Choosing a birth control method is notoriously complex. Hormonal or non-hormonal birth control? Long-acting or short-acting birth control? What are the side effects of this birth control? How effective is each birth control method? Is it safe to take this birth control while breastfeeding? There's so much to consider. In addition to the stress of choosing between the available methods, there is also the fact that for many people, birth control is an uncomfortable topic to discuss—society has made the conversation around sexuality and women's health taboo. (File under problems of the patriarchy.)
But times are changing, thanks in large part to celebrities that embrace these topics, rather than shy away from them. If you are into comedy, you know that comedian Whitney Cummings is definitely not shy. Cummings is a Los Angeles-based comedian, actor, writer, producer and director best known for creating and starring in the NBC series "Whitney." And she's using her voice for change. So when I had the opportunity to interview Cummings, as well as Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, MD, from the Yale University School of Medicine, I jumped on it.
They have partnered with a new-to-the-scene, long-acting birth control ring called Annovera, and are using Vagina Appreciation Day (yes, that's a thing) to talk about the importance of empowering women to feel comfortable with their anatomy and choosing a birth control method that actually works for them.
Cummings shared she believes it's the responsibility of products and advertisers to share positive, empowering messaging around bodies. "The first images that I got about my body and contraception was, you know, walking down the drugstore isles, was that your vagina stinks, it needs to be douched, it needs to be shaved, it needs to be managed... it starts so early."
Her introduction to the idea of birth control, and even having a vagina, wasn't a great experience. "As a young woman, I saw a bunch of commercials about Maxi Pads where the periods were bright blue... There was a confluence of things that just frankly confused me and made me feel a lot of shame and embarrassment around it, and then it limited me, when I was finally able to get medical care, I was too afraid to ask."
Dr. Minkin shared a bit about the history of birth control. "40 years ago, birth control pills were on the scene, they had been invented, though higher doses than we use right now, of course. The nice thing about birth control pills is they did enable women to really have much better control over their fertility, having a baby when they want to have a baby, and not have a baby when they don't."
But certainly, birth control pills have their challenges. "You had to remember to take this pill every day. And we are human, and indeed a lot of studies have shown that women forget three or four pills in a menstrual cycle. And if you forget two pills back-to-back... you can be pregnant."
She is therefore very excited by the emergency of long-acting reversible contraceptives, like IUDs and implants—still, those methods are not as empowering as Dr. Minkin would like. "The thing about those methods is you still have to go to your midwife, you have to go to your gynecologist. You have to have the IUD put in. [If] you have a problem, you have to have it taken out... There's all sorts of restrictions on accessibility..."
Annovera solves those problems, she says. It "answers the needs of the long-acting, reversible type stuff—in other words, you don't have to think about it every day—but the woman is in control."
Here's how it works: Dr. Minkin explains, "This is a ring that the woman can place in her own vagina... She pops it right inside, it stays there for three weeks. [Then] she takes it out [for 7 days]... And then she pops the same ring back inside. And she doesn't have to worry about... did she take the pill yesterday... and she doesn't have to worry about running to the pharmacy because it's in her purse, it's right there." One Annovera ring has enough contraception to last at least a year.
I asked Cummings why she chose to partner with Annovera. "I get asked to participate in a lot of things that are supposedly progressive for women... things that lean into the fact that I am outspoken or whatever people think. I don't think just saying vagina should be like 'oh wow, you really, wow... you're so brave.' I'm like 'really? That's sad.' It's just so odd to me that it's progressive or breaking some kind of glass ceiling to just say a word that we all should've been saying for a while now."
She's been disappointed by brands in the past who claimed to be progressive, but "then you get there and they're like... 'we're actually going to need you to say fufu instead. And I'm like, no, I'm perpetuating the very thing that I was trying to, you know, I was trying to do the opposite of this."
Annovera, however, has been the real deal for Cummings. "First of all," she says, "the website is justsayvagina.com.
"It also truly solved so many problems in my life... this has simplified something in my life that shouldn't have to be as complicated as it's been. So I wanted to shout it from the rooftops."
If you are curious to learn more about Annovera you can visit their website at justsayvagina.com and, of course, talk to your provider about whether it's right for you.