– BY TAQ BHANDAL –
I used to have a sex drive. I swear I did. One look at Arjun Rampal in Pyaar Ishq Aur Mohaabat and I was sweating off my cheap drugstore makeup. 13 years later, even after the honeymoon period with my partner wore off and we started picking each other’s noses in the shower, I still had the hots for him. And then one day it all seemed to just go away. For the past year all I’ve wanted to do come bedtime is roll over into the fetal position and pass out. What was the cause of this uncalled for turn of events? Something that I wouldn’t have expected nor think that enough menstruating people are told: the birth control pill (yes it really does live up to its name).
One year after experiencing the flattening out of my libido and several podcasts later, I had discovered the culprit. It was the little white pill that I took on a daily basis, full of synthetic hormones ready to dry me up and send my body into a state similar to menopause.
‘Just another patriarchal invention meant to oppress anyone with a vagina’
The pill has a number of negative effects including: messing with your body’s natural endocrine control system, preventing full uptake of nutrients (especially B vitamins), lowering sex drive, masking the symptoms of health issues like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), causing hair loss (god forbid you lose all the hard work you’ve done spending hours massaging coconut oil into it!), invoking depression and anxiety, along with a number of other symptoms. As a raging woman of colour feminist, finding out this information was deeply troubling. Hadn’t generations of menstruating activists organized protests and conferences advocating for access to this ‘miracle’ drug?
Of course there are many reasons some folks choose to take hormonal birth control or have it prescribed to them by their doctor or nurse practitioner. These reasons include painful periods, PCOS symptoms, acne, and of course preventing pregnancy. I’m not advocating for taking away people’s right to choose what they do to their reproductive system and how. I’m just saying that the birth control pill is just another patriarchal invention meant to oppress anyone with a vagina, uterus, and ovaries… that’s all.
Female liberation or artificial medication?
Indeed, while heralded by second wave feminists as the hallmark of female liberation, the birth control pill is cited as one of the main reasons cis-women have made it into the ranks of high power professions. Unfortunately, the gain of preventing pregnancy comes at the cost of fitting female bodies into the needs of the hetero-misogynist, colonial, capitalist productive labour force through artificial medication. Rather than promoting body literacy and natural methods of birth control (yes you read that right!), the birth control pill and other hormonal contraceptives have been and are being prescribed left, right, and center to anyone with an angst-y uterus, with ‘abnormal’ cycles, and/or with pimples (that are deemed unattractive by western beauty standards).
If you are as outraged as I first was, be warned that coming off the pill or any other type of hormonal birth control will cause some changes to your body, mind, and spirit as you re-adjust to your natural cycle. There are many great resources available to help you to figure out the best way to go about this transition. My personal favourite is the Fertility Friday podcast, created by a fellow Canadian woman of colour Lisa Hendrickson-Jack.
Fertility Awareness Method: natural, non-harmful birth control
So what is this natural, non-harmful birth control method that I referred to above? It’s called the Fertility Awareness Method or FAM. FAM is a non-invasive way of measuring your body’s fertility signs to track which time of the month you are fertile. A female or intersex person can only get pregnant when they a) have a healthy cycle, and b) are having heterosexual intercourse (as in male sperm going anywhere near your vulva) during a 7-10 day window. During this window, the menstruating person releases an egg, their vaginas become alkaline, and sperm hang out looking for a date. This period of fertility is different for every person and every cycle, even if your cycles are fairly regular.
The signs of fertility are quite obvious. First, a healthy cervix will excrete a sticky to egg-white like substance, referred to as cervical mucus. On the days when a menstruating person isn’t fertile, it takes on a dry consistency if you have a healthy cycle. Second, a person’s basal body temperature (measured right when they wake up or after a 4 hour period of sleep) will rise by a few tenths of a degree until their next period. Third, the cervix will be high, soft, and open – inviting the sperm inwards and into the uterus. The well-referenced and -read books Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler and The Complete Guide to Fertility Awareness by Jane Knight go into much greater detail on how to chart fertility signs and cycles.
There are also several apps available for charting, such as the Justisse College App (the most comprehensive), Kindara (what I use since you can take off the prediction feature – trust your body, not an app), Daysy, Groove, etc. The main point is that on the other 18+ days that a female isn’t fertile, it’s impossible to get pregnant. During the fertile window, if you are engaging in heterosexual intercourse, you should practise the use of abstinence, non-toxic condoms (such as Sustain Naturals or Glyde) or other barrier methods, and/or perfect use withdrawal.
Goodbye pill, hello sex drive
After being on the pill for more than seven years, I went off in November 2017. Following the advice of several books, podcasts and blogs, I made changes to my diet and lifestyle in order to give my liver and other parts of my endocrine system a chance to adjust in the most effective way. Some of these changes include cutting out alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and limiting dairy (which says a lot coming from a Sikh-Punjabi woman).
Since hormonal birth control messes with your body’s ability to uptake vitamins, I also supplement a whole foods diet rich in leafy greens, grass fed meat, organic animal fats, and iodine rich foods, with a multi-vitamin, zinc, cod liver oil, and diindolylmethane or DIM (a vitamin found in broccoli, cauliflower, and other brassicas that helps convert estradiol and estrone into estriol – a non-toxin estrogen metabolite). With the advice of a health professional, DIM can be used for 3-4 months to support estrogen metabolism.
So how’s my sex drive doing now? Well, I just finished travelling in India and made eyes at most of the vendors that called after me offering pashminas. I also almost made my sister go back to Mumbai, just so we could go ogle the city FC (football club) players. Needless to say that my partner is very happy to see me in my natural, wild woman state. It’s doing pretty well I’d say. I’ve even started my own Instagram page @intersectionalfertility to promote dialogue about FAM from a gender-affirming, anti-colonial perspective. Check it out!
About the author: Desi Canadian Taq Bhandal is a femme settler of colour and a PhD Student at the Social Justice Institute at the University of British Columbia. She’s interested in doing research and writing on the complex relations between political economies, global meta-narratives, decolonial and intersectional feminist perspectives, and our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Outside of her PhD, she volunteers with the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective.
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