What A Shame
Would you rather: your mum walks in on you when you’re enjoying some self-love quality time, or bump into that scary popular girl from class while you’re at the pharmacy counter asking for the morning after pill?
We bet a few people would actually opt for the former. Some women find the experience of buying emergency contraception so uncomfortable that they ask friends to buy it on their behalf or wait until they’re the only customer in the pharmacy.
Recent research by ellaOne also revealed that approximately one in ten (11. 3%) women feel confident when purchasing the morning after pill. Which leaves us asking ‘what about the other 90%?’
Clearly there’s still a shedload of stigma surrounding emergency contraception that we at #MyMorningAfter are trying to dispel. No one should feel ashamed, embarrassed or patronised for a split condom, missing a pill or having sex at all.
What is Shame?
Remember that scene in Game of Thrones where Cersei Lannister is stripped naked, has her hair hacked off and is forced to walk through the streets while a stern-looking woman chants the word “shame” and the townsfolk laugh and throw things at her? It may be an extreme example, but that’s how shame can feel: like you’re totally exposed and everyone is judging you.
The Walk of Shame
Even if you’re not being forced to walk naked through the streets of King's Landing, feelings of shame can bubble up in tones of real life situations. Morning after pill shaming is a real thing, whether it comes from friends, strangers or pharmacy staff.
In an ideal world, where cake is calorie-free, getting the morning after pill would be as easy as buying cold and flu medicine. Instead, it remains a strictly ‘hush-hush’ topic.
Why do we feel shame?
According to Dr Shahram Heshmat in Psychology Today, self awareness, self blame and standards play a role in feelings of shame.
The awareness that others are judging you – whether it be onlookers in the pharmacy or intimidating peers – leads to feelings of shame as you internalise those negative criticisms. Imagine if you could get your hands on Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility and get the morning after pill without anyone seeing or knowing.
Better still: upgrade the cloak of invisibility to a cape of confidence. Repeat after us: there is nothing ‘wrong’ with getting the morning after pill, it’s just the associations that society attaches to it that makes us feel ashamed. If we want to remove the shame, we have to take on society and reclaim the morning after.
Shame can also stem from blaming yourself for your perceived failures. Humans always seek out an explanation for behaviour, so in this case, needing emergency contraception. When we blame, or are led to blame ourselves, feelings of shame are quick to bubble to the surface.
You may think to yourself: ‘Why did I forget to use a condom?’ or ‘How was I so stupid’’. Note: sex requires two people – so why are women the ones to bear both the blame and the shame?
Accept that things happen, sex can be spontaneous, condoms can break or be forgotten without it being your fault. Don’t blame yourself or let others blame you. After all: once it’s happened, you have to move on and make a responsible choice about what to do next. If you don’t want to risk an unplanned pregnancy, it’s a sensible idea to seek emergency contraception.
What do you call a man who has sex with a lot of different partners? Legend? Player? Stud?
What do you call a woman who has sex with a lot of different partners? Yeah, maybe don’t answer that one...
It’s not just on film and TV: our closest friends, our WhatsApp groups reinforce a picture of what the ideal woman is and how many notches she has on her bedpost. Reality check: these are all subjective double standards.
There’s no shame in your sexuality: as long as you’re happy, healthy and practising safe sex. Don’t let subjective sexual standards make you feel shame for getting the morning after pill.
Did you know that the root of the word shame means to ‘cover up’? Things we don’t talk about become our shameful secrets. We don’t believe that emergency contraception belongs among those.
This is why #MyMorningAfter is encouraging women to come forward and share their stories. The more open we are, the less ashamed anyone has to feel. For a woman struggling with feelings of shame, your story might reassure her.
Let’s empower women to fight the taboo around the morning after the night before.
ellaOne® film-coated tablet contains ulipristal acetate and is for emergency contraception for unprotected sexual intercourse or contraceptive failure. Always read the label.
Words: Rosie Carbutt