TMI : The Morning After Pill. Why I Took it, Where I Got it, and What I Learned

 'There's nothing sexier than emergency contraception'

Ah the morning after pill, the emergency contraception that’s a pain to get, a joy to have. It’s the last resort of contraceptives and the word ‘emergency’ is apt; there’s nothing fun or easy about emergencies. The morning after pill’s a tricky one to write about - the experience of getting it changes every time. Some factors stay constant, however; it involves a fair bit of panic, a fair bit of stress and usually a judgey glance or a knowing smirk or two.

I’ve had to take 5 during my time as a sexually active young woman, including 3 in the last 6 months, which has confused my uterus so much it probably thinks it’s a boy now. Now, I’m not on the pill, or any other form of contraception. This would be because my mother had breast cancer early enough for it to potentially run in the family, and there’s a link between breast cancer and taking the pill. The link is variously dubious or strong depending on what doctor you speak to. The problem is in the hormones, ruling out pretty much every other form of contraception. Now, just to preempt any commenters here, I’ve checked out my options a lot. But if you’d read a letter aged 11 saying you had a 60-80% of developing breast cancer; your two-time cancer patient mother mentally conditioned you to think of the pill as a death trap; and no doctor between London and Edinburgh could give you a same answer about this mythical link, you’d probably steer clear of hormonal contraception too until you had some kind of statement signed by God, the Queen and the Dalai Lama saying it wouldn’t raise your chances by even 1%

So, the upshot is I have always had to rely on the trusty old condom to keep those plucky young sperm from hijacking my eggs thereby making a small person out of it who would enslave me to a life of drudgery, scrounging off the state and being alone forever whilst my troubled child is jailed numerous times for petty offences driven by their lack of a paternal role model. Or at least, that’s what would happen if the Daily Mail were to be believed. So, without further ado, we shall take a whistle stop tour of my emergency contraceptive history.

Morning After Pill the First

Age: 16

When you’re at boarding school and your boyfriend still lives with his mum, the opportunities for full on genital mushing are rare. So it is that we find ourselves in someone’s bedroom at a house party, having sex. Everything is hunky dory - until the boyfriend finishes, pulls out and whispers those dreaded words: ‘Oh shit, condom broke’. What follows is a night of turmoil and anxiety. I’ve never got the morning after pill before but know the basics. I’m just shitting myself that Boots won’t be open and how the hell do I get it if not because the school is my registered GP and they’re such dicks they’ll probably tell my mum who probably knows I’m sexually active but it’s just one of those things that we will never, ever talk about. The couple before us are getting the same thing and I see a slight smirk from the assistant as I ask for it (meanwhile the boyfriend is laughing at incontinence pads for old ladies). It makes my period come a week late, so while at home I have to walk down to Boots twice in the snow and ice because I cocked the first one up and my parents look at me funny. All in all a harrowing experience I never wish to repeat, especially the week where all I could think about was ‘how the hell am I going to get an abortion without telling my mum?’

Morning After Pill the Second

Age: 18

Uni Halloween party, I get to have sex with the hot posh boy I’ve had my eye on. It’s my first one night stand at uni. We start off with a condom, but brewers droop dictates that it slides off quite a lot and we end up having sex for a while unprotected, during which time posh-boy goes ahead and comes. ‘Oh... you’re not on the pill?’ he says when I start freaking out. What’s worse than having to do the walk of shame? The walk of shame with your one night stand on a Sunday in freezing Edinburgh with no tights because you were wearing fishnets last night and no Boots seem to be open. I’m profusely saying ‘I only know about it because I had to take it one time before because the condom split with my ex, I haven’t done it a lot, I don’t want you to think I’ve had to do this a lot’. Period comes 2 days after, 2 weeks after my last period. Joy of joys.

Interlude of about 2 years where I have sensible & safe sex with boyfriend and no need for god old MAP. After that I move to Paris, take the morning after pill three times in six months and start to really question my life choices:

Morning After Pill the Third

Age: 20

We find ourselves now in the City of Love. Halloween again! I’m also ironically in the same costume as the last time (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!). We have sex twice protected and once not in the early hours of the morning where I’m so sleep addled I don’t realise he’s come. In broken English: ‘You’re on the pill right?’ NEH, WRONG. I’d assumed that if we’d used a condom the first two times, he’d know to at least pull out the third. I suppose he assumed if I was just letting him have sex with me I must be on contraception. He also says to me, ‘you weren’t worried about catching anything?’ with a slight look of disgust that suggests my negligence was a far worse crime than his. Off we go to the pharmacy where he essentially whispers what we need and the woman looks me up and down then addresses only him with the instructions for taking it. Then she asks for 7€ and I’m like HOLY SHIT, WHAT A BARGAIN! and break out into an inane grin. French lover then loses all remaining respect for me.

Morning After Pill the Fourth

Age: 20

At Christmas I go for drinks with a guy I used to see when I was 18, being sick of smarmy judgey Frenchmen whose behaviour continually troubles me. Thanks to our Irish blood we both get fairly hammered. Back at his, as things get heated, he goes to get a condom. He physically leaves the room to get a condom. One would assume he’d put it on. The speed with which his come face turns into a panic face tells me otherwise. The question ‘You’re on the pill, right?’ has never enraged me so much, so I do a lot of shouting and he does a lot of apologising. The Sunday before Christmas Day and I am again shitting myself that nothing will be open. This is the first time I haven’t had a guy with me when I get it and the assistant at Boots is so completely unmoved and so completely mundane that I want to jump over and kiss her for not throwing me any vaguely funny looks. Unfortunately, I get my period about 3 times in 2 months which is potentially the least fun I’ve ever had in my life.

Morning After Pill the Fifth (and hopefully final)

Age : just turned 21

Waking up on your 21st in bed with a beautiful Parisian model medical student sounds like the dream, right? Add to that a trip to the pharmacy for your old friend MAP and then a mad dash to Gare du Nord to pick up your parents while sperm is still leaking out of you like a broken tap, it becomes slightly more ‘nightmare’ territory. Again he does the whole ‘you’re not on the pill?!’ thing, looks at me like it’s all my fault and kindly informs me that last time we had sex (if you can call it that since he had serious problems keeping it hard) he came as well. This is my second time getting it in France and it’s eerily similar to the first; model boy whispers, the woman gives me a death glare then addresses the beautiful skinned man, ‘You know it’s only for emergencies?’

So, five morning after pills down the line, what have we learnt?

1. Never assume. If you’re going to make any assumption, assume the guy assumes you’re on the pill. They shouldn’t, like you shouldn’t assume they’ll pull out. In other words, it’s a shared responsibility. For all these instances, apart from maybe the 4th, I’d accept 50% responsibility.

However, other people don’t see it that way. Society attributes contraceptive responsibility to the woman, partly because the majority of contraceptives are designed for women. Women shouldn’t get themselves pregnant, silly young teenagers shouldn’t get themselves pregnant - that’s the standard narrative. The single, teenage mother remains a stigmatised stereotype in the media while the teenage father has so far escaped this harsh spotlight of scrutiny.

2. Don’t buy into this social norm. I remember the apologies I made to the guy in Edinburgh because I thought knowing about how to get the morning after pill showed me to be some kind of reckless harlot. In reality, he had no clue what to do; he came with me to be polite, he was shocked at the price (and never paid me back the half we agreed, the bastard) and he wouldn’t really have been that concerned if I hadn’t bothered with it. These days, I don’t pay attention to old hags in French pharmacies or guys judging me or any of that. I do what I have to do to ensure I don’t get pregnant until I want to. It’s a nuisance, but it’s just something I have to do. If the assistant is a dick they’re assuming something about you based on what trip to the pharmacy - and we all know the problem with assumptions (see point 1).

3. I’m not sure why the pill is priced so highly in the UK; presumably it’s to discourage people using it as anything other than an emergency contraceptive. I realised in France that half of the pain of the thing is its price, which is ridiculously high, especially for teenagers or students. I was lucky at 16 that I’d been educated well enough to know where to start. But if Boots had been closed I’d have been clueless and panicked. This is why sex education is so important for teenagers; the price, the social humiliation - they’re often not big enough to discourage an adult (though here at the Vagenda we've talked to many who have been treated appallingly while seeking it out - thankfully most have stood their ground), but they certainly are for teenagers. Considering the rate of teen pregnancies in the UK the support for sexually active teenagers is desperately lacking.

4. I’m going to get a tattoo of ‘I’m not on the pill / je prends pas la pillule’ like a halo around my pubes, and also as a tramp stamp. Alternatively, I need to learn to let a guy know straight off that I’m not on contraception and I’m not OK with being ejaculated into if we’re not using a condom. Which we should be, anyway.

5. Bring on the male contraceptive! Quickly! Then maybe, just maybe, we can dispel the notion that just because a baby is conceived in a woman, it takes 2 people to do the conceiving, that the onus of contraception lies with both parties and that the decision to get the morning after pill is still a responsible one, even if that responsibility might have been lacking the night before.

- RW