The Business of Birth Control

The Business of Birth Control reinforces everything already established, though offers it in a digestible way.

The Business of Birth Control was screened as part of Sheffield DocFest, though all words were written entirely by the writers at Cinamore. As a content warning, the documentary, and subsequently this review, discuss issues of body mutilation and sex.

The Business of Birth Control, directed by Abby Epstein, presents an anti-capitalistic argument for female contraceptives, with the majority of hormonal contraceptives ultimately, it argues, being harmful to mental health, or causing blood clots all for the sake of avoiding pregnancy.

Whilst I, a cis-gendered male am not in a position to offer a personal insight into the subject matter, I do appreciate the importance of the issues raised in this film, though, more worryingly, already knew them.

When male studies of a similar birth control pill were scrapped after complaints of it causing depression and mood swings (Source: BBC), it is impossible to ignore the basic fundamentals of how hormonal contraceptives affect those who menstruate.

Leading to suicide, and increased health risks, the understanding of how hormonal contraceptives affect menstruating individuals is often ignored in favour of it prevent pregnancy.

The Business of Birth Control takes this further, by presenting audiences with the evidence that the pill, under whatever iteration of the medicine users take, was first derived from a doctor, Margaret Sanger, after partnering with the eugenics movement, using the Puerto Rican community as test subjects from the hopes that it would reduce the underprivileged population as an alternative to sterilisation. (Source: The Guardian)

What is most interesting about the documentary was how it attempts to present itself in a politically neutral way.

Arguing an understanding that the liberal movement disregards the side-effects of increased sexual liberation, while the right-winged conservative argument focuses on the right to live.

While I do believe it presented this in a delicate manner, the entire film fails to truly reach the heights of what I expected it to accomplish.

I do believe that for a general audience, with the aim of this film set to be screened en mass, it will have a diluted effect on what it sets out to achieve, as I worry that with the film focussing on mainly two types of hormonal contraceptives, NuvaRing, and Yasmine (branded as Yaz in America), audiences will assume therefore that alternate types like Microgynon 30 carry a lesser risk and are safe to continue using.

Plus the message that the film showcases with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) being puppeteered by lobbyists isn’t news to anyone who follows the American way of living.

HBO show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, for instance, ran an episode in 2015 about how prescribing medications financially benefits general practitioners with the video having over 12 million views to date.

Therefore it makes sense that doctors would prescribe branded hormonal contraceptives as a miracle drug to solve a variety of ailments beyond birth control including premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, acne, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) as it would benefit the bottom line of the doctor.

It is also worth noting that this was entirely pitched as affecting American patients, given the tight precautions and anti-bribery rules in other countries.

Additionally, while I do agree with the films’ argument that loss of life deserves to be featured more prominently in some way to alert users to the risks that hormonal contraceptives carry, the risks, as with any medicine are minute, and to ban one medicine type over the fear of harm would consequently ban the entire pharmaceutical industry.

That isn’t to say, I am disregarding the points made in the documentary but this argument was entirely omitted from the film.

It is also worth noting that given the recent news that came out of America, with the Supreme Court ruling to give individual states the authority to ban abortion, this conversation is now paramount, and this film if positioned correctly, could easily be spearheading this change for further education towards sexual wellbeing.

However, my issue, as initially suggested was how direct it was in its delivery. It left little room to counter-argue, instead, bombarding audiences with continual testimonies or directed points of reference to reinforce the point.

An issue with this was how it spent a portion of the third act dissecting the technological developments in hormonal tracking, with apps like Clue allowing users to track their cycles, and using natural methods as a way to not only act as a contraceptive but also as a tool to assist falling pregnant.

I do believe that using the platform of the documentary to promote alternate options is a valid route for the educational presentation, when including a piece to the camera from the CEO of Clue, the message gets lost along the way as if money was influencing the narrative.

The Business of Birth Control is unquestionably important in raising the profile, and fuelling the conversation of whether hormonal contraceptives are to be used, and when, but the focus should be on the autonomy of what we put in our bodies, or, in and around our genitalia to prevent ourselves from passing on sexually transmitted diseases, or as a barrier to pregnancy.

As mentioned at the beginning of this review, as a cis-gendered man I appreciate that my opinions of this count for little, and as such, please look into the workings of sexual educators like Hannah Witton, who can speak personally and candidly about their experiences and can signpost further reading or resources.

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By Conor Riley

Conor is the Founder and Editor for Cinamore, a publication focused on giving power back to journalists. As a portmanteau of the word 'Cinema' and the Italian word for love 'Amore', Cinamore aims to highlight the love that we all carry for the art of the moving image.


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