I have never been pregnant.
I credit this to the fact that each morning, I swallow a small pill — thanks to Margaret Sanger, the foremother of modern contraception, who was arrested 92 years ago yesterday for her role in the First American Birth Control Conference.
In her honor, Wednesday was dubbed National Birth Control Day by two national health organizations: the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and Bedsider Birth Control Support Network. Together, they engineered the hashtag #thxbirthcontrol for all of us to sit around and tweet warm and fuzzy things about our birth control pills.
So, I’ll start: Thanks, birth control! Thanks for enabling me to have a sex life without worrying about motherhood. Oh, and thanks Obama for making contraception so accessible in the first place.
Still, as much as I want to inflate party balloons to celebrate Sanger and my barren uterus this week, I’m hesitant — the state of modern contraception is far from celebratory.
In the United States, nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended, which shoots us to the top of the list of industrialized nations. Worse still, half of those pregnancies are caused by people who actually use contraception, but do so inconsistently or incorrectly.
So much for #thxbirthcontrol.
What gives? Although oral contraceptives are extremely popular — the Guttmacher Institute estimates that four out of five sexually active women have taken them — they’re also extremely frustrating.
The complaints about hormonal birth control pills are extensive: They make women feel moody, bloated, tired, excessively horny, nauseous and so much more. This could be because there’s little rhyme or reason as to which pill is prescribed, making oral contraception a guessing game as to how each pill will interact with a woman’s particular hormonal chemistry.
So why don’t people just use condoms as a first line of defense? It’s hard to pinpoint why — some complain that they decrease sensitivity, that they’re mood-killers or that they’re simply clumsy to use — but only 60 percent of teenagers use rubbers, and that number steadily declines with age. It’s no surprise, then, that the United States also boasts the highest rate of sexually transmitted infections in the world (yes, the world).
There are some amazing no-fuss, no-hormone methods — like intrauterine devices, which involve one basic implant for a decade of contraception. But although IUDs enjoy the highest satisfaction rate of any birth control method, only about 8 percent of women are using them.
Instead, women seem to be bouncing between contraceptive methods without any real satisfaction. According to a Center for Disease Control study from earlier this year, over 30 percent of women have switched forms of contraception over five times.
After all that switching, it makes sense that some people are simply giving up. Researchers at the Battelle Centers for Public Health Research and Evaluation found that about one in 10 women abandoned contraception altogether out of frustration and began to rely on things like coitus interruptus, or the “pull-out method.”
Has our dissatisfaction with contraception become so gross that pulling out is the new normal? According to the CDC study, 60 percent of respondents had used withdrawal as their main contraceptive method in the past month. This number is much higher than it was 20 years ago — so not only has contraceptive technology failed to advance, but it has actually regressed.
One reason why women are turning to withdrawal, ovulation trackers or other “voodoo contraception” methods is because they’re fed up with having to shoulder the burden of doing all the contraceptive work. And that’s a good point: Why haven’t we developed more male-focused contraceptives yet?
While male contraception might be on the horizon (a sperm inhibitor called Vasalgel will go into clinical trials next year), there are only a handful of researchers interested in the subject at all, and it’s possible that those methods will have trouble gaining traction.
More attention needs to be devoted to researching and developing contraceptives that can satisfy people — and to educating people about how to prevent unplanned pregnancies with these methods.
So yes, we have lots to say “thank you” for this week. But once we’ve said our thank yous to Margaret Sanger, perhaps it will be time to look for the next contraceptive innovator. After all, we still have a long way to go.
Arielle Pardes is a College senior from San Diego. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her @pardesoteric. “The Screwtinizer” appears every Thursday.Comments powered by Disqus
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