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‘When A Condom Broke’: The Story Of How ‘We’ Learnt About Birth Control

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By Anonymous

College is a strange, conflicting sort of time. I remember how refreshingly liberating it felt to find a good paying guest accommodation, and then discover that it came with a side order of potentially good friends. It’s been a few years now, but I remember the initial excitement pretty well. It was an important time after all. We were beginning to inch towards our twenties, and life was meant to be free and fun, adventurous but not entirely foolhardy. We wouldn’t be rash, but we wouldn’t be tame either. We fed off each other’s belief systems, revelling in the fact that suddenly conversation could revolve around sex and politics and food and tampon brands and families and pets, without reservations and the risk of judgment. Pretty wonderful, really, and also, as we were bound to find out, deceptively comforting.

The thing is, some taboos stay taboos until you actively break them. Sometimes, you can’t ease into things passively, expecting them to take care of themselves and hoping that all the little uncomfortable feelings you’ve been conditioned to carry like giant baggage will just go away.

Time to bust the myths, and the taboos!

So as we found our niche and our friends, we also realized that while conversations dripping with innuendo and giggles and personal anecdotes about sexual encounters of all kinds were all right, there was never really a good time to talk about birth control. The discomfort attached to even the idea of actively preventing pregnancy was equally important and equally ignored. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Condoms and their importance made regular appearance, but pills did not. Neither did other preventive measures. About which my friends and I probably still remain partially clueless.

But a sexually active life almost demands the knowledge of every problem it comes with. Back then though, we didn’t know that, or knew it but couldn’t be bothered much. I remember the first time the need to know presented itself, we were pretty much at sea. I say “we”, though it was of course a single individual’s experience, because the problem was handled as a group. This wasn’t the first time too. All our romantic, professional and other upheavals were always dissected, discussed, analysed and solved as group activities. It sounds maddening now, but back then, it was basically like having the perfect support system.

And so, a condom broke. And we were worried in a kind of frantic way that refuses to acknowledge the larger issue– that like the use of condoms, this was something we should have always known. No one, except fictional characters, had prepared us for this. And that’s not exactly the preparation one requires. We knew of the basics, picking up hearsay and TV quips to piece together a haphazard kind of jigsaw puzzle with several missing pieces. We pooled in our resources. Someone had heard of Pill 72, another added iPill to the mix. There was a third who was convinced that the entire thing is exactly like having an abortion, just a really really small one. Everyone was quite firm about what they thought about the entire thing.

What we didn’t know were facts. We didn’t even know who’d buy the thing. So we did the best we could, and went together, in a large enough group. It was both good and bad. A group, furtively buying a birth control pill, meant a case of nervous giggles. But birth control isn’t anything to giggle about, is it? I look back now and wonder if I even knew how serious the entire thing was, and the potential it had to throw our bodies out of sync.

This initial levity also meant that next time (and there was a next time. In fact, there were many next times), we started getting better at the buying. In fact, when the first time with the morning after pill didn’t lead to all the horrible side effects we had heard it would, we became a bit too free with it, and even then, we didn’t really check out the facts. We didn’t discuss what could happen when our friend once forgot to take the second pill of the two pill course and started the entire course all over again. We didn’t even bother much when another friend took the morning after pills twice in the same period cycle. It was working, no one was pregnant and no one felt the need to faint or throw up.

Once again, the need to learn more came with a new problem. One of us found our bodies acting funny, with small, irregular bleeding episodes which didn’t quite add up to a whole menstruation cycle. Once again, we discussed and Googled and loaded ourselves with misinformation hiding between facts. This time though, we needed to visit a gynaecologist. After all, our friend was bleeding, and no amount of to-and-fro was going to stop that.

Before that episode, I had never really understood how embarrassing it can be for a single woman in this country to visit a gynaecologist; how easy it is to come in with the simplest of problems and feel like you are doing something wrong. The women around us in the clinic were married, and in different stages of pregnancy. Some were older. But us? We were 20 somethings and uneasy, like we had no business to be there unless we’d been up to no good.

Well, the gynaecologist set things straight for us. We got a dose of information, medicine and well, lecture. She wasn’t pleased when her first question (“Are you sexually active?”) got a sheepish “Yes” as a response. In fact, she looked quite upset herself. It wasn’t an easy visit, and while other problems cropped up, none of us went back to her.

Disapproving gynaecologist aside, we got our information that day and came away relieved that no one was fatally ill. What bothers me now is our timing. We would wait for the push and the shove before accessing information about these pills. Every single time, finding out a little more was precipitated by an emergency. Sometimes, we even preferred half-baked knowledge to contacting an informed professional. Why? We were having sex, and condoms never embarrassed us, so why did the idea of going on the pill? How is it that we had known almost nothing about what is a very important part of sexual life?

When it comes to ‘sex’ or ‘sexuality’ education, already lacking and incomplete, birth control pills and emergency contraceptive pills are sadly ignored. In fact, hardly any woman has any knowledge about them that doesn’t come from things she’s heard or seen. Most do what we did, and wait till it becomes impossible not to find out more. Considering, though, that these are not just another non-invasive birth control method, but medicine to be ingested, choosing them comes with a responsibility towards our bodies.

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  1. Cassie

    I cannot understand how going on the pills can be embarrassing. I’m 19 and my parents are crazy catholics but they both know I’m on pills. And I’ve been visiting my gynaecologist since I was 16 because of my hormons imbalance and it didn’t feel embarrassing as well to sit in the queue with all of those older ladies.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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