But seriously, let's talk about contraception, shall we? I sometimes feel that I have spent the last fourteen years talking sex, discussing the hows, whens and whys with girls and boys of all ages and backgrounds. Shuki's FB status yesterday reminded me of something related that is frequently on my mind -- using protection. She said that she
wishes Morning After pills in India were not advertised as if to imply they were just another contraceptive. It's quite alarming how many young women are developing uterine and ovarian cancer and ileostomies on account of msunderstanding how they work. And as much as she is manic about women's rights and empowerment, she's not sure making them OTC drugs is necessarily a good idea.
What I think most of us tend to forget is that protection is not just against pregnancy or AIDS. There are plenty of other nasties that we don't wish to have any truck with, quite common STDs like gonorhhoea, candidiasis, herpes and crabs, to name but four. Please, read the link, read the related links. This is stuff every sexually active person needs to know about.
We live in an age when sex outside marriage is more widely accepted than ever before and people have less hesitation in going in for casual sex. It's a freedom I greatly appreciate -- I wouldn't want you to think otherwise. But here's a thought: if the person you are sleeping with does not want to use a condom, odds are that that person refused to use one with his/her previous partner(s) as well. How gross is that, seriously? Just because the person you are sleeping with seems clean, hygienic and healthy is no indication that their previous bed partner was also clean, hygienic and healthy or that their previous partners were so.
Remember, STDs are called STIs these days because a person may be carrying the Infection without appearing Diseased.
So, seriously, if the person you want to sleep with is not somebody you are in a monogamous relationship with, I strongly urge you to insist on condoms. The ordinary kind, Rs 3 per piece, does the necessary, is easily available and does not spoil the sex. And if you are in a relationship, a condom saves you so much stress... take it from one who's been there!
A friend of mine pointed out that twenty years ago students
known to buy condoms while in school uniform forever tainting the image of our venerated [school]. I think they were being sensible.
I couldn't agree more. Back in my schooldays the very idea of buying a condom (or more) was quite scandalous. Sex seemed simpler. After all, sex involved only you and somebody you liked/loved. It did not need the involvement of shocked chemists and scandalised fellow customers. It, hopefully, did not lead to a trail of gossip that eventually reached your parents. Buying condoms, being of necessity a public act, was too scary for most to contemplate and most guys I knew chickened out as well as almost all the girls.
Now, of course, department stores sell condoms and we girls have long since stopped buying our tampons and sanitary napkins discreetly packaged in brown paper. Chemists will discuss the various kinds on offer with you in a deadpan tone and other shoppers try to mind their own business.
Me: A big pack of KS plains, please.
Chemist: I'm sorry, I don't have those, why don't you try the dotted instead?
Me: Nah, I don't care for those.
C: But these are good too.
Me: Sorry, they don't work for us. I'll pop in later, then.
(That's an actual conversation.)
Vicky has bought me pregnancy kits from the pharmacy where he's bought stuff almost all his life. I've bought the Pill (Loette) from there although I've luckily never had to buy the Morning After pill from anywhere. Speaking of which, here's what an older relative remarked:
a few days back while waiting at the Chemists to buy my blood pressure medication, 2 girls around 15/16 came in, boldly sought for and walked out with I-pills non-chalantly. What category would this fall into? Use, misuse or precaution??????Curious
I said that I found this incident both worrying and reassuring. You see, I believe that all kinds of contraception, including the emergency kinds, should be available on demand. Here are various statements from people I know which bolster this belief:
1. I remember how difficult it was for me as an unwed/soon-to-be-wed girl to get any advice/ information about them. The gynaec I consulted was very unwilling to even discuss them with me, let alone prescribe. Told me to come back after I was married. I was lucky I found another doctor (a family friend) who sat down and discussed cycles, safe periods and everything else with me and then gave me a packet of pills to take should I decide to do so. She even listed the pros and cons. but I wonder how many girls might/must get pregnant right after getting married just because they don't have access to the right resources and their husbands don't want to take the burden of contraceptives on themselves.
2. A gynec, no less, advising me not to take the OCP before I had my first pregnancy, she was talking like an old wife, not like a doctor. I insisted, having researched about the effectiveness and side-effects, and really appreciated that it worked and gave me a free year after our marriage, while I watched my condom-using friends all get 'accidentally' pregnant.
Since I had a sceduled C-section for my firstborn after we lost our first baby, my doc in the US asked if he should do a tubal ligation while 'he was in there'. I hesitated, because at that point I didn't have a living baby, wasn't sure if [this one] would survive but was sure I would never want a third pregnancy. So he made the decision for me not to cut...a decision that I regretted later.
So after about 3 years of more OCP, I got an IUD inserted. Only the idiot gynec in Bangalore didn't insert it properly, and [...] it was self-aborting anyway, but I had to have a D&E done to 'clean out the uterus'. A totally avoidable and regrettable situation.
After that, we dithered, and used double protection, until finally we decided that my husband would have a vasectomy, since I was phobic now of surgeries and procedures. It was done, and was I glad. Apparently very few men opt for this, and it's a pity, since it's so much easier and safer than tubectomies for the women.
3. 3 [of my friends] have had MTPs, and 3 opted to have the third child, but were quite in shock for a long while.
4. [A friend] adopted, and then got pregnant, asked her gynec to do the tubal ligation cause she was having a C_sec. To her shock he refused, saying they could not ethically do that until a woman had had 2 children. I mean he acted like the adopted first child was not her child, it was so insensitive, she changed her doc.
Makes you think, doesn't it? Two very close friends of mine have had to choose to terminate pregnancies because they were unplanned. Both were already mothers, and money, family concerns, health and other obligations helped them make this impossible choice. They know they did what they needed to, but one mourns a lost child... it doesn't seem to make a difference whether you lose your baby by miscarriage or an MTP, the pain of losing a baby is something you seem to carry for ever.
A third dearly loved friend has just made the decision and there's nothing I can bring myself to say except to wish her the strength and courage she needs. I know a woman who has kept the ultrasound scans of the baby she had to abort because those are the only 'pictures' she'll ever have of this child of hers that she wanted so badly. I know a woman who closes her eyes and sees the daughter she never gave birth to, growing older in her head.
This is the thing that I always say to people who are alarmed at the high rate of abortion and would like to legislate against it -- nobody chooses abortion lightly. Even if they say they do or they seem to do so, it is never the easy option. It takes a huge toll on the female body, is hard to live with and I have seen for myself the effect this can have on men too. For every attention-hungry nut out there, there are thousands and thousands more of women who lead saner lives because they have been able to manage their child-bearing themselves.
And this brings me back to what started it all off, the Morning After pill. Let us understand how emergency contraception such as the iPill works, shall we? When taken within 72 hours of actually having sex (time periods vary depending on the pill) it inhibits ovulation, fertilisation or even implantation. The process is somewhat different from an abortion because medically, one is only pregnant (and can have an abortion) if the fertilised egg implants itself to the wall of the womb. The terminological quibbling is less important though than the importance of understanding that
1. when you use emergency contraceptives you are releasing additional and external hormones in your body. Please, do not underrate the importance of this. Hormonal balance is not easy to maintain and imbalance has a host of effects which we do not fully understand yet. Knowing this, I cannot understand why women would want to pop, say, the iPill on a regular schedule. Emergency contraception is carefully engineered to get your uterus to 'clean' itself out, so to speak, and that is an act that leaves the body requiring a great deal of time and TLC to recover.
2. when you have an abortion you are subjecting your body to what amounts to a certain degree of invasive violence. Depending on your doctor, it can be quite traumatic. The subseqent bleeding and cramps will be brutal even if you do go about your daily tasks in a day or two. And this is only the physical side of things.
3. even the Pill when prescribed can and usually does have certain side effects. When prescribed by a careless doctor, the side effects can be horrific. Witness this testimony:
one doc prescribed pills for me without thinking about my thyroid condition - I gained 13 kilos in 3 months in reaction!!!So even if you're on the pill, be vigilant. Pay attention to changes in your body, to mood swings and hunger pangs. If your doctor does not pay you attention, get a second opinion. (I speak as one whose gynae has given her a lasting horror of pregnancy.)
4. [later addition] if you are depending on the rhythm method or similar ways, please remember that these do not guard against infection and they don't entirely guard you from unplanned pregnancies either. What the rhythm method does do, is take away a lot of the fun.
There is a book I recommend: Everywoman: A Gynaecological Guide For Life by Derek Llewellyn-Jones. It is easy to understand, extremely matter of fact and very informative. My mother bought it when I was a teenager and encouraged me to read it. I still went ahead and made my mistakes, but this book kept me from making bigger ones.
I don't preach from a soapbox. Just, you know, be kind to your bodies. The one you have is the only one you'll get in this lifetime. There is a great deal of information on this subject and all others related to women's health, available in books, magazines, websites and other media these days. Remember advertisements are not manuals -- they will not tell you everything you need to know about this stuff. Contraception is easy and affordable. There is no excuse for this level of ignorance.
Sachinky wrote about it last year.
If any of you post or have posts or links on the subject that you would like to share please feel free to send them to me. I'm happy to add as much information as I can to this post. There is a lot I have not touched upon because I think this one is quite large enough already.
Amrita gives you a little more to think about. I'm particularly fascinated by the calculator but do watch the video as well.