The Great Contraception Debate

I am sick of hearing politicians talk about sex.  I am tired of hearing about their scandals, and I am tired of hearing these men talk about what women can and cannot do with their bodies.  Does anyone remember that the last President in office while there was a budget surplus was Bill Clinton?  Or does everyone just think of his sex scandal?  Does anyone actually know what Rick Santorum’s plan is for fixing the economy, improving education, or foreign policy?  Or is all we know that he is against insurance coverage for contraception?  I wish the candidates in this presidential election would start talking about the real issues.  The economy, for example, or foreign policy.  How to eliminate some of the ridiculous disparity between the wealthy and the impoverished.

I would like to applaud Virginia state senator Janet Howell, who had the brilliant idea of introducing a bill regulating the prescription of the men’s drug Viagra.  If her bill had passed, it would have required men to pass a cardiac stress test and a digital rectal examination before their doctor could prescribe Viagra to them.  Read more about it here.  Many people may be interested to know that Viagra is covered by more insurance companies than any contraceptive pill is.  I think that people who oppose oral contraception on religious grounds should also oppose Viagra unless the man is in a family trying to conceive a child – isn’t that the argument, that sex should only be used to conceive children? The fact that a pill that automatically gives a man an erection so he can have as much sex as he wants is covered by insurance when there is even a question about whether or not a pill that helps a woman regulate her cycle and control when she has children is appalling.  Check out this article which, while a bit dated, goes into greater depth on this debate.

On the personal level, though, where this conversation should be taking place, this is a great chance for both women and men to reflect on their contraceptive choices and how they impact their lives.  Women who are on the pill could ask, “Why am I on the Pill?”  I don’t necessarily think that there is a right or a wrong answer, I just believe that we should have educated and informed reasons for why we do things – particularly when it comes to our health.

This is a chance to do research and investigate the many options out there for us.  Are there non-contraceptive ways to deal with health issues such as irregular periods?  Are we taking the pill because our periods are simply too inconvenient for us?  What exactly is the right way to use a condom?  What are the long-lasting consequences of intra-uterine devices?  What chemicals are used in spermicides and do we really want them inside our bodies? (After hearing from a girlfriend how some spilled spermicide ate through her boyfriend’s bedside table, I’m personally pretty wary of these.) How would we deal with an unintentional pregnancy?  Do we have the financial resources to deal with a child?  Are we in a relationship that would support a happy, healthy child?  Are we prepared for the moral dilemma and emotional burden of an abortion?  Would we be able to give up our child for adoption?

I don’t have any answers, because I think we all need to answer these questions for ourselves.  I can tell you from personal experience that I recently considered going on the pill to help with irregular periods.  I did some research, and I concluded that I would rather deal with a surprise period from time to time than deal with all the side effects.   For me, what really scared me was the prospect of uncontrollable mood swings.  I went through a period of tremendous emotional stress about a year ago and have only recently regained some measure of emotional equilibrium.  The idea of destroying my emotional balance just wasn’t worth it to me.  It also inspired me to do some research into women’s health.  I realized that I didn’t even know how the menstrual cycle worked.  To me, my period was just something to deal with for a week every month (or not, depending on how things were going).  I realized that all that emotional stress had caused my weight to drop to far below what a healthy weight was.  As one healthcare professional put it, my body was literally running on reserves of energy.  It simply didn’t have enough left to even make a period every month.  So, rather than chemically suspend my cycle, I got a calendar.  I started marking down the days I had my period so I could track it.  I’ve noticed that I do, in fact, feel more tired and emotional right before it starts and that as it ends and I begin ovulating, I have much more energy.  I started researching foods that were high in calories, the good kinds of fat, and nutrients and started incorporating them into my diet. (Sweet potatoes and nuts were two of the big ones.)  I started taking vitamins. (Women to Women is the company I get my vitamins from.  It includes a multi-vitamin, a calcium/magnesium supplement, and a fish oil supplement.  And best of all – they mail them to you.  I don’t have to remember to go to the store, and when I’m almost out my next batch comes magically in the mail.)  And my period has become more regular.

For men, some of whom seem to be incredibly opinionated about these things, I challenge them to go a step further and to learn about women’s health.  Educate yourselves.  Learn to have mature, informed conversations with your partners.  Learn about the menstrual cycle.  Stop saying things like “Oh, man, she’s PMSing.”  I was once horrified to hear a guy mention that his upcoming weekend with his girlfriend wouldn’t be that fun because she was “broken” – that is to say, she was on her period.  When I was reading online message boards and reviews about birth control pills, I was shocked to find that several women had written in to say that they had horrible side effects (mood swings, depression, migraines, weight gain, acne, loss of sex drive) but that they stayed on the pill because their boyfriend didn’t like to use condoms.  If you’re someone who has influenced your partner to go on the pill because of your distaste for condoms, I suggest that you do some research on sexually transmitted diseases, for one, and become more sensitive to her needs.

For all of us, contraception is a touchy subject because sex is a touchy subject.  For me, growing up, sex wasn’t bad, necessarily, but it definitely wasn’t something to talk about.  But I think we should ask ourselves why it is so important for us to have contraception.  And for those of us using it for its intended purpose, we should ask ourselves, “Are we having the sex we want?”

Whether we intend to create a child or not, sex will always be one of the most potentially life-giving acts that two people can do.  It brings people closer than anything.  And I think that’s something to ask ourselves.  “Is sex life-giving for me?”  Is it strengthening your relationship with your partner?  Does it make you feel closer to the divine?  Does it make you a better person?  Are we treating our partners with kindness, love, and respect?  Are we taking the time to develop other forms of intimacy along with the physical?  Does your sex life help make you the person you want to be?

Even if you have discerned that sex is something that waits for marriage, you can still deepen your understanding of it.  Some people just are told, “You can’t know this until you’re married.”  I personally think this is wrong.  By placing sex in the “forbidden” category, it just makes it all the more interesting.  Young people may decide to engage in sexual activity because it makes them feel rebellious.  Even worse, they may engage in sexual activity without understanding all of the health, emotional and spiritual consequences of it.  Young men and women should understand how each other’s bodies work – from a medical perspective.  Women need to understand their bodies and how to care for them.  Men should be encouraged to understand how the natural cycle of a woman works.  After all, that’s the cycle that helped to bring them into the world.

Maybe, just maybe, if we all took the time to educate ourselves and our partners, we would all be healthier and happier.  And maybe then we could talk about the economy.

Useful material for continued research:

This amazing video is definitely worth watching, despite its 90 minute length.  Vicki Thorn, the founder of Project Rachel (the Church’s ministry to help women who have had abortions), talks in very straightforward, non-theological terms about the differences between male and female brains and gives some valuable information on contraception.

Dr. Christiane Northrup has written extensively on women’s health.

Planned Parenthood’s website on different contraceptive measures available.

Great, healthy recipes.

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One Response to The Great Contraception Debate

  1. Any man who doesn’t “like using condoms” is an “ex” is my book.

    Great post.

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