Despite not celebrating it this year, and many years of bitterly celebrating Single’s Awareness Day (SAD), I have decided to do an obligatorily Valentine’s Day post. Instead of talking about romance however, I want to talk about our female bodies and self-love. Yes, THAT SELF LOVE. But mostly I am going to talk about women’s health and birth control.
Despite being a favorite topic of pendants and the fight for female equality, it still seems that very few people know about female sexuality, the realities of birth control, and how both can uniquely empower you. Now, I want to acknowledge my privilege as a Caucasian Cis-female before we start. I have had access to experiences and education many don’t, but I have personally struggled with these subjects in my own way. I know for certain I am in no way speaking for all women.
I began menstruating at age 11, at age 14 I started birth control, I had my first orgasm and full-penetration sexual partner at 17, and learned to masturbate around age 19. If that seems out of order to you I totally understand your confusion. At the bottom of this page, I have included a link to donate to Planned Parenthood to allow them to keep their doors open to all people, and to educated and serve the community. Allow me to share my journey with you.
One day during middle-school gym, I collapsed while running laps. I had experienced my menstrual cycle a few times so far and I was still adjusting to the discomfort of pads and seeming unexpected fluctuation of emotions. I was running, which admittedly is still my least favorite form of exercise. My sides just under my ribs were cramping and all the sudden my vision started tunneling. I couldn’t catch my breath and then I woke up. Being middle-school the teachers had all the grace and respect to try and tell me they thought I was faking and should walk it off. I called my mom and went home. Periods became a living hell, and no one would believe me how bad the pain was. “Take a few Advil and power through like every other woman.” Except each month the physical and emotional pain was getting worse. I ended up missing 3 days of school each period after 6-7 months because I could NOT get out of bed accept to change my tampon (which I found much easier to maintain, but still wore a pad at night.) I learned how to wash blood out of clothes and sheets at this age very effectively too because my cycle was so heavy. On top of everything, for the other half of the month I was HORNY. Sitcom teenage boy horny. But I didn’t have a penis to masturbate with. The computer was in the family dining room so I stuck to fan-fiction and online role playing. I basically assumed that the only way for a woman to masturbate was with a full dildo and for her hymen to already be broken. I was a moody nerd and not attracting any attention (except from those lovely teachers suspicious of my body’s quick development). So yeah, I was frustrated.
My mom had always had light periods and was understandably worried about my well being. Being the Mama Bear she is, we started going to doctors. For the most part, they dismissed me as too young to have any uterine conditions. Take more over the counter pain mess and toughen up. Not an option. It was only after a few of my aunts came forward with their stories of infertility and extreme pain similar to mine did we start down the path to Stanford University. Several frank discussions and internal ultrasounds later, they found them. There were hundreds of pinpoint sized cysts growing all over my uterus and ovaries. These benign cysts can go unnoticed, and are usually only diagnosed by surgery. This surgery is usually only presented to women who are trying to conceive. I was 14. So I was given some options.
- I procure elective surgery to lapriscopically examine my uterus and remove as much as they could, which could produce future scar tissue and had no guarantee that they would not return.
- I go on birth control to control my hormones, the duration of my menstrual cycle, and for pain management.
Number 1 had an extra catch that is much more relevant to me now that I am 27 and not 14. If I have this surgery, and successfully become pregnant, the cysts are much less likely to EVER return. Crying my eyes out that I knew what was wrong but didn’t want surgery, I chose birth control. I still suffer from fainting spells, been hospitalized for my cramps, and the emotional mood swings from hormones along with a mood disorder has wrecked chaos on my interpersonal relationships and careers. This struggle with my endometriosis evolves and is ongoing. My doctors and I work to control the pain but have yet to treat the cause.
Now, considering again that I was a nerdy non-sexually active 14 year old, the term birth control was a bit of a misnomer. How it was explained to me was that birth control convinces the female body that it is already pregnant. For the sexually active, the hormones work in the body and in the pills or devices release to prevent the female’s eggs from fertilizing after sex. In my case, these same hormones helped control the flow of when I had my menstrual cycle, thinned my uterine lining for less heavy periods, and allowed me to be in less pain for a shorter amount of time. After crashing a burning a few times figuring out which hormones were right for my body, I ended up on a low-dose continual cycle. That meant I would only experience the pain and weakness of my disease once every three months.
For many women diagnosed with endometriosis, they report low sex drives and often experience painful intercourse. I am lucky to report these are not symptoms I have suffered from. If anything, I thought my sex drive was demonically high. Women are sexualized in media for the male gaze, and I thought I was a freak for actively wanting sex. “Boys only want one thing,” they would tell me. “What if I only want one thing from them?” my inner monologue would retort sassily. I was nerdy, horny, had social anxiety and was curvy in high school. Crushes were never reciprocated or I was too shy and proud to approach the boys. (“That’s Not How It’s Done!”) I am sure no one can understand how that feels /sarcasm./
I was armed with a great deal of physical knowledge about sex but very little about sexuality. People are uncomfortable as hell talking to “children” about sex out of
- Fear they will go out and do it
- Fear they will become emotional scared
- That unprepared teenagers will have children and, as best I can tell…
- That their “children” are growing up into adults.
A lack of sex education, however, increases the chances of the first three. Number four is inevitable.
Without the emotional intelligence that comes with experience or a method of sexual release and satisfaction, I fear I was easily impressed. The first boy that showed real mutual interest with me and I was hooked. I was telling myself I was in love and making plans for the future. Looking back I have no idea how I didn’t have chapped lips from making out for so many hours at a time. I did have the intelligence to know I was too emotionally compromised to make big decisions. Love is a drug, I would pine. I will never know true satisfaction, I would enunciate. I was 16, I admonish from the comfort of hindsight.
When I finally did have sex, I am happy to say it was with someone who I trusted and equally respected me. I am very lucky. That was a spiritual relationship that, at 17, could see lasting forever. His family raised him Unitarian Universalist, which has a very strong sex education program called OWL (Our Whole Lives).
OWL advocates physical sex ed, and teaches safe and consensual methods for ALL ages. It revolutionized my world for people to talk about sexuality so openly. Previously, all anyone had talked about was how the body worked, and now the focus was on both safety and effectively communicating desires. Learning that I loved sex and sharing my body with this person sparked the passion for learning that had been previously reserved for academic subjects. We would visit sex shops on dates, just to inquire about different kinds of condoms, see the verity of toys, and open the discussion about our interests and fantasies.
However, I still had very little experience exploring my body and what it could do on its own. I found that I was suited for vaginal orgasms (unlike 75% of the female population who’s preferred method is external clitoral.)And since I was in a committed relationship and on birth control, we regularly engaged in skin to skin sexual contact after a few months. I found the whole experience very fulfilling because I was learning and playing and sharing the experience with someone else. As long as I had a boyfriend, I was sexually satisfied.
But relationships come and go. There are times when anyone is going to be alone, and that needs to be okay. Learning that you can’t rely on relationships for emotional and sexual satisfaction took a much longer time.
So I began exploring. My friends and I would go to an 18+ over BDSM dance club in the city. I learned a lot more about effective kink and even more about consent culture. I continued to visit adult toy stores and explored what I could afford and tested how my body reacted. I found pornography and sexual guides online that suited my tastes, such as Chester5000 XYZ, Oh Joy! Sex Toy!, Oglaf, and Ultimate Surrender on Kink.com (NSFW Duh.) I practiced exploring my sexuality with others while detaching emotional “meaning” to the brief affairs. And even with condom breaks I had the reassurance of my birth control as back up.
A few times over the years, when I didn’t have access to the miracle workers at Stanford or my regular doctors, I have relied on Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood was there when I was suffering from frequent, painful UTIs (urinary tract infections) and taught me better sexual hygiene. When I have needed birth-control prescriptions refilled while out of state, Planned Parenthood has provided me a year’s supply. When my friend’s birth control failed, we didn’t hesitate to get her an abortion and relied on Planned Parenthood to help.
The ability to be empowered, despite believing I was broken, started by empowering me on birth control. Having access to birth control does not equate with wild promiscuous. If anything, the more I have learned about my body and my desires the more careful I have been. I am pro-choice, pro-education, pro-inclusivity, pro-consent, and very much pro- Planned Parenthood. If you enjoy sex, if you love or want to love your body, and if you want to make sure people are getting the best care available, please don’t hesitate to donate at the link below. Happy Valentine’s Day ya cunts!