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Let’s get it on. – Marvin Gaye
Sex is one of those things that keeps the world spinning ‘round. It has powered the planet since the beginning of time, further embodied by art, music, and literature, ranging from Roman sculptures and the Kama Sutra, to Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me. Sex is fun, healthy, and perfectly normal and acceptable when enjoyed between consenting adults. But the dirty deed doesn’t come without strings attached: what about birth control?
Birth control is not sexy, but responsibly preventing unplanned pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases certainly is. It’s recently become painfully obvious to me that many men and women of the post grad persuasion are a mix of both misinformed and uninformed about the ins-and-outs of the female reproductive system and birth control (pun intended). Though it is still widely considered a “taboo” or “inappropriate” topic with the older generations, our demographic is more open to the conversation. We deserve to understand our bodies, and our partner’s bodies, in order to make the best decisions for our own lives when it comes to sex. Birth control is not gross, it is not embarrassing, and it’s not strictly a woman’s burden to bear. Let us discuss.
First of all, there are numerous methods of birth control. It’s not just condoms and the birth control pill. We’ve got IUD’s, or intra-uterine devices. We’ve got Nuvaring, a flexible plastic ring of hormones. There are shots, implants, spermicides, and all sorts of physical devices that are meant to provide for safe-sex. They’re even developing a method of birth control specifically for men, one that doesn’t involve “getting snipped.” Can you believe?
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of these options and to understand exactly what role they play in preventing STDs or pregnancy. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion surrounding the female reproductive cycle (thanks, Southern public-school education) which makes understanding how birth control works nearly impossible.
I’m sure all you guys out there are vaguely familiar with periods, with us women being intimately familiar. Commonly portrayed and mocked in sitcoms and movies, it is that “icky” time of the month where your girlfriend bleeds out of her genitals and “acts like a bitch.” This mind-set is problematic. For one, having periods is not fun. Do you guys think we want to cry at commercials or eat a pint of chocolate ice cream for dinner? Every time I’m on my period, my body only wants carbs and sugar. If I don’t comply, things only get worse. I call it “feeding the Beast.” It’s physically uncomfortable, exhausting, and expensive to deal with. Couple that with a boyfriend or hookup who is giving you shit about a perfectly normal bodily function, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
You may be surprised to learn that the “period” does not make up the bulk of the actual menstrual cycle. It may be the most talked-about, but in fact, those 3-7 days play a pretty small role in the whole deal. As a matter of fact, the length of that period drastically varies from woman-to-woman. It may be shorter or longer, depending on a woman’s body, genetics, and level of physical activity. It actually takes a lot of effort to understand and identify one’s own menstrual cycle, which can be scary and uncomfortable. Have you run away screaming, yet? Because this is just the tip. Pun also intended.
Have you ever heard of the word, “ovulation?” This little bit is incredibly important. This is the part of the menstrual cycle in which a woman can… brace yourselves – get pregnant. This phase actually happens about 9-12 days before Aunt Flow makes her appearance and is the time of the month in which the risk of pregnancy is the highest. Ovulation happens in a smallish window of time, think anywhere from 3 to 5 days. In short, this is when an egg takes a little road trip down from Ovary Land and hangs out in the uterus for a little while, looking for some action. If some horizontal boogaloo goes down, sperm makes its way up through the cervix, into the uterus, and links up with that egg – BOOM, you’ve got yourself a zygote, AKA the first bunch of cells that eventually develops into a real-life baby. Actually, sperm can chill and survive in a woman’s body for up to 5 days, so even if you have sex a few days before that ovulation even occurs, there’s still a chance that those sperm may still be waiting around by the time the egg comes down the chute a few days later. Scary! On the other hand, if no little swimmers make their appearance during this time-frame, the egg realizes she’s been stood up, gets pissed off, and decides to evacuate the premises. That’s when Aunt Flow comes to town.
So, it’s a complete myth that a woman can get pregnant every day of the month. That is physically impossible. The only time a woman can get pregnant is during that “ovulation” time, when the egg is just hanging around waiting for her gentleman caller. The really tricky part is knowing when that ovulation is going down. This is when the birth control comes into play.
Generally, most hormonal birth control simply prevents ovulation from occurring. No egg hanging out in uterus territory means there’s no risk of possible pregnancy. Other birth control methods such as condoms and diaphragms (female condoms) physically prevent any swimmers from getting near the danger zone. They also protect both parties from contracting sexually-transmitted disease and are a cheap and accessible method of birth control. And no, ladies, it is not just the man’s job to buy these suckers. If you want to have safe sex, you should be buying these, too. When used correctly (read: consistently and intentionally) most methods have a pretty damn high rate of pregnancy-prevention.
When it comes to the hormonal birth control, it really depends on what works for a woman’s body. If the thought of shoving a plastic ring up your own hoo-ha once a month gives you nightmares, Nuvaring is probably not the way to go. If you can’t remember to take a pill every day at the same exact time, maybe the pill isn’t your best choice. Unfortunately, birth control requires a lot of experimentation to try and figure out what works. Some hormones may wreak havoc on a woman’s body, resulting in terrible cramps, breakouts, and weight gain. Intrauterine devices, or IUDs, (which are little, T-shaped devices placed in the cervix) may run the risk of being rejected by the body or actually puncturing the uterus, which is very not good. On top of all of this, hormonal birth control does not prevent sexually-transmitted diseases, condoms and diaphragms are the only tools that effectively do that job.
I’d like to emphasize that birth control methods are not, and should not, be dependent on the male preference. Yes, guys, I understand you don’t want to wear condoms because it doesn’t feel “as good.” Do you think we appreciate that characteristic, either? No. We don’t. But we use them because that’s what is responsible. Do you think I wanted to wind up playing a surprise game of ring-toss because my Nuvaring decided to make an appearance mid-coitus? Absolutely not, but sometimes that’s the price you gotta pay for safety.
It’s not just the female’s job to practice safe and responsible sex. If you’re having sex with someone, it is both of your responsibilities to have the conversation about birth control, even if you’re embarrassed or don’t want to kill the mood. You know what really kills the mood? Herpes.
Birth control should not be embarrassing. It’s completely normal. When it comes to preventing STDs and unplanned pregnancies, you need to be informed and empowered to make the choice that’s right for you, and your partner deserves the same respect. Now get out there, you crazy kids, and have some safe sex! Don’t forget the scented candles and the Al Green..