In preparation for Valentine’s day, I want to get real about birth control. Many men and women who come to UC Merced have not received any formal sex education, as it is not required by California state or federal law to do so. 50 years ago, sex was scandalous and not to be talked about outside the bedroom. Today, it is almost impossible to avoid seeing sex or sexual acts of some kind in the media. However, as much as sex is shown in Hollywood, there is very little mention of the use of contraceptives during intercourse. In fact, birth control is the topic of many modern-American political debates–but what makes birth control so taboo in our arguably hyper-sexualized society?
Let’s start with what birth control actually is and what it isn’t. Birth control is any method used for preventing pregnancy including condoms, prescribed medications, implants, and abstinence. Contraceptives are not new–in fact they have been used since 1550 B.C.E in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Although the Ancients used honey, acacia leaves, and lint, modern-day birth control has completely revolutionized contraceptives to become the most effective and safe methods in history. Birth control is used for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to, pregnancy prevention, family planning, acne, menstrual cramping, and period regulation. Including abstinence, there are about 20 methods of birth control that are available. A list of birth control methods, pros and cons, and effectiveness can be found here, or at the UC Merced health services site under “Women’s Health.”
Without proper or even minimal sex education, the idea of birth control can be scary. Misconceptions of what birth control is and its effects on the human body can cause people to shy away from the topic all together. Jimel Mutrie, a second year at UCM, tells about some of the misconceptions she had coming into college about birth control: “I thought it was gonna mess with my body and make it hard to get pregnant later [on].”
There is actually no evidence that the use of birth control, long or short term, interferes with fertility, but hormonal methods of birth control, such as the pill, IUD, or implant, can cause changes in the body due to the balancing of hormones. Negative side effects often go away after two or three months of starting hormonal birth control and include spotting between periods, nausea, and tender breasts. Positive side effects of hormonal birth control, however, include reducing or preventing acne, bone thinning, cysts in the breasts and ovaries, endometrial and ovarian cancers, serious infections in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus iron deficiency (anemia), and PMS. If hormonal birth control doesn’t seem right for you, there are many other methods that do not use hormones to prevent pregnancy.
The important thing is, if you are curious about birth control of any kind and want to find out which one is right for you, talk to your healthcare provider! If your family doctor is too far away, UC Merced Health Services provides the same consultation and prescriptions necessary to obtain contraceptives. Under the Affordable Care Act, one type of birth control is completely covered for one person by most insurance companies–including UC SHIP. If you don’t have insurance or should the Affordable Care Act be repealed or altered, as the current executive branch is promising, there are other ways to obtain birth control. Planned Parenthood offers free birth control consultations and prescriptions, and there’s one right here in Merced! There is also Nurx, a website that delivers birth control pills right to your door for $15/month, with or without insurance–you can even get three months of birth control pills free using the coupon code “Alternative Facts.” Jimel explains her experience switching from one form birth control to another in two locations in Merced, free of charge: “I got the pill at the UC and the implant at Planned Parenthood…it was completely free both places.”
Choosing to use or to not use birth control is a completely personal decision. Only you know what is best for you and your body, but if you have any questions, there are on campus resources to help you out. In addition to UC Merced Health Services, H.E.R.O.E.S. offers sex education as well as free condoms, lube, and birth control services. Whatever you decide, it’s your body and your choice. All methods of birth control offered can be found here.