I am not, in the general run of things, a joiner. But the National Institute for Reproductive Health asked people to blog about emergency contraception. I think it’s important. So.
There’s all kinds of political hullabaloo I could write about, a buncha mythbusting I could do, and a lot of basic, necessary education I could provide. But instead, here’s this:
More than 10 years ago, I took Plan B.
On Valentine’s Day, as it happens.
We (that is, the boy and I – he had waist-length curly blond hair, liberal politics, and a nerdy way of laughing with a snort and pushing his glasses up his nose; I was In Lurve) walked into Planned Parenthood shortly after they opened and told the girl at the desk we wanted emergency contraception. She gave me a clipboard with some paperwork to fill out, and we took it to the waiting area, where we sat in murmuring anxiety while I checked off boxes and wrote in numbers to describe my sexual and reproductive history.
Sex partner in the past year: 2. (“Depending what you call ‘sex partner,’” I thought.)
Number of sex partners in my lifetime: 7 (“Again…”)
Number of pregnancies: 0
Number of abortions: 0
Method of contraception: condoms
“God, do they need to know all this?” I thought. “I’m not even certain HE knows all this.”
Soon, another girl led us into a room not more than 6 feet square, with little more than three plastic chairs and an industrial carpet in it. We sat like guilty children trying to behave while she asked us questions.
“When did you have intercourse?”
“About 12 hours ago.”
“What form of contraception did you use?”
“A condom. It… failed due to user error.” (I couldn’t quite bring myself to describe to this stranger the way the boy had, half-laughing, half-abashed, fished the condom out of my vagina with two fingers and the way I had, sticky, flushed, and mussed, put a hand on my forehead and said, “Well, hell.”)
“When did your last period start?”
“14 days ago. So pretty much I’m fertile now. Which is why we’re here.” (I had in fact started doing the math before the condom had even been retrieved.)
And we walked out with a little cardboard packet with two pills in it.
“Take one this morning,” the girl explained carefully, not knowing I was a sex educator and had written all about it for the website I worked on, “And take the second one 12 hours later.”
“12 hours later, got it,” I repeated, obedient, repentant.
She did her spiel about potential side effects, about how it’s more effective if you use it sooner, about how it won’t affect an intact pregnancy. I nodded, reminding myself that almost none of the people she counseled already knew all this stuff. But inside I wanted to scream, “I KNOW!! JUST FUCKING GIVE IT TO ME!!”
We paid cash. I think it was $60?
Our next stop was a nearby shopping plaza, where we rented some movies and bought a bunch of junk food. We spent Valentine’s Day on the futon in my living room, tentative and apologetic, watching romantic comedies. 12 hours after the first dose, I took the second dose, and we went to bed. We did not have sex that night.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” I said into the dark.
Next to me, the boy laughed with a snort.
I had no side effects at all at the time, which was unexpected given the catalog of potential problems our counselor had listed. My next period, two weeks later, was VERY intense – nausea, cramps, and fatigue so powerful I had to take days off work – but otherwise normal. I didn’t mention it to the boy.
And so that was my experience. I’m glad I took it and the boy was glad I took it.
Things have changed in the past 10 years, they’ve gotten better. You can get EC over the counter, without explaining your entire sexual history to someone you’ve never seen before and will never see again. You can take both doses of Plan B simultaneously, or get a 1-pill version. There are other, more effective forms of EC available.. And maybe, maybe, maybe, there’s less stigma and condescension about Plan A not quite working out the way you expected. Things have gotten better.
The moral here: condoms fail. Even for sex educators who have read the research on condom use errors and who teach others how to use them correctly. It’s not a moral failing or even a product of ignorance; it’s just life. Sometimes things go wrong. That’s why you have a back up plan.
If you can manage to accompany the backup plan with romantic comedies and half price Valentine’s Day candy, I say go for it.