*Editors’ Note: Names have been changed to protect the sources’ anonymity.
Student Gracie Ward* sat in the passenger seat of her mom’s car and watched the highway pass with unease. She was on the way to the doctor with her mom, preparing to ask for birth control and trying to find the right words to say, fearing the reaction of both her mom and her doctor.
However, the experience was not as difficult as she anticipated, as birth control is becoming a decreasingly taboo subject. Millions of individuals use birth control for far more than just contraception, such as aiding painful or heavy periods, acne, endometriosis and various other complications with hormones and the reproductive system.
Ward started birth control initially to relieve her period pains but also welcomed the extra safety net when it comes to sex.
“I was a little bit nervous about the side effects that I would have, but I was probably most nervous about asking my parents,” Ward said. “It was really awkward, but she was glad I told her and that we were getting me more protection.”
Contrary to Ward, student Noah Reed* believes that his parents would have a nonjudgmental reaction to a discussion about contraceptives.
“I think my parents are pretty relaxed about it,” Reed said. “They know I’m in high school and that stuff like that happens. It could be awkward at first, but they would be comfortable enough with the conversation.”
Student Marissa Anderson* began birth control to curb periods and help her with her acne. She explained she has experimented with various birth control methods since her freshman year because her periods were so debilitating that she was missing school.
“The first pill I was ever on I was on for about a year and a half, and it caused me to not have periods at all and really messed with my body,” Anderson said.
She said she developed neurological issues and began passing out, adding that her acne only got worse on medication. Her doctors, including a pediatrician and specialists from Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University, concluded it was due to the birth control medication she was on, she said.
They changed her to a new pill that came with different problems, including intense headaches and fatigue, she explained. After this, Anderson said she decided to switch from the birth control pill to a hormonal implant, a small stick inserted into her arm.
Student Elizabeth Campbell* also said she switched from the pill, which made her sick, to another method, the IUD. Campbell said that she used birth control for contraception and to alleviate bad period cramps.
She said that the IUD gave her worse cramps but only for the first few months.
“[My period] is really really light,” Campbell said. “I still get it every month, but I don’t even put a tampon in. I just have a panty liner, and that’s all. It’s more like spotting.”
Another student, Eliza Perry*, started using the stick when she was 16 and said that she does not experience any of the side effects that Anderson did besides a three-day wave of depression after she got it as her body adjusted.
“I went originally on birth control because I just wanted the security of knowing I’m safe,” Perry said. “Like if anything were to happen to me my chances of getting pregnant were really low even if I wasn’t actively having sex when I first got birth control.”
Student Sarah Morrison*, who has been on the pill for three years, also dealt with some challenging symptoms.
“It made me more hormonal, but it did help with the periods,” Morrison said. “It made them smaller, but it also made me gain a lot of weight.”
She said that the weight gain was the most difficult to deal with, although her periods were more manageable.
Perry said that her periods changed immensely once she got the implant.
“For the first year of having it, I was bleeding every single day, enough to wear a tampon most days,” Perry said. “That was something I didn’t expect. I expected initial spotting but not having to wear a tampon every day.”
However, Campbell said that her experience with the IUD procedure was uncomplicated and virtually painless.
“It was honestly great,” she said. “They gave me a heavy pain med that morning and then had me take Advil right before and the whole procedure lasted maybe 10 to 15 minutes and was almost completely painless except for like an instant, and then other than that I was fine. I went back to school right after.”
About eight months after she got the implant, Perry said she called her doctor who put her on an estrogen pill in hopes of alleviating the bleeding, which stopped it for only a month. Despite this, she still said it was worth it.
“I think it’s worth it because I would never remember to take a pill every day, and it’s nice that it is just in me, I never have to think about it and it is very effective,” she said.
Ward said that her doctor was neutral, professional and nonjudgmental.
“She didn’t seem like she had any opinion on it really, just asking me for the facts, [like] how many partners I had [and] why I was going on it specifically,” Ward said.
Anderson said her doctors were supportive and eager to listen as well, and her mom’s firsthand experience made her feel supported from the start.
“My mom had the same thing happen to her when she was younger and had the same problems, too,” Anderson said.
Morrison’s mom also showed a great deal of understanding toward her daughter’s concerns, which made her feel very comfortable while discussing birth control with her parents, Morrison said.
“In general, I’m a very open person,” Morrison said. “I don’t really get uncomfortable with that kind of stuff, so it was never that hard asking for it. It was actually my mom who brought it up initially.”
As important as the support of doctors and parents are when being prescribed birth control, all three girls feel that today’s social climate and growing sex positivity movements are making birth control more accepted, even in a high school setting.
“I think that sex is becoming more normalized, and the use of safe sex products is becoming more normalized, which is great,” Morrison said.
This movement around sexuality and contraceptives impacts not only female students but their male peers as well, who are taking on more responsibility in preventing unwanted pregnancies.
Reed said that there needs to be equal obligation to practice safe sex between both individuals, not just the one who could become pregnant.
“I think we should address that men also need to be responsible,” Reed said. “Even without fault, it’s still both persons’ responsibility.”
While a variety of female contraceptives exist, in recent years there has been a growing push for more birth control options for men. Student Evan Taylor* agrees that the current options are sparse.
“I mean, I’m only familiar with condoms and vasectomies, but I 100% believe that there should be more of male birth control because most birth control products aren’t 100% reliable,” Taylor said.
Perry said that birth control is primarily a female issue at this point but does not think that it should be.
“It should be both people in the relationship’s issue, but I don’t think it is right now,” she said.
Everyone interviewed said that there is still a long way to go with destigmatizing sexuality in women and the decision to avoid pregnancy.
“I know some people are skeptical of it, but I think it has so many benefits and it never hurts just to be protected,” Perry said.
Campbell said that a lot of assumptions come from others when taking birth control, especially men.
“Lots of times when a guy will hear I’m on birth control they think it’s because I’m sleeping around, but anyone I’ve had to talk to about it relationship-wise has been super understanding and understands the importance of it,” Campbell said.
Anderson also said that assumptions are made, and stressed how important it is to look at birth control as more than just a way to prevent pregnancy.
“You’re a slut if you go on birth control because you don’t want to have a baby or whatever, but it’s really not like that,” Anderson said. “All forms of birth control help women through so many different things beyond sex.”