Don't drop the ball on New Year's Eve

A new campaign encourages women to remind each other about emergency contraception -- but what about the men?

Published December 28, 2009 4:29PM (EST)

On New Year's Eve, people get drunk and sentimental, two states that often lend themselves to spontaneous sexual encounters. In fact, according to the National Institute for Reproductive Health, it's "the biggest night of the year for birth control accidents." That's why they've launched the "Don't Drop the Ball" campaign, encouraging women to inform each other about emergency contraception — sales of which "more than double in the days after December 31st" — via text messages and a video (below) pointing out that New Year's Eve revelry can lead to hazards like drunk-texting grandma and having unprotected sex, only one of which has an after-the-fact solution.

Now, I'm all for reminding everyone that EC is an option up to 120 hours after sex, and if you're over 17 it's available without a prescription — consider yourself reminded! — but contraceptive campaigns targeted solely at women make me a little pissy. Where's the one encouraging men who showed up without a condom, or were right there when it broke, to send the women involved a helpful text message the next morning? "Sorry I was 2 wasted 2 put it on right, but if yr pharmacist isn't a fundie, u can get Plan B. Happy new year." Instead, this campaign asks women to look out for each other, by sending "humorous" texts from imaginary bad dates like the Iceberg Lettuce Connoisseur because, while you can't help your bestie with that drunken message to grandma, you can act like her meddling mother the next day.

It turns out there's a good reason the "Don't Drop the Ball" project was aimed at girlfriends, though. Samantha Levine, director of marketing and media relations for the National Institute for Reproductive Health, told me on the phone, "Obviously, I think we'd all agree that the onus shouldn't be solely on women," but they nixed the idea of encouraging men to take responsibility for emergency contraception for fear of anti-choice backlash. "Not that we ever want to cater to the antis," she said, "but there is this mythology out there that men will get women drunk and then force them to take EC," thanks to the usual "paternalistic concern that the woman's not a conscious player" in her own sexual and reproductive choices. So the people creating the campaign were "nervous" that aiming it at men would reinforce the notion that nefarious guys will use women for sex and then stick around long enough to shove pills down their throats instead of just hitting the road or wearing condoms in the first place. Or something. Oh, antis, your ability to concoct ever-more-absurd scenarios to deny that women have any sexual agency never ceases to amaze.

Don't get me wrong — with all due respect to women who freely choose to ring in the new year with a new dude, one of my first thoughts when I saw that EC use skyrockets after Dec. 31 was, "I wonder how much of that drunken, unprotected sex is nonconsensual — and where's the 'Hey, guys, if she's drunk on cheap champagne this New Year's, don't rape her!' campaign?" But I certainly didn't worry that the use of emergency contraception might be nonconsensual, on account of how I'm not nuts. So I can understand why the National Institute for Reproductive Health would want to avoid reinforcing that myth — and regardless of how it's accomplished, increasing awareness of morning (and then some)-after options is a good thing. Says Levine, "It's surprising how many people still don't know about it." Even in conversations with her friends, who are pretty well informed about contraception, she's found that a lot of women don't realize or forget that it exists. "We didn't need to do 'Make sure you go buy a condom,' because people know about that," she said. But for some women, that text from the Iceberg Lettuce Connoisseur on Jan. 1 just might come as an enormous relief.

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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