What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Like Squeamish Kate, I recently had a bit of a jaunt to Paris. My boyfriend went one better than all previous birthday surprises and whisked me away to the city of love for some serious wine drinkin’, macaron chompin’ and love makin’ for my 26th.
I was over the moon, obviously, because I LOVE PARIS. Tell you what else I love: doin’ it. And when you’re in Paris, nestling in the crisp white sheets of a pricey apartment with a double shower, you’re gonna be doin’ it. And sometimes when you’re doin’ it, you get a contraception FAIL.
Happens to the best of us, and with the morning after pill widely available it’s not that big a deal. Except, when you’re in a foreign country it can be a real bitch, right?
Wrong: buying the morning after pill in Paris was easily the simplest, most stress-free emergency contraception mission I have ever undertaken. From the three times I’ve obtained it (always for free, thank God) in the UK, and the experiences of others, the morning after pill is always bound up in shame.
You go to the chemist that gives it away for free. You sit in the green chair of shame (which is often situated by the condoms, as if to torture you further) and then you go into a little room where the pharmacist quizzes you (“how long since the… event?” “were you using… protection?” “when was your last… period?” “would you like a… chlamydia test?” “have you taken the morning after pill… often?” etc etc etc).
And then, despite the fact you’re a grown-ass woman with a job and an opinion and a few nice first edition hardbacks on a bookcase you paid for yourself, you have to sit and take the pill there and then, under supervision, like a child, even though serious nausea and vomiting is a common side effect and you’d think, you’d think, it’d make more sense for you to take it when you’re at home and comfortable.
My very beautiful and accomplished friend, who plays the harp, paints this lovely picture of her recent shamexperience:
The woman actually asked me…"So, what happened?" when I went into the little room "Oh, you know. Drunken mistake.” "Well, we're not here to judge." SHE SAID, IN THE WHITE ROOM OF JUDGEMENT.
And FYI, she was paying for that pill. Paying £25 for a ‘consultation’ that provided zero information, and a whole hell of a lot of shame and judgement. If this isn’t a way of punishing women for having sex, what is it?
Other dispatches from pill-seekers include “a pharmacist who completely refused to give it to me because it went against his beliefs” and “a particularly vicious hangover once caused me to tell a pharmacist to cock off when he gave me disapproving looks. And to say 'don't look at me like I'm an irresponsible dick. I'm here. That's responsible. You're the dick’.”
Whether you’re getting it for free or paying £25 for it, the morning after pill in the UK comes with a tasty side salad of shame and humiliation.
Let me tell you how it is in Paris. You Google “emergency contraception Paris” on your smartphone. You practice “je voudrais contraception d’urgence” a couple of times. You go into the Pharmacie, and say “bonjour*, je voudrais contraception d’urgence”. The pharmacist gives it to you. You pay about 7EURO. You leave.
It takes a minute, and nobody shames anyone and you can grab a bottle of Bioderma while you’re at it. You can take it in the café next door, with a café noir or a verre d’eau or a vin rouge because it’s your life and your body and your business. You can wait until you’re back at the apartment for the evening, in case you feel sick. You can take it on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland Paris if you so wish.
The abortion limit in France is 12 weeks, which is half our 24 week limit and hugely restrictive in many cases. It’s a country whose state religion is Catholicism. It’s not a wonderful utopia for women’s reproductive rights, by any stretch.
But if a country with such restrictive customs can be this laid back about emergency contraception, why do women in the UK, with the most ‘liberal’ abortion time limit in Europe, have to sit in the green chair of shame, have a ‘little chat’ in the white room of judgement, answer personal questions from someone who isn’t a doctor and potentially pay £25 for the privilege?
It was a huge victory for women’s reproductive autonomy when the UK legalised over-the-counter purchase of the morning after pill, but while we’re still being shamed and punished for having had sex, we’ve got a long, long way to go.
What’s the worst shame you’ve ever endured at the hands of an emergency contraception provider? Have you ever had to pee into a cup in the bogs at Lloyd’s Pharmacy for a chlamydia test, only to panic when they never called you to tell you it was negative? Do you, like me, love that the French morning after pill blister pack looks like a condom?
*when in Paris, start every single conversation or interaction with ‘bonjour’ because it goes a looooong way to being forgiven for your frankly shocking Franglais.
Follow Becca on Twitter @becca_dp.