Friday, January 22, 2010

Blog for Choice Day

I'm going to start this post by saying that Mark didn't really understand the point of it. I told him that he hasn't worked in the field of reproductive health for four years so he's probably not going to get it. But it's Blog for Choice day, and we are pro-choice. And one of the things we give you here at Wedding for Two is honesty. The other is straight talk. And like Sarah Palin, I'm going to come atcha with the truth. The truth about contraception, abortion, and marriage. (I'm leaving comments on for now, because I want to hear your opinions, but the first person that tells me I'm going to hell is getting deleted and I will turn comments off. If you want to skip this post, I completely understand, and my opinions are my own here. I promise, tomorrow, we will go back to pretty fluffy wedding stuff, and leave the politics at the door.)

I used to hand out condoms on campus when the aborted-fetus-on-signs people came to town. We would surround them with baskets of orange condoms and hand out condoms to students passing by, encouraging them to, "prevent abortion - wear a condom!" We were generally fairly well received except for two types of people. One was the abstinence kids, who said, "I'm waiting for marriage." I would then chase them down with a condom yelling, "it doesn't expire until 2011!" Then there were the others. The people who held up their left hand and said, "I'm married."

I've seen other people express the idea that married people don't or shouldn't have to use condoms. That using condoms when you are married is a sign that you don't trust your partner, or that marriage means you don't need to worry about STDs or unintended pregnancy. The worst part is, they then express these ideas aloud, in public, as if all married couples should follow the same rules.

Firstly, I'd like to put something out there. Even though you are getting married, you need to think about STIs. Please don't ever forget that some diseases, such as yeast infections, can be sexually transmitted even though they weren't sexually transmitted to you. Please also do not forget that diseases like HPV and Herpes may remain dormant for a period of time, and then become apparent. Please also remember that we are seeing a rise in asymptomatic males with STIs. It is possible that your partner has an STI that he doesn't know about that he (or she) could pass to you. So please, please, please: get tested before you discontinue condom use. If you do not, you are compromising your health and your fertility.

I'm not trying to tell you that your partner is cheating on you and going to give you syphilis. But I think condoms have gotten unfairly stigmatized, particularly their use in marriages. And not just by health teachers who will tell you that condoms are only 80% effective. By married people who say things like, "I'm so glad that being married means I don't have to use condoms anymore." By people generally who say things like, "condoms mean you don't trust your partner."

(These elephants are clearly married. You can tell by the nagging and the "I don't have to try anymore" nightgown.)

What do condoms actually mean, in a marriage or otherwise? They mean that the pill, diaphragms, and IUDs don't work for everybody. So here's the straight talk (*disclaimer* I'm not a doctor, just a girl who got an A+ in sex ed. And I mean that literally. It was a college course.):

Let's talk about birth control and its supposedly 99.9% efficacy. In the last 4 years, I have known five or six women who had unintended pregnancies. All of them were using birth control, and not backing it up. They took the pill every day, but not at the same time. They sometimes missed a day. If you are not able to take your birth control pill every day, and you are not eligible for the patch or the Nuva ring, and you do not intend to conceive, consider using condoms or another method as a backup. 50% of all pregnancies in this country are unintended. Which includes married couples.

Let's also talk about birth control and the major disadvantages that come with it, before my dad writes in with an extremely long comment about the birth control-breast cancer link. Birth control pills can have very damaging effects for certain women. The long term implications of being on hormones aren't very well understood yet, and although the risk for breast cancer has decreased, we still don't know enough about it. The dosages for pills are still being worked on. Birth control pills cause an increased risk of blood clots and of other very serious health implications. These risks are even higher if you smoke. Birth control pills also have a somewhat more limited efficacy related to your body mass index. (If your BMI is high, be sure to bring up this concern with your doctor.) Some women just have a very difficult time with birth control pills. Some pills make you depressed, some pills make you cranky, some pills make you fat. Oh yeah! And some of them kill your sex drive. If switching pills doesn't work for you, stop trying to force it. Find a birth control method that works for you and your partner, and do not be afraid to ask your partner for what you need, whether it's a daily reminder to take the pill, or for you to use a non-hormonal method.

Then there are the factors of birth control that are unique to marriages and committed partnerships. Who pays for the pills? Do you pay for them jointly or is the wife still footing the bill? Whose job is it to make sure that she takes the pill? Women remain responsible for most of the birth control decisions that happen in relationships. It is an extremely sexist dynamic. I think it is important to find a way to make it more balanced. It's also important to talk about it with your partner, which is the great thing about marriage - you get a partner.

Okay. So moving on. What happens if your birth control does fail? This is where I'm going to get myself into trouble, so hopefully most of you have already decided that I was crazy and stopped reading.

In our society, we treat marriage as a viable solution to an unintended pregnancy. As long as the unwed teenage mom gets married, as long as the loser boyfriend "does the right thing", everything will be okay. Somehow they'll have money, they'll have healthcare, they'll have childcare and life will be fine. There is also an implication that if you are married, even though a baby might not be the right thing, or something you wanted, you have to have it or raise it. So here is where I'm going to say the unpopular, controversial, difficult thing to say.

Married women have abortions. Married women give children up for adoption.

And it's not just women who are married and their husbands are losers or they're in abusive relationships. It's people for whom the timing is poor and the money isn't there or their marriage can't handle the strain. It's women who have already had children. It's families in which one partner has a severely disabling illness. It's families for whom having a child, or having another child, would be an impossible, unimaginable strain on the marriage, on their lives, on the lives of their other children. And sometimes, it's families for whom there is something tragically wrong with the child, or a burden the family cannot bear.

My point, ultimately, with all of this, is as follows: People's reasons for making the reproductive choices that they are making are their own. They are personal. They are health-related, they are financial, they are spiritual. And for the foreseeable future, all choices are still legal choices.

One thing we celebrate in the wedding planning community is the incredible diversity that is here. One person loves bird cake toppers and another thinks they are hideous. One person loves cupcakes instead of cake, and another thinks a pie buffet is the way to go. And we, as bloggers, as anti-Knot planners, and as incredibly amazing, strong, independent women, know that one of our jobs is to quit passing harsh, vocal, judgment on people who make choices that we don't understand and wouldn't make ourselves. So please, when your married friends talk about condoms, don't assume it's because there isn't any trust in their relationship. Please don't judge your friends who choose religious-based methods of family planning. Please don't assume that just because you are married means that you HAVE to do what everyone else does and just use one form of birth control that doesn't work for you. Don't think that being married means you need to follow a specified path as far as childbearing goes. It's nobody's business but yours. Please don't assume that there is a right way or a wrong way to approach reproductive health, and even if you do think that, please don't pass that judgment on to another person. Also, don't ever be afraid to share knowledge or experiences with each other - your experiences may be a great comfort to a friend. It's true of wedding planning, but it's true of life.

And lastly - if you are waiting for marriage, want to use birth control, and you attended one of our nation's most excellent and factually truthful abstinence-only sex-education programs (::chokes::), please, please, please - get a book, talk to a doctor, attend a sex-ed course or lecture - educate yourself on all of your options and decide what is best for you and your partner!


  1. I think the idea that using birth control means you don't trust your partner is totally bull-plop. If anything, a willingness and insistence upon using a condom would only show me that a man has concern for my well being, not that he's sleeping with someone else. Although it's not the case in our relationship since we've been together since we were 17, I think it's safe to say that the majority of women aren't marrying their first sexual partner and that whomever they do marry has probably slept with someone else before them. So the willingness of either party to use a condom only implies that each person wants to make sure the other is safe, not that they don't trust them.

    And you made another really good point about how being married doesn't necessarily change what will happen if someone were to get pregnant. For us, although we're getting married, we're a long way off from having children because neither of us has an established career right now. So, knock on wood, if I were to ever get pregnant, we would probably be giving the child up for adoption because I personally don't think we're ready for the financial and emotional strain that a child would cause and that's probably not going to change in the 6 months between now and the wedding. So for us, marriage won't make a difference, it will still be too soon. I hate the oh so common misconception (pun, not intended, but still kinda funny) that two people will be better at raising a child because they signed a piece of paper. In fact, if anything, sometimes marriage in the face of pregnancy does nothing more than alienate both people and cause a destructive environment in which the child will be raised.

    And yes, the pill does make people cranky. I was one of those people and I am so, so, so happy that I went on it a long time ago because if I had started taking it during planning a wedding, I would have gone nuts and the Mr. probably wouldn't have wanted to marry me anymore, haha.

  2. Wow. What a well-written post! I personally am actually pro-life, but I appreciated the candor with which you presented your views. I especially loved the paragraph about how many married women still have to face the tough choices of abortion or placing a child for adoption. I think that is something the "typical" pro-life agenda fails to recognize. Great job!

  3. I just wanted to drop in and say I 100% agree with all points. Good discussion!

  4. Thanks for a well-written post that isn't preachy. I totally agree. Especially about the condom stuff. I happen to be really good at taking my bc pill every day on time, but still think condoms are important!

  5. Great post! It's funny because I just had this conversation the other day with my cousin. She isn't married but her brother and his wife got pregnant 3 months before their wedding while she was on birth control. So we talked about using two forms of birth control (which my FI and I do now). Anyway, I agree that it's up to the couples to decide what's best for them and everyone else needs to stop judging. Thanks for the discussion!

  6. Thank you for a great, thought-provoking post. We don't generally talk candidly enough about birth control and its impacts except in occasional girly confidences and internet message boards when we have bad reactions to our pill. We don't talk about other options to the pill, or to thinking about birth control as a shared responsibility. We had the "what would we do" conversation early on in our dating (before we became intimate) but it's even harder to discuss now that we're committed, even if we're still not ready for children. Important questions, all around. At least, in marriage, I like the idea of these being truly joint decisions and responsibilities - it's no longer just mine and my fears about what will happen.

  7. I <3 you. And not like I'm going to go all creepy-stalker on you, but I so much suspect that if we lived in the same area, we'd be friends. Bravo for this post.

  8. I love this post. Thanks for writing it. We use condoms because I am wary of the unknown and known side effects of most birth control. We have discussed switching to an IUD soon. I really, really don't want to end up pregnant until I am ready.

  9. Thank you. I've always been the one girl who wasn't scared to talk "Sex", or to argue with my Abstinence-only sex ed teacher when i was 12 and she told the class that the only safe sex was abstinence, and i told her she was wrong, because abstinence wasn't sex... *sigh*

    I also thought about teaching Sex Ed, but figure I'd probably be too straight-forward for many schools, and lose my job. lol So thanks again for writing it. :)

  10. The FOB is extremely proud of his daughter. He does recall calling her once on her cell phone and asking her "what's up?" the answer was "I'm giving away condoms on the Mall"

    Great line to drop on your old man.

  11. oh ellie, i'm horribly behind on my blog reading so this is a few days late, but this made my day! seriously, if mark hadn't gotten to you first, i'd marry you after this post! the image of you chasing people down yelling about condom expiration dates had me laughing so hard there were tears!