Take your birth control seriously

Let’s play 20 questions. No really. It’ll be fun. Topic: your most private sexual information. Please try to answer as accurately as possible, as your answers could have life altering consequences. You saw what happened to the boys who sent me the nasty T-shirt e-mails.

Question one: How many sexual partners have you had in your lifetime?

Question two: Do you currently have, or have you had, any Sexually Transmitted Infections?

Question three: Are you pregnant or could you potentially be?

Question four: Do you have a history of strokes or blood clots in your family?

Question five: Am I making you uncomfortable? Probably. Talking about personal sexual decisions isn’t exactly discussing the weather. It is unnerving and awkward for most people, especially if they’re ashamed, embarrassed or even uneducated about the choices they’ve made.

I always blush somewhat when a stranger or a new acquaintance learns that I write a sex column, even though I’m overly, obnoxiously proud of my product. My love life becomes an open book for readers, who (wrongfully) expect me to relish being grilled about just what one has to do to get a column, what kind of “life experience” I have and then finally about whatever gory, kinky specifics they’ve been meaning to look up on the Internet. Even I feel uncomfortable talking about the down and dirty.

There is, however, one safe haven for all of us: your doctor. This is the one person who should know everything about you – in a medical sense at least. Why? Your doctor is also the only person who is going to tell you everything about you (again, in a medical sense). He or she is able to answer whatever questions you have, clear up your misunderstandings and hopefully advise you in the right direction. As college students, it is especially important to be well informed about your sexual health, including STIs, pregnancy and birth control options.

The birth control patch was sent back to the FDA last week for more screening after a number of girls suffered strokes. Several friends on the patch came to me hoping I had more information. As I have no medical training, I looked to Student Health Services for someone who does. I found Dr. Zahra Tavakoli, a physician at Temple’s Student Health Services well versed in answering questions about birth control, and more specifically about the patch’s recent media coverage.

“It’s hard to formulate opinion on [the patch] because it was a very, very small study,” Tavakoli said. “I think we all need more information on that before we can make decisions, and as of now there’s just not enough info to make a definite opinion on it. You have to realize, it wouldn’t be out on the market if people were dropping dead left and right.”

As her job has her dealing with students in serious decision-making situations every day, Tavakoli’s hope is that her patients will take the initiative to educate themselves about their bodies and what they are putting in to them. This is especially true for girls and women who decide to use birth control.

“I encourage patients to ask every question and do their homework before going to the doctor,” Tavakoli said. “They shouldn’t just come in and say, ‘I just want the pill.’ While Orthotrycyclen Low is the household name of birth control pills, Tavakoli said there are actually more than 100 forms of the birth control pill. She recommended consulting friends and family members already on birth control and to read online articles and pamphlets for more information.

“I usually give my patients three or four choices, have them go read about it,” Tavakolli said. “They come back and say ‘OK, I read this and that, of these four, I like this one best.’ I let them explain to me why they like it the best. Then it’s an actual, legitimate reason for them to like that.”

Once you and your doctor agree on the best option for you, the next step is answering some important questions. There are certain seldom occurring but nevertheless serious side effects involved with taking birth control. Again, this is why being honest and inquisitive with your doctor is so important.

“Students get screened before they come here, and they talk to a nurse practitioner or a physician. [Birth control] is not like a candy box that you grab and walk out,” she said. “It is a prescription medication and requires a physician’s signature for it. We do talk and educate [patients]. We ask all the important questions because we’re the ones giving it out.”

Birth control is available at Student Health Services for free to many students depending on their insurance. This includes a gynecological exam, which also tests for pregnancy and STIs. Tavakoli is a firm advocate of birth control for women who are sexually active, but not ready for pregnancy.

“”We’re used to the population [of stucents] that thinks they’re invincible.” Tavakoli said. “We know what we’re dealing with. … Women don’t want to be on birth control because they don’t want to gain weight.”

Weight gain is a widely believed myth about taking birth control.

“Well, you know what really makes you fat? Pregnancy. Or they think it costs a lot,” Tavakoli said. “You know what costs more? Having a baby. I’ve had so many patients I have had to tell they’re pregnant. They have to make decisions that are heartbreaking. I don’t want it to get to that point.”

If you’re considering birth control, there is a surplus of information at Student Health Services in Mitten Hall as well as online. Finally, I’m neither advocating nor opposing the use of birth control, I’m just informing. Your decisions are you own. I just hope you make them backed with knowledge.

Nadia Stadnycki can be reached at nadias@temple.edu.

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