Many twentysomethings are resentful of their birth control options, and so are choosing to use nothing at all
I have a twentysomething friend in the US who, for purposes of preserving our friendship, I’ll call Mary. As Mary is a human being, she likes to have sex. One thing Mary does not like, however, is contraception. Being on the pill made her “crazy”; getting an IUD felt, she says evocatively, “like having a hair caught in my throat”; and condoms “just don’t feel good. We all know that.” So for the past dozen years (“at least”) Mary has been using an alternative method: she hasn’t been using any contraception at all.
Instead, she has worked out a formula that she calls “amazing” and I call “voodoo”. It involves a combination of relying on various smartphone apps with names like Period Tracker and relying on the guy she is sleeping with (she is not in a long-term relationship) to “behave” – in other words, pull out in the nick of time. That she has not become pregnant since switching to her voodoo system proves, she says, that it works, “although there have been a few plan B [morning-after pill] moments”. Mary is not crazy. She is not even stupid. In fact, she is increasingly typical of her generation.
According to a report from the Guttmacher Institute, more than half of the unintended pregnancies in the US occur among the 10.7% of women who use no contraceptive method at all (and no, downloading Period Tracker does not count as a contraceptive method). This finding comes only a few months after a study carried out by the amazingly named Dr Annie Dude at Duke University. Dr Dude’s findings revealed that 31% of young women in America aged between 15 and 24 had relied on the pull-out method at least once. Unsurprisingly, these women were 7.5% more likely to rely on emergency contraception than others and, even less surprisingly, of those who relied on the pull-out method, 21% had become pregnant. Apparently, these women had never heard the old joke: you know what you call a couple who use the rhythm and pull-out methods? Parents.
When researchers from the Guttmacher Institute asked the women who accidentally became pregnant why they eschewed contraception, answers ranged from the self-deluding (“a perceived invulnerability to pregnancy”) to the predictable (“lack of thought or preparation”, dislike of contraceptive methods) to the absolutely infuriating (“male partner’s objections and fear that pregnancy prevention is an indication of infidelity”).
Another factor I have noticed is that some young women resent having to shoulder the responsibility for contraception. Why, these women ask, and not unreasonably, are they the ones who have to take a hormonal pill every day, or have something stuck up inside them? Let the guy deal with it from now on! It’s a remarkable turnaround since the 1960s and 70s when second-wave feminists argued that a woman’s control over her fertility was a necessary power. Margaret Sanger, before she founded Planned Parenthood in America, wrote in 1920 that a woman who relies on a man for birth control is “exploited, driven and enslaved to his desires”. Some young women today disagree and see having the control as a burdensome, irritatingly one-sided responsibility. One aspect that has undoubtedly played a considerable part in this shift is that many women have experienced negative side-effects from the pill, from making them feel – as Mary says – “crazy” to a loss of libido to a fear of blood clotting.