Happy birthday, Nessie!

Well, I’m a little early, but I’d like to wish Nessie a happy birthday. Her official birthday is actually March 17th, 2006, but in light of this amazing article about contraception on The Sexist, I just have to make her birthday post a little early.

Nessie is my birth control, so named because like the Loch Ness monster, she lurks in the deep dark places. I have a Mirena IUD (intra-uterine device), which remains in my uterus for 5 years while steadily releasing eensy weensy amounts of the hormone levonorgestrel (it’s okay–I can’t pronounce it either!). It works on multiple levels to help prevent pregnancy and is incredibly effective.

I’ve been on and off of some form of hormonal birth control since I was 15. When I first stopped taking the pill at 18, largely because I could not afford to keep paying for it each month, I discovered exactly how much the hormones had been gravely fucking with me. I was an emotional, neurotic mess with bad skin and some extra pounds that I couldn’t shake no matter how unhealthy I let my eating habits get. I had no sex drive and I was uncomfortable with and disgusted by my own body, despite my burgeoning feminist tendencies.

I am convinced that the birth control pill is one of the biggest shackles we as women are burdened with. There is a huge lack of education surrounding birth control that leads to a lot of misinformation or simple ignorance. People refer to “the pill” as if it is something monolithic when it’s not. There’s dozens of different kinds of pills, from tri-cyclens (that give a different dose of hormones each week) to monophasic (a steady dose over the entire active pill cycle) to low-dose pills to a variety of hormone blends, and of course there’s an army of generics of all of those. Plus there’s an arsenal of non-pill options, such as the patch, the shot, the ring, and my personal choice, the IUD (which comes in two flavors–the Mirena, with a low dose of hormones, and the ParaGard, which is hormone-free).

Putting hormones into our bodies fucks us up. We’re people, not science experiments. Every version of every one of those contraception options that I listed will muck up your body chemistry in some way, and very rarely is it for the better (some women get slightly bigger boobs and/or clearer skin while on HBC, but I don’t think the trade off is worth it. Your mileage may vary, though). Fucking with our bodies leads to all kinds of unpleasantness. It’s a way of giving up our independence (and I will admit that my IUD does include a very low dose of hormones, so I’m guilty as well; the ParaGard would not have been a healthy choice for me, however) and letting someone else–drug companies, among others–control us. Think about it–that PMS? That’s not your PMS. That PMS is brought to you by Pfizer. Kinda creepy, when you think about it (especially considering how much shit you’ll then take for having PMS in the first place when it’s all “DUDE, I am riding a fucking hormone tsunami because of this bitty little pill that I take because you don’t like to wear a condom cause it like cramps your baller style or whatever the fuck it is!” Man, not cool).

I hear from women all the time about all these issues they’re having–their bodies are behaving weirdly, their emotions are out of control, they’ve lost their sex drive, they’re depressed, etc. The majority of the time, we can trace the problem back to their HBC. I’ll give them a quick little tutorial on all the different kinds of birth control and suggest which option might be better (even just switching off the generic of your pill can have a huge impact, believe it or not). Everyone’s body responds to hormones differently, but here’s the hitch–no one tells us about this shit. No one warns us that just because our BFF is on Yaz and it is fucking the shit for her and she’s having orgasms that make the Fourth of July look boring, we might get on Yaz and discover ourselves 20 lbs heavier and without any sex drive to speak of. On principle, I hate treating my body like a hormone cocktail shaker (unless, of course, I’m about to be lapped up by James Bond. Then we can talk). However, I understand the draw of traditional HBC for many women. I just wish we had more education on the veritable cornucopia of anti-baby drugs out there. This is America, land of plenty. You are not married to your birth control, and even if you are, shit girl, get a divorce if that crap isn’t loving you!

When I get the opportunity, I encourage women to experiment with not being on birth control at all. I got my IUD, which admittedly has a low dose of hormones, after a year and a half of being completely off hormonal birth control. I spent a month or two doing thorough research of my options and looking at the decision from all angles before deciding on the Mirena (depending on how sharing I’m feeling, on Nessie’s birthday I may post in depth about the research I did and my motivations for my choice, as well as more about my experience as an IUD user). Most women get big round eyes and go, “But then we’d have to use condoms!”

Awwww HELL NO I do not ever want to hear that kind of horrified response to condoms!

I love dudes who wear condoms. The quickest way to dry my out like the Sahara is try to avoid using a rubber when things are getting hot and heavy. In order to make sure that any excuse a dude can possibly try to pull is utterly null and void, I actually keep a condom in my purse, a practice that I wish more ladies would get into. There’s no real reason for a guy not having a condom, but sometimes they just don’t. And we’re the ones who are stuck with the babybakin’ ovens snug inside our pelvises, so really, it couldn’t hurt to carry a condom just in case. That doesn’t make you a slut–that makes you responsible. And responsible is sexy.

However, on the topic of condoms, it’s really astounding to me how rarely they are used. One of the comments on the above linked article remarks, “You can turn on the tv, and find a Trojan condom ad usually everyday of the week. I’m sure if you took a poll of men, about 100 percent of the male respondents would know what a condom is.” This is true. You can see a lot of ads for Trojans. They feature things like CGI pigs in clubwear.

That doesn’t tell viewers jack shit about how to use a condom. And that’s what’s important–the basic concept of the condom is self explanatory, and yet I can assure you, as someone who spent a summer as a peer health educator for Planned Parenthood (complete with wooden penis and day-glo magenta demo condoms) that in reality, very few people know how to use a condom. There’s the whole issue of putting it on right side out, for starters. There’s the matter of remembering to pinch the tip. There’s that whole rolling thing. Seriously guys, it’s boggling. I’ve saddled up a wooden faux-peen over and over for demos and this summer I had my first experience of applying a condom to a real live dude–holy shit! It’s way different and super scary! No joke, I was afraid I was gonna break him. Not the condom. Him. Talk about performance anxiety!

So I have a lot of sympathy for people who don’t even have a passing familiarity with the theory of condom use, let alone any sort of in-depth knowledge. Dudes and gals, it’s okay–there is not a goddamn thing instinctive about using a condom, and they are that weird color, you’re making a dude’s otherwise pretty sexy instrument look like it’s about to go SCUBA diving to boot. I understand. It’s uncomfortable stuff, especially with a new partner.

But in all the world, there ain’t nothin’ like a condom when it comes to being safe. My IUD is, granted, a more reliable form of birth control, but babies, believe it or not, are not necessarily the biggest, baddest things in the world. There’s STDs and that shit is SCARY. That can fuck you up. That can kill you.

And that’s what I advocate that ladies experiment with taking some time off from hormonal birth control–because no matter what, you should be using condoms basically all the time anyways. Of course, when we get into committed relationships with set sexual understandings, it can be fun and romantic (and, let’s face it, sexy) to throw condoms to the wind. After, of course, both partners getting tested for STDs. However, being on birth control is NOT ENOUGH to keep you safe for one night stands, casual dating, etc.

Unless you know for absolute certain (and, for the record, just because someone is a virgin doesn’t mean they are disease-free!), always use a condom. If nothing else, that just makes it that much better when you finally hit the point in your relationship that you aren’t using them anymore. And it makes your life that much better, because you don’t have any nasty surprises.

The article on The Sexist is great–funny, far less wordy than I am, and interesting. However, a lighthearted enjoyable read can lead to some heavy stuff. Birth control is heavy stuff, and it isn’t given nearly the attention it deserves in our world.

Educate yourself. Educate your friends, no matter their gender. This is really important.

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03/04/2010. Tags: , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. 9 comments.

Dudes: Now Slightly Safer To Try At Home

I have to admit, “how recently he’s had a needle in him” isn’t normally one of the first things I contemplate when considering a potential partner. This might change, though.

The FDA has approved the Gardasil vaccine for men and boys!

The vaccine, given via three doses over a six month period, will cover males ages 9 to 26, protecting against HPV types 6 and 11 (the kind that manifest as genital warts). I’m a little bummed that the vaccine only covers types 6 and 11 in men, when the vaccine for women covers 16 and 18 as well, which can lead to precancerous lesions and cervical cancer. I’d like it if my men were non-precancerous for my pleasure. However, it’s still exciting to see the vaccine approved for use for men, and I hope to start seeing men going out and getting it.

On the other hand, this is WAY overdue. Gardasil for women was initially approved in June of 2006. It should not have taken nearly four years to expand the vaccine to cover men as well.

From a purely selfish standpoint, now most of my friends don’t qualify. 4 years ago, when I was just shy of 21, it seemed like 26 was a perfectly reasonable ceiling. Now I’m only a year out from 26 and most of my friends are over that age mark, yet the majority of us are not in committed monogamous relationships, so an HPV vaccine would be really great. (For those who don’t remember or aren’t in the know, HPV is one of those STDs that isn’t fully prevented by condom use, even if you practice “perfect condom usage.”) We’re talking about a vaccine that can help prevent women from getting cancer–it shouldn’t have taken 4 years to get the vaccine approved for men, and they should be constantly expanding the age range of who can get the vaccine.

I’m happy that they’ve finally got approval for men; I was worried for a while that this would be like the elusive male birth control pill, which keeps getting promised, but never happens (because let’s face it, since us girlfolk have the uterus, it’s totally 100% our responsibility to keep from getting knocked up. The penis is basically irrelevant!). Men and carrying HPV, and if anything, it’s extra important to vaccinate them, because they are less likely to show any symptoms; genital warts represents only a tiny fraction of HPV cases, whereas huge numbers of women will get abnormal pap smear results from HPV. HPV is so prevalent that about 50%–half!–of all sexually active Americans will contact it at some point in their lives. Therefore, it’s absolutely integral that we do what we can to minimize the damages done. In the majority of cases, HPV will be cleaned out by the immune system and you’ll never even show any symptoms, but with such a high percentage of carriers, do you really want to risk ending up with a strain that leads to warts, lesions, or cancer?

Like I said, I’m happy that Gardasil is approved for men. However, it should have happened sooner, and it should be covering more strains. Let’s get on that second part, and while we’re at it, let’s expand the age range of both men and women who can get the vaccine. Then, for the icing on the cupcake, let’s make sure we give access to the vaccine to as many people as possible.

Now that’s a sexy world.

02/09/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Smart Shaggin’

I’m a big fan of Planned Parenthood, and here’s yet more reasons to know ’em and love ’em.

My local chapter, Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, is hosting a Cocktails & Cupcakes event in Worcester, including sexual health trivia, prizes, and, best of all, highly nommable cupcakes! What a bad ass event, am I right? Unfortunately, it’s 5:30 on a work night, so there’s no way I’ll be getting out to Worcester in time for that, but I think it’s a great way to raise awareness.

The event is being hosted by PPLM as part of the April “Get Yourself Tested” campaign, looking to raise awareness about STDs. 1 in 4 teenage girls in the US has an STD, and 1 in 2 (!!) Americans will contract an by age 25. Hot damn. Fortunately, PPLM is offering $30 walk-in, clothes-on STD testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV throughout April.

While you’re at it, you can also pick up a pack of emergency contraception–it’s always smart to have EC around, whether for yourself, or to provide a friend in need. You never know when the condom will break. You can purchase EC over the counter at any pharmacy, or at Planned Parenthood while you’re in getting tested.

04/09/2009. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Well, I guess that’s ONE way to prevent STDs…

But you know what works even better than circumcision at preventing STDs?

Wearing a goddamn condom.

I know, I know… I’m so old fashioned, with my ideas about wearing condoms until you’re in a committed, monogamous relationship and all members have been tested for STDs. But what can I say? I just don’t trust the disease-preventing powers of foreskin removal, never mind the baby-preventing powers.

Then again, perhaps we should suggest this to Feminists for Life–since they are not only against abortion, but against birth control as well, perhaps they will be interested in this wonderful new method of safe sex.

03/30/2009. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.