This is about personal, anecdotal experiences and should not substitute medical advice. If you're having health concerns of any kind, we urge you to speak to a healthcare professional.
Every year, like clockwork, February 14th comes around and makes everyone a little uneasy. And, with that same regularity, we try to brainstorm Valentine's Day-related pieces that will make you feel seen, heard, and represented—and a few that'll teach you something too. I'm not going to wax poetic about things to do with your "gal pals" if you're single or how to wear your hair on a dinner date if you're not. Those are valid pieces of content, they hold purpose and importance just like anything else. But I know what it's like to be single on Valentine's Day and it has nothing to do with spa packages and pink, sparkly products. It's with that in mind we decided to talk about various forms of contraception. Sex happens regardless of your relationship status, right? We have a ton of science-backed, doctor-informed resources should you need them on the different types of birth control, what happens to your body when you go off it, Plan B, issues with PCOS and your diet, and new sexual health products—we love our experts. But sometimes it feels good to just talk. To share our experiences. So, we just wanted to hear from you.
Below, find the stories of six twenty-something women living in New York. They discuss the contraception that works for them, whether they use anything at all, and a little bit about their journey to get there. There's issues of pressure from parents, partners, and doctors, as well as the usual complications that come about when sex is on the table. You'll definitely be able to relate to at least one component of it all. Keep scrolling for advice, thoughts, and musings from real women who have sex. Happy Valentine's Day.
"In college, I went on birth control to help with my hormonal acne (it was so bad, I came home for a break and my mom told me my skin was a 'mess'). My OB/GYN prescribed me Yaz, which I'd seen scary litigation commercials about and therefore questioned, but she assured me it was safe.
"Over time, my skin certainly became clearer, but after a few years of being on the pill, I'd start to get really trippy dizzy spells. I'd be lying in bed, and all of a sudden my view would become distorted, like I was looking through a kaleidoscope and I'd get really light-headed. I told a few different doctors about this, and none of them seemed especially concerned. That is, until one day I met with a nurse practitioner who ran some blood tests and found that I have factor V leiden which is a gene mutation where you're susceptible to blood clots. If you have this, you shouldn't be taking estrogen as this can increase your risk even further. (So glad I was taking Yaz for so many years!). She put me on a progestin-only birth control, and I haven't had the room-spinning issue in ages. It's also been great in terms of PMS—I'm way less moody when my period comes around than I was on Yaz, and my cramps are still minimal. I'll get a few tiny little breakouts when my period rolls around, but it's nothing like what it was pre-birth control."
"I've never been on birth control. When I became sexually active in high school, I didn’t begin taking the pill because I didn’t want my parents to know. In fact, I didn't even tell them I had a boyfriend. Instead, I habitually used condoms. I also saw the way various types of birth control affected my friends: weight gain, mood swings, and depression. Coming off eating disorder recovery, I wanted no part of it.
"Once I graduated from school and began living a more adult existence—dating casually and not-so casually—the issue of birth control came up again. But, by then, my issues with the pill ran deeper than just the possibility of weight fluctuation. I didn’t like the idea that I would have to pump synthetic hormones into my body on a daily basis. I couldn’t help but think If I’ve made it this far, what’s the point? I vowed to consider my options more seriously when I was having sex with regularity.
"Now that I am seeing someone, I've concretely decided against getting a prescription. So many experts I've spoken with (boasting backgrounds in health, wellness, or Eastern medicine) warn against it, and that's become impossible for me to ignore. Instead, I use the calendar method, which means really leaning into responsibly following my cycle. I'm especially careful around my fertile window (it goes for six days about eight days after the end of my period each month) and always practice the pull-out method. I use an app called Clue (it's a great way to get to know your body, even if it has nothing to do with contraception) and input data each time I have sex or start my period. It allows for me to better see the nuances in my body, when the timing or symptoms associated with my period or ovulation fluctuate. Look, I'm not going to lie to you—there have been some hiccups. It's not fool-proof, but it works for me. And until there's an option that better suits my needs, I'm good with it."
"I might as well start from the very beginning. I went to Planned Parenthood alone in high school to get birth control because my conservative Christian parents would never have signed off on something like that. They put me on the patch—I have no idea why, I don't even know if that still exists, but it did the job. Eventually, I switched to the Nuva Ring, which I loved, it's such an easy concept. Though, when my insurance changed, it became super pricey and I couldn't afford $50 per month right out of college. I switched to the generic of Ortho Tri Cyclen, it was called Trinessa, but I kept forgetting to take it because I wasn't used to taking a pill every day (not ideal).
"I went off of it abruptly in college after a bad breakup and I had the worst breakouts of my life—serious cystic acne. I was working as a part-time makeup artist at the Chanel counter at the time and I've never been more embarrassed of my skin. I quickly went back on birth control and my skin cleared up a few months later.
"Finally, the last chapter in my lengthy birth control story. I started to worry about how much I was forgetting to take my pills, so I asked my OBGYN to put me back on the Nuva Ring. I have better insurance now, so it's free. I love it, but if I'm being totally honest, sometimes it comes out during sex. It doesn't really bother me, but can be surprising for your partner. Now, I'm 32 years-old and have been on birth control since I was 17. Sometimes I worry about how that might impact my fertility (and overall health). But, I'm not worried enough to go off of it. In terms of my fertility, I sort of take a 'what will be will be' approach."
"The decision to switch from the pill to an IUD was a really easy one for me. I had never been very good at remembering to take the pill every day, which meant major mood swings, and stress and breakouts, and unexpected periods and all that jazz. So when I found out about the IUD, I was sure it was for me. I loved that you didn't really have to think about it. You have to check it's placement every now and then, but that's really it. I had been with my boyfriend for over a year at that point, and I trusted him, so I was looking for an alternative to condoms and one that didn't rely on me remembering to pop a pill every day at 4 p.m. The insertion process was painful (I think I cried) and I had spotting for a few weeks after, but all of that felt worth it. I've had mine in for five years and am going to get it replaced with a fresh one this year."
"Despite years of Catholic schooling, I've never been particularly worried about getting pregnant. Once I learned how cycles and fertile days work, I realized that pregnancy is actually highly unlikely outside of a three-day window. For me, it's not worth exposing my body to hormonal birth control for decades over. That being said, I should be a lot better than I am about using condoms. I always carry them with me and I'll make one-night stands wear one, but if I'm having sex with someone semi-regularly, I just rely on my period tracker app and the pull-out method. I almost think we focus too much on condoms as a safety measure against pregnancy when STIs, at least personally, are a much bigger concern."
"When I was 21, I met my now ex-boyfriend and my quest to find the best birth control pill began. After visiting with my OBGYN, I started with the brand Aviane. After about three weeks on this pill my breasts went from a C-cup to a large D-cup and the bloat was unbearable. Next came Gildess. My large Ds went back down to Cs, but my monthly migraines became an almost daily routine. On top of that, my sex drive diminished and I was an emotional mess. Finally, I found the perfect pill for me: Ortho Tri-Cyclen. I had zero side-effects and, under my health insurance, it was free. I was on Ortho Tri-Cyclen from 2013 to 2018.
"Looking back on this quest to find the perfect pill, I think, Why did you even want to go on the pill? My answer is quite simple—pressure. We get it from all around us, my ex included. Do I regret being on the pill? No. Having that extra protection definitely put my mind at ease regarding pregnancy and led to a more intimate experience sexually. But, I eventually came off the pill when we broke up because it felt unnecessary. Plus, my health insurance no longer covered Ortho Tri-Cyclen—each renewed pack cost $50 dollars. Another reason I decided to call it quits was because my periods became robotic, every 28 days by 1 p.m. on the dot. Although it was quite convenient, it wasn’t authentic. Now, I feel my menstrual cycle is natural as it starts every 26 to 31 days.
"I am back to using condoms as my one and only contraceptive. However, I am in a relationship again and have thought about going back on some sort of birth control for extra protection. Ideally, I would like to stay away from anything hormonal, so I am interested in going the non-hormonal, copper route. At the end of the day, it's my body and my decision. The journey continues!"
Make sure to talk to your doctor about options before making any decisions in regards to contraception and medication.