Writing by Isabella Roxburgh // Photograph by Tiziana Gualano
A couple of years ago, I found myself panicking as I imagined what my life would be like if a baby started to grow inside of me. With the 72 hour window for the morning after pill already ticking towards its to close, I raced to the pharmacy.
I approached the counter, semi-hoping to be served by a woman but quickly realising that only men were working that day. I asked in a slightly embarrassed, semi-whisper if I could get the morning after pill. The pharmacist raised his eyebrows, retreated briefly, came back, and thrust a form into my hands for me to complete. The form itself was straightforward enough: age, date of birth, date that unprotected sex took place, current prescriptions, current relationship status—wait, what?
The question flawed me. It seemed pretty invasive and entirely unrelated to my request. I decided to leave the space blank, then I finished filling it out and handed it back to the pharmacist. Once that I was done, I was taken into a private room for a discussion about the pill: how to take it, how it works, what it covers, and the side effects, among a plethora of other information.
By and large, it was a relatively professional conversation. It wasn’t until he was looking over my forms and noticed that I hadn’t answered the question about whether I was in a relationship or not that I started to feel uncomfortable. He looked up, and asked it again. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I wasn’t, but I said yes, and he adjusted the form to reflect as much.
It wasn’t until after I left that I started to unpack the situation, started to feel angry.
Any person should be able to receive unbiased, non-judgemental healthcare. Yet, here in the middle of our discussion about emergency contraception was a very loaded question. Loaded not just by its presence, but also by his aforementioned raised eyebrows, his need to press for it, and the socio-historic context the situation fed into, in which women who have and enjoy having sex have traditionally been shamed. So loaded I had felt the need to lie.
There is no reason for such a question to be on the form, and its presence only acts to influence the type of care given, and contributes to a spectrum in which women are shamed and their sexuality is subject to social control. The morning after pill should be available to women irrespective of their relationship status, and they should all be given information about alternative and reliable methods of contraception. And all women should most certainly be told that the morning after pill doesn’t protect you from STIs, whether single, uncertain, or otherwise. After all, the pharmacist doesn’t know if your relationship is monogamous or not, or whether someone has been unfaithful, or contracted an STI through other means (certain STIs like herpes can even be passed and contracted within monogamous relationships).
I know that being able to access the morning after pill over-the-counter is a luxury many don’t have. I also know that I’m privileged that it was sold to me, and that I have many other accessible and affordable options available. I am especially lucky that should all else fail and I become pregnant, I can expect a readily accessible and safe abortion if that is what I want. These are rights that many women do not enjoy. Yet women should also be able to freely enjoy having sex without fear of judgement and shaming when they try to access contraception and exercise their reproductive rights. To many, the question I was faced with may seem small and innocuous, but to me, it speaks volumes of how our society views women’s sexuality.[share]