Like many women my age, I spent about a decade (late teens to late twenties) on the pill. I didn’t think about it much at the time. I felt grown-up, liberated, and like I was taking charge of my life. I wanted to have sex and I didn’t want to have a baby, and the pill allowed me to do that.
Looking back, my feelings are more mixed. Why was it up to me, and me alone, to take responsibility for not getting pregnant? Why was it necessary for me to take a pill that introduced hormones into my system every single day for year after year? And a big one for me: could the pill have had a hand in causing my breast cancer? I’ll never know.
I’m also hearing more and more stories lately of women who have been negatively affected by the pill. The side effects are all there to read in the little leaflet: bloating, mood swings, headaches, blood clots. But lucky us, being able to avoid unwanted pregnancy!
A few days ago, I read that there was no medical reason to take a seven-day break from the pill each month, and that the break was introduced in the first place to try to convince the Pope that this was a natural form of contraception.
That’s right. The Pope.
It’s one thing for me to get annoyed that my sexual partners relied on me to take responsibility for contraception; to worry that I, perhaps, sacrificed myself a little to make life easier for these men. But the bloody Pope! I’m outraged on my younger self’s behalf that this man had anything to do with my body and the way I chose to treat it.
I used to run packets of the pill together when it wasn’t convenient for me to have a period. I started when my friend went travelling and her GP told her she could take her pill back-to-back for the entire year to avoid periods. And then I did it more and more, because, let’s face it, periods are shit and they are painful and they cost money. But all the time, I felt like I was doing something slightly wrong. Like I must have a break soon, for the sake of my body. And that worry was all entirely unnecessary.
I feel cheated, and angry. It’s just one more example of men taking control of things that are very much a women’s issue. And I’m tired of it. When my daughter is old enough, I will tell her that it’s important for her to take care of her body and her brain as much as her heart when it comes to sex. I will tell her that the pill is an option for her, but that she must not take it because a man expects her to, and she needn’t have a break for a period to please a man, either. Not her partner, and definitely not the Pope.