The other day I was out getting food with friends, and we were talking about sex. One of the guys in the group, a diehard romantic, used the phrase “sex as an expression of love,” and without missing a beat, I responded, “What’s that?” I said I was joking, but over the past week I’ve chipped away at that jocular veneer and revealed a thick slab of my own rotten truth: I’ve never had sex with someone and felt it was any kind of expression of their love for me. I thought about this revelation quite a bit today, as I had an appointment with a new OBGYN to get a copper IUD inserted. While it felt like someone was boring a hole in my most protected, intimate space, I examined my decision to have the procedure done in the first place. So, as I sit with residual cramps from the unsuccessful procedure, sipping peppermint tea because that’s always what people in the movies seem to offer women who are hurting, let me tell you where I’m at.
In my life I’ve been on five different types of birth control pills, and each sent my body into some kind of tizzy, baffling my doctors and prompting them to prescribe something different each year during my annual exam. Not only does my body not react well to the pills, but the anxiety I struggle with is largely health related—hypochondria at its worst. The horror stories I’d heard and read about blood clots in young, healthy women—no matter the odds—plagued me. I didn’t want that shit in my body.
The copper IUD is the only female form of birth control as effective as the pill that relies on the body’s natural chemistry to prevent pregnancy, or at least that’s what I’ve read. I’ve heard horror stories about these too, though—tearing and internal bleeding and accidental pregnancies that put both the woman and fetus in danger because of the presence of the IUD amongst all the uterine chaos. But the copper seemed to be my best option, as there is no risk for heart disease or blood clots, so I made an appointment.
The procedure was the most painful I’ve ever experienced. The doctor opened me up, dilated my cervix, and measured the length of my uterus to make sure it was long enough for the metallic T. She told me I wasn’t the length she felt comfortable with, but I did meet the minimum requirement set by the manufacturer. Would you like to continue? she asked. When I requested her professional opinion, she said she had seen it go either way; some women my size have nonstop cramping for weeks and come back pleading for her to remove it, while others do just fine. She said she couldn’t help me make the decision; it was my choice.
But you know what? It didn’t feel like my choice, not fully, because the first thing I thought of was the look of disappointment on the face of my next sexual partner—the disingenuous pitch in his voice; the outright protest; the begging—when he realizes I want him to wear a condom. Ultimately, when she attempted to insert the device it caused such excruciating pain before she could even get it situated that she said there was no way I’d be able to live with it inside me. I left with a doggie bag of sample, chemical options—back to square one.
So this is what I have to say. To every man who has ever complained about how much less satisfying sex is with a condom; to every man who has ever said he doesn’t have a condom and then miraculously remembers where one is when the woman wants to slow things down; to every man who has ever said, I know my limits or Just the tip or We can be smart about it; to every man who has ever said he can’t feel close to a woman, can’t experience real intimacy with her, with something synthetic between them; to every man who has suggested a woman go on birth control and then followed up with, Unless the pill makes you crazy; to every man who has made a case for pulling out by telling the woman if she got pregnant he’d help pay for an abortion, that she “wouldn’t have to go through it alone”; to each I say, FUCK YOU.
I’ve experienced each of these scenarios, and I can’t imagine how long the list would be if I got some friends in on it. Why, for near a decade now, have I been putting my body through hell, forcing on it something it’s clearly rejecting, ignoring its signals, all in an attempt to satisfy men from whom I am not receiving proper care or consideration or patience while my own pleasure, my mental and physical health, fall by the wayside? The reason is because I was raised in a religion (as many women are) and a society (as all women are) that put men’s sexual “needs” above women’s; it’s as simple as that. I’m here to say shame on me. Shame on me as a 24-year-old, proud, educated, feminist woman in 2016 for putting a man’s satisfaction above my own wellbeing, for not standing up for myself. Because the thing is, when we stand up for ourselves, we are, in turn, standing up for each other. I already said my fuck you to the patriarchy, so this is a kind of confession to my queens and priestesses: Mea culpa. No more.