Profiles In Terrible Sex Education, Part 1: Birth Control

December 6, 2010 § 7 Comments

by ELENA

This is Part 1 in a series of posts about the fail-tastic content on the website of a Grand Rapids MI based abstinence only program called Willing to Wait.

Before writing this post, I dug out my copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves, and perused the chapter on Birth Control. There were pages of information about the history of birth control, cultural or socioeconomic obstacles to obtaining birth control, how pharmaceutical interests might affect health care providers, choosing the birth control method that is right for you, the safety of birth control, and a special segment on the need for services that can provide teens with birth control. And then , after that, the chapter described, in detail, how different birth control methods worked, how to properly use each method, side effects, and what they cost.

Under “Birth Control” on the W2W page was this statement:

Not ready to be a parent yet? Want to avoid a suprise pregnancy? Here are some methods for keeping a pregnancy from happening along with their failure rates, advantages, and disadvantages.

What follows is a table listing different birth control methods. That’s it. Since the main message of abstinence-only education is “DON’T DO IT!!!”, then why bother actually explaining how birth control works in depth, which might improve the success rate of each method?

“Abstinence” is listed first on the chart, and the ‘Advantages” include “no medical or horomonal side effects”, “protection from STIs”, “free”, and “always works”. In Our Bodies, Ourselves, disadvantages of “Complete Abstinence*” include the difficulty of maintaining an abstinent relationship, and the high risk of unplanned pregnancy/contracting an STI if an abstinent couple has sex without knowing how to use birth control or barrier methods. One thing that neither W2W or Our Bodies, Ourselves discusses is sexual assault. Abstinence is not “100%” effective, because there still is a risk of a person engaging in sexual acts, either consentually or through force. Is W2W implying that abstinent teens are magically protected from sexual assault, and only the “bad” sexually active teens are sexually assaulted?

Continuing down the chart, one of the “Disadvantages” listed for condoms on the W2W chart was “men usually don’t like them”.

What.
The.
Hell?

I have never, ever, ever had a guy complain about using condoms. Guys have either put condoms on without needing to be prompted, or quickly got one out and put it on. A brief questioning of friends on Facebook Chat further supported my theory that Not All Guys Hate Condoms, that guys will in fact use condoms because sex that involves a thin barrier of latex is better than no sex at all, and in the case of one of my best friends, who admitted that a particularly infamous boyfriend disliked condoms, I responded “THAT’S BECAUSE HE’S A DOUCHE”.

But, by implying that most men don’t like/shouldn’t like to use condoms, W2W is discouraging people from using condoms. And even if a couple does successfully wait to become sexually active until after marriage, getting married without a knowledge of birth control methods may mean that a couple has to deal with a pregnancy that they are not emotionally or financially prepared for.

Perhaps the most egregious error in Willing to Wait’s chart is the “advantages” column for the morning-after pill. their chart lists “May help to relieve the fear of getting pregnant”.

So Plan B’s effectiveness is all in your head?
Stating that Plan B can “reduce the chances of an unplanned pregnancy after a contraceptive failure” would have been much more accurate. Then again, accuracy does not seem te be the goal of this chart.

The chart also over-emphasizes negative side effects, without mentioning how common such side effects are, and other factors that can cause side effects. For example, when I had my consultation with a healthcare provider at Planned Parenthood, she told me that I had a greater chance of getting hit by a city bus than having the more severe side affects of my birth control regimen, prividing that I did not smoke. And as a NuvaRing user, I have not experienced blood clots, stroke, heart attack, vaginitis, upper respiratory tract infection, sinusitis, or any noticeable weight gain. The most noticable side effects was a four-week-long period when I started NuvaRing, and increased breast size and breast tenderness, which honestly, isn’t an entirely terrible thing. I asked readers to submit some of their experiences with birth control, and the experiences were mostly positive.

J writes that birth control isn’t optional for her, because it eliminates menstrual migraines:

I first went on the pill because of menstrual migraines and extremely bad cramps, all of which have gone away thanks to the pill.  These problems interfered with my daily life; however, since being on the pill not only have the symptoms disappeared, but the underlying problem has also.
I have occasionally had difficulties with my insurance company, as they tend to see taking the pill as a choice not as necessity.  However, due to my menstrual migraines, taking not taking the pill is not really an option…I was lucky enough to have a doctor who provides months of free trials when these circumstances arise.

Willing To Wait’s chart does not include Internal Uterine Devices (IUDs). K chose to be fitted for a ParaGuard IUD, because she wanted a long-lasting, cost-effective, non horomonal option:

It took my body about 6-7 months to completely get used to the IUD and my periods DID get heavier (but not too excessively) during that time and became extended by a few days. My pre-IUD periods lasted roughly 3-4 days. Post-IUD, they lasted 7 days with the spotting and heavy flow.
After the initial 6-7 months, my periods have evened out into a cycle of 1-2 days cramping at mid-cycle and then 3-4 days of spotting, 2-4 days of heavy flow, and then 1-2 days of spotting at the end.  During the first 6-7 months the cramping was a lot worse for me, especially considering that I barely cramped at all before I got my IUD. It was effectively combated with heat packs and ibuprofen…I consider an investment in at least one heat pack a necessity if one decides on getting an IUD.

K mentioned that the cost of an IUD can be prohibitive, although hers was relatively affordable since she had the procedure done at her university’s clinic:

Larger university clinics and Planned Parenthood’s seem to be much more on board with providing IUD’s though. A great resource for learning more about IUD’s and other womens’ personal experiences with them is the livejournal community IUD Divas (http://community.livejournal.com/iud_divas)

K also mentioned Michigan’s Plan First program, which provides free medical care, and birth control to women 18-44. Plan First does not cover either abortion services or fertility treatments, and in the light of recent elections (Michigan elected a Republican governor*) the program may be in jeopardy.

Overall, Willing To Wait is doing a great disservice to Michigan youth by not giving accurate information about birth control methods, and attempting to scare them out of using birth control instead. Birth control is one of the most commonly precscribed drugs, and many women take it not because they are sexually active, but because birth control can ameliorate severe menstrual side effects.

Why does Willing To Wait fear being honest, and giving out medically accurate information?

*Governor elect Rick Snyder is considered a moderate, but his liutenant governor, Brian Calley is extremely anti-choice.

§ 7 Responses to Profiles In Terrible Sex Education, Part 1: Birth Control

  • Babs says:

    There is a revealing new documentary that sheds light on the true agenda of Abstinence-only programs as well as the Purity Balls and Purity Rings. Apparently the young female filmmaker grew up within the Christian Evangelical circle and saw firsthand the disastrous results of this kind of message.
    One review I read said “Daddy I Do” is a “crash course in the shortcomings of Abstinence-Only Sex Education and the current Christian purity culture”.
    In one of the film’s trailers, the religious founder of the purity ring movement talks about how he would not encourage his daughter to use a condom if she was sexually active. Another person speaks of using a condom as a “premeditated sin”. It’s shocking. Check out the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5X4BO56waGg

  • Melissa says:

    Not to mention the fact that their effectiveness rates aren’t even correct. (Some are, some aren’t.) Of course, I expected them to seriously downplay the effectiveness of condoms and the pill, which they did…but interestingly, they’ve actually exaggerated the effectiveness of Plan B. They say it’s 98% effective. (It’s not.) Any ideas as to why?

    • Elena says:

      Besides simply pulling statistics out of their keister, the only othe reason I can come up with is that if students beleive that condoms/birth control are ineffective, but that emergency contraception is effective, there will be more pregnant teens that W2W can “help” by getting them to give thir children up for adoption to “good” christian parents. When i was in middle and high school, the “if you get pregnant you shoudl give your baby up to a good family who deserves a baby more than you do” message was pretty strongly drilled in my head.

  • Ana Félix Pires says:

    I’ve been on the pill since I was 15.

    It wasn’t optional for me either. I usually don’t mention this when discussing these things because it makes it sound wrong. “Not all girls who are on the pill have sex!” as if girls having sex is a negative or immoral thing. I know that wasn’t the intention here and that this is a friendly place, so the whole story is: I’m 21, a virgin, and I’ve been on the pill since I was 15. I don’t think it should matter whether I’m a virgin or have been having sex since I was 15 or earlier, but there you go. Not all girls who are on the pill have sex.

    Long story short: my period disappeared when I was 14, I didn’t worry because I wasn’t sexually active and thought it was just teenage hormones being crazy, then came the pain, an ultrasound and an ovarian cyst, major pain, hospital, morphine, surgery. The cyst was gone and I was put on the pill to control my periods better. It’s a freaking life saver, I’ve been able to predict the day and hours in between which my period will come for years! No more cysts either. :)

  • Wednesday says:

    I thought ab-only folks were all about NFP/FAM, or is it just my RC-educated bias speaking? Seriously, though, it’s so disingenuous to leave out awesome methods like IUDs, and even FAM which is very effective if you know how.

    • Elena says:

      At least when I went through my heal class, FAM was the most discussed method. I’m not denying that FAM can work, but it requires a lot of steps (temperature taking, tracking your cycle, observing mucus, etc), that younger people may not understand or have time for.

  • Abby says:

    Reading about horrible sex ed always really strikes me. I remember one of my first sex ed classes where it was about more than just “bodies change, hair grows, use deodorant”. It was middle school in 7th grade. I even remember the table I was at. This was maybe the second day of the “girls only/boys only” section. The teacher had a sorta adorable stuffed sperm plushy. It was smiling in a way that was a bit creepy, even.

    The teacher was not our actual teacher but some sort of volunteer from something place or another. Considering how this was in Georgia, most likely she was a part of a church-based community group or something.

    But I was sitting there in the same spot where I dissected a frog. This was my science classroom, too, and my science teacher was an awesome lady. She had let me make a cake frosted with an outline of Pangaea for my plate tectonics project. Clearly this was a place of awesome science knowledge. And then this lady who I trusted to give facts about all the girl things I pretty much knew but might not have fully understand comes in. She does some explaining about tampons and pad and all the menstrual cycle stuff. Then she get’s into sex.

    I’m pretty sure the whole thing was pretty abstinence oriented. I can say this because the women talked about condoms. Yes, they normally protect against pregnancy (but they still fail!) but they do not help with any STDs. Nope- none. See, condoms have little pores in them. The holes are much too small for sperm (this is was the giant sperm plushie was for) but they DO NOT STOP HIV FROM GETTING THROUGH. There was an illustration showing the size of this on a molecular level. I remember doing a double-take and staring at the diagram she had up. Because- no. That is not how they work.

    This was such a WTF moment that I remember the wrongness 10 years later. But, I don’t think all of my classmates remember it like that. Hell, many of them probably took that to heart. Because a person in a position of authority told them this. This was a fact like fractions and correct spellings. Would a teacher lie about how to spell “preposterous” or something?

    After that I really didn’t trust any of the people in charge of my education. The teachers were all pretty awesome but the administration? Fuck ‘em all.

    (And then a while later my county was the one that had the “evolution is just a theory” stickers on all science books. At least that was less harmful and more “lol whut” and ended up embarrassing the school system.)

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