After 50 years, the birth-control pill battle goes on
When Tony Bailey has sex, he likes “to feel every human touch, rather than prophylactic plastic”. And he said his girlfriends also like to feel their own responses, their own hormones, without the synthetic progesterone and estrogen key to the oral contraceptive pill, which can also fatten them up, tenderize their boobs, and make them crazy.
Bailey is a 39-year-old Vancouver nightclub doorman, a personal trainer, and an ex–CFL defensive end. He likes to have sex—athletic sex—with his girlfriends. He’s been doing this for 20 years, and in that time has slept with “many dozens of women”.
In the living room of his Killarney-area home, which is stocked with Buddhas, mirrors, candles, and erotica books, he told the Georgia Straight that, in his experience, women are shockingly bad at protecting themselves against pregnancy.
“I noticed a big change in the mid-1990s,” Bailey said as he sat on his carpet, building a power sled—a piece of fitness equipment designed to “develop the explosive leg drive required for an elite performance”, according to touchdownskills.com/. “In the early ’90s, all my girlfriends were on the pill. Then people started to be more conscious about what they were putting into their bodies, and they didn’t want all those hormones. Women want sex to feel natural too.”
Bailey’s sexual history includes a few partners who took the morning-after pill and one who had his child, now aged four.
In any other year, such a statement wouldn’t be as significant. But this spring, Canada celebrates 50 years since the first birth-control pill, Enovid, was legalized. Back in 1960, it was the first piece of contraceptive technology that offered reliable pregnancy prevention, ease of use, and relative safety. Though it was not legal as birth control until 1969, many Canadian women used the “menstrual regulator” off-label to prevent pregnancy.
In June, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will become president of the G8, a position he plans to use to highlight maternal and child health in the developing world. He’s under pressure from the Liberals, the NDP, and international aid groups to include contraception and safe abortions as part of that package.
But Canada is hardly a model for effective contraceptive use. According to statistics, we’re a defective public-health role model.
Greg Smith, executive director of the Vancouver-based Options for Sexual Health, says it’s generally accepted that as many as half of the pregnancies in this country are unintended.
Considering the pill’s effectiveness and ease of use, it’s surprising that just one in five childbearing-age Canadian women with a sexual partner is on the pill, according to statistics from the UN publication World Contraceptive Use 2009. The report states that all methods, including traditional methods such as withdrawal and rhythm, give this category of women a birth-control use rate of just 74 percent.
Teen pregnancy isn’t rare. Statistics Canada reported that in 2002—the latest year for which figures were available—girls aged 15 to 19 had a pregnancy rate of about 34 out of 1,000. More tellingly, there were about 35 abortions per 100 live births in B.C.
As outrageous as Bailey’s statements might seem to public-health officials, his candour is to be admired, because he’s clearly not alone.