Many young Europeans today continue to struggle with contraception, a burden often placed solely on young women choosing between an array of unsatisfactory methods that present a variety of risks and benefits. With talk of the male contraceptive pill’s imminent arrival, what do young Europeans think about current, past and future contraceptive options? What decisions do we face and how does this impact modern European relationships?
Angus, 24, Scotland
My first experience with contraception was a bit of a non-event. For years in primary school we had heard-tell of the legendary condom lesson that we all would receive in high school. There were wild tales of dildos, embarrassed teachers, and totally unnecessary amounts of lube. In the end, a girl in the first class to receive the infamous experience laughed so hard, and for so long, that she had to be taken to the school nurse. The lesson was cancelled, and none of the other classes (including mine) received the talk.
So it was that after a few attempts at teaching myself through the disappointing method of the so-called posh wank, I gave up on trying to do the whole condom thing, and blithely assumed that when it became really necessary, my instinct would take over, and I would rise to the occasion. A self-assured, relaxed lothario for the 21st century. At ease with himself, at ease with the condom.
And so inevitably, as I ripped the condom wrapped off in front of my unlucky first partner, and found my confidence ebbing away like the flow of blood to my extremities, I began to question whether my confidence was justified.
I began to find myself intimidated by condoms, and penetrative sex by extension, for many years. And as someone who prefers sleeping with guys, it seemed to be an almost bigger issue for while, try as I might, there is very little chance of me or whoever I’m with getting pregnant, the spectre of sexually-transmitted diseases (possibly the three least sexy words in the English language) haunted my nights.
A self-assured, relaxed lothario for the 21st century. At ease with himself, at ease with the condom.
I would like to say that I’m over my condom complication, but I’m not. While I always practice safe sex, I find myself avoiding those stretchy skelf’s through often being a bottom and so abrogating the condom responsibility to someone who knows what they’re doing, or else being with the same guy, both getting tested, and enjoying the freedom that it can bring.
Anyone who’s lucky enough to grow up in a country that highlights the importance of safe sex knows that it’s important to use a condom, but I do think my experience would have been a bit easier if Annie hadn’t shit herself laughing and ruined it for everyone.
Eleanora, 24, Italy
I first started considering the contraceptive pill when I started dating someone in my 20s somewhat seriously – thus contraception was a method to ward off unplanned pregnancies rather than STDs for me. I was prescribed microgynon. A few months in, it gave me noticeable altered behaviour, which most friends and family had remarked on, and then led me to have a hormonally induced depression. And I have been simply terrified of hormonal contraceptive methods ever since.
I distinctly remember this period as one of deep pain and sadness, and feeling that my emotions and thoughts were completely beyond my control and comprehension. It was a black hole and I didn’t know how to get out of it – I was posed with the choice of feeling like this or pursuing other contraceptive methods. Most non-hormonal problems posed health issues for me, my partner at the time was allergic to latex and non-latex condoms were a rather expensive option (and, let’s face it, also sub-standard). So my pursuit and dilemma for contraceptive methods became more complicated. I continue to research contraceptive methods but remain petrified at the thought of encountering such an experience again. The nuva ring, other contraceptive pills, IUD presented so many risks I felt a fear creep up on me again – and I continued to shut off and avoid confronting the topic.
Women are brought up to think that contraception is a burden shaped by its sense of sacrifice. Most importantly, contraception is just a women’s burden. My current partner cannot possibly fathom that this is a source of stress for me. We have created a widely accepted social perception that unplanned pregnancies are a disaster for women and thus they must take necessary contraceptive measures – no matter the sacrifice. Let’s start a frank and open conversation on the fears and risks of contraceptive methods for women, and involving men in the process.
Women are brought up to think that contraception is a burden shaped by its sense of sacrifice.
Julie, 23, Belgium
Contraception was never brought up in the catholic schools I attended. Though we were advised to find the right partner before losing our virginity and reminded that abortion was a no-go, we were never given the full run down of options available to avoid getting pregnant in the first place.
Thankfully, my family openly talked about sex and discussed contraception long before I was comfortable approaching the topic at the dinner table. I remember being about 14 when my father and older brother casually started talking about condoms over lunch. They insisted on the fact that I should never let a guy talk me out of using a condom, no matter how awkward the situation became. That debate, which at the time seemed endless given how uncomfortable I felt, ended with my father handing me a condom and making me promise I would never have unprotected sex. At that point, I had no idea what they were talking about and just felt embarrassed. In retrospect, I realise how that conversation shaped my relationship to men and contraception.
When my mother found out I was dating my first boyfriend, she recommended I go see a gynecologist. I came back from the doctor’s office with a prescription for the pill, naively claiming it was to soothe my period pains. My boyfriend and I were happy we could stop using condoms and assumed I was bearing the responsibility for me not getting pregnant. I never questioned these thoughts until we broke up and immediately stopped taking the pill. Once relieved Of the burden of taking my daily pill, I realised how ludicrous the process was and mad that my boyfriend had taken it for granted. Soon after my breakup, my parents encouraged me to get an IUD. Heartbroken, I was convinced that any form of contraception was unnecessary until I fell in love again. I eventually came to terms with the fact that putting in an IUD was a safe option given I would have it in for the next 5 years.
After my breakup I became increasingly aware of the risk of STDs, which I had sort of ignored until then. Though I was protected from getting pregnant thanks to my IUD (at least in part), I realised condoms were still necessary. Yet, I soon faced disillusionment when I realised not all men shared that thought, especially on the spur of the moment. I looked back at the conversation I had with my father and brother and, with more experience, I understood what they meant. Since, I’ve categorised men into two group: those who pull out a condom and those who don’t. I know to never trust those who don’t, as I despise the assumption that women are responsible for contraception. Looking back, I am extremely grateful for my parents’ frank sexual education as I figure most of my classmates were left to figure it out for themselves, making some unconscious mistakes along the way.
Cover Photo: SimonQ錫濛譙 , CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (Flickr)