I was 15 when I was given my promise ring. I was to wear it as a constant reminder that I shouldn’t have sex until I was married. It weighed my hand, weighed me down with its assumptions. It assumed that I was straight. It assumed that I would feel too guilty to have sex. It assumed that I felt like sex outside of marriage was somehow wrong. All false assumptions.
My little sister and I were raised by my mom. She didn’t always know how to talk to us about things like sex. In fourth grade, we had “the talk.” My talk, like so many others, didn’t include information about condoms or contraception, much less about being queer. My sister never even got the talk. In my family, sex was something that existed, not something we did.
But it was something I did. That same year I got the ring, I got my first prescription for birth control. Under the guise of “mood swings,” my gynecologist wrote me the prescription. My mom was hesitant. As soon as we got home from the pharmacy, she said, “Don’t think this means you can have sex now.”
I masked my smile and my sex life, until my mom found my diary a year later. Then, my mom knew my birth control was not only preventing changes in my mood but also the chance that I could get pregnant. And she stopped paying for my birth control. “I am not supporting your habit.”
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When I began using the Nuvaring at 16, it was affordable for me. Working part-time, I could cover the $18 per month. When Blue Cross Blue Shield raised my deductible two years later to $50 per month for birth control, it no longer fit into my budget. Sure, I knew that the cost of raising a child or having an abortion would be more, but a girl needs to eat. I quit using birth control. I had more pressing bills to pay.
On my next trip to the gynecologist, she asked, “So you’re still using the Nuvaring?”
“Errr, no,” I confessed.
I explained to her that, with the cost of contraception on the rise, I had to prioritize putting gas in my car to get to and from school and work. The angel that she is, she handed me five Nuvaring samples and told me to come back when I ran out. She didn’t want money to be the reason I stopped using contraception. When my little sister began having sex and she couldn’t afford birth control, the same gynecologist came to her rescue and provided her with free samples. Eventually, though, those samples ran out.
And now my sister, still sexually active, relies on condoms to prevent pregnancy.
On a limited budget, people have to make hard choices and more often than not, contraception is the first to go when things get too tight. Looking back on the times when I made the decision to stop using birth control while remaining sexually active with men, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened had I got pregnant. Would I have had an abortion? Would I be raising a child right now? Would I have graduated from college? Even gone to college?
Promise rings and virginity pledges are the last thing a young person remembers in the heat of the moment. Certainly my Nuvaring did more to protect me than my promise ring ever did. However, without access to free contraception thanks to a caring health provider, I wouldn’t have had that protection. All forms of contraception – the pill, the ring, the patch and others – should be provided without co-pays under healthcare reform. So that young people like me, whose parents won’t support our so-called “sex habits” and whose premiums are through the roof, can still protect ourselves, can still count on a future that we build.