The pros and cons of birth control among college women
By Sex and Relationship Correspondent, Christine Stanwood
As I sit in the gynecologist’s waiting room for my procedure to have an IUD inserted, I begin to wonder: Why is it my responsibility as a woman to be the one in charge of birth control? On that Friday afternoon, I awaited the pain of my cervix being stretched for the purpose of preventing a baby bump within the next five years. Meanwhile my male counterparts have already started drinking pitchers of Natty Light to kickoff the weekend.
While they don’t have to order birth control pills through their local CVS pharmacy or have an IUD procedure done, they do spend the occasional $14.99 for a 10-pack of Trojan condoms. But besides condoms, do collegiate men leave the pressure on women to prevent pregnancy? Professor Kim Warren of the Woman’s Studies Department at the University of Kansas believes sexual responsibility is inevitable.
“I think there is added pressure, in general, for people to take an active role in the management of their health and their reproductive lives,” she says. “At the same time, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on women to manage their reproductive health, and then to manage childcare once children are in the picture.”
*Elizabeth, a senior at KU agrees with Professor Warren. “I think it is an added stress for women at times, but by no means do I think there is a sole individual to be held responsible.” However, she does go on to say that it would also be irresponsible for a guy to refuse to wear a condom and play the “blame game” within a pregnancy situation. The “P” word itself can make any college student shudder. According to a study conducted in 2011, the rate of unintended pregnancies among 20-24 year rose from 59% to 64%. Unfortunately, that means all dreams of a social life, potentially studying abroad, and a future career can flash before a woman’s eyes if faced with a pregnancy scare.
Thankfully, Sally, a senior at KU has not experienced a pregnancy scare but one member of her family had the unthinkable happen. “My sister actually got pregnant on birth control,” Sally recalls. “She wasn’t very good at taking the pill at the same time every day, which supposedly is a factor in how effective the pill is.”
There are many women like Elizabeth who live with a group of women. She knows that taking the daily pill can be forgotten with an ever-changing routine. “There have been a few instances where I’ll hear down the hall from my room, ‘Fuck, I forgot to take my birth control!’ she explains. “Because students’ schedules are typically more sporadic, I think we tend to be less responsible about it.”
Part of the reason why I chose to have an IUD (intrauterine contraceptive device) inserted was so I didn’t have to face the fear of having an accidental pregnancy during college. Too many times I forgot to take my birth control pill or went weeks without taking the pill because I didn’t have a sexual partner. By the off chance I wanted to have sex, I ran the risk of pregnancy. It was unfair and irresponsible to be unsafe, not only for myself but for the man I was having sex with.
After a poor experience with having multiple periods a month, bloating, and weight gain, *Sarah, a senior at KU decided to all together get off the pill. “I didn’t feel good about my body,” she adds. “I’ve been much happier since being off the pill.” Because Sarah isn’t on birth control, she is adamant that her partner wears a condom.
However, I was concerned when I found out that Sarah wasn’t using a second form of birth control. She explained to me: “There’s always the crazy story of a girl who was on the pill, or that used protection that got pregnant anyways,” she tells me. “It’s always a bit scary, but I don’t think not being on the pill is the reason for that.”
Sarah isn’t the only girl to run into problems with the pill. Several female college students have faced physical and mental obstacles with birth control in order to have sex. Elizabeth noticed an increase in hormones and emotions while taking the pill. “I’m typically not an emotional person,” she says. “But after getting on birth control I experienced extreme emotions over minuscule things and swift changes in my mood.”
Jamie, a senior at KU, also noticed a change within her emotions when first taking the pill as a junior in high school. “I got an Ovarian Cyst that ruptured and it was the most pain I’ve ever felt,” Jamie remembers. “The doctor said the cyst would return if I didn’t get on the pill.” Fortunately, because Jamie stayed on the pill, she no longer faces problems with her cysts.
But what if Jamie, like other women, wants to try an alternate form of birth control? Jamie tells me that she would consider trying another form but is reluctant to try something new with fear of the cysts returning. Turns out, other women aren’t opposed to the idea of switching but still prefer the pill. “An IUD would be ideal because of its lifespan and reliability but has its cons as well,” Elizabeth says. “Eventually I decided the pill was the best for me.” Based on data from the CDC, the pill is the leading contraceptive method among women from ages 15-29.
It wasn’t until I was laying legs apart in stirrups having the doctor buzz in another nurse when I knew this wasn’t a simple procedure. Getting an IUD was far from a simple procedure. The pain I felt within that 2-minute session felt like an hour. I gasped for air and screams came out of my body that I couldn’t control from what felt like a sharp cut inside me. “Hold her hand”, the doctor motioned the nurse toward me. With a swift step, she took my hand and didn’t break eye contact. She acted as a mother figure in a moment where all I wanted was my mom.
Reflecting back on that day, I’m glad I was able to make an adult decision for myself. I would encourage women to become familiar with all options for birth control. And men, continue to appreciate your condoms.
*These women chose to remain anonymous based on conversations about sexual and personal decisions
Photo by Christine Stanwood
Edited by Katie Gilbaugh