Over the course of this year, I’ve realised there are a few things I didn’t know, or didn’t think about, that I really should have done. Things about me – the woman. Womanly things. A few visits to a Nutritionist/Naturopath, a brilliantly funny and little older lady who works as a Gynaecologist (more of her later), and some chats to friends, revealed them all:
2. By default, that means your eggs are as old as you are – and unlike a fine wine, their quality reduces rapidly with age...
3. Sperm can live for seven days if they manage to reach the cervical tissue. Gives Purgatory a whole new meaning... To be fair, I’m sure we must have been taught this at school and I’ve just forgotten.
4. You can actually work out your own cycle. WHO KNEW? NO ONE TAUGHT ME THAT AT SCHOOL.
Now, I remember bits from biology class. Such as when my friend and I were talking at the back of the class, and the teacher asked me a question. My mate prompted the answer “Compound Eyes” (we vaguely knew the class was about locusts), and I went with it. Cue detention and a move to the front of the class. And I remember the Personal Development class where the nurse put a condom on a banana, and the more forward girls (I clarify, the girls who made out they were forward and later admitted they hadn’t actually lost their virginity until they were 18, rather than aged 14 on a golf course in the bunker as they suggested at the time) took the free condoms.
I don’t remember being told about how a woman’s body changed. How you could work out when you were ovulating. That I only had a certain number of eggs to last me my whole lifetime. That my eggs would age with me. That there are other alternatives to the pill – other alternatives to taking synthetic hormones for most of your life. Being taught how to exercise my pelvic floor – why aren’t we taught that at school? Surely way more important than being able to hit a hockey ball?
Why isn’t this the stuff we learn on the curriculum? Well, probably because the curriculum has to cater to all, and boys probably don’t want to learn that stuff (though they clearly should), and perhaps even girls aren’t really all that interested at that age. The feminist in me might suggest that it’s also because the curriculum is possibly (I’m guessing, I have no idea) designated by committees and at a higher level, government/civil service, which are probably male dominated.
But, I think the other problem is that we tend to be, as we would, fairly Western in this country. Alternative options, the slightly left field, more ‘hippy’ options, aren’t to be found in the mainstream. Now, don’t get me wrong. Synthetic hormone pill popping is better than unwanted teenage pregnancies for sure. Going down alternative routes takes practice, care and attention. But I recall going on the pill as a teenager because a) I thought it would help with my spots, and b) It seemed like the cool thing to do, despite the fact that I had no intention of having sex with anyone ( I was a late starter. I know. Shocking). And I’m not sure those are good enough reasons.
We live in an age where women (and men, let’s not forget them..) like being able to control or stop their periods for years, and then often expect everything will be fine when they completely change tack once they’re ready to start trying for a baby. And having had friends who have tried and failed, and those who have tried and had success, I know it can be a long old road. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have all those options available to us. And certainly a pill that is 98% effective means you don’t really have to think about it. Which is handy when you have a million other things going on.
But I wonder what the fall out is. Hormones are sensitive things. I know – I tried out a pill earlier in the year for a couple of months (I’m not a big lover of condoms – who is?) and it made me MENTAL. I actually didn’t feel in control of myself at all, and for the week before my period came I was an emotional wreck. Now, there are plenty of women who have been on pills happily for years, with no adverse effects, so my experience is but one. Pills have never suited me – they’ve always made me slightly crazy... I remember being on Microgynon at University and being horny as hell the week before a period. I think my boyfriend at the time thought I was either going insane or a sex addict. Or that he was irresistible. Looking back, none were true. But I would be climbing the walls. And a spell on Dianette a few years ago (often prescribed for PCOS) didn’t suit me much better. The nutritionist/naturopath I see (a smart woman – treats lots of conditions but good for PCOS and helping women who want to improve fertility), commented that when she once tried a pill in her early years, it made her so objectionable that no man wanted to come near her – so it worked perfectly as a contraceptive even at a distance.
Anyhow, I’ll stop with my pill rant. I guess my point is, that we aren’t really taught enough about our own bodies. At school, in the press, by doctors... And information from mums or female relatives relies on their experiences. I think it should be shouted from the rooftops. If we want to be free women, then to me, that means knowledge. Information. Free and informed choices. And it also involves ownership. Taking real responsibility for your body, and respecting it. Respecting how it works, how it changes, how it compensates. So when the time comes when you want to think about having sex, not having children, and then having children, you already know what the deal is, and you’ve already properly thought about your options.
The Gynaecologist I mentioned is Dr Shirley Bond. She does honey coated caps. So if you want to go down the natural contraception route, she’s worth a look. I’ll be honest, the cap is reasonably large. It’s not like you, or your man, won’t feel it. It’s also pink. His face when I got it out, was quite a picture. I also got chronic thrush after we used it the first time, though I’m not entirely convinced that was related. But you can use it in tandem with condoms, or on its own. And you get to store it in a pot of honey, which is highly entertaining. Not as entertaining as trying to put it in when your fingers are covered in honey, or as entertaining as when a residing house guest spots it.... Toast anyone?