Eliminating Sex Shame and Contraception Stigma – The New Indian Express

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Express press service

In August 2020, a youngster from Pollachi, near Coimbatore, sent me a panicked email: “I have been looking for the pills in all the medical shops since morning… I still have 48 hours to stop this pregnancy no desired for me and my girlfriend. ! These are our rights and I don’t know why this unofficial ban. I lost peace of mind when I found out that I wasn’t getting this tablet from any medical stores around me (sic).

The drug he was frantically searching for was the emergency contraceptive pill (ECP). I get desperate messages like this daily via email and social media from all over Tamil Nadu. ECPs must be taken by mouth within 72 hours of unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. The WHO claims that emergency contraception (EC) can prevent up to more than 95% of pregnancies when taken within five days of having sex. Levonorgestrel, the drug used in ECPs, is on the national list of essential drugs to be stocked at all levels of the health system. Yet, in TN pharmacies, ECPs are almost impossible to find.

It might be easy to dismiss this as an urban or niche problem. However, my inboxes tell a different story. For a few years now, a few activists and I have been sourcing CERBs from online portals or other states, to donate to anyone in need in TN. It was the nationwide lockdown in 2020 that taught us how desperate the situation could be and how diverse the people in need of pills were. By mid-2020, we were all out of stock. With so many people still seeking ECPs, we managed to source a few dozen pills in Bengaluru. Once I shared on social media that I had stock, at least 70 people approached me within months, amid lockdown restrictions, needing the pills and stopping by my house to pick them up . By ‘take’, I mean they would come home, stay to chat, have their questions answered, and share their harrowing experience of seeking PKU.

What I learned is that more people are sexually active than we as a society would like to acknowledge. I found that internet access can help someone contact a stranger, but does not mean they will be able to access the right information.

I realized that taking the shame out of sex can remove the stigma of seeking contraception – even middle-aged married couples with children are stigmatized for seeking contraception, especially emergency contraception, because it involves that they are sexually active but not for the purpose of procreation. In November 2020, I filed a complaint with various TN government authorities seeking clarification on the unavailability of ECPs. The zonal drug inspector quickly called me home. He reiterated that ECPs are not banned in TN, must be sold without a prescription, then urged me to “close the ticket”.

Almost two years later, I am still waiting for an official notice from the drug control department at all pharmacies to put the insurance in writing. Meanwhile, pharmacists aren’t sure if ECPs are legal and can be given without a prescription, but aren’t stocking them. Strangely, oral abortion pills are much easier to find on the black drug market in TN than ECPs.

Without official clarification from the State, ECPs will remain rare on the ground. Contraception is a right and access to contraceptives is imperative for women to retain their bodily autonomy. Without control over reproduction, a woman cannot be truly free. It is time for the state government to ignore any possible moral backlash and promote access to contraceptives, including ECPs, as a public health issue. A Dravidian model government is best placed to achieve this and realize this periyarist dream.

unwanted pregnancies
ECPs must be taken by mouth within 72 hours of unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. WHO says emergency contraception (EC) can prevent up to more than 95% of pregnancies when taken within five days of having sex

Archanaa Seker is a Chennai-based writer, researcher and rights activist

Footnote is a weekly column that deals with the world from the perspective of Tamil Nadu

In August 2020, a youngster from Pollachi, near Coimbatore, sent me a panicked email: “I have been looking for the pills in all the medical shops since morning… I still have 48 hours to stop this pregnancy no desired for me and my girlfriend. ! These are our rights and I don’t know why this unofficial ban. I lost peace of mind when I found out that I wasn’t getting this tablet from any medical stores around me (sic). The drug he was frantically searching for was the emergency contraceptive pill (ECP). I get desperate messages like this daily via email and social media from all over Tamil Nadu. ECPs must be taken by mouth within 72 hours of unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. The WHO claims that emergency contraception (EC) can prevent up to more than 95% of pregnancies when taken within five days of having sex. Levonorgestrel, the drug used in ECPs, is on the national list of essential drugs to be stocked at all levels of the health system. Yet, in TN pharmacies, ECPs are almost impossible to find. It might be easy to dismiss this as an urban or niche problem. However, my inboxes tell a different story. For a few years now, a few activists and I have been sourcing CERBs from online portals or other states, to donate to anyone in need in TN. It was the nationwide lockdown in 2020 that taught us how desperate the situation could be and how diverse the people in need of pills were. By mid-2020, we were all out of stock. With so many people still seeking ECPs, we managed to source a few dozen pills in Bengaluru. Once I shared on social media that I had stock, at least 70 people approached me within months, amid lockdown restrictions, needing the pills and stopping by my house to pick them up . By ‘take’, I mean they would come home, stay to chat, have their questions answered, and share their harrowing experience of seeking PKU. What I learned is that more people are sexually active than we as a society would like to acknowledge. I found that internet access can help someone contact a stranger, but does not mean they will be able to access the right information. I realized that taking the shame out of sex can remove the stigma of seeking contraception – even middle-aged married couples with children are stigmatized for seeking contraception, especially emergency contraception, because it involves that they are sexually active but not for the purpose of procreation. In November 2020, I filed a complaint with various TN government authorities seeking clarification on the unavailability of ECPs. The zonal drug inspector quickly called me home. He reiterated that ECPs are not banned in TN, must be sold without a prescription, then urged me to “close the ticket”. Almost two years later, I am still waiting for an official notice from the drug control department at all pharmacies to put the insurance in writing. Meanwhile, pharmacists aren’t sure if ECPs are legal and can be given without a prescription, but aren’t stocking them. Strangely, oral abortion pills are much easier to find on the black drug market in TN than ECPs. Without official clarification from the State, ECPs will remain rare on the ground. Contraception is a right and access to contraceptives is imperative for women to retain their bodily autonomy. Without control over reproduction, a woman cannot be truly free. It is time for the state government to ignore any possible moral backlash and promote access to contraceptives, including ECPs, as a public health issue. A Dravidian model government is best placed to achieve this and realize this periyarist dream. Unintended pregnancy ECPs must be taken by mouth within 72 hours of unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. According to the WHO, emergency contraception (EC) can prevent up to more than 95% of pregnancies when taken within five days of having sex Archanaa Seker is a writer, researcher and rights activist based in Chennai

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