Contraceptive Implants and the Illusion of Control

Nexplanon, an artificial birth control arm implant, launched a recent ad campaign using the slogan “Armor Up.” It shows pictures of attractive young women with battle ready faces, flexing one bicep while pointing to the implant. The ad reads: “Pregnancy protection for up to 3 years. Over 99% effective. Your life. Your way.” This ad campaign merely takes the common phrasing of birth control as “protection” to its logical extreme. Against whom are women to “armor up?” Well, babies, it would seem. According to Nexplanon, a baby would be an invader, an enemy even.
This marketing technique promotes and plays into women’s fears that children mean the end of life. It perpetuates the idea that becoming pregnant is something to fear, unless it is meticulously planned. But protection, of course, comes at a cost. The risks and side effects include the possibility of blood clots, stroke, and death. More common, the website reports that 10 percent of women stopped using Nexplanon because it caused “an unfavorable change in their bleeding pattern.” The implant is only one of many varieties of hormonal birth control medications that pose similar risks.
There is an irony in the contraceptive mentality, as it purports to give women ultimate control over their bodies and reproduction. In reality though, women become dependent on pharmaceutical drugs that can cause a range of side effects, some of which are a nuisance, to those that threaten lives. In the end, the sense of “control” is an illusion. A pharmaceutical company recently recalled packets of birth control pills because of a packaging error that placed placebos where active pills should have been. This is not a lone incident. In 2015, 100 women filed a lawsuit against multiple pharmaceutical companies they held responsible for their pregnancies after another placebo pill mix up.
It is not uncommon to find women who become pregnant while using contraceptives. Yet the prevailing message is that if you “protect yourself,” you have nothing to fear. “99% effective,” proclaims the Nexplanon ad. That means some women will become pregnant while using the implant. How shocked will they be? Will they embrace this baby they were protecting themselves against, or seek an abortion?
Despite the messaging, artificial contraception takes control away from women in at least two ways. First, most forms suppress a woman’s natural hormones and cycle which give her important information about her reproductive and overall health. Second, they make women dependent on the pharmaceutical companies that make them, and government programs or insurance companies to pay for them.
Fortunately, there is a better way to avoid pregnancy when it’s not the right time for a baby. The dramatic language of the Nexplanon marketing campaign highlights the stark differences between Natural Family Planning (NFP) and artificial birth control. Birth control promotes the idea that babies are something to fear. They will derail your life so you don’t want to take any chances. “Armor up,” suppress your natural hormones, and accept side effects as the cost of this security. NFP recognizes that there are times when conceiving would not be wise. But instead of telling women that their bodies’ natural cycles are a threat and something to thwart, NFP gives women more information about what is going on with their bodies to allow for informed choices each cycle. NFP offers women an arsenal of information about fertility, hormonal health, and more. It educates women about their own bodies, which makes women stronger, independent, and more empowered than an implant or pill ever could.

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