Reproductive Writes: Get With The Program!

Holly Grigg-Spall
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Slate’s DoubleXX recently hosted a discussion entitled ‘That Not So Fresh Feeling: Marketing Embarrassing Products To Women’ in which they analyzed adverts for tampons and sanitary towels, and the profiteering exploits of the feminine hygiene industry. Target Women writer and performer Sarah Haskins commented, ‘Ever since we were borne of Adam’s rib we have been flawed, and the only things that will fix us will be sold to us as we watch Project Runway.’ I recently argued in a post that hormonal contraceptives are the new tampons - the logical progression from hiding periods away, to getting rid of them altogether. It’s no wonder, then, that these contraceptives are marketed to us using the same tried and true lady-vertising tactics as their feminine hygiene predecessors.

One particular Pill brand has been promoted through a pervasive television and magazine ad campaign under the banner ‘Beyond Birth Control.’ In November 2009 The New York Times said that Yaz ‘owes much of its popularity to multimillion-dollar ads that have promoted the drug as a quality-of-life treatment.’ This piece includes an interview with a Yaz user who says, ‘I asked my doctor about Yaz because I had seen the commercial and it mentioned helping control your period symptoms and acne, which was very attractive to me.’

Initially Yaz was claimed to alleviate all elements of PMS, cure acne and aid weight loss – the drug’s use for birth control was a secondary thought. In a landmark move, the FDA ordered the pharmaceutical company to send out a retraction campaign to counter what it saw as misleading overstatements of the drug’s effect on ‘period symptoms.’

Full disclosure: I took Yaz for two years. I too was drawn in by their marketing as – although direct advertising of pharmaceuticals is illegal in the UK (my home at the time), as it is in most of the world – the skin-clearing, weight-loss abilities of the drug endeared it to women’s magazines. Never before had a Pill been named in the pages of Cosmopolitan, but Yaz sounded too good for them to resist. Word of mouth did the rest of the work. I had a bad experience, but I won’t bore you with the details – suffice to say, the brand is one of the most complained-about drugs on the web.

So, after watching the video of DoubleXX’s forum I decided to see how Yaz was holding up after a lot of bad publicity. The website now contains the YazXpress area - ‘Get with the program!’ it exclaims - which allows you to sign up for an ‘insider’s guide to Yaz, fashion, music and style.’ During the forum the speakers discussed extensively how the feminine hygiene industry attached their products to ideas of ‘glamor’ and aspirational living. They argued this stemmed from the fact that when first released only rich women were able to afford such luxuries.

Now here Yaz presents an interview with designer Kate Spade, tips on hair styling and the hottest trends to feature in the New York Spring 2010 fashion shows, alongside a piece on ‘Getting the most from Yaz’ and a ‘Body Diary.’ In signing up to YazXpress women interested in (read: taking or soon to take) Yaz are allowed access to information presented as the secrets of glamor and glamorous living. These articles are co-created by Elle and Cosmopolitan - the pages of these magazines in the US have frequently featured Yaz adverts, but now they’ve gone a far step further in their endorsement, thereby increasing the number of women who hear about Yaz over another brand. The Yaz campaign, and new website, work just like the marketing of feminine hygiene products - by associating the Pill with more glamorous way of life.

Of course for this advertising technique to have the greatest impact, periods and ‘period symptom’s must simultaneously be portrayed negatively. The ‘Body Diary’ asks women to track their emotional state every day of the month, but the options only range from feeling ‘worthless and guilty’ to feeling ‘overwhelmed and unable to cope’ and other entirely negative experiences. There is an option to rate the statements as not applicable to you, but the ‘Body Diary’ does not continue to track if you choose to say that you feel okay or great. Yaz was criticized by the FDA for claiming it could cure PMS symptoms and now promotes its impact on the, as yet not officially diagnosed, problem of PMDD.

With menstruation products from pads to tampons and now to hormonal contraceptives being marketed to us as a shortcut to a glamorous lifestyle free of “annoying” periods, it’s all the more important for us to do our homework.


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9 Comments Have Been Posted

Wow, I had no idea they were

Wow, I had no idea they were marketing it as such a sex in the city lifestyle! It also seems like they're going for some "wonderpill" that stops your acne, curbs your appetite, walks your dog and maybe has something to do with your uterus. Personally I'm less inclined to use a birth control method that doesn't seem that concerned with being a birth control method.

It's interesting to read the

It's interesting to read the information on the marketing of Yaz. I have been on birth control for more than six years, and I took Yaz for three months and had to stop because I experienced symptoms of depression for about a week before my period every month (there were days I could barely get out of bed, or would spend whole afternoons crying for no reason). This stopped once I switched back to the pill I had been using before. There were a number of other physical symptoms that went away as soon as I stopped taking Yaz. My friends and boyfriend noticed a significant change in my mood the entire time I was taking Yaz and when I talked to another friend who had taken it for six months she said she had experienced the exact same symptoms, and had also stopped using it as a result of the symptoms.

I thought I was going crazy the whole time I was on Yaz. But when I brought this up to my gyn, she insisted that nothing like that was "supposed to happen" because it was a lower dose of hormones. I'd be interested to know if other women have had a similar experience with Yaz or other birth control. I want to save up to get an IUD, I'm sick and tired of hormonal birth control!

Other Birth Control

I've been following this new blog for a while and I find it highly interesting! I just got through having a facebook conversation regarding the high abortion rate amongst American black women, and just like I said there, I'll say here - it's all about education!

I'm on birth control because of my cramps. I have had debilitating cramps ever since I was 14. Fainting, vomiting, going home from school, not being able to straighten my body, it was the worst. I started taking maximum strength Midol in high school. That stopped working by the time I started college. A gynecologist suggested I try birth control. The patch had just come out, so I did that. The patch is <b>highly</b> effective when it comes to suppressing ovulation, but the cramps were just as bad, if not worse. Plus, the hormone levels made me depressed all. the. time. I couldn't do anything without crying! I swear to Christ I'm not making this up - I went to go see Fight Club one night, and I cried at the end of Fight Club! The symptoms I had seem very much like the symptoms a lot of women are reporting with Yaz (and omg, is it just me, or did they just reach up their ass and straight up <i>invent</i> PMDD?)

It was three or four months before I put 2 and 2 together, and so the gynecologist on campus started prescribing Vicodin for me. By the time I was into my fifth year, I was taking up to three 750mg Vicodin pills on the first day of every period, and my body was becoming dependent. Got an ultrasound, there was no endometriosis, no explaination of the pain.

So now I take low estrogen birth control pills. The brands I have taken are Lutera and Lessina. I take them continuously with no weeks off for six months at a time. That means I have a cycle only twice a year. I've seen that there's been a lot of concern about going long periods of time without your period (allow myself to introduce myself). Let me just say that you have to listen to your individual body. I've been doing this for four years now with regular pelvic exams and such, and there have been no adverse effects so far.

It seems that maybe a lot of birth control methods these days are very hormonally strong. Try low estrogen pills and see if that helps. I have horrible memory, so praise Jebus I have several continuous alarms that I can set on my cell phone...

Kaje - I've taken Yaz and

Kaje - I've taken Yaz and numerous friends of mine have taken it, and every single one of us got seriously depressed while taking it!! It's a lifestyle-changing drug, all right - makes your life a hell of a lot worse.

I've taken Yasmin and its

I've taken Yasmin and its generic Ocella off and on for several years with no side effects and the results I was promised - shorter periods, reduced PMS symptoms including depression and anxiety, and zero babies. Just saying, as long as we're sharing.

I think the unfortunate thing about the way feminine health products and birth control are advertised is the way this continues the not-so-feminist tradition of talking euphemistically about women's health. It's such a paradox that these advertisements create a very public discourse about women's health that isn't really informative. I mean, how many of us grew up joking about "not so fresh feelings" only to at some point have a very shocking conversation with a grown up woman about what douches actually are? Factual information about our health continues to be something that most of us get behind closed doors from moms, doctors or other women.


Thanks for your comment - feel free to take a look at the blog I began as a result of my Yaz experience:

I have a lot of information on the uniqueness of Yaz and its potential effects on mood in there.

Is it any wonder?

The same women who consume all of this birth control when they are young are the same women who then wonder why they are infertile down the road when they decide their reproductive organs are no longer an inconvenience. Anyone notice the connection? We should be concerned about women's products that promote bodily abhorrence in a sneaky yet perky and cute way.

Correlation != causation

You're obviously either a man or one of those lucky women who never had any trouble with their period... when a woman literally can't stand up straight for a couple days a month, or even more frequently, it's not an issue of "bodily abhorrence", all we're thinking is "Omigod make this pain STOP!" Imagine having a kidney stone every month or two (and yes, I've had them numerous times, and sometimes my pre-birth-control cramps were worse) and being told that you shouldn't take medications to correct it because they promote "bodily abohorrence" and stand a tiny chance of making you infertile down the road.

Beyond that, there are other explanations. One very likely possibility is that women who take birth control when they are young and discover that they're infertile when they are older simply had their fertility decline as they age, like most other women. Alternatively, it's common for women to go on hormonal birth control because of bad periods or sometimes even other issues like PCOS - perhaps the issues that caused them to need birth control in the first place were the same ones that caused them to be infertile.

You inspired a rant

Thank you for all this great information! It really angers me to read this article and all the links attached to it because I too have had very negative experiences with hormonal contraceptives and traditional menstrual products. When I was 17 I decided I needed a form of birth control other than condoms. I knew that I did not want to take a pill because I had heard that the pill can cause blood clots if you are a smoker, so I had decided that I wanted to get fitted for a Diaphragm. As soon as I told this to the doctor she became very hesitant and seemed annoyed that I wasn't interested in the pill. She told me that she had not fitted a diaphragm in years because although they still can fit them, they are out-dated and not as convenient as the pill. I told her I already used a menstrual cup so it wouldn't be a problem but she wouldn't stop trying to convince me and finally told me that it is a lot less reliable than the hormonal alternatives. I got a little hesitant there and she told me that she could give me a birth control shot that is very convenient, lasts three months, makes your period light or non existent and doesn't have the same dangers as the birth control pill. To me this shot seemed like a miracle so I gave in and got the shot. That was one of the worst mistakes of my life.

A couple of days after that I got my period and it didn't stop for a year straight, every single day. Most of it wasn't just spotting either, it was like having a light-average period all the time. I also became very depressed and anxious, having panic attacks and hardly ever leaving the house unless it was going to the psych ward for suicidal idealization. I had NO sex drive and no pleasure from sex and my vagina was always irritated and itchy. I didn't see how this could be since the shot is only suppose to last 3 MONTHS. Every time I went to the doctor they would just tell me that spotting is normal on this pill, that it will go away soon and that they couldn't treat me for a yeast infection because I had my period. During this time I had also begun to use tampons and pads again because I had lost my cup. No one ever told me the dangers of using tampons and pads, that they dry you out therefor can cause yeast infections. I used them constantly everyday so this was probably very bad for my body. My doctor told me that the itchiness and irritation was probably cause by my period always being there! She also never told me that the shot was linked to lack of libido or depression and anxiety.

After months and months I finally did some research and found out that there are many girls out there that also suffered from this bleeding and that the shot was directly linked to lack of libido, depression and anxiety. I also read on the shots site that IT SHOULD NOT BE PRESCRIBED TO PEOPLE WITH A HISTORY OF DEPRESSION OR ANXIETY. I have a very long history of depression and anxiety, being hospitalized 5 times while I was an adolescent in the psychiatric ward. It angers me SO MUCH that my doctor knew this and STILL prescribed this without giving me any knowledge of side effects except that it might stop your period or cause spotting in the beginning that will go away! She actually told me that it can lighten your mood! Now there was nothing to do but wait.

It has been 2 years now since I had the shot and I STILL suffer from irregular periods. I only get my period once every 3-6 months and when I do get it it is extremely heavy, I fill up super tampons in an hour. (I have since switched from tampons to cups and cloth pads when I learned that they can cause infections) I still suffer from depression and anxiety and I am pretty sure it is linked to that because if I only get my period every 3-6 months my hormones must be screwed up.

Your article and the links are very good and should be shown and explained to every girl who is thinking about getting on hormonal birth control. Hormonal Birth control is not liberating, it is just the opposite, prevents your body's natural cycle and leaves it blank and confused. It outrages me that this is seen as the best choice, use condoms people, his convenience and extra pleasure is not worth screwing up your emotions and your body!

Sorry for the long comment, I just had to rant.

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