I thought the pill was my ticket to sexual freedom
It wasn’t: A personal story of contraceptive choice.
At Clue, we believe everyone deserves the right to make their own health decisions, free from judgment, misinformation, or shame, informed by personal choice and/or the guidance of a healthcare provider.
This article presents a personal experience with hormonal birth control from a member of the Clue Community. It reflects their lived experience and/or opinion at the time of writing. It is not health advice. You can read more about contraceptive use in the USA from the Guttmacher Institute. You may also be interested in reading our science-based articles on your hormonal and non-hormonal birth control options.
Hormonal birth control is safe, effective, and acceptable for most people who use it, but it’s vital to talk to a healthcare provider openly about your individual needs so they can find the option that is safe, effective, and acceptable for you (should you choose to use it). It’s important to remember that perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes regarding contraception may influence our lived experiences.
I was 20 years old when I tried hormonal birth control pills for the first and only time. I took them for three weeks. It wasn’t even long enough to safely stop using condoms, but it was long enough for me to decide that this form of birth control was not for me.
For many people, the pill is an essential tool for exploring sexual pleasure while reducing the risk of pregnancy. In this way, it offers an important avenue for bodily autonomy. For me though, it was quite a different story.
I tried hormonal birth control while I was in my first sexual relationship with a cisgender guy. We had been together for eight or nine months when he started complaining about condoms. They were pretty expensive for us as students and he claimed sex would feel better without them. I had never had sex without condoms, so I was curious if it could somehow feel more pleasurable without the thin latex barrier that also protected me from pregnancy and potential STIs.
Determined to find out if condoms were, in fact, undermining my sexual pleasure in some way, I consulted the nurses at the medical center of our university about going on the pill.
They gave me a pamphlet describing the various birth control options. I glanced through it and read about the distinctions between the different pills available, feeling uneasy as I looked at the potential side effects: increased risk of blood clots, elevated blood pressure, headaches, nausea, and more. “Are the benefits worth it?” I wondered.
My mind went to my friends who had been on the pill since they were teenagers. They were so casual and nonchalant about taking it every day. They were not raised in a religious household like me, so they had not been made to feel shame for their sexual desires and their bodies the way I had.
I wanted to be like them. I wanted to take hold of my bodily autonomy. And I wanted to be cool about it, too.
I asked the nurse for the option with the least side effects. She gave me the one that was most commonly prescribed, and advised that if I took it consistently, at the same time every day, it would become effective after a month. The cost was covered by my school health insurance, so we felt the financial relief from buying condoms was in sight. And I was one step closer to establishing a sense of sexual freedom I felt had been undermined by my upbringing.
The summer had just begun, so with birth control in hand, my boyfriend and I hopped into the car to embark on a month-long road trip.
I expected our travels to be marked by a carefree sense of wanderlust and pleasure-seeking. Instead, what I encountered was an emotional rollercoaster of miserable mood swings that had me exhausted and dragging my feet through experiences that would otherwise be exciting and fun. A sense of dread and disappointment seemed to lurk around every corner as I felt incapable of relaxing and truly enjoying our travels.
I felt overcome with rage if our plans needed slight adjustment, I burst into tears at random, and felt constantly irritable at my boyfriend. He was part of the reason I was going through this emotional turmoil, and he was not prepared or equipped to deal with me at my worst. For the first couple of weeks, I told myself this was normal and would pass, I just needed to make it through this initial phase of my body adjusting.
By the third week, I found myself crying hysterically for no apparent reason while pumping gas into the car. It was right then that I decided having sex with condoms was good enough for me.
Nothing felt worth the painful twists and turns of the emotional roller coaster these pills had put me on. So, I tossed them in the gas station bin.
Within a week or two, I regained a sense of emotional balance and have never considered hormonal birth control again. That boyfriend and I broke up a few months later, and I then spent the next several years exploring my bisexuality. Fortunately, I didn’t need to be on birth control to feel capable of indulging in the many pleasures of non-reproductive queer sex and lesbian relationships.
I learned that my body derives pleasure from much more than the act of penetration (the go-to in my previous relationship). My queer relationships provided an incredible opportunity for me to heal from lingering shame and offered formative experiences for my sexual development. When I did eventually end up entering a relationship with a cisgender guy again, I knew using condoms would not limit sexual gratification for me.
During this relationship, we diligently used condoms and the occasional morning-after pill when condom use malfunctioned. Though the morning-after pill does have a day or two of hormonal consequences, it has, for me at least, been a far more bearable option than daily hormonal birth control. I have also been using Clue to track my ovulation cycle since 2017, so for an added sense of safety, we used spermicides, such as the sponge or spermicidal lube, with a condom on higher risk days. For me, this is a more pleasant approach to birth control, where I can maintain a sense of emotional balance while effectively preventing pregnancy.
In the end, the pill was not the ticket to bodily autonomy and sexual freedom I had thought it would be.
It ruined my road trip and accelerated the end of a bad relationship. What it did teach me though, is that sexual autonomy cannot be manufactured in a pill. Sexual freedom is instead something gained through experience, open communication, and self-knowledge.