Taking the morning-after pill isn’t “feckless”, it’s responsible
- December 09, 2019
- Hamza Sheraz
A new campaign is urging us to tackle the lingering stigma still associated with the morning-after pill. Being diligent about our health should make us proud, agrees Daisy Buchanan.
When I was 16, in 2001, the morning-after pill became widely available from pharmacies for the first time. It was brilliant news for women, although I didn’t realise this at the time. On the radio, in the newspapers and in the school canteen, it was spoken of as the very last resort for the girls who took too many chances. It was thought that Emma, in lower sixth, had to take the morning-after pill after she had sex with her cousin’s best friend in a cupboard under the stairs. When Emma read out the netball results in assembly, there was a lot of whispering.When we take the morning-after pill, we’re making an informed choice, and the more open we are, the further we can spread the message
I didn’t tell anyone that I had a morning-after pill. An incredibly kind doctor had prescribed it to me when I was starting to think that I might possibly maybe one day like to sleep with my boyfriend. I asked the poor woman so many questions about the rigours of condom testing and the possibility of getting pregnant that she pressed the pill into my palm and made me promise not to roll Durex over my face, arms and legs. I guarded that pill like the one true ring. I knew that it was expensive. I knew that it would be impossible to replace it at my local chemists, because there was every chance that someone would tell my very Catholic parents that their eldest daughter had publicly been spotted buying shameful items.
When I look back, I’m heartbroken for 16-year-old me, for sixth form Emma, and for every teenage girl who has ever associated the morning-after pill with shame, rather than freedom – or the act of taking responsibility for yourself. A brand of pill, ellaOne, is launching a #mymorningafter campaign to de-stigmatise the experience of the people who use it. Just one in 10 women surveyed said they felt confident about buying the MAP, and 57% of women said they felt “embarrassed” by the purchase. That means that at least every other person who buys the MAP believes they’re being judged. That they have done something wrong. That they should feel awkward. Are they accompanied by the people who they had sex with? Do they feel just as awkward and ashamed? The survey doesn’t say.
When we take the morning-after pill, we’re making an informed choice, and the more open we are, the further we can spread the message
Shame is a social emotion. The shame that women feel when they buy the MAP is part of the broader sense of shame that comes from simply trying to exist as a woman. When we take control our bodies and our reproductive rights, in theory we’re just as autonomous as men. That makes some people very frightened. It’s hard to halt the march of progress and stand in the way of science. However, you can manipulate women by using guilt as a form of social control. Our bodies are constantly under attack. Through shame and subtle social conditioning, we’re told that we need to change our bodies in order to make them as sexually desirable as possible. Then we’re told that it’s our problem alone if the sex we do have leads to life-altering consequences. Taking the morning-after pill isn’t feckless, it’s responsible. Anyone who wants to slut shame the people who use it might have an ulterior motive, or have something to gain from policing our bodies.
In the US, reproductive rights are under serious threat. If Brett Kavanaugh is elevated to the Supreme Court, there is a risk that Roe vs Wade, the landmark ruling legalising abortion in 1973, could be overturned. The same Brett Kavanaugh who has been accused of sexual misconduct by three different women. Culturally, when our reproductive rights are taken away it means that we shoulder a burden alone. It means that we have to live in a world where rape culture threatens our safety daily, and we are the only ones who have to bear the consequences of that culture. It limits the opportunities for women to consent joyfully and enthusiastically to sex with the freedom that men do, because you can’t necessarily be joyful and enthusiastic when you know that the sex you have might change your life forever. I believe that using the MAP when necessary needs to feel less like an admission of guilt, and more like voting. It’s a tick in the box for female freedom, as it were.
It needs to be pointed out that the MAP does not protect us from sexually transmitted infections, and it’s not a form of long-term contraception. However, it does mean that we shouldn’t worry as our mothers and grandmothers did. We all make mistakes. They shouldn’t need to be life altering. It’s a shame that condoms claimed the nickname “rubbers”, because the MAP is the true eraser on the end of life’s pencil. For the whole of my life as a sexually active adult, the MAP has come with the unwanted free gifts of stigma and shame. Yet the act of taking responsibility for our bodies, and deciding to plan our pregnancies when we’re ready for them, should make us feel very proud. When we take the morning-after pill, we’re making an informed choice, and the more open we are, the further we can spread the message. Remember, anyone who wants us to feel awkward, embarrassed or ashamed might have a hidden agenda.