RH Reality Check is participating in The Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice, an effort meant to raise awareness and spur dialogue about unique perspectives of and by Latina’s on reproductive justice. As part of this week, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health is hosting a blog carnival, encouraging Latina bloggers to write posts about contraception (our theme) from their perspectives. Bianca’s article today is one of those piecs. The week of action runs August 9 to 15th.
Many media outlets and educators will lead us to think that the withdrawal method is not a birth control method at all. When I was being trained as a sexuality educator there was a joke that went around. It went something like this: “Q: What do you call people who use the withdrawal method? A: Parents.” The logic was that there is no protection from STIs or from pregnancy using this method.
Although this is true, as someone who has used the withdrawal method several times, even after having that sexuality education and training, I knew what I was doing. I was not in a relationship where my power was taken away from me because we chose withdrawal, we knew we didn’t want to have children, and we also knew of our STI and HIV status.
We chose withdrawal for several reasons but the main one is this: We wanted to. Now I know several of my friends, followers, and students may be floored at finding this out about me, but it is true and I am not ashamed, if anything I’m proud.
Just because I provide someone with all of their options and support what they choose does not mean I am always already going to choose what someone else may consider the “right” option for myself. This non-judgmental approach to working with people (for me, especially with youth in my community) in the sexuality field is difficult, but it’s something that is essential to the work we do. I know the risks involved with various activities and with partners and make decisions based on (perceived) trust and respect I have with my partnter(s). Judging someone based on their choices is not going to help them or you. Understanding where they are coming from and where they wish to go and what is sustainable for them is useful and often something that many underrepresented communities and individuals rarely receive in their interactions with health care providers, educators, and the like.
So, what was the scenario that led me to make this decision? I was living in the south, just started grad school part 2 in a PhD program. No matter what anyone tells you about doctoral programs, if you don’t have some money saved you WILL be broke, unless your family is independently wealthy. I was living below the poverty line and eligible for food stamps when I was in graduate school. The man I was partnered with was, and still is, amazing. He was a federal police officer, because that’s what some of your main choices are for an over 25-year-old woman of Color living in Washington, DC wanting to date a man of Color with a similar social justice agenda. Our first date was 8 hours long and I knew he was the person I wanted to spend most of my time with (i.e. this to me meant being monogamous) when he called me that night to make sure I got home okay, ignoring all those “rules” of when to call someone you like spending time with (which I have heard is anywhere from 2-6 days!).
He got check ups regularly through his work and had his most recent STI and HIV test results to share with me as did I. My last lover before him was almost two years prior to that time and I had had regular check ups. He was the kind of partner I wish all people had the opportunity to have: generous, patient, honest, and communicated well. He was the first man who asked for my consent verbally and actually said to me: “I think we should kiss each other now, is that okay with you?” And he would joke later in the relationship when we were ready to kiss in other positions or move onto other activities and say “If you keep kissing me I’m going to assume it is okay to do XYZ, is that alright?” and I would consent or we would stop and discuss, but more so I would consent. Because I wanted to.
As I look back on this relationship I realize that I never once asked him for consent. I wonder what this means about me today, where I ask the people I’m interested in kissing, hugging, holding hands with, if they are open to that form of affection. These are difficult conversations and questions to ask. I’ve had and heard my shares of “no” to such queries and it is a sting to the ego, but at least I know what my potential partners are comfortable with and/or where I stand with them and if I should move on.
Our withdrawal conversation was similar to our kissing conversation. We had already discussed sexual health histories, had engaged in some forms of penetrative activities with condom usage, and discussed the challenges and consequences. It was at that time that I chose to talk to him about spermicide. As a police officer I assumed he would know what spermicide is because he dealt with homicides all day long, but he didn’t. It became my opportunity to share with him what I knew. He is not the first partner I’ve had (who is now over 40 years old) who I have shared with what spermicide does. I’ve had at least 3 other partners where that conversation was a part of our birth control discussion.
We sometimes used the spermicide and we enjoyed one another and we checked in and it, to this day, was one of the most enjoyable relationships I’ve had because we communicated with one another and received consent. When he got an offer for his dream job which would take him throughout the Caribbean, enforcing what I consider questionable international drug laws, I knew that was not the type of relationship I wanted and we ended our relationship. However, we have remained in touch and the last time we spoke he was very impressed and even said he was proud of me for making a name for myself in the sexuality field. That felt really good to hear.
Now I really hate it when researchers, sexologists, educators, and they often judge young people, people of Color, working class people and so many others who chose withdrawal or even spermicides alone as their birth control option. For many of us it is one of the safest and only ways possible for us to engage in sexual activity (which may not always be consensual and if you think it is please take a moment to consider the billions of ways consent is not always present for many people) and decrease pregnancy without having a hormonal or latex connection (many people have allergies to latex, as we get older our vaginal canals change as does our vaginal secretions, and a ton of other things many readers can imagine).
Yes, there is discomfort and resistance in discussing withdrawal methods with patients/youth/clients/partners. Why don’t we look at what that resistence is, where it comes from and why that discomfort is there? How have we learned from our feelings of discomfort in the past? Many of us know that if we are sitting in a class or reading a book or experiencing something that makes us uncomfortable it is a good idea to try and pinpoint what it is about that situation that leads to that discomfort. Until we can honestly figure this out for ourselves, our abilities to provide care and support to communities may not be as helpful as we hope.