Women's Reproductive Health

“The First Time Anyone Talked to me About Contraceptive Options was at 27:” U.S.

A young woman reflects on her struggle to obtain sexual health information.

“The First Time Anyone Talked to me About Contraceptive Options was at 27:” U.S.

Each month, United Methodist Women will feature a story of a woman’s struggle to meet her sexual and reproductive health needs. The story will include recommendations to The United Methodist Church on improving women’s health. We encourage all United Methodist Women members to discuss these stories with their local units and churches, and develop a plan to support women’s health in their communities.

Stories are published anonymously unless specified by writer. Please send your stories to Donna Akuamoah, United Methodist Women Maternal Health Project Coordinator, at dakuamoah@unitedmethodistwomen.org.

The first time someone talked to me about contraceptives was just last year, when I was 27 years old. This may sound incredulous to many, especially considering that I live in the United States and have been surrounded by Christian communities, including United Methodist churches, my entire life. I grew up in a Christian home and went to Christian-affiliated schools. The first and only time growing up that my mother talked to me about sex was when I was around 12 years old. She called me into her room and asked me to shut the door. There were tears in her eyes, and she asked me to try to abstain until marriage. She told me she trusted that I was a responsible young lady and would make wise choices. I have always taken my mom’s faith in my ability and wisdom very seriously. I was not about to let her down.

Now I am a 28-year-old adult living in a big city working with the church. I have accomplished many things at 28. I have completed two degrees and have a job, but I have never revisited that conversation with my mom or anyone else. I did not know who to turn to to talk about sex and what would be a good contraceptive choice for me. While I was in college and graduate school, I did not ask anyone about sex, and no one talked to me about it. While there were trained counselors, I never took advantage of that resource, and there were no extra-outreach efforts to get sex and protection information to college students who did not ask. I imagine colleges assume students have already received this information in high school or elsewhere before they arrive at college. Unfortunately, as I talk to more and more young people here in the U.S. and around the world, I realize I am not the only one who slipped through the cracks.

Young People who are not Informed

There are many young people like me who are not informed when they find themselves in an encounter with the opposite sex. And if we don’t have health insurance, our friends and Google become our doctors. We may also express frustration at our parents and society for not talking to us about the issue. After college and before I had a job, I even went to Planned Parenthood for information. I was told that without insurance I would have to pay around $150 to be seen. So I fled.

It was during my first visit with a gynecologist at 27 that I was encouraged to take care of my reproductive health as a young woman. I resisted, feeling immoral about it despite all my education. When I eventually took charge, I felt so much more in control of my life, and more certain about my health. I knew my health and future were no longer in the hands of faith or a man. I had control.

Without being taught to protect myself as a woman and to make healthy choices when it comes to sex, my story could have easily ended differently. I could be one of the 20,000-plus teens between the ages of 15-19 who get pregnant in New York City every year. I could be one of the over 8,000 women in Mozambique who develop fistula, many because they were forced into child marriage. I could be one of the nearly 300,000 women around the world who die in childbirth ever year, either because they do not have access to health care or because they do not have a say in their own reproductive health.

This is why I am so proud to be a part of United Methodist Women, a faith organization that has announced to the entire world that it is pledging to do more around the world to improve women’s reproductive health.

Having Conversations

This new initiative has given me courage to talk to my family about women’s health. Just recently, I picked up the phone and struggled to revisit the conversation I had with my mom when I was 12 . When I found the words, there were tears again. She shared how her own mom died in childbirth when my mother was only 14. Her own mother never talked to her about sex, and neither did her father or any other adult. We had a deep, fulfilling conversation about women’s health, women’s rights, how male-dominated societies try to suppress women, and how important it is that my siblings and I learn all we can about sexual health and birth control options.

To all United Methodist Women members, I encourage you to have similar conversations with the women and even the men in your homes, churches and communities. If all United Methodist Women members committed to obtaining accurate, comprehensive sex information and sharing it with at least one young woman, we would no longer need a maternal health initiative. Women’s health would become the norm.

Posted or updated: 2/23/2015 11:00:00 PM
 
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