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Public Service Thursday! Birth Control: Let me explain it to you.

Harry Potter holding a wand

"Contracepcio!"

This article (yes, it’s old) in the Washington City Paper about men who don’t understand how birth control works made me laugh.  And then feel sad.  How can people not understand how birth control works?

Ok, listen.  I’ll try to keep it really simple.

Barrier methods like condoms, the cervical cap, and the diaphragm physically block semen from ever reaching the egg.  Most times these methods are combined with a spermicide which murders the little swimmers before they can reach their goal.

Hormonal methods like The Pill, the NuvaRing, the Patch, or Depo-Provera interfere creatively with a woman’s cycle.  In some cases the hormones interfere with ovulation.  In others, the hormones will turn the womb into a barren, rocky place in which your seed may find no purchase.

The copper IUD is the closest to magic. It’s a T-shaped piece of plastic wrapped with copper that’s placed directly in the womb.  No one knows exactly why it works, though the theory suggests that the “rocky soil, seed can find no purchase” explanation is the true one.  The Mirena IUD also goes inside the uterus, where it releases a low dose of hormones.

The Morning After Pill is a higher dose of the hormones in the regular birth control pill.  Taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, it can rush to the scene of the crime and attempt to prevent ovulation and may prevent implantation.

More details here.

All these methods have some risks and side effects.  Some pills can run $50/month, even with insurance. The Morning After Pill runs between $40-$60 depending on where you get it. The IUD is very cost effective over time, but the initial install can run $1000 between the device and the insertion procedure.

Finally, I’ve run into a lot of guys who vote Republican but who like to have sex with women.  Guys, we can argue all day long about economics, taxes, and foreign policy, but here’s a fact:  The Republican Party in the U.S. officially works to limit family planning rights for women.  They cater to a section of the population who thinks hormonal birth control = abortion.  They work to limit abortion access and rights.  They tried to defund Planned Parenthood.  They love funding abstinence-only education which is designed to prevent teenagers from knowing how their own bodies work. Basically, the platform of the Republican Party in the United States is this:  “Every time a penis goes inside a vagina, a baby could be made, and that potential baby is the most important thing ever.”   Democrats are not perfect, and not perfect on this issue, but they don’t have “Punish those evil sluts” baked right into their national platform.

There’s a temptation to think that birth control is some icky women’s issue that men don’t have to worry about.  Gentlemen, ask yourself some questions, like:  Do you want to make a baby right now?  Do you want to make a baby every time you have sex?  Do you think everyone should make a baby every time they have sex?  Do you think your girlfriend waves a wand and says, Harry Potter-style, “Contracepcio!” to prevent unwanted pregnancy?   If you’re going to have sex with a woman, it would be good to know what kind of birth control she’s using and how it works.  If you’re in an ongoing relationship, it might be nice for you to offer to shoulder some of the financial burden. Please get educated before you fuck.  Or vote.

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46 comments
  1. robiewankenobie said:

    ” Do you think your girlfriend waves a wand and says, Harry Potter-style, “Contracepcio!” to prevent unwanted pregnancy?” This brings me great joy. Truly.

  2. robiewankenobie said:

    i keep waving my wand (no actually my harry potter wand is in the car) at theLeon, yelling “Contracepcio!” hrm. perhaps this is not befitting a church secretary? while at work?

    • JenniferP said:

      Now look what you made me do.

      • robiewankenobie said:

        bwahahahahaha

  3. CommanderLogic said:

    The sweetest, most romantic thing a man has ever said to me:

    “Hey, is there a pill for guys? Because I will take it if it means that YOU don’t have to go through all this nonsense.”

    Reader, I totally swooned.

    • JenniferP said:

      Intern Paul won a lot of points back in the day when he explained “Look, we are Team Birth Control. What can I do to help out?”

    • Hugh said:

      It’s on the way! Being developed as we speak! I’m quite enthusiastic about it.

      I mean, I’m not going to commit to taking it until I see what the side effects are. Sadly they’re likely to be substantial, although hopefully that’ll get better over time. But it’ll definitely be nice to have another option, and another one that men can take themselves (that isn’t condoms or a vasectomy).

      • Joe said:

        @Hugh: Actually, there are several male BC options in various stages of trials right now that use mechanisms other than standard sex hormones to block male fertility, and so have substantially fewer side effects. I, too, would be happy to see something like that.

        • Hugh said:

          Well, that’s even better.

  4. teabq said:

    I once had someone say to me “If you loved me, we wouldn’t need to use birth control.” Needless to say my response to that was that we didn’t need to have sex either.

    What gets me is that the stupid anti-BC mindset also ignores those of us who use BC for health reasons. So not only is it wrong from the standpoint of family planning, it’s wrong from the standpoint of keeping me and my holy uterus alive for those theoretical babies to get born in.

    Not that said babies are ever happening, but still.

    • JenniferP said:

      That statement from your ex…um…friend is making my lady parts sew themselves shut.

      • teabq said:

        I know, right? I had no idea characters from After School Specials still roamed in the wild.

    • Yonmei said:

      “If you loved me, we wouldn’t need to use birth control.”

      - “I’m sorry, I think you have misunderstood the basic biological situation here.”

      -”I love you! And if you could get pregnant, you could have my babies! Since you can’t, would you like to have my hamsters?”

      -”I’m sorry. I fell out of love with you when I realised you are a moron.”

      • teabq said:

        “I appreciate you making it easy for me to realize I shouldn’t even be in the same room with you without at least one of us being encased in a hazmat suit.”

      • Tradtional Married said:

        Awesome! I would totally say that to someone :)

        Actually though, my husband is awesome about birth control. I took the pill for most of the first year we were married, and it made miserable. Weird periods, messed with my emotions, etc. I told him I wanted to stop taking it and his response was basically, heck yeah! You don’t need that crap when you’re starting grad school! I’ll totally wear condoms!
        And he actually does!

  5. Yonmei said:

    “Do you think your girlfriend waves a wand and says, Harry Potter-style, “Contracepcio!” to prevent unwanted pregnancy?”

    Now I want to write a fanfic story where Hermione and Ginny and Luna are all practicing their “Contracepcio!” wand-waves under the helpful tutelage of Molly Weasley.

    • Ace said:

      You know, thinking about it, I have a hard time believing that there was no magical contraception available. Surely some sort of shield spell would do?

      • Yonmei said:

        As far as I remember, at no point in the 7 novels does Rowling acknowledge that any of her characters are having sex. (Not even Sirius and Lupin, dammit.)

        (Mr Weasley probably collects condoms. “Isn’t it amazing how ingenious Muggles are!”)

        Since wizards don’t seem to have to worry about ordinary infectious diseases (just sarcasm from the Potions teacher on asking for yet another chlamydia potion) then all a female wizard would have to do is stop ovulation (they’d do the “Contracepcio!” wand wave once every cycle) but a male wizard would have to do the “Contracepcio!” wandwave at their balls on a regular basis to kill the fresh sperm.

      • teabq said:

        HP fanfic writers were too busy coming up with spells for lube.

        • Yonmei said:

          I laughed so loud I scared the cats.

  6. Kathleen said:

    OMG that graphic and caption are the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while.

  7. Loved that article: “I feel like girls should tell people.”

    Yeah, “girls” (who are apparently not people) should tell “people” (i.e. guys).

    • JenniferP said:

      So true. Also, this information is all totally publicly available on the internet, so maybe “people” can educate themselves!

  8. Hey, let’s not forget amongst all the Harry Potter love that there’s some Coen brothers going on here too.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks for noticing!

  9. Veronica said:

    If I recall, high dose levonorgestrel (Plan B) is believed to work similar to Mirena, releasing a hormone that prevents ovulation instead of implantation. Important difference to you and me? Not really, but it is significant to people who think a fertilized egg is a person and try to block access to it by that definition. Some of the theory around copper IUDs is that a.) it creates a poisonous environment for the egg via the copper and b.) it irritates the lining of the uterus enough to prevent implantation. (Hence why some women may get serious cramping from it.)

    I would also state that I think male partners should involve themselves in discussions about contraception – not merely about methods but what should happen if it fails. Once relationships get serious, I make it clear to my partner early on about my feelings regarding children and abortion – and if they don’t agree with them, now is the time to exeunt.

    • JenniferP said:

      You’re right – the primary way it works is inhibiting ovulation, though it may also inhibit implantation. I will fix. From the FDA website:

      “Plan B works like other birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. Plan B acts primarily by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary (ovulation). It may prevent the union of sperm and egg (fertilization). If fertilization does occur, Plan B may prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the womb (implantation). If a fertilized egg is implanted prior to taking Plan B, Plan B will not work.”

      And also, you’re totally right that you should discuss stances on birth control and having children with partners and make sure everyone is on the same page.

      • Veronica said:

        The only reason I mentioned it is because a lot of the anti-choice/contraception groups tend to misinform people about it’s function, either out of ignorance or to purposefully misguide people. There was an article in the NY Times a couple years back dealing with the issue of women’s reproduction rights, with one of the women interviewed relating a story where a doctor denied her EC after she was raped because it didn’t align with his personal beliefs. There have also been more of a few horror stories of women in non-metropolitan areas finding themselves hard-up procuring the drug because of local pharmacies don’t or won’t carry it.

        My paranoid “I have no interest in children” discussions with partners stemmed from an abortion debate where a man claimed his pro-life stance came from a personal relationship he had where the girl refused to keep the baby (they were in college), even after he said he’d keep and care for it himself. Without getting into all the other things wrong with his logic, it seemed to go well over his head why I thought they were both irresponsible as hell for not discussing the issue beforehand. (This is before I found out he invented the scenario in order to prove how “callous” pro-choice women were, at which point my response switched to FUCKING FUCK FUCKING MOTHERFUCKER.)

  10. Pidgey said:

    I am a 25 year old man and I didn’t know what an IUD was until 1 1/2 years ago :/

    • JenniferP said:

      Now you do!

  11. abby said:

    ha, this article is how i discovered i’m not normal. i actually *can’t* shower without a tampon — i bleed through a super-plus tampax and an overnight pad every hour or two — and i had no idea that wasn’t true for everyone.

    • JenniferP said:

      It might be doctor time. That’s a lot of blood!

      • k said:

        Agreeeeed. One of my friends started having issues with this, and it caused MAJOR BIGTIME ANEMIA.

      • abby said:

        yeah, i’m trying to do the doctor thing now. it’s tough, though, because for one thing everyone assumes i’m exaggerating, and for another thing i’m a rape victim and tend to burst into tears whenever the gyno touches me :| lol my life.

        • Totally not trying to give unsolicited advice (except I am, sorry about that), but maybe getting a Xanax or equivalent to take before gyno visits would help? I think gynos and dentists are aware that they have the most fear-inducing medical specialties and probably see this situation a lot.

          I am so sorry that some fuckwad raped you.

          • JenniferP said:

            I echo Sweet Machine: Abby, I am so, so, so sorry.

            I second the recommendation for something like Xanax, and would add: 1) Tell your gynocologist what happened, you aren’t the first person to have this problem and 2) Have a friend go with you to the appointment to hold your hand before and after.

            If you’re in Chicago I can recommend some resources. But you shouldn’t have to put up with that much bleeding and a doctor can help you.

        • nadyezhda said:

          Whoever believes you’re exaggerating, I hope is not in the medical profession. If they are, time for a new doc. I am dealing with this lovely issue myself post-babies and got checked out w/an ultrasound and MRI. Lo and behold I’ve got some gyn stuff to deal with. I’m glad I know what’s in store and can haul around the adequate supplies. I’m probably also the only PCOS patient whose only symptoms are, well, cysts, given that my fertility is practically shocking. Good thing I didn’t live 200 years ago, I’d have like 18 kids or something.

          Anyway, consider letting your gyn know about your status as a rape survivor; they should be able to handle it in a way that makes you feel ok. Perhaps go in with a thought-out, “this is how I’d prefer to handle this” statement on a piece of paper and see where you can go from there? One guy should not keep you from getting appropriate medical care for the rest of your life.

        • Veronica said:

          Echoing a lot of the sentiments of people here, but I’d like to add that a lot of medical professionals are aware that they’re dealing with people who are in a vulnerable position, who may have past physical or emotional trauma. Patient empathy is a big part of doctor training – and if you’re doctor *isn’t* aware of that, he/she doesn’t deserve your time or money. A good doctor should be willing to comfort and convenience you to a reasonable extent. My sister is both a rape and domestic abuse survivor, and some of the most sympathetic people she’s encountered were in the medical community.

          As for your menses, people who think you’re exaggerating are morons. Heavy periods are not so uncommon as people think. (My aunt actually hemorraghed the first time she got hers.) It may just be a serious un-luck of the draw, but it can also be a sign of gynelogical problems, such as hormone imbalance. Even if it turns out to be “natural” for your body, certain types of estrogen-type birth control can significantly lighten menstrual flow and many of the symptoms. For the short term, I’d recommend looking into iron supplements, especially if you find that you tend to feel tired or worn out after your periods. Borderline to serious anemia is fairly common in women due to heavy menses.

          I hope that helps a little. Best wishes.

          • abby said:

            you guys are all really nice <3 i appreciate it so much, even though it's making me cry. i have a really nice gyno now (my therapist actually got me the first appointment), so he knows why i freak out. i'm waiting on some test results, and then i guess i have to gird my loins and make an ultrasound appointment :/

        • Tori said:

          I know this squicks some people out, but would a menstrual cup be an option for you?

          I basically hemorrhage every cycle too, and a cup let me at least measure that in objective units like millilitres (or, erm, litres). It didn’t help with health care providers who thought I was intentionally lying — sadly, there were a number of them — but it did help with providers who thought I might have been unintentionally underestimating what constituted a “full” pad or tampon.

          • JenniferP said:

            litres?

            LITRES?

            /

          • buzzingbee said:

            I just got a great mental image of you coming into those “intentionally lying” health care providers with a few liters of period blood in mason jars and putting them down on their desks triumphantly.

    • Bex said:

      I definitely second the recommendation of a menstrual cup, if you think you can handle it. That sounds a lot like what I was dealing with a couple of years ago, and not only did the cup give me an actual number to give my doctor (the conversation went something like “The cup I use holds one ounce, and I emptied it from completely full three times on the first day of my last period, four times each the second and third day, and only twice the fourth day.” “…OH.”), I found it held enough more than even the biggest tampons that I was only having to empty it, well, four times a day, instead of running to the bathroom on the hour every hour. I also found that using it significantly reduced my cramping, although not everyone I’ve talked to gets that lucky.

      • I’d like to third or fourth the recomendation of a cup. They are seriously the best thing ever. Besides working better than pads or tampons in terms of leak prevention and capacity, they’re non-absorbent so toxic shock risk is extremely low; they don’t go sucking up all your other moisture on low-flow days; they’re better for the environment due to reduced packaging waste; and depending on how fast you go through tampons or pads, they pay for themselves in supplies not purchased, in just a few months but can last for years.

  12. Tori said:

    After endometrial ablation and additional hormonal treatment, I’ve gotten it down to about one (possibly just under one) now.

  13. Karen said:

    I like how babies are the most important thing ever to the Republican party until they are born. Then, fuck funding their schools, man.

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