It’s almost everywhere – my facebook feed, friends’ conversations, twitter, etc, this new recommendation from the CDC. You know, the one that instructs women of childbearing age to take birth control if they are going to drink. I’ve seen outrage, speechlessness, quips about what wine should be paired with different types of birth control, and excellently composed responses. All these responses have one thing in common: they recognize how dangerous, patronizing, and blaming these new recommendations are.
The CDC, government, and medical fields have never been known for being particularly comprehensive or even accurate when it comes to women’s health. Especially sexual health. One only needs to research the history of orgasms, birthing practices, or birth control to see that combining these agencies and professionals with women’s lives is incredibly problematic. The newest recommendation is no different as they try to again stigmatize, blame, and demonize women for both drinking and having sex.
There are countless problems with this new recommendation. First and foremost that the CDC fails to recognize that it isn’t just women who can become pregnant. People who are trans*, gender non-conforming, or agender become pregnant. When we only think of pregnancy as something that impacts women, we are erasing many people who already face discrimination and oppression within society in general and the medical fields specifically. Recent research shows that the medical field is woefully inept at handling the medical needs, concerns, and impacts of LGBQ/T communities. This glaring oversight is present all the way through medical school through residencies and into professional careers and private practices. When agencies like the CDC purposefully leave off these populations (because, lezbehonest, there were countless people involved who could have suggested the needed changes) it reinforces the premise that medical professionals don’t need to be inclusive of LGBQ/T individuals.
Thanks to the politicians, conservative agencies, and religious right of this country (just to name a few) many people do not have access to reproductive health care. Many Planned Parenthoods and similiar clinics have been forced to shutter their practices because of TRAP laws and other pointless regulations that are more focused on stigmatizing abortion than on the health of patients who use the clinics.
But wait, can’t birth control be obtained through primary care physicians? Sure, if you can afford the time and money needed for health insurance and medical appointments. The truth is that many lower-income people rely on clinics like Planned Parenthood for their sliding scale fees and the more-affordable care even without health insurance. Going to the doctor and finding time and money to purchase birth control every month is not something that everyone can afford. Why, you may ask, is someone buying beer or wine or liquor if they don’t have money or time to visit the doctor, get a prescription, or take birth control? Well, sometimes, people just need a fucking drink to deal with this fucked up world that is telling them what to do with their bodies. I know that I regularly do. But really, it’s none of your damn business how people choose to spend their time or money.
To be honest, I haven’t used birth control in over two years, but I remember how difficult it was to get to the pharmacy on a monthly basis to get a new prescription and scraping together dollars to afford the co-pay. Additionally, as a teen living in an abusive household, I was both petrified that my birth control would be found and worried that I wouldn’t be able to find a way to the pharmacy each month. I never understood why we couldn’t get multiple packs at the same time–apparently that would bring on the apocalypse or something equally formidable. When we close clinics and restrict health care, it is lower-income people and people of color who are impacted the most. When this country already has an abysmal history of serving these populations, further restricting access is going to have dire impacts on many individuals and communities.
I’ve asked for birth control as a teenager, as a college student, and as an adult. I have faced many providers who have declined me the birth control I wanted. I was told that I couldn’t have an IUD because I was too young, didn’t have children, would change my mind and it would be a waste of time to put it in and then take it out. I have changed birth control methods to match what insurance would cover and been sick as a result, had my sexual drive dramatically decrease, and just feel not like myself. Birth control is not necessarily this fabulous thing for people. I did well on Nuvaring but when my insurance changed and the copay increased more than 3x, I had to switch back to the pill. I skipped pills, either intentionally or accidentally, all the time because I hated the impact it had. I tried to get sterilized and again hit much opposition from health care professionals who thought I couldn’t possibly know what I wanted to do with my body and life. Navigating reproductive health care can be exhausting at best and impossible in many situations.
Discussions around sex and alcohol have, to put it mildly, are typically atrocious and extremely stigmatizing and blaming. I have stood in front of classes talking about the intersections of alcohol and sexual violence and heard people talk about how survivors “should have known better”, “shouldn’t drink so much”, and “it’s not like they remember what happened so does it really matter?” While it is rare, sometimes rape results in pregnancy and places the survivor in a difficult position of deciding whether to carry that pregnancy to term or not. While the CDC recommended that birth control should only be prescribed for women who sleep with men, sexual violence does not differentiate between sexual orientations or practices. In fact, people who are LBTQ/T are more likely to experience sexual violence than heterosexual women. Combine this recommendation and society’s proclivity to blame survivors, and I predict that discussions will only expand to include the fact that someone should be on birth control in order to prevent becoming pregnant from a rape. Because being raped is something that we should expect. Sound outrageous? Google “Rape Insurance Abortion Rider”.
To my friends, networks, and communities who are pushing back and outraged about this recommendation and the impacts it will have: thank you for your actions, words, and brilliant comedy. You all keep my faith in humanity restored.