By Maggie Shui
This article was first published on April 5, 2023. It was republished on October 30, 2023.
A man named Oliver owes me $25.
I met him while dipping my toes into casual dating two years ago. I can’t remember a single thing we talked about but I do remember thinking he looked cute in his quarter-zip jumper.
After dinner, we went to his freezing Mt Eden flat where, interestingly, he had the complete opposite of the much-maligned ‘mattress on the floor with a single pillow’ situation. His bed was abnormally high off the ground and topped with an array of pillows like it was plucked out of a showhome.
The condom broke. He kept saying he felt so bad and asked me if there was anything he could do.
I told him it was chill and there was no need to apologise – I would just buy an emergency contraceptive pill (ECP) the next day and we could split the cost. The pill ended up being $50.
Two years later, despite my best efforts, I am still waiting for Oliver to transfer me my $25.
Like I said to Oliver, I can spare 25 bucks – but it’s the principle of the matter.
Did he think the onus was on me to take care of the cost and admin of the ECP? Deep down, did he believe he had no responsibility in the matter?
It seems like an archaic stance, but when we look at who is bearing the financial, mental and physical cost of contraception in practice, we can see the world agrees it is the responsibility of people who have uteruses.
This article features the voices of people who identify as women, but we acknowledge that this issue can also affect people with uteruses who don’t identify as women.
Who’s paying for contraception?
Maya, who is not using her real name for her privacy, was 19 when she needed an ECP.
The condom broke and, while she was on a birth control pill, she occasionally took it outside of the required timeframe. She didn’t want to take any chances so she decided to get an ECP.
The guy she was seeing was in his 20s and thought there was no need for one since she was on the pill. He refused to pay for half.
“I thought maybe I'm being stupid for asking him to pay,” Maya says. “An older man tells you something and it’s like, ‘oh, you must be right’.”
Meanwhile, the idea of sharing the cost of regular contraception such as the pill is not even a conversation to begin with.
Sam, an administrator in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, says taking care of the pill and her associated doctors’ visits always felt like “just a ‘me’ thing”, even in long-term monogamous relationships.
Jayde Turner, a 22-year-old marketing coordinator and make-up artist in Kirikiriroa, says it’s not something she’s talked about in past relationships.
“Once you meet them and say, ‘yeah, I'm on the pill’ then they take that as ‘oh sweet, she's got it sorted. She'll do the rest for however long I'm with her.’”
Jayde Turner / supplied
It’s a realm that is “still seen as a female responsibility” according to Dr Sue Bagshaw, a primary youth health provider and senior lecturer at the University of Otago.
“I still think the pregnancy issue is overwhelming for most people. Men think, I don't get pregnant. So why would I bother?”
How much is it?
While many brands of the pill are subsidised in Aotearoa and cost $5 for a three-month supply, there are a bunch of factors that can bump this cost up.
Jayde, who’s on a pill that’s subsidised, spends about $115 a year on contraception and the yearly compulsory doctor’s checkup.
“When I was a student the $55 compulsory checkups would kill me. That would be [the equivalent of] my groceries for the week just gone.”
Maya needs to be on a progestogen-only pill as she gets migraines but the brand of progestogen-only pills that is subsidised gave her horrible side effects.
“I was so so sad. My acne was really bad. And I put on a bunch of weight.”
Maya now uses a progestogen-only pill that is kinder to her body but isn’t subsidised, coming in at $50 for a three-month supply or $200 a year.
The yearly doctor’s consultation brings it up to about $260 a year.
But at least someone else is paying for the condoms, right?
Elliot Phillips, a manager for a coffee company in Dunedin, says that guys don’t seem to be footing the responsibility of having condoms either.
“Heaps of my mates were just like, ‘nah, I don't have them. I don't use them.’ And it's like, ‘What do you mean you don't use them?’”
Elliot Phillips / supplied
Sam, Jayde and Maya concur this is the case from their experiences.
“Nine times out of ten, boys don’t have them,” Maya says.
Maya says her sexual partners also seem unconcerned about whether she has any other contraception sorted, given they weren’t intending on using a condom.
“Never have I been asked if I'm on the pill or Depo [Provera] or anything. They're just assuming it.”
Dr Sue Bagshaw says that this is the norm she’s observed through her work.
“It really isn't good enough. It takes two to tango.”
These men are taking a big risk with unwanted pregnancy (and sexually transmitted diseases).
But perhaps it doesn’t feel like a big risk because they don’t think it’s their mental labour to carry.
How can we better share the cost and responsibility of contraception?
While people with uteruses are usually the ones bearing the physical burdens of contraception (although that may change soon), they don’t have to be the sole bearers of the monetary and mental burdens as well.
Looking ahead to future relationships, Maya says she’ll want the monetary costs to be split down the middle.
“I think it should be halfsies. You’re both doing it. And you both don't want a baby. You should go half, it just makes logical sense.”
Splitting the cost also encourages both partners to share the mental responsibility of contraception. It begins a conversation.
Dr Sue Bagshaw says talking about contraception should be part of the dating ritual.
Bagshaw says people should be asking prospective partners what contraception they’re using and how they’re protecting against STIs, and if they have been screened lately.
It’s a matter of feeling like your partner is exactly that: a partner.
Sam says having a future partner be more involved in their contraception, whether that’s monetarily or otherwise, would make it feel like they’re in it together.
“It would show that they’re okay with actively preventing pregnancy as well and are being supportive of my reproductive health.”
To get in touch with the author of this article, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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