Most of the time, I’m not too fussed about being British. British food isn’t even a real concept, the British government is hardly exemplary, and I couldn’t care less about the royal family. But something happened to me a few months ago which made me realise how grateful and how proud I am to come from and live in this country, and I want to share it, not out of any real sense of patriotism, but because this sort of thing must happen every day, yet you never hear about it. Also, a high percentage of the feminist blogosphere is based in the US, so here’s a perspective from across the Atlantic.
I have sex. Quite a lot of sex, with several, some might even say many, sexual partners. And I really really don’t want a baby right now, so I use contraception. Every time. Recently the hormonal contraception I was on was messing up my body chemistry (damn mood swings and random crying), so I came off it, and anyway, if I’m not having sex with a regular exclusive partner, condoms are a must for me. (See the whole Tereus fiasco is you want to understand why.) So I had my first date with Leander a few months ago, which ended in my unambiguously asking if he wanted to take me home that night. I don’t believe in being coy, and neither did he, so we ended up having a pretty good time. Until the condom broke. I don’t know if we put it on wrong or if the angle was just weird, but the result was I suddenly had the risk of being pregnant. Not a huge risk, it’s true, but more than I was willing to allow.
So the next day, we went to Boots, which the biggest pharmaceutical chain in the UK, and I asked for the morning-after-pill. It’s an over-the-counter medication, but they still have to ask you a few questions to check it’s not going to harm you. The pharmacist took me into private room at the back, and asked me if I had any pre-existing conditions which might be relevant, if I was suffering any pain or discomfort, and if there was any chance I could be pregnant already. The answer was no to everything. She gave me the pill, and I took it then and there, without any lectures or shaming or ‘discussion’ on how to be more responsible. She actually said she approved of me coming in so soon after. Because I am under 26, it was free on the NHS. I didn’t have to pay a penny or give any personal details. (For your information, the standard price of the medication is £22, about $35.) I am decidedly not pregnant.
Still a little concerned, I made an appointment with my university STI clinic as soon as term started. They saw me three days later, and gave me a full screening, again, absolutely free of charge. I just got the results today and I am clear for everything.
So why am I showing off about being pregnancy and STI free? Because I want to say that our system works. The NHS is screwed up in a lot of ways, of course, but there is something so satisfying about the ease and efficiency with which our mishap with the condom was rectified. I am sexually responsible, but sometimes mistakes still happen which are beyond my control, and when they do, it is so comforting to know that there are easy, inexpensive steps I can take to make sure everything turns out okay.
If I hadn’t taken the morning-after-pill and had ended up pregnant, I would have had an abortion. There would be no question in my mind: I’m scarily young, in full-time education, with student debt and no source of income, plus I’m not in a long-term relationship, and in addition to all that, I just don’t want a baby right now. But having an abortion is a bigger, more expensive procedure than taking a pill the next morning. I would have an abortion without question, but it is easier and more convenient for me, not to mention the NHS, not to need one, and that is why the sexual health services provided here are so important.
I’m sharing this because to many people, I guess I’m an irresponsible slut (and I hate that word – if slut means a woman who has a lot of sex, then of course I’m one, and there is nothing wrong with that). Even if this country there is this stigma about going to an STI clinic, as though you’re admitting that you’re dirty and have made mistakes, when really it’s the most responsible thing you can do as a sexually active teenager or adult. I would not sleep with someone who hadn’t had a screening within the last two years and who didn’t do so when I requested it. And while I understand that the desire to avoid admitting to doing something ‘wrong’ can make getting the morning-after-pill unattractive, I want to stress that it’s actually doing something right. We have institutions in place in this country which enable us to be safe and take care of ourselves when it comes to sex, and that is, in my opinion, the best thing you can do for young people. So use them!
I am fortunate enough never to have needed an abortion, and therefore I have not had one. The scenario I’ve outlined above explains why. If anywhere really wants to cut down on abortion rates and teen pregnancy, this is the way to do it. I am proof of that, and I do not mind admitting it.