I recently had a Mirena IUD inserted. Men especially, please continue reading.
What’s an IUD? A small plastic contraception device inserted into the uterus, where it lives for around 5 years and — more effectively than birth control pills — prevents pregnancy while regulating menstrual cycles. There are a few different types of IUDs that have slightly different effects.
Before making my decision, I talked with women friends. Some already had them. Some didn’t. We compared notes on our contraceptive experiences. Amidst unanimous support for the IUD, I decided to look further into it.
And that’s when I consulted male friends. Yes, before a doctor. I consulted a doctor as well, don’t you worry. But in the phase of informal discussion with friends coinciding with google searches, I talked to male friends because I wanted the male perspective. Did their girlfriends have them? What was the male experience sexually? Yes, you can feel it during sex, they said. It’s like two tiny strings on the sides of the vagina. No, they said, it wasn’t a bother and wasn’t painful. In some cases, my American male friends knew more facts and figures about contraceptive methods than my female friends. Needless to say, I was thoroughly impressed with their knowledge of both female anatomy and menstruation in general. As one friend put it: “Well, if I’m going to care about my girlfriend, I should care about her health too.”
I talked to my boyfriend. He had never heard of IUDs. He had no clue what they were, how they worked, what types there were – Nuthin’. But his initial reaction was DON’T DO IT. To him, it sounded invasive and dangerous. I told him more. At the end, he said to talk to my doctor and fill him in on risks. He was concerned, but added diplomatically, “It’s your body. Do what you think is right. I just worry about your health and how this might affect our life.”
So, I talked to my doctor. While there was a nasty batch in the 70s that resulted in numerous women being sterilized, technology today is extremely safe. The greatest risk is infection, which is immediately detectable and treatable. Additional risks include migration (it moves out of the sweet spot), which would be accompanied by severe cramps and unusual bleeding, indicating a problem. No risk of sterilization. Just mild discomfort until a doctor does removal. The insertion procedure, she explained, would take about ten minutes and include some discomfort for up to 48 hours following. I could even drive myself home, she said.
So, I did it. And let me tell you – that insertion procedure is not ‘mild’ discomfort in the least. I couldn’t drive myself home. I may have even been convinced not to give birth vaginally. If it’s even a fraction of that pain, I’m not down. I have a much greater appreciation for all mothers now. Kudos to you. But it was over indeed quite quickly and I was happy with my decision.
I called my boyfriend and told him all the gory details. His reaction? Ew.
And this upset me.
I wasn’t angry, per se. More disappointed. He didn’t react that way to upset me or because he didn’t care about my health. But more because it was new and it was related to a subject he’d been taught – like many men have been – that is ‘gross’.
There’s a running joke that women can clear a room by mentioning ‘that time of the month’. Another that only whipped men buy tampons for their girlfriends. Another that she’s acting bitchy because she’s bleeding.
We use euphemisms. Aunt Flo. Aunt Irma. The communists are coming. Shark Week.
Periods are viewed as a woman’s issue, exclusive of men. But men enjoy our reproductive organs. Intimately. They ask if we’re on the pill or use condoms to avoid unwanted pregnancy. And many men draw the line there.
Tell me it’s all good, and we’re good. Don’t give me details. I don’t want to know. That’s your stuff. The sex is in that couple realm of ‘ours’. Everything else that happens in there is your body, your concern.
But contraception is part of sex for couples who don’t intend on pregnancy. The breadth of knowledge expressed by my male American friends impressed me, but I realized that they shouldn’t be the exception – they should be the norm. And they’re not. Most men, like my boyfriend, have never been in environments where it was okay for men to talk about women’s periods, or for women to do so in front of men. It’s a taboo. I’ve witnessed my boyfriend listen to lewd stories about penises and vulgar jokes. He doesn’t flinch, so long as the conversation isn’t dipping into rape culture rhetoric. But mention a bloody pad? His face gets all scrunched and he makes noises akin to ‘eeek’.
Why? Why does our society teach men that the thing that happens to 50% of the global population twelve times a year is ‘gross’?
I still remember an aunt once telling me to never mention periods in front of men. It’ll just gross them out, she said. I wish I could go back to my sixteen year old self and ask bluntly back, why do periods freak them out and not squirting? Both include liquids. One is stigmatized and the other is praised as a product of sexual agility. Making a woman squirt is the ultimate goal represented in porn and sought after, mostly futilely, in reality. Men see squirting as a result of their own manliness, while menstrual cycles are just lady parts doing their own ‘gross’ thing.
So let’s talk about this under the lens of intersectional feminism for a moment – a feminism that values the male perspective and seeks an inclusive movement for both sexes to improve gender relations in pursuit of social, political and economic equality. My aunt might think herself a feminist, but she’s not by the modern definition.
I was raised in a society where I knew about dicks by 9 years old. I knew about circumcision, about how men masturbate and even more advanced information that boys felt was acceptable to discuss on the playground. I didn’t know how women masturbate for years after I learned how men do. It wasn’t talked about. It wasn’t shown in films. It wasn’t part of sexual education. Female pleasure was, as far as I knew, only derived from intimacy with a man.
Likewise, we were told not to talk about menstruation by an older generation that so poorly defined the terms and goals of feminism that it’s now often misconstrued with anti-male sentiment. And today we’re in a race to reclaim the rhetoric – to represent feminism as it should be. Yes, a bit combative. Sometimes, you have to speak a little loudly to be heard. But no, not anti-male. Just anti-anti-female issues, like pervasive rape culture. The male disgust with female menstruation is another one of those little pieces of our society that serves to alienate the genders — to draw lines that can’t be crossed, separate spaces of intellectual habitation.
I don’t want a man to insert my tampon for me. I’m grateful that I knew about men’s bodies before I touched one. I understood them theoretically, and that made practical application more approachable and comfortable. I’ve lived in cultures where women didn’t even know what penises looked like prior to marital consummation, and their fears prior to that first night edged on pure terror. I wanted to know what to expect, both in sexual encounters and in life living with a man prior to actually doing it. And because our society allows for discussions of the male experience to be regularly discussed, I was prepared as much as I could be.
But men aren’t. Because women’s issues aren’t discussed. The gritty details are foreign to many men. They move in with a girl and have no idea why the toilet paper goes so quickly during that one week a month. And then they have been taught that it’s not proper to ask. The gender divide widens.
There’s no need for periods to be ‘gross’. It’s a constructed stigma. The more men know and understand about women, the better partners they’ll be and the better relations we’ll have with one another.
I’ve explained my views on all this and more to my boyfriend. He’s been supportive and understanding. He doesn’t flinch or squirm anymore. Especially after we had a late night discussion with another male friend about his girlfriend’s contraceptive experiences. My boyfriend was surprised – he didn’t think he knew any men who took such an active interest. But then he realized, maybe a lot of men do participate fully in that aspect of a relationship, but don’t tell their male friends. Maybe men in long term relationships have to learn to be active participants in their partners’ lives, but do it quietly and privately so that no one knows it’s actually normal.
Even if the stigma isn’t there between a couple like it sadly was for my aunt’s generation, it still is between men. Men will tell each other about their sex lives, but will not compare notes on contraception past lending condoms. There’s still this sense that women talk about that – not men. Why? Both parties are engaging in sex. Why is the woman’s duty to research pregnancy prevention and not the man’s? Shouldn’t both take an active interest?
Recently, when I didn’t attend a party because I was experiencing menstrual cramps, my boyfriend confidently explained the real reason for my absence to our friends. I didn’t prompt him or tell him to do so. He didn’t tell me he’d done it. A female friend did, a week later, impressed with his casual explanation. He said it factually and briefly, before moving on to grab a beer, she said. And that’s how it should be. A fact that happens and isn’t embarrassing for women or men. Maybe by talking so nonchalantly as a man, he made a little more room for men who think periods are ‘gross’ to talk about it. Maybe he broke down that barrier just a little.
In any case, there’s a he for she I can be proud of.
A guy who recognizes that periods are a part of life for 50% of the world’s population and doesn’t think it’s a big deal is a man who understands women, and that’s what we really want – A guy who actively cares.
A man who can talk about IUDs is sexy.