Mar 302011

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.

emily nagoski

  10 Responses to “the morning after”

Comments (10)
  1. Thank you, Emily. Thank you for sharing such a personal bit of you. Despite being a sex educator I can imagine that may not have been too easy; even the most open of us tend to keep our sexual failures (and triumphs) in the bedroom. But it’s good to know that you really are human, soft and squidgy like the rest of us, and you’ve been there and got the t-shirt. And how great when you teach that you can say “Yes guys/gals, I’ve been there too!”. That should improve the “street cred”!

    • And how about props for “the boy” – now “a man” – who is still a friend and happily married (to someone else, obviously), who granted permission for me to tell what is his story too.

  2. Emily, the wonderful thing about your blog — well, ONE of the wonderful things — is the way you keep out doing yourself: taking more chances, confronting issues without defensiveness, making yourself more and more personal and vulnerable.

    Pretty great life-lessons for us all!

  3. Hello Emily! What never ceases to amaze me is contrast between the way we across the pond imagine things to be in the US, the way they actually are, and the way we deal with similar issues in Europe. In France where I live, the first time I went to my gynecologist to ask for a prescription for the pill, he automatically added 3 boxes of emergency contraception (which here unfortunately doesn’t have quite such a tongue-in-cheek name as “Plan B” but is sort of helpful when the pharmacist cross-checks the prescription in a loud voice…) and he gave me a quick, I-trust-you-to-be-safe-and-respect-yourself speech about the importance of using condoms too. After that, whenever I go back for my annual check, he’ll ask if I need to renew the prescription and we have a chat. It may sound a bit odd, but I think this way really works. If something happens and I decide I need EC (so far, so good, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed), I don’t need to freak out about where to get the stuff (it’s in my emergency medicine cabinet) and how to take it (the doctor took the time to explain how to use it, and I’ve got the little paper in the box). I’ll still have to deal with the other aspects of the accident, and I know my gynecologist and I will be having another chat some time after, but it will be when my mind is a little less freaked out, and with someone I trust who knows a bit about me. As an added bonus, having EC in my emergency medicine box has also allowed me to be more serene about travelling to far flung destinations. As a woman, I know things can happen when you’re away from home, and packing EC makes me that little bit more confident that I can deal with whatever happens.
    I hasten to add that I don’t think this kind of protocol is offered to everyone who asks for contraception, but probably just to people whose lifestyle appears less conducive to risky behaviour. It certainly made me feel more empowered in my own sexuality (as odd as that may sound), and I definitely grateful for that!

  4. That was a refreshingly frank and open post. Thank you.

  5. Thank you for sharing this story, and thanks to ‘the boy’ for allowing you to. It reminded me of my experience of taking the UK equivalent of Plan B, about 10 years ago. It was available over-the-counter, but I still remember the very patronising tone taken by the pharmacist when he talked to me about the need to take proper ‘plan a’ measures. (Like you, I had, but things had gone wrong.) That tone still grates. As you say, plan A sometimes sometimes doesn’t work out as planned, and if someone isn’t making A plans, then just talking down to them doesn’t really seem likely to change that behaviour. I’m glad I didn’t have to go through my full sexual history, although I can see why Planned Parenthood would want to ask those questions, so they could identify if there were other conversations that might be advisable.

    EC is in the news in the UK this morning, as one of the nations is, from today, making it available for-free, over the counter. Needless to say, it’s been greeted in some quarters as ‘promoting early sexual activity in promiscuity’ -despite that it’a already avaiable for free (if on prescription) or over the counter (if you pay); despite that those same people don’t seem to have an appetitie for, or be prepared to fund, approaches that address ther causes of early sexual activity or non-use of other contraceptive methods; despite that we have one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe. Sigh.

  6. I wish the general narrative around EC was that it is something that everyone has at home just in case condoms don’t work. I had a similar story 5 years ago and realized then that the whole structure around access to it makes sure that no matter how ‘liberated’ a woman might be, if she has sex with men, she’ll have to do a walk of shame sometime.
    By the way , do you think it would help for sex educators to talk more about and promote using and keeping normal BC pills around to use for EC ? Princeton’s health center has a chart (link below) about how to do this, but the practice doesn’t seem to get much press.

  7. arent you too ugly to- nvm… so im guessing the guy was a rocky dennis lookalike right? no one who isnt desperate to lose their virginity would hit that with a 100 foot pole..

  8. So what? Ugly people have sex too. Go back to admiring yourself in the mirror.
    -An Ugly Lady who somehow manages to find sexual happiness
    PS for the record I don’t think you are ugly, Emily. :)

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