If you’ve never anxiously googled something along the lines of “split condom, birth control, antibiotics, how likely” in the middle of the night, with a disinterested male sleeping like a baby next to you, well, you’re probably not a heterosexual woman.
As an 18-year-old student at Queen Mary University in London’s East End, my biggest fears included 1) STDs, 2) babies, and 3) money running out, which it invariably always did (and still does). So, you can imagine my face when I found out that the antibiotics I was on for the flu made my birth control control (AKA hormone-based baby-shield) basically ineffective.
Needless to say, my boyfriend didn’t share any of my concerns at all, though he did confess later when the whole thing had blown over that the episode had made him listen to a whole bunch of “sad indie songs about teen pregnancy”. Something which struck me at the time as a classic case of male privilege.
I remember having to pay about £35 for the morning-after pill, which was a lot of money to me at the time and meant I had to make do for the rest of the month on a diet of Carlton cigarettes, Lambrini and spaghetti with ketchup. This massive financial impact is why Boots’ bungled apology and failure to act quickly and lower the price of the morning-after pill angered me to no end. Their suggestion that women might “inappropriately use” the morning-after-pill if it were cheaper is infantilizing and misogynistic.
Obviously, the morning-after pill affects all women differently, but I doubt many would describe it as a party. I certainly wouldn’t. Indeed, I remember sitting in a little fluorescent-lit booth at the Boots on Bethnal Green Road, explaining my situation to a condescending pharmacist, who lectured me on contraception and stressed that “I shouldn’t take the morning-after pill too many times, or it might lose its potency”.
Some women find the morning-after pill makes them feel sick or sad — or just panics them into thinking they’re going to be sick and they’ll have to go back to Boots to sit in the dreary consultation room again and ask for another morning after pill because they threw up the first one.
For about a week after taking it, the morning-after pill made me feel morose. I didn’t understand why though. It wasn’t until I was sitting in a Costa with a cup of tea and my friend Beth, a loyal friend, third-wave feminist and reclaimer of the word “wench”, that I learned this was perfectly normal. I remember feeling so relieved when she said: “Yes, of course. The morning-after pill can make you feel sad for a bit. Don’t worry, babe, you’re good”.
Boots’ failure speaks to a much wider failure in educating young people properly about contraception and other issues related to sexual health. Like many people my age, I learned most of my contraception and general wellbeing advice from anxious females on Yahoo Answers and my network of strong, smart, compassionate female friends. The institutions had failed us, and, anywhere else we sought advice, we would often meet condescension and blame, because if that nice-looking straight lad from Modern Irish Writing said there was no need to wear a condom because he got tested six months ago, who else would have to deal with the consequences? So we shared anecdotes, drunken pep talks and classic Tumblr-feminism one-liners. But we deserve better.
It’s high time Boots and other institutions stopped underestimating young women and did a better job of supporting them.
Originally published in Top Universities on July 27th 2017