Jennifer Aldoretta wrote this on August 22, 2014
I’m sure by now you’ve seen the viral BuzzFeed article that asked women to explain why they don’t use birth control. Something I noticed right away: according to their signs, many of these women actually do use birth control, just not hormonal birth control. You might be thinking, “Yeah, so what?”
In recent years, I’ve noticed that the term “birth control” has become synonymous with hormonal contraceptives like the pill, the ring, the IUD, and the implant. When someone asks the question “Do you use birth control?” it’s often implied that they’re referring to hormonal methods, even though there are many, many natural and non-hormonal options available. So where does this leave those of us who opt for natural methods like the sympto-thermal method or non-hormonal options like the trusty condom? As the BuzzFeed article clearly shows, many people are under the impression that natural or non-hormonal users don’t use birth control at all, and this is problematic for several reasons.
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In reality, the term “birth control” encompasses any method of pregnancy prevention, and not every method will be the right fit for every woman. Luckily for us, more than a dozen birth control options exist. But when we use the terms “birth control” and “hormonal birth control” interchangeably, confusion ensues. When we say “birth control” but actually mean “hormonal birth control” it implies that hormonal methods are the only real option, making women feel pressured to choose them over other methods that may be a better fit. Language is a powerful thing, and referring to hormonal contraceptives simply as “birth control” can make a woman feel irresponsible for wanting to use a non-hormonal method, which brings us to…
This is a big one. I regularly hear things like “I can see myself using the sympto-thermal method as birth control in a few years when an unplanned pregnancy wouldn’t be such a big deal.” There’s an ingrained mistrust of natural and non-hormonal methods (largely because many women don’t understand how their bodies work) and this leads to the perception that non-hormonal users are either irresponsible or not really trying to avoid pregnancy. One of the great things about having so many birth control options is being able to choose which one will fit best with your unique lifestyle. Women who use natural methods like the sympto-thermal method, in my experience, often spend a great deal of time weighing their options before deciding to use it. That certainly doesn’t sound irresponsible to me.
Misusing and confusing terminology not only affects the women who choose to use these methods, but it also continues to spread misconceptions about the methods themselves. Is hormonal birth control the only truly responsible option? Are all natural and non-hormonal options ineffective? Does using a natural or non-hormonal method mean that a woman doesn’t use birth control at all? Are women who use natural or non-hormonal methods just begging for an unplanned pregnancy? Some people may think so, but I would argue “no” on all accounts. Discounting non-hormonal options as socially acceptable methods of pregnancy prevention hurts women and perpetuates misconceptions, plain and simple.
Talking about “birth control” as though it doesn’t include natural and non-hormonal methods discredits women who do use them and distances women who might otherwise want to use them. So, instead, let’s start calling birth control what it is: preventing pregnancy using whatever method you damn well please.