95.9% Reforming Contraception: a call for improvement

The topic of contraception is surrounded by a social stigma, which can mean that many people are left in the dark about the repercussions of their contraceptive decisions.

The hypocrisy surrounding this stigma is infuriating. Many people find that accessing birth control can be needlessly difficult, and in some cases traumatic. Additionally, there is a lack of educational discourse between professionals and patients when it comes to contraceptive methods as side effects are often ignored or delegitimised, and therefore go unreported.

In order to address these issues, on Friday 22nd November the Student Union welcomed CERT, a student organisation who hosted an interactive and informative event about contraceptive reformation. ‘95.9% Reforming Contraception: A call for improvement’ is part of a national campaign to improve contraceptive care and education in Scotland. During the event we heard from several founding members of CERT, as well as PHD Graduates and Edinburgh University’s own Women’s Liberation Officer.

The evening began with a run through of the safe space guidelines for the event. In accordance with the potentially sensitive nature of the talks the event organisers first made it clear that anyone was free to leave at any time, that there had been people assigned to check if you were ok, and that discrimination of any kind was unacceptable. To some, this kind of disclaimer may seem excessive or unnecessary, but in reality, CERT set an example for the medical community by clearly stating the perimeters of the evening, taking their responsibility of care seriously, and creating a safe space to openly discuss contraceptive issues without judgement.

Due to the safe space guidelines, therefore, all names of the following speakers have been removed.

Within the wider area of Contraception, the main topics for discussion in this event were centred around side effects of hormonal methods, as well as development in male contraceptive care. One woman shared her own struggles with hormonal birth control and its side effects, as well as her decision to enrol in a male contraceptive trial with her partner. As a speaker, she was particularly relatable and had me questioning the negative side effects of my own contraceptive decision making.

Contraceptive choices for men are very limited; vasectomies are intrusive, and condoms are unreliable. But why is this the case? While there is plenty of room for improvement within the methods, women have many more options when it comes to birth control. Another speaker addressed this and urged the continuation of contraceptive ideas such as birth control gels for men. Central to her speech was the morality and ethics involved in the contraceptive industry. She argues that the availability of contraception is an ethical issue because people should be in control of their own futures and have their own reproductive autonomy to be able to make the best decision for their own bodies.

The discussion of male contraceptives inevitably relates to a wider social debate about sexual responsibility. Whose responsibility is birth control? The same speaker argued that while women currently have a stronger stake in contraceptive use, the repercussions of unsafe sex are applicable regardless of gender and therefore everyone should take an equal responsibility. She further identified a social concern that the more options there are for men, the less autonomy women have over their own bodies. This is a valid concern that is connected to myriad of wider issues from feminism to abortion rights, however it seems for now that the more contraceptive options that are made readily available to both men and women, the better. The act of reproducing is a joint decision, and so contraception should be a joint responsibility.

The event as a whole was a successful example of what a healthy discourse about sexual health should be. In the future, CERT aims to have their work and research officially recognised, and reform medical student education to include better training on contraceptive measures. Issues surrounding contraceptive health affects millions, and often the delegitimisation of side effects can mean that your contraception could be harming you without you even knowing.

Personally, this event was an eye opener. When I was offered the Contraceptive Injection by my doctor there was no discussion of side effects or suitability; it was a decision that I put very little thought into. Because of this event, going forward I hope to put more thought into decisions that affect my body, and take my own symptoms of contraceptive side effects more seriously.

The important thing to take away from this event is the essentiality of education, both in school and autonomously. We all need to make responsible and well-informed contraceptive decisions that are right for our own bodies, and campaign for safer choices.


Image: American Life League via Flickr