Tomorrow I’m getting the second IUD (Intra-Uterine Device) of my life. Something going into my uterus is as personal as it gets, but as a researcher who should be starting a PhD on Sexual Health and the Internet in South Korea (one of the cases being the IUD) next year, it is, as we say: “The Personal Is Political”.
With under 20mg of levonorgestrel, the Kyleena (and the Skyla/Jaydess) emits 1/10 the amount of hormones than do oral contraceptives. They’re cost-effective (130€ in NL and FR), and once they’re installed, they last five years – bringing their monthly cost to a mere 0.5€. For many women, they come with fewer side-effects than does the Pill. It is particularly effective for young and sexually active women because of its low failure rate and because of the convenience it offers. IUDs are offered fully free of cost to women under 21 years of age in NL and FR.
* * *
In France and in the Netherlands, I am free to choose a contraceptive method. I am free to not bleed every month. Even if I am dating a woman. Even if I haven’t yet given birth. Should I get an unwanted pregnancy, I will be free to terminate it on my own or with my partner and it will be reimbursed in full to me. Not every woman has the luxury I do.
I can talk to my friends about abortion and different contraceptive methods and sexual health and sex and orgasms and everything in between (And I do. A lot). One of the first conversations I have with partners is, “So, what is going to be our method of contraception?”, and then “If I unexpectedly fall pregnant, what are we going to and how are we going to bear the costs, and will my/your insurance cover this?”.
My friends in South Korea do not have this luxury. A girlfriend’s first method was not “prayer” (like Grace from Will&Grace), but to starve herself until she fell underweight so she would stop having periods. Another friend would take the bus or the subway to a nearby neighbourhood and buy condoms because she was afraid people she knew would recognise her and call her “a whore”. A friend told me she does not dare ask her male partners to use condoms because they keep saying it is a breach of trust if she does, and they’ve been “pulling out at the perfect time” for years – and why does she have a problem?
There are hundreds of thousands of abortions being conducted in South Korea, every year. None of them are legal, so none of them are administered according to any standard. None of them are reimbursed. If a young woman goes to a regular gynaecologist, they’ll look her up and down and ask “Why have you been whoring around?” And tell them “We don’t do those kinds of procedures” and redirect them to a much shadier place. Youth under 19 are barred from buying condoms online. Convenience stores and adult stores will (wrongly) tell them it’s illegal for them to buy condoms altogether. They are told: “No – you slut”. They are systematically, and illegally discriminated from having safe sex.
I did not choose, and am not choosing an IUD for solely contraceptive purposes. I am choosing to have one for two reasons:
- I currently live in a country where it is reimbursed by national health insurance (basisverzekering). And I may be going to a country where it is not even offered as an option to nulliparous women;
- The IUD stops periods for 50% of women who use it. And it’s been great. I am fine with being a woman. But I HATE PERIODS. Fucking hate ’em. I’m a swimmer. I’m an equestrian. I’m a traveller. And I do not plan on having children in the near future. Periods are a nuisance. I’ve been blessed to only bleed lightly without cramps for eleven years, but it’s still hours lost and stress spent on something that’s unproductive. And now technology can help me live life without it. If you’re an ecofeminist who is opines that “women were born to bleed and it’s beautiful to do so”, that’s your opinion. I respect your decision. You respect mine. If you’re a man, it’s not up to you to decide what a woman does with her body, the same way I don’t tell you to get a vasectomy.
Even in the Netherlands, where the NGO Women on the Web currently helps South Korean women terminate unwanted pregnancies in a home-administered, safe way by way of medication (which they smuggle by hiding in creative ways into seemingly innocuous parcels), discrepancies exist:
When I called my GP yesterday to check my to book an appointment, I was told that my usual GP was “unavailable” because “he doesn’t do IUD insertions because he is, you know, not a female doctor”. Even though I had said “To me, it doesn’t matter, a GP is a GP”. So now I have to wait an extra day, which is not the end of the world, but it shows how women’s bodies are still seen as something “sacred”, not to be touched by any other man who is not “her man”.
It’s still better than in Seoul, where, as part of routine health check-ups, young women undergo an ultrasound and are asked “Are you a virgin?”. If you say yes, the doctor will administer the ultrasound via the rectum. Which is, at least to me, the most uncomfortable thing in the world. Let’s also face it: How many young women who have had sex in a culture which shuns premarital sex, will admit they’re no longer a virgin, in front of their parents who must accompany them to the doctor’s appointment?
* * *
On May 25th, our Irish sisters and brothers overturned the 36th amendment, making abortion legal. Abortion remains illegal in 25% of the world. They’ve been made legal by the women and men fighting to gain their rights for years, even decades. South Korean feminists have been holding pro-choice rallies since October 2016.
I’ve had the privilege – of not having to go through an illegal abortion. Of having a French doctor taking an half an hour to talk to me about the different contraceptive options, and having the 300€+ fees (STD tests, hereditary cancer screening, ultrasound, cost of the IUD, and consultation fees) reimbursed to me. Of having European partners who grew up thoroughly studying what sexual consent, contraceptive options, and their partner’s rights to reproductive health talk to me freely about the options, and us going to our GPs, gyno, and urologist without social stigma or financial burden.
But some women will have to through unsafe abortions. Some will be abandoned by their partners and will have to deal with the financial, psychological, and physical stress alone and in shame. Some of them will give up a child for adoption. Some of them will give birth in a public toilet and abandon the newborn. Some of them will have no choice but to quit school or university with little governmental or social support. Some of them will, sadly, commit suicide. Some of them will purposely fall on their tummy and induce a miscarriage. Some of them will have to face a rapist and get him to consent to them having an abortion, because this is the law in South Korea.
* * *
“My Body My Choice” is the slogan used by BWAVE, the South Korean feminist group which holds weekly pro-choice protests. All women should have control over their own body. The personal is political. And this is why I have written a long-ass post on my uterus.
* * *
Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that the Kyleena’s monthly cost was 3.6€, based on a 3-year efficiency period. The Kyleena lasts five, not three years, which makes its monthly cost 0.5€.