When first thinking about this topic, the feminist in me shouted “Because it’s your body, your business, discussion over”, but I realize it is not that simple. As long as I can remember, especially in high school and even in college, I never heard a friend of mine say she was on birth control without giving an explanation as to why exactly she started birth control. There was always a “because…” hanging on at the end. 99.9% of the time the explanation wasn’t because she was sexually active (even if I knew that was the main reason). It was as if birth control automatically implied that she was partaking in sex, and consequently “soiling” the purity stigma that is sown into girls’ worth from a young age. So let’s talk about it, why exactly do we as women feel the need to justify why we’re on birth control?
The Purity Myth.
A book and documentary by Jessica Valenti poignantly discusses what I believe to be a large part of why as women we feel the need to justify birth control, that our worth as women is determined by whether or not we are sexually active. Society promotes the idealization of virginity, all the while teaching girls that what goes on between their legs is more important than the ideas in their head. This pressure leaves girls with two very distinct paths that they feel they have to choose between, virgin or whore. Therefore when birth control comes into play, the situation gets even trickier for girls. How can we expect honest and open conversation about birth control and the motivations behind it, when we can’t even openly talk female sexuality without a sense of shame looming overhead? It’s as if the very word sex automatically soils a woman, and frankly that is just plain wrong.
The idea that birth control equates sex.
First of all, this notion is completely false. The motivations for starting birth control vary greatly, depending upon age, lifestyle, health, etc. Many young women start birth control to help with negative or irregular period symptoms, to help control acne, or yes to make sure they are engaging in safe sex. Birth control can have many benefits for women outside of preventing unplanned pregnancy. Nonetheless, it is their business and their business alone. I think as a society we need to understand that a woman taking control of her body and her sexuality is one of the most responsible and mature things a girl can do, whether it be for cramps, acne, or sex, so let’s not shame them for it. Let’s stop acting like sex is dirty, or like anything associated with sex is dirty. Birth control doesn’t equate sex; therefore let’s stop treating it like it does.
Talking about sex is hard.
More often than not, I see girls justifying their birth control with reasons other than sex because they don’t feel like they can upfront with their parents, doctors, or even friends. I waited until I was twenty to become sexually active, had been having open discussions about sex with my parents for years, and therefore was able to be frank with my parents when I said I wanted to start birth control. I was at a point in my life where I wanted to be sexually active, and I was to be damned if I didn’t do it safely and responsibly.
However, I get that my situation was very different from let’s say a 15 or 16 year old girl who is sexually active, but doesn’t feel she can be honest with her parents. That sounds like a scary situation, so often to get the birth control that they need, they lie in order to avoid talking about sex with their parents. Which is why in this situation, I wish I could sit down all parents and beg them to talk about sex with their daughters in a judgment-free zone.
I am not saying boys have it easy, but think about the phrase “boys will be boys” when it comes to sex, or the fact we don’t give boys purity rings. No, those are just for girls. We teach men to make themselves bigger, to assert their manhood and sexuality, but yet we teach girls to retract, be quiet, and above all keep their legs shut. This therefore makes it incredibly difficult for young women to initiate discussions about sex and birth control with parents, when from the very beginning we are taught we shouldn’t be having sex anyways.
Your birth control is your business and nobody else’s. You never need to justify your reasons, but at the same time I think as a society we need to work to create an environment where girls don’t feel the need to justify out of defense, but instead feel that they can have honest discussion about birth control and their bodies. I recently referred to a vagina as a “glory garden” when talking about sex with my roommate, and honestly I think it’s a great term. Whether it is the ability to experience pleasure, or to bring about life, female sexuality is something glorious that should be celebrated. But like a garden, it also requires attention and care, so let’s stop acting like giving that attention through the form of birth control is something taboo. You have to attend to your glory garden ladies, that is your damn right and duty.