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What It Was Like to Grow Up with the Pill OTC

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I was 17 the first time I had sex. He was my first boyfriend and we'd been dating for four months. We had been best friends for much longer. We talked about having sex for a while before we actually did, and when we felt ready, we went to buy my birth control pills together, at the pharmacy. No prescription necessary. Given that we lived in Bangkok (yes, Thailand), we could do this. I remember us grinning at each other, feeling connected and moved by a small ritual that came before a deeper, sacred rite of passage.

I loved that my boyfriend and I were able to share an action that physicalized the respect we felt for one another and our bodies. It is those first experiences that sculpt one’s mentality and practices surrounding sex and relationships. We were lucky. We had a close, sweet, loving relationship, and we lived in a country that allowed us to act responsibly as an extension of that. It was empowering to have this kind of self-sovereignty, to obtain for ourselves what we needed to feel secure. (I'm also incredibly blessed to have a mom who never made me feel that sex was sordid. When I told her that my boyfriend and I had had sex, she hugged me, smiled, and said, "You’re a woman now!" just the way she did when I had my first period.)

My high school girlfriends and I had a very open dialogue around sex. There were eight of us, each from different cultural and religious backgrounds, born in different parts of the world. We represent Unitarianism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Mormonism, and Catholicism. Looking back, I realize our multicultural environment encouraged nuanced conversation from a very early age.

Did any of us abuse the ability to buy birth control so freely? No. Each girl had her personal views and priorities, and behaved accordingly. Having easy access to birth control wasn’t seen as invitation to be sexually active at an early age, or to be promiscuous or hedonistic once we had become active. Let's be honest: If a teenager wants to have sex, he or she will. I believe it is best and fair to provide them with tools to make those decisions mindfully.

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After high school, I attended Skidmore College, in the United States. There, the mentality surrounding sex is extremely open-minded and progressive, and that's why it was my first choice of schools. When I reflect on my childhood overseas in Bangladesh and Thailand, and compare it to my 20s in New York City and the greater United States, I feel a dissonance. Any instances of sexism or conservative thinking in Asia are much more overt than in the United States. But sexism threads through this society in a very insidious way. I feel a clear example is women's inability to buy the Pill over the counter.

The way I see it, if men are able to buy condoms without a prescription, women should have the right to buy the Pill in the same way. Otherwise, the freedom to act responsibly, and the responsibility to be safe, rest largely in male hands. 

In the United States, one often hears the argument that allowing the Pill to be sold over the counter encourages promiscuity. That's about as logical as expecting that with the Pill currently available only by prescription, there's not a trace of sexual promiscuity in our society. People will have sex because we want to have sex. Education and awareness are resources. So is birth control. The more aware and equipped we are, the wiser we live our lives.

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Don't we all want to encourage independence, self-love, self-respect, and strength in our girls? We need women and men to know we each have advocacy in our lives. Giving a girl a voice in one area will immeasurably help her live more confidently in others. Having the ease and ability to protect your body isn’t a luxury—it is a human right that when acted on, will improve your life and the lives you are connected to.

Reema Zaman is a writer and memoirist. She is from Bangladesh and grew up mostly in Thailand, from age 6 until 18, when she moved to the United States for college. She holds a double major in Women’s Studies and Theater from Skidmore College.