As a member of GenX and the mother of two Millennial daughters, it is enlightening to compare my birth control experiences to theirs. When I was growing up, my Baby Boomer parents emphasized the life goal of a big, white wedding, marrying my chosen prince, having little princes and princesses, and living happily ever after. Along with the evolution of female attitudes, choices for methods of birth control have also evolved, as well as access to it, and the relaxation of judgments around being single and sexually active. My own curiosity about these evolutions brought a few questions to the forefront. I decided to interview a few friends and colleagues, of both my daughter’s and myself, about how their own views about contraceptives might have changed over the years.
For me, getting married was the precursor to family, and the role of birth control in my life changed drastically when it came time to have a child. My daughters, both single at 22 and 28, approach things quite differently, waiting longer to get married and have children, if at all.
The women I interviewed span generations and upbringings and shed light on what the birth control climate was when they first sought contraceptives, to how they approach the same subject today. Next, I noted whether or not they are married, in a committed relationship, or single, and how life changes might affect their birth control decisions. Their responses were comfortingly similar.
How did you view birth control when you first began using it?
Savannah, 23 and single, says her mother definitely influenced her decisions: “My mom was pregnant very young, so as soon as I started having sex, she took me to the gyno to get BC. She was super adamant that I didn’t become a teen mom or get an STD, so I always had ready access to condoms and BC in high school.”
Julia, 24 and single, talks about her trepidation: “ I would say my assumption of my parent’s opinions had an effect on why I waited until I was 18 to start making those decisions for myself. I started birth control pills when I was about 18 and chose to stop using it after a year due to uncomfortable weight gain, hormonal imbalances, extreme mood swings, etc.”
Natalie, now 34 and married with one child, describes why birth control education is imperative and how a lack of it impacted her: “When I got married I went on the BC pill. I ended up getting pregnant on the pill. I was told that because I didn’t take the pill at exactly the same time every day is why I got pregnant.”
Shannon, 43 with two kids, talks about her first experiences: “My mother got pregnant with me in high school and stressed to me from the outset that even though she loved me and was glad I’d been born, it was not something she would recommend. When I became sexually active at age 16, I went about it methodically. We tried a few drug store options — condoms and sponges — but I didn’t like the way either of those felt and how they changed the sensuality of the experience. So I went to get ‘the pill,’ The people initially had a hard time believing I came in on my own and wasn’t already pregnant — which was the point they typically engaged with 16-year-olds. “
Has marriage changed, or, do you anticipate marriage changing, your views on your method of birth control?
Savannah feels confident when she says, “I don’t ever want children, so I will probably stay on the pill for the rest of my fertile days. I would like to be married someday; one of my main requirements for a husband is that he doesn’t want children either. My mom almost died from an IUD complication, so implants really scare me too.”
Julia adds, “As a single lady, I can absolutely see how a marriage/partnership would affect the decisions I make regarding contraceptives/birth control. I can imagine that when I have a partner someday, I would look into forms of birth control that provide us with a sense of normalcy and comfort in our everyday lives and sex lives.”
Sue, a 24-year-old in a committed relationship, acknowledges the subtle difference between being married and single. “I’ve been in a relationship awhile, but I suppose if I weren’t, I would use different methods to protect against not only pregnancy but STDs. I would probably use the pill and condoms. While in a long-term relationship, I am not as worried about STDs because we are monogamous.”
Andrea, 20 and single, says, “No, nothing changes in regard to birth control, except I always use condoms ’til I know the guy better.”
Allison, 38 and married, says “Nothing has really changed.”
Tasha, 45 and married, shares her insight. “I remained on the pill for about 20 years. I switched to the NuvaRing after I got married at 26, as the hormone levels were more constant. Generally, we wanted to prevent an unplanned pregnancy; however, our perspective was if we get pregnant, cool. If not, that was cool, too. For us, we never ‘tried’ to get pregnant, but would be ok if it happened.”
Kim, 48 and divorced says, “I’m on an IUD, should marriage ever happen again. But by then I’ll be in menopause. There will be no need for birth control.”
What about your own children, do you have any advice for them?
Shannon talks about what she tells her own kids, 18 and 20: “I’ve been open with both my kids about sex and birth control, even admitting that I really don’t like condoms and they aren’t a great form of birth control, but do help protect from some scary viruses and other infections. Mostly, my kids don’t want to talk about anything sex-related with me, though. Go figure! Unlike most parents, I believe teen years are a good and healthy time for humans to be going through trial and error process of discovering their own unique sexual preferences and pleasures and developing clarity on consent and respect for their self and others. I’ve spent at least as much time discussing boundaries and honor within sexual relations with them as I have on birth control.”
Whether it’s a focus on career, a desire to travel, or a reluctance to give up their independence, women are putting off marriage later and later. The desire to be married isn’t the big blip on the radar it once was and often takes a back seat to alternate lifestyles. Yet, whether single, in committed relationships, or legally married, women’s views on the use of birth control haven’t changed significantly, nor does it become any less important. Our personal stories may vary, but rarely do women abandon birth control altogether. Today we require information and choices, and share the significance of that with the next generation.
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