March 6, 2024

SEX ON THURSDAY | A Hard Pill to Swallow

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I’ve been on the pill for four years and I can’t seem to break away from it. I trudge to Cornell Health once a month, dutifully retrieve my package of little blue tablets and force one down every night before bed. As much as I have thought about saying goodbye for good, I’m stuck in a (literal) cycle. 

When I first went on the pill, I was a senior in high school. I wanted to have sex, safely, and the pill seemed like the easiest, most popular option. I worried about the laundry list of side effects that came with the pills, but managed to get through relatively unscathed; I can recall only one morning of nausea a few days in. During those first months, I was obsessive about taking my pill. If I took it half an hour late, I fretted for days about being pregnant. My high school boyfriend, bless his heart, put up with these vaguely irrational worries like a pro.

I’m much more relaxed about the pill now when it comes to timing, but a new stress has emerged. I try to ignore the online stories about people getting off the pill and suddenly feeling more energized, less foggy and less depressed. It’s scary to think that I’ve been on the pill for so long that I don’t remember how I felt without it. Even scarier is the fact that I have ignored so much just to have stress-free sex.

This unknown isn’t unknowable — it just hasn’t been researched. The reproductive health of women, the majority of birth control users, is drastically understudied. These layers of worry and frustration simmer as my empty birth control packets get thrown out one by one. 

Sure, I could switch to another form of birth control. These options require new considerations and potential drawbacks; It’s easier to stay stagnant. Also: I want to have sex and I don’t want to get pregnant. 

It’s odd to have made a choice for my pleasure and health that could be affecting both of those things. It’s also hard not to feel like all the repercussions of birth control fall on me while my partners blindly benefit from them. My nightly pill-taking reminds me that my sexual fulfillment isn’t totally on my own terms even though birth control is presented as the salient object of sexual liberation. 

In this weighing of pros and cons, I dig myself deeper into a hormonal hole. The men I have sex with don’t have to think about these things; They laugh knowingly when I pull out my pill packet after a hookup as they retain their pure, unaltered hormones. Male birth control pills seem unlikely to be on the market any time soon, and even less likely to be a popular choice, despite promising options. 

Sex should ultimately be liberatory, a source of indulgence and pleasure for its own sake. The pack of little blue pills on my nightstand both enables and inhibits that freedom. If I’m confused about the pill, it’s because it represents a complex combination of independence, health and inequitable healthcare disguised as an easy solution. 

Whorat is a student at Cornell University. Her fortnightly column Cowgirl Chronicles is a discussion and exploration of sexual norms and cultural quirks with a dash of feminist theory. Have a story to share?  The Cornell Daily Sun is interested in publishing a broad and diverse set of content from the Cornell and greater Ithaca community. We want to hear what you have to say about this topic or any of our pieces. Here are some guidelines on how to submit. And here’s our email: [email protected].