Shame about sex and negative attitudes toward pleasure and desire prevent people from seeking information about birth control. Laws, medical practices, and public school policies continue to prevent the distribution of accurate information and services—in spite of many studies showing that providing birth control information to teenagers does not make them more likely to have sex.
Many of us resist using birth control. Sometimes this is because of shame or fear, or social and political factors, such as poor sex education, a double standard concerning sex, or inequalities between women and men:
- We think that if we are using birth control we can’t say no to sex. But using birth control does not mean we always want intercourse; no birth control method all by itself is an affirmative answer to sex. We need to be assertive about our desires and let our partners know that having sex should be a mutual decision, not an obligation.
- We are embarrassed by, ashamed of, or confused about our own sexuality. We cannot admit we might have or are having intercourse, because we feel (or someone told us) it is wrong.
- We are embarrassed by or ashamed of our own bodies or genitals, and feel uncomfortable talking about them in depth and candidly with a health-care provider. Body shame may also keep us from using some methods that require us to touch our bodies in ways that we feel ashamed of or uncomfortable with.
- We are unrealistically romantic about sex: sex has to be passionate and spontaneous, and birth control seems too premeditated, clinical, or messy.
- We hesitate to “inconvenience” our partner. This fear of displeasing him can be a measure of the inequality and our lack of control in the relationship.
- We think: It can’t happen to me. I won’t get pregnant.
- We hesitate to find a health-care provider, who may turn out to be hurried, impersonal, or even hostile. If we are young or unmarried, we may fear demoralization and disapproval. We may be afraid the provider will tell our parents.
- We don’t recognize our deep dissatisfaction with the method we are using, so we begin to use it haphazardly.
- We feel tempted to become pregnant just to prove to ourselves that we are fertile, or to try to improve a shaky relationship, and therefore don’t use birth control regularly.
What Can We Do?
We can learn about the many methods of birth control and teach one another about the available methods. By speaking openly, and by carefully comparing experiences and knowledge, we can guide one another to workable methods and good health-care providers. (To find trustworthy sources of information, see Where to Find Birth Control Information Online.)
We can recognize when a provider is not thorough enough and encourage one another to ask for the attention we need. By talking together, we can also gain an understanding of our more subtle resistance to using birth control.
We can begin the process of talking with our male partners about birth control, encouraging them to share the responsibility with us.
We can join together across state and national boundaries to insist that legislatures, courts, high schools, churches, parents, doctors, research projects, clinics, and drug companies change their practices and attitudes so that we can enjoy our sexuality without becoming pregnant.
We can create self-help clinics and other participatory health-care institutions where our need for information, discussion, and support in the complex and personal choice of birth control will be better met. We can use the good clinics that do exist.
We can campaign for decent housing, jobs, and child care for all, so that we can choose birth control freely instead of being forced to use it by our circumstances. We can insist that birth control methods be available to meet the needs of all women, including women of color, women living in poverty, women with disabilities, and women in developing countries.
Whatever we choose to do, we can act together.