Reliance on a drug, on hormones, to me, is the opposite of freedom. Which is why when I read Vanessa Grigoriadis’s New York magazine piece in which she asserts that women should wake up from the feel-good fog of the birth control pill, I found myself excited. This may be the beginning of a needed, deep and difficult conversation about the much-loved, never-questioned pill. Grigoriadis writes about women who stop taking the pill after years on it and have trouble conceiving, finding that fertility (like wrinkleless skin) “is a gift of youth.”
Sisterhood contributor Sarah Seltzer wrote here that Grigoriadis’s treatise “feeds into a weird anti-pill backlash that I really detest.” I get that. But I’m less interested in the condemning of the pill or the backlash than I am in unpacking why its so loaded, in 2010, 50-years after the pill’s creation, to question its worth and to reassess its purpose.
The advent of the birth control pill gave generations of women the power to control their own bodies — their reproduction. This is a fact. Today women make up nearly half the workforce. We delay starting families. We get masters degrees. Today, the educated public is more engaged with modern science; we spend more time on fitness and the upkeep of our bodies and minds than ever before. And though I am grateful for the battles won by unflinching, strong feminists before me, this gratitude does not bar a scrutinizing look at a what, let’s not forget, is hardly the messiah; rather, it is a branded drug with an exceedingly large marketing budget.
Even the most seemingly harmless drug carries a risk. Birth control has known possible side effects and women should consider them. Research suggests that estrogen (a heavy component of most birth control pills) when taken at length may not be as safe as once thought.
Also, as Grigoradis articulates, the Pill was created to inhibit pregnancy temporarily, not indefinitely. Not for half a lifetime, which is how long some women take it. The older I get, the more conscious I am that this is the only body I get, and I’m more vigilant about what I’m filling it with.
American culture is inordinately reliant on speedy solutions to complex problems. It strikes me that this climate may be a primary reason why so many women are coming to the Pill’s defense.
How about women demanding more of their sexual partners, asking that they share the load in preventing pregnancy? Condoms exist, and statistically are nearly as effective a way to prevent pregnancy. They aren’t pharmaceutical. You can remove them. Where are the men who support a male birth control pill? They may exist, but they’re not loud enough for there to be one.
Sex is a choice, and should be approached responsibly. We’re fortunate that the birth control pill allows us the space to choose sex without pregnancy. But we should be experts in the finer points of our own reproduction as Elissa Strauss writes here and additionally, we should know that what we’re choosing when we choose years on the birth control pill. This isn’t proven to be risk-free.