How to get birth control in college
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How to get birth control in college?
What do M*A*S*H and a condom pinned to a bulletin board have to do with how to get birth control in college.
It’s never a good sign to see the words “free condoms” beside a condom pinned to a bulletin board. No matter the intention, pierced contraceptions pinned to a bulletin board don’t inspire the greatest confidence in the advice of the people who thought this was a good idea.
Even more troubling, this bulletin board stood outside my university’s Office of Wellness and Health Promotion, which boasted free sexual wellness advice all ye who enter here.
As a bright-eyed freshman venturing into the trials and tribulations of women’s healthcare, I still decided to ignore this well-meaning but ill-executed bulletin board, heading inside a large, colorful office where several students in polos wore nametags, like camp counselors of gettin’ it on.
My freshman conversation about getting birth control at college
Several buckets of multi-colored lube and other safe sex materials festooned the office next to diagrams of reproductive systems. As contraceptive devices were thrust toward lingering students, I wondered briefly if I had walked in on a scene in which eager honor students were attempting to initiate a very safe orgy.
“Hi, welcome to the health office! Condoms?”
A small woman held out her bucket, but I declined the wrapped contraceptions.
“I just need to know how to get birth control in college, preferably a birth control prescription,” I said with the no-nonsense tone that I hope didn’t sound like I was trying too hard to be casual.
“Oh, there’s a Planned Parenthood a few blocks away, let me get you some pamphlets!”
Within minutes, she kindly arranged a gift bag of condoms, lube, and several packets from inside a drawer of goodies. A service that, at a self-proclaimed party school, probably prevents dozens of STDs a year despite some of the condoms being “coffee” and “bacon” flavored.
“Okay, but what about the health center on campus —”
“I don’t know if they do that,” she said with a frown.
I thanked her and took my goodie bag, leaving this cheery group of camp counselors behind.
How to get birth control at college from Planned Parenthood
Now, the Planned Parenthood in question was several miles (not blocks) away from campus, and it took me weeks to get an appointment. When the day of my appointment finally arrived, I made the trek.
The compound next to the freeway most definitely did not resemble the wellness’ office’s just-a-few-masks-short-of-Eyes-Wide-Shut vibes. No, this fortress of women’s health came complete with everything it needed to protect its patients from a less-than-friendly political climate, even in a liberal city: a heavy-duty door I had to be buzzed through, a gated parking lot, and a bevy of security cameras.
The receptionist, behind bulletproof glass, handed me sheets of paperwork, including several sheets of paper asking me if Planned Parenthood should pretend to be another caller when leaving follow-up messages on my voicemail, in case I had a spouse or significant other who wasn’t down with me making responsible reproductive choices at Planned Parenthood.
It was a thoughtful, important precaution for women in situations such as that, so I wrote down on the form that I wished they leave messages referring to their organization as the Central Intelligence Agency and to address me only as ‘Agent Cody Banks’ to throw any potential sexual partners off the scent of my responsible decision making.
However, I never got to live out my fantasy of impersonating Frankie Muniz, the voice of our generation, because when I mentioned to the front desk that I was a student, she said that I should go to my school’s health center instead as it would be easier to obtain a prescription with my insurance.
As I walked out of one of the highest-security building I’ve ever been in in my life, I called my university’s health center to get an appointment, only to be met with another crossroads: the wait to be seen by a female OBGYN was two months, whereas I could see a male OBGYN in less than two weeks. Who thought getting birth control at college would be so complicated?
I briefly considered my scruples, but then realized that having some dude safely poke around my vagina was kinda the point of this whole exercise, so I told the nice administrative assistant on the phone that I could go either way.
Birth control conversation with a male OBGYN
So that’s how I found myself sitting across from an older man as he held a plastic model of a cervix, explaining how it all worked just in case I was still under the impression that the stork was like an ‘Uber for babies.’
I politely nodded as he pointed things out, knowing that “it’s okay I read about all of this on the internet” is not valid sentiment, as I belong to a generation who turned to Yahoo! Answers in droves during middle school to gauge the likeliness of getting pregnant from holding hands with crushes.
To make the visit even more strange, my OBGYN, upon finding out that I was a screenwriting major, essentially held my prescription hostage until I promised to order all eleven seasons of M*A*S*H on DVD, apparently the pinnacle of American television. He went so far as to send me the Amazon link for said box set via the health center’s secure message server usually reserved for sensitive test results.
Walking out of the health center after one of many unnecessary follow-up appointments, it hit me: I understood why M*A*S*H was a critical addition to my viewing list.
Getting birth control at college shouldn’t lead to conflict
The women’s healthcare system in America is a lot like war. Bravely fought, but weighed down with bureaucratic red tape, and, unfortunately, unnecessary casualties. Decisions about the future in both cases are made by old white men in congress who think they know what’s best — both for soldiers on the frontlines, and for women and their bodies.
Even worse, these casualties from war are sometimes committed by the care providers we put our trust in.
This war would become very apparent years later, when I discovered this same OBGYN was at the center of a scandal dealing with allegations of misconduct over the years. Students were suing the university, unheeded complaints came to light. While I never encountered the same behavior that the brave women who spoke out about him did, I support them. This sort of revelation is, sadly, too common in the era of #MeToo, and speaks to the actual dangers for women in obtaining simple healthcare, even for something as simple as getting birth control at college.
As a scared freshman trying to figure out how to get birth control in college, I felt alone and isolated in a process that puts the weight and cost of preventing pregnancy squarely on the shoulders of women trying to make responsible decisions about their bodies.
I took the steps I did — struggling through the red tape in an unfamiliar new city — to be able to be empowered to take control of my own fertility. I broke down in tears, multiple times, in front of partners when I was frustrated about not getting an appointment in time to renew my pills, or when I was struggling with side effects from a change in my prescription.
The taboo of birth control causes us to think we have to keep it as a secret, hiding our pills from loved ones who may not agree with our decisions. I wish I could tell my younger self that we as women don’t benefit from hiding, that together we need to bring light to stigmatized decisions regarding our reproductive rights.
I was one of the lucky ones who managed to make it out of the minefield relatively unscathed, but in the process saw how much potential there is to change a broken system.
So here’s to the Planned Parenthoods, the well-meaning wellness counselors, and the brave women out there who are all fighting this war together so that all women have access to the care they need.
Amy Suto is a Los Angeles writer working in Hollywood. She's a coffee connoisseur, former competitive ballroom dancer, and occasionally pretends to be a vegan. She writes scripts about the cost of ambition with her writing partner, a former graffiti artist.