One Friday morning, I met up with a good friend of mine for lunch. I knew that she went on a date the previous night, so I asked her how it went. She looked annoyed as she told me the story. “It was going fine, until I tried to discreetly take my pill at my normal time. When he noticed, he joking called the birth control pill ‘slut candy,’ and then I felt really uncomfortable. So overall, it didn’t go well.” After she finished her story, I sat confused. This was a thing? I looked up the phrase on Urbandictionary, a highly credible source, and indeed it was. To my disgust, related terms included “whore” and “ho,” which to me seemed a bit redundant, but whatever. I didn’t know that shaming the pill was normalized to the point where my friend’s date made a joke about it TO HER FACE. Was this an isolated incident? Or was this proof that, despite the fact that a full 1/5th of women between the ages of 15 and 44 use the pill, its use still carries stigma?
Using the birth control pill is a perfectly normal, non-event in my experience. But even though I’ve been taking the pill for a few years now, I still remember the anxiety I felt when I was first determined to bring up the idea with my mom. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting the talk to go well. Sex and contraception weren’t well-received topics in my family up until that point, so I expected to have a difficult time getting my point across. My reasons for wanting to go on the pill were primarily medical, but even then, I knew that there was a strong possibility that my idea would be shot down fast if I didn’t use the right language or tone of voice. The conversation that followed was tense and definitely awkward, but it still gave me comfort to know that my mom didn’t jump to conclusions before hearing me out.
Not everyone has a values-system that’s supportive of birth control use, and it’s the stigma surrounding it that prevents young women from bringing up the topic with a parent or even a doctor. In my opinion, teens and young people deserve prominent and judgment-free education regarding hormonal contraceptives, for uses not only related to pregnancy prevention but also to other common medical problems. I wish that the medicinal benefits of the pill were emphasized alongside contraceptive properties, because the pill serves as medication for so many different types of reproductive health issues. It should be heavily publicized that its function isn’t limited to preventing pregnancy. I would say that at least 80% of my college-aged female friends are on the pill, some primarily for pregnancy prevention, but many also take it to treat disorders like polycystic ovary syndrome, or for painful periods. A study conducted by the National Survey of Family Growth found that 58% of hormonal birth control users use the pill for non-contraceptive use as well as contraceptive use, and 33% used it primarily for non-contraceptive use. One third of women who use the pill are using it for its medical benefits, which shows that the pill’s ability as a medication needs to be acknowledged. What often happens is that women take hormonal birth control because it satisfies one or more of their needs. Overall, the pill can improve their quality of life.
But it shouldn’t matter what the reasons are, because no one should be forced to justify their reasons for taking the pill in order to not be labeled a slut. What’s ridiculous and a bit depressing is that women who speak out in favor of birth control access, perhaps concerning its coverage under health insurance, are readily called sluts and whores, sometimes by prominent radio personalities. Why is this the gut reaction of so many people? Of anyone at all? I was surprised to find that people’s views, even in a college environment, are not so progressive after all.
Rewa Atre is a Jersey-born Indian-American Communication Disorders major who’s super passionate about judgement-free health education, particularly regarding uncomfortable topics. When she’s not writing, she enjoys making green juice, fangirling about Game of Thrones, and watching cheesy sci-fi horror movies.