I was sixteen and in love for the first time.
After months of heated groping, my high school boyfriend and I wanted to go all the way. If there was anything I was sure about at sixteen, it was that I had no desire to be a high school mom. That meant birth control. That meant the most effective birth control I could imagine, something so effective it seemed made of unicorn tears and elf magic, forged in the fires of Mordor, and brought to me on the back of an armored Griffin who also happened to know a lot about prophylactics. That meant the Holy Hand Grenade: The Pill.
But getting my teenaged hands on The Pill felt like a fantastical quest of Tolkien-like proportions: Where? How? With what magical aid?
Growing up in a small, conservative, Texas town, my options for sex education were limited. I sure as hell couldn’t go to my family doctor who’d been bandaging my boo-boos since I was ten. And while I had fairly liberal parents, my mother’s moral messaging about premarital sex had always been quite clear: You only have sex with your husband. Anything else is a sin. There was no way I could ask her about any of this. Plus, I’d had to quit my afterschool job due to track and cheerleading duties. I had no money. Even if I could find birth control, how could I possibly afford it?
There was only one place I could turn to for help: Planned Parenthood.
On a summer Saturday, I lied to my mother about going to the movies with my best friend and drove instead to Planned Parenthood, which was located, ironically, next to our town’s only Catholic church. I was nervous about being seen. Slut-shaming has been a thing since the dawn of time, and I feel reasonably sure that some of the first cave drawings were the equivalent of “Yo, Cro-Magnon Woman is Easy, Y’all!” beside a sketch of roaming buffalo and a large, squirting penis. This is what it is to walk around female—to feel always that your body is not quite your own. That it belongs to a system that alternately wants to desire and objectify it, to harm it, and to blame and shame it for being so desirable and objectified that it thus causes the state of wanting to harm, blame, and shame it. Lather, rinse, repeat. After driving around the block several times, I finally pulled into the lot, parked my car behind the cover of a dumpster, and went in.
Here’s what happened: A very nice lady welcomed me and explained that, in order to obtain birth control without parental consent, I would need a proper sex education course. This was not a drive-through; this was an five hours’ worth of classes. Nervously, I said “okay,” and signed the consent form.
That afternoon, I sat with a handful of other young women as we watched films about our bodies and how those bodies worked. I’m pretty sure we saw a film on birth, too, and I’m pretty sure I equated it to “Alien,” my only frame of reference then, and thought, “Oh, HELL’S no. Not up for that yet.” A nurse gave a seminar about reproduction, pregnancy, preventing pregnancy, STDs, and the various methods of birth control available to us, listing the pros and cons of each. I was given a full gynecological exam to make sure I was healthy, and I was informed of what this exam entailed and why. The nurse was gentle, informative, and reassuring. Then, I sat with another nurse who explained how my birth control pills worked, stressing the importance of taking them every day, letting me know that it would take a full month and another menstrual cycle before they were fully “operational.” There, in the privacy of her office, I could ask all sorts of questions without shame, questions about birth control, my body, and sex. Again, without shame or judgment, I could have those questions answered knowledgeably. I didn’t have to rely on sketchy second-hand information from a teen friend of a friend whose cousin’s older sister swore that if you douched with vinegar right after sex, you couldn’t get pregnant. (Spoiler alert: That’s bananas. Also, your lady parts will smell like an Olive Garden salad. Just sayin’.)
When I left, with five months’ worth of birth control pills in a brown bag, I was relieved and empowered. I felt like an adult—like a woman driving her own body for the first time. The choice was mine and mine alone. I was responsible for my choice and my body, and I liked that very much. I had gone in like a young Frodo and left like Gandalf. Boo-ya, bitches.
In the end, the choice I made was not to have sex. I wasn’t ready yet. And, in a way, those hours spent in the company of those wise women at Planned Parenthood helped me to understand that I wasn’t ready. I remain grateful for the invaluable information Planned Parenthood provided me as a young woman in need of answers about something as fundamental as her own body.
Today, and all days, I stand with Planned Parenthood. I stand FOR women’s health—for the health of ALL women, especially low-income and young women. I stand FOR women being able to be educated about their bodies, and their sexual and reproductive choices, in private, without fear of being shamed or traumatized or physically assaulted outside a clinic. But I especially stand for the idea of women owning their bodies. Of not being denied the choices that fall to men by default.
I stand with Planned Parenthood because, once upon a time when I needed it very much, they stood by me.