourse. The sooner it is started, the better it works.
Emergency contraception is also known as the morning-after pill, emergency birth control, backup birth control, and by the brand names Plan B One-Step, ella, and Next Choice. Plan B One-Step and Next Choice reduce the risk of pregnancy by 89 percent when started within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. They continue to reduce the risk of pregnancy up to 120 hours after unprotected intercourse, but they are less effective as time passes.
For more information about emergency contraception and the morning-after pill, visit: