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Birth Control Advertisements

September 28, 2009

You may have seen the ads on television. A young, attractive woman at a party with her friends begins speaking directly to the camera about some “misinformation seen in previous ads” for Yaz and Yasmin, two of the most popular oral contraceptives on the market.

The drugs have come under fire for causing blood clots. Although this is a risk with any birth control pill, health advocates and women who have taken the pill say that the two drugs put women at a higher risk for blood clots, strokes and other health problems than some other birth control pills do.

Bayer Healthcare released the ads only after the FDA demanded they correct some misleading information.  The health care company has also been sued by several women who have taken the pill, as detailed further in a NY Times article published on September 25th.

This article adds one more perspective to the ever dizzying world of contraception. Women are bombarded with advertisements enticing them to pick one brand of a product over another, and birth control pills are no exception. In the only universe where contraception is controversy free and merely a consumer’s choice, advertisements for birth control pills are as colorful, whimsical, and enticing as any I have ever seen for clothes, shoes, or makeup. So while politicians view birth control as a topic for debate, anti- choicers view it as an equivalent of the Holocaust, drug companies view it as… an accessory? A part of our daily beauty routines?

Most women I know take oral contraceptives, but I have never had a conversation with them about the possible health ramifications of taking such a pill. Women have fought so hard for insurance companies to cover part of the cost of these drugs, for women who want them to safely and consistently have their prescriptions filled, isn’t this little pill a daily reminder of our progress and agency over our own bodies?

Websites advertising birth control pills or the ring are filled with pictures of young, smiling, healthy, mostly white women. See how much easier their lives are with this great product? In the same way that Mr. Clean or a Serta mattress will simplify your life, so too will this friendly little helper. I do not, in any way, want to diminish the importance of a woman’s control over her own reproductive choices, but rather call attention to the advertising techniques used to sell this medicine. It is a prescription, something ingested that will change our bodies’ chemical constructions. Beyond that, it is at the center of a volatile and explosive argument in every corner of the world over how much control a woman should or should not have over her own body. It is not a shoe, or mascara, and it is never a choice made in a vacuum.

For women out there who have, undoubtedly, been bombarded by these advertisements- do you have any reactions? Do you feel caught between conflicting messages from the drug companies who manufacture the products and the rest of society, be it your peers who share your views on reproductive health or others who disagree with it?

4 Comments
  1. September 28, 2009 7:45 am

    I think most marketing tends to be irresponsible in the first plaec by promoting only the good and leaving out the bad. Also for promoting their product as the best in the field, when that’s patently not true. There is no one BC pill that works for everyone; in fact, some women may not be able to take hormonal BC in the first place. I find it disturbing that something which is personal (and this has to do with personal health, not the fact that it has to do with lady-things) is publicly touted as something glamourous. It almost undermines a woman’s taking her health seriously.

    The conversations for possible health ramifications I’ve had on BC has generally been with a doctor or pharmacist. However, I’ve done compare-and-contrast on reactions to BC with friends before. I really do think it’s important to have conversations on our own, without the sparkly ads and without the conservative frowning, about BC.

  2. MamaVH permalink
    September 28, 2009 7:52 am

    It is precisely the change in the chemical construction that makes my life livable. I have fibroids that severely limit my ability to function (can’t get off my couch for 3 or 4 days a month due to excessive bleeding and pain akin to childbirth).

    I agree with the comment above. I have talked to friends about the risks and think that they ought to be given a more serious place in these ads. Some women I know have dealt with life-threatening complications.

  3. Colleen Hodgetts permalink*
    September 28, 2009 4:05 pm

    Thanks for your comments. Advertisements in general, including those for other prescription medications besides BC, can be misleading and glossy. Do you think most women, seeing through this, use their peers as a primary source of information on BC? Or do you think most women feel comfortable having this conversation with their health care provider?

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