Plan B

On our last trip to Wal*Mart, I saw something I've never seen before:

Now, I theoretically knew Plan B was available over the counter in Canada, but I've never actually seen a box of it on a shelf before, especially one snuggled so innocently beside the yeast infection treatments and the condoms in a store known for upholding "family values."

This is a good thing. A very good thing, in fact. (The Plan B, not the "family values" thing.) Unlike the 'States and many European countries, Canada went a step above and beyond when it decided to make hormonal emergency contraception available without a prescription: there is no age restriction. Anyone who needs it can buy Plan B.

Some of you may know that birth control is my field of geekery. It is the only subject in which I am comfortable calling myself an expert - or, more significantly, a geek. I read papers out of the Contraception journal in my spare time because I find it fascinating. Strangely, like what happened with sex, I just haven't managed to actually whip up any many posts regarding the absolutely fascinating field of birth control, menstrual cycles, hormones and conception. Well, I'm going to change that today, starting with Plan B. (There's a pun in there somewhere, but I can't seem to find it)

First, I think it is extremely important to point out that Plan B is not abortive. Plan B contains a fifteen thousand microgram dose of the synthetic progesterone levonorgestrel, which is also used in lower doses in several oral contraceptives. (Alesse, Microgynon, Seasonale and Nordiol, to name a few). It is not in any way some sort of voodoo abortion chemical. Voodoo magic or not, that is still a massive dose of progesterone, and many people go ahead and make the mistake of believing that such a gigantic dose of hormone will interfere with a fertilized egg or prevents implantation. The short truth is, "NOPE!" and the long explanation is extrapolated from this chart:

A rough sketch of the levels and time frame; not actual data points

Note how there is very little progesterone while the egg is developing, and then that the level of progesterone increases only after the fertile period? Progesterone has a negative relationship with the hormone that signals the ovaries to ovulate (that particular hormone is not shown on the chart, but it's triggered by a daisy chain of hormones starting with estrogen). The basic effect is that the presence of high levels of progesterone in the body will prevent ovulation. Some people like to say that hormonal contraceptives "trick" the body into "thinking" it's pregnant, but that's not . If a woman's body was tricked into "thinking" it was pregnant, she would start lactating and would come up with a positive on pregnancy tests, which test for pregnancy hormones. A far more accurate explanation is that hormonal contraceptives trick a body into thinking it has already ovulated by raising hormone levels to a post-ovulation level.

In addition to halting the ovulation phase, progesterone thickens the cervical mucous, which makes it much harder for sperm to pass through. (This is the mechanism of action that progesterone-only pills rely on because progesterone in lower doses only inhibits ovulation about 50% of the time.)

Also note how during the "possibly pregnant" phase, there is naturally a high level of progesterone? That's because progesterone is the hormone that tells the uterus to prepare for implantation of a fertilized egg. The presence of progesterone will not interfere with an already fertilized egg; the only contraceptive action it has is to prevent ovulation and inhibit sperm movement.

That's why Plan B is extremely time critical - when using progesterone-only emergency contraception, you have to
  • Hope that you haven't already ovulated
  • Hope that if you HAVE ovulated, that the action of the progesterone will halt sperm mobility

The effectiveness period of Plan B is about 72 hours after unprotected sex. After 72 hours, there is only a slim chance that it can prevent ovulation or fertilization. And this leads to the main point:

Plan B should be available over the counter, for cheap and without stigma, for anyone who needs it, regardless of age.

Many people do not have the money to visit a doctor and get a prescription for Plan B. Many young girls don't have the transportation, time or money to visit a doctor secretly without their family knowing. Many males are being denied access to Plan B for their partners. All of these are solved by making Plan B available over-the-counter.

Condoms break. Girls forget their pills. Women take antibiotics or get a stomach flu. Shit happens and there is a completely safe, easy-to-use backup plan. There is no reason to restrict such a backup based on fucking family values or morality or whatever the shit you want to call it. It should be a woman's choice whether she wants to be pregnant, not the choice of legislators who get squeamish at the thought of sixteen-year-olds having sex.

Do I fully support the idea of fourteen year old girls walking into Wal*Mart and walking out with a huge dose of hormones? Hell no. A woman's menstrual cycle and hormone levels affects many more things than when she gets a period. A dose of hormones like that which is available in a Plan B pack can and will fuck you up. You're going to bleed at weird times in weird ways. You will probably be emotionally unstable for a while. It can take months for your menstrual cycle to recover from such a huge disruption. In general, I think we are far too quick to give women hormones for contraception: they have hundreds of possible side effects from the severe (stroke) to the minor (dry eyes) that few people, including doctors, are aware of.

In another world, I might demand that Plan B be prescription-only so that patients can get accurate information about the potential side effects. I've personally advised countless women who took Plan B and experienced unexpected bleeding or a delayed period, and each time I'm shocked that their pharmacist did not go over the side effects (Or worse: they went over the side effects but got them wrong). I feel unnerved by the idea that people can just buy Plan B without receiving correct and valuable information about what to expect, but the benefits of having Plan B readily available far outweigh the stress and slight confusion caused by being unfamiliar with the side effects.

With Plan B, timing is everything, and that takes priority over everything else. In fact, Plan B is so time-critical that I would advise any women who use a method of birth control that has significant chance of user error to buy Plan B and keep it in their medicine cabinet just in case. Methods with significant user error are any barrier method (condoms, diaphragm, cervical cap, etc), hormonal methods that require timely user activity (Pills, patch, ring) and methods that are easy to mess up if you have a brain fart (fertility awareness/calendar method and withdrawl). Having Plan B on hand when you need it is even better than being able to quickly buy it, which far, far beats requiring a prescription.

In summary, Plan B is a fairly clever (if brute force) way to prevent a pregnancy should something go wrong with your primary method. I am extremely proud to live in a country that allows it to be sold over the counter to anyone who requires it.


We suprise-visited T's parents over the weekend and got to meet the stray cat that his mother has been domesticating. They think he's still under a year old, and he has the most beautiful patterns I've ever seen on a cat. He's also going to be huuuge, and he's extremely friendly.The first thing he did after running up to us in the driveway was to rub himself on all our legs and then flop over for belly scritches. :3 They've been calling him "Tom," and he comes running from wherever he is if T's mom screams his name (because she's been feeding him). He'll be going to a new home in the next few weeks, once he gets his shots and neuter.

I want him so bad. :( But he wouldn't be happy living in an apartment.

Do you see a vase, or two faces?

And the bushiest tail I've ever felt

All the matters

"We're getting further with their language, sir."

I stared through the reinforced glass into the small living quarters below. The security detail stood unobtrusively in the corners of the observation room and the only other person with me was the lead linguist on the Mirl'kya culture project.

"Have they revealed their purpose yet?"

"Sort of. We... we have an accurate translation of what they call themselves, sir. It's something like herdsmen. Shepherds, sir."


"Yes, sir."

"And we're their sheep." It was not a question.

"As far as we can gather... yes."

The creature below me shifted on its cot, its face coming out of the shadows for a moment. I caught a glimpse of jaundiced skin, narrow eyes, no nose. A crop of thick, black feelers sprouted from its head. The Mirl'kya were almost bipedal, though they walked on all fours when it suited them. They kicked up a terrible racial war after they left. People were edgy and frightened - they wanted something to fight, but the Mirl'kya were gone - gone with billions of souls. The first killing was probably an accident: an Asian man startled someone on a shadowy street at twilight and paid with his life. The other killings were most definitively not accidents. Everyone was carrying guns. Everyone was on a hair trigger. We could very well destroy ourselves before the Mirl'kya return for a second culling. There were PR teams dispatched in most English-speaking centres and we had a good grip on the recovering media... for now. We're all human was the mantra we settled on... obvious but effective. Nothing could soothe tensions like a good old us versus them rallying call. I needed to remember to get some exaggerated drawings made to emphasize the difference between the aliens and -


I pulled myself away from my thoughts and returned to immediate matters. There were so many matters to attend to these days. "I thought it was predators that culled the weak and the sick from the herd, not the shepherds?"

"Yes, on Earth. We've gathered that it's a cultural difference between -"

"Do they eat us, then?"

"We're not... sure. They feed on something, something that only sentient beings have. That's why this one -" he waved a hand at the creature below "- is dying. The bio researchers have had some success feeding it certain animals: gorillas, chimps, dolphins... but it won't last much longer until... but that's out of the question."

I sighed. Yes, it was out of the question for now. But there were many powerful people whose only interest was in getting information from the Mirl'kya, at all costs. Yet more matters.

Weeks later I was on an evening bus heading to my apartment complex. I stared blankly at the empty, barren buildings as they flicked by - abandoned homes and closed shops, already crumbling under the burden of riots, raids and weather. I briefly contemplated visiting my old house but quickly pushed that thought aside. Seeing the empty bedrooms without any toys or mess would be... I cleared my throat and coughed to regain composure. A man nearby chuckled.

"You know, there once was a time I would have worried about catching a bug from you..." he said half to me and half to his female companion, "But the Mirl'kya have taken that fear away from us."

The way he said Mirl'kya with such... adoration chilled me to the bone. I looked more closely at the people nearby and became disturbed at how they solemnly nodded, listening carefully. They were all dressed in their Sunday best - the men in suits and the women in modest dresses. It drew faint memories of young men in ties standing hopefully at our door, of a spacious church where the women all had long hair. A... no, it couldn't be. That would be... revolting.

"The Mirl'kya," I let the disgust seep into my voice, "did more damage than good. The end of wiping out a few contagious diseases does not justify the means of killing... of stealing the lives of so many."

A woman stiffened as if offended. "The Mirl'kya are our shepherds. We may not understand their actions, but we can know they are for the greater good."

Those words put a deep frown on my face... how many atrocities have been committed for the so-called "greater good"? I was chilled and disturbed. And angry. How had none of my teams caught this attitude and stamped it out? This was exactly the reason I those teams were out in the field. We can't have groups of people seeding dissent in these very fragile times. We needed the full support of the populace if we were going to be able to defend ourselves should the -

"The Lord is my shepherd," someone quoted, interrupting my thoughts. Another responded, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters."

Reverence, in those words. Those blasphemous words. Fuck.

"We need to move out of the cities, you know. Disease travels faster in cities. And there's room for isolation, now."

Now. There's room for isolation now. If they were encouraging people to leave the cities, they'd be moving them out of the influence of the state... and into the hands of this.. this...

"One touched me," the first man said, and the others peered at him jealously. He eagerly sought after my eyes. "It spoke in my mind. It said they were messengers and guardians. That we did not have to fear for our future."

"Angels," breathed his companion, "They're angels sent to cull the evils from the world."


This was too much. I had thought the racial tension was bad enough, but if we had to contend with a budding cult too... this was going to get nasty. A religious experience - that's what most of the people who had physical contact with the aliens described. Was this how they domesticated a herd? With religion?

"They're not fucking angels," I spat without thinking, "They're aliens that eat people. They kept us alive for breeding stock. They're going to come again, and we're going to destroy them so they can never do this again... to us or to any other species."

Shocked, blank stares bore down on me in the heavy silence that followed. Finally, the first man spoke softly: "Perhaps on their return, the Mirl'kya will take those weak of faith along with those that are weak of flesh."

I stormed out of the bus at the next stop, then dashed across the street. Ten minutes later I was on a bus heading back into the city center. I wouldn't be going home tonight. I probably wouldn't be going home this week.

There were far too many matters to attend to.

Who says I give something away when we fuck?

One of my favourite things about science fiction is culture shock. It takes imagination and skill to flesh out a world, culture or people in a realistic, believable fashion. Seeing such skillful manipulation of a fictional culture makes me want to examine my own real culture - Canadian, North American, Western, Human - and question everything about it. Why do we act this way? Why do we value this thing? What would we be like if one belief, one opinion deep in our past, were changed?

Being also of a feminist turn of mind, many of my own thoughts turn to our culture's perceptions of gender. I frequently return to one aspect in particular: the sexual power dynamic between men and women. It is well accepted (/thought, believed) that women are on the defensive and have something to "give" or "be taken" from them, and men are aggressors that seek to possess that thing. Women are the gatekeepers of sex, and men seduce, trick, convince or fight them to get it. It culminates as the slut-stud double standard. It's terribly obvious in our language: a man "gets lucky," suggesting it's a difficult or rare act. A woman "loses" her virginity. Men are penetrators, women are penetrated - unquestionably violent, dominating imagery.

But what if there were a subtle shift in perception? What if, by a small change of focus, women were turned into the aggressors and men into the gatekeepers? It actually wouldn't be too far a stretch. The key is in eliminating the penetrator-penetrated relationship, and replacing it with something else.

What, then, could be just as powerful as penetration? What could give the aggressor a sense of power, of a weapon in some cases, and yet also forge a strong and loving bond in others? The answer is simple, and in fact many human cultures practice it, though not - to my knowledge - sexually.

That is the comsumer-consumed relationship.

Consider: what better represents a flow or exchange of power, of that intangiable something we attribute to virginity and sex, than that of consuming? Of literally taking something from one entity and giving it to the other? We even mimic this very concept by inventing an invisible, immeasurable something that women have and men take. But, in heterosexual human sex with no modifications, a literal tangible, measurable something does move from one entity to the other. Something is taken from one and given to the other.

A genetic load. Seed. During sex, a woman takes the most precious thing a body can offer. She takes the DNA of her male partner, she takes his future bloodlines out of his control. She takes half of his genetic essence. In some ways we've always recognized this fact: think of societies which place the burden of producing specific-gendered offspring on the woman, as if she has any control over the sex of a child she conceives.

When a woman has sex with a man, she temporarily brings part of him into herself and permanently takes another part of him. In a most literal sense, it is not the woman who gives something away - it is the man who gives up a part of himself.

In this light, it is completely puzzling to me that we instead settled on the penetrator-penetrated relationship as our model for sex. The consumer-consumed relationship is far more literal and accurate. As I said above: this powerful relationship is seen in several cannibalistic societies, and even non-cannibalistic hunting societies. When you eat something, the concept goes, you gain its power and knowledge. I'd say this is more powerful and provocative than penetrating or entering something, wouldn't you?


On Watership Down

At some point in middle school, I was browsing through some boxes in our garage. They were old, dank and musty, having apparently been forgotten. Our garage served the purpose of an attic or a basement in a suburban house whose attic was narrow and full of insulation, and whose basement was furnished and lived in: the garage was the place we put things we didn't want to have lying around, but which we also could not part with. I liked to poke around in the garage looking at old furniture, knickknacks and snooping in boxes.

This particular box had books in it. Novels, actually, which is surprising because the only kinds of books I was used to finding stashed away like that were dull university textbooks. Black Beauty was one of the novels I uncovered, A Wrinkle in Time was another, and there were a few others that were appropriate for the age I had been at that particular time. In short, I had found a fantastic treasure. I've always been a voracious reader, and I quickly devoured the books I found.

Except one.

It was in much worse condition than the others - dog eared, creased and worn. I remember staring at the title and then staring at the cover art and then idly setting it aside as "a grown up book."

My tiny child mind read the words Watership Down in the most literal sense - that of a boat sinking - and a quick glance at the cover seemed to enforce that idea. I did not want to read about boats sinking. I wanted to read about talking animals going on wonderful adventures. The irony is deliciously crisp, isn't it?

"You didn't read it because you thought it was about a boat!?" T laughed at me.
"Yeaaa...," I replied. "I was a very literal-minded child."
"You were also a bit dense," he added lovingly.
"... The boat has teeth. And there's grass," He said a few moments later.
"I can't believe you almost didn't read your favourite book because you thought it was about a ship."
"It's called Water. ship. Down. If it were Spaceship Down or Airship Down we'd all know what it's about. "
"If it were called "Watership Down" and was about a boat sinking it would have to be written by the most retarded author ever"
"YES! EXACTLY! So I didn't read it!"

Fortunately for me, the book did not remain unread. Years later, I was sitting in my room bored out of my skull. I eventually made my way to my book shelf to see if I could find a book to reread that I hadn't already read five times before. My finger paused over the spine of Watership Down and I realized I hadn't read it yet. I was so bored that I was perfectly fine with the idea of reading a book about a sinking boat. I pulled it off the shelf and stared at the cover for a moment before realizing with sudden clarity that I was a huge fucking idiot.

That was a rabbit on the cover.

"I wonder if they talk?" I asked myself, thumbing through the first few pages.

"'Oh, it's only Fiver,' said the black-tipped rabbit, 'jumping at bluebottles again," the book told me. I was sold.

Since that first reading, I've lost count of the number of times I've read Watership Down. It is definitely my favourite book - and that's something, coming from a girl who doesn't know what her favourite music, movie, colour or ice cream is. It's a book about rabbits, and they talk and have an adventure and tell rabbit lore and have their own language. But, here's the real magical part about Watership Down: It's not childish. It's extremely well written in proper English, with lovely long English descriptions of the scenery and to-the-point dialogue that I can completely imagine rabbits speaking.

In my last rereading I noticed two things.

The first is that I imagine my own rabbits as being the characters in the book. I picture Buster as Bluebell, a happy-go-lucky pun-spewing minor character. I picture Thomas as both the stoic, smart and rational main character Hazel and as his brother Fiver, the runty seer rabbit. And I picture Nobbers as the steady, aggressive Bigwig. I still don't know how I feel about the fact that I do this. I mean, there's anthropomorphizing, and then there's imagining your pets as the main characters of a novel.

The second thing I noticed is that there's one part of the novel that really disturbs me. (Spoiler warning!)

It's the small arc when some of the rabbits go to raid Nuthanger Farm to bring the domestic hutch rabbits back to their warren. In the drama of the breakout, one of the hutch rabbits gets caught and returned to its hutch, while the others escape. The part that disturbs me is the thought of poor Laurel living in the hutch for the rest of his life, completely alone and without his mate and friends. As the plot moved on and away, my thoughts kept returning to poor Laurel, completely alone and cooped up in his hutch. I very much wish the rabbits had returned to fetch Laurel, or that he had never been caught in the first place. Hell, I'd even be okay with him having been caught and killed by a cat... The only way I was able to stop thinking about it was to tell myself that the little girl who owns the rabbits would have made her parents buy another bunny to keep him company. Bleeding heart much?

Watership Down has had a bit of fame even in recent memory. There was a newer TV series and an older movie based on Watership Down. When the TV series took off, they started occasionally playing the movie. I suspect the thing most people remember about it is that it was terrifying. There are several highly dramatic scenes that, when rendered visually, were very disturbing to children. I remember watching small bits and pieces of the TV show and movie when it aired on YTV and thinking the combination of talking rabbits and viscous fighting was a bit strange. Watership Down as a novel is quite dark, and rendered as an animated series it drew in unsuspecting children and proceeded to frighten the wits out of them.

Some of the scenes from the movie

Disturbing images aside, it's certainly no wonder to me how Watership Down is a classic novel, and I am alarmed at the thought that I almost never read it. I suppose that's how most of us find our most treasured books - by stumbling upon them in unexpected ways, where a slight change of fate could have us completely missing it. While I adore many other writers and novels, Watership Down has a certain quality that just makes me come back to read and reread it over and over again.

A trip to the office supply store

A week after he acquired a 50-pound monster of a laser printer, I badgered T into taking me to Staples to have a look at photo paper. (The badgering was more like, "Hey, let's go to Staples." "OKAY!!" That boy loves office supplies.)

I was hoping we could find some cheap photo paper to test the printer. If it's good enough, I could use it for on-the-fly scrapbooking instead of having to remember to go print photos at the mall. Into Staples we marched, full of purpose. We were going to find some photo paper, dammit, and were going to print some lovely photos (maybe) and live happily ever after.

It was around the time that we were examining laminators that I realized something was amiss. I felt as if I was there for a specific reason, instead of my usual aimless office supply window shopping. "Ohwell," I told myself while reading the laminator box. "Man, I really wish I had a reason to design, print and laminate brochures. This laminator is real snazzy."

The problem with Staples is that it's full of clever and strange things, and I always forget what my purpose is in going there. I don't have a business. I don't work from home. I don't even have a desk. I have absolutely no use for a Rolodex. I have nothing to store inside a three-tiered rotating magnetic basket. I don't have a filing cabinet to fill with multicoloured folders. But I want them. I am attracted to the idea of organization, even if I'm terrible at the implementation of it. And when I see something that is clever, I instantly want to own it. Tech stores like Futureshop are okay, but they're just full of normal technology: computers, tvs, phones. I love going into stores like Staples to find things I never knew existed, and it always makes me wish I ran a business from home so I could have an excuse to own them.

How could you NOT want a tape dispenser shaped like a shoe?

T found a label printer that did barcodes and immediately squealed "I WANT IT. I could print barcodes and put them on my stuff, and then get a barcode scanner and scan them in and I COULD TAKE INVENTORY OF MY POSSESSIONS."

We poured over the change sorting machines ("Do we have enough pennies to justify buying an automatic, auto-rolling change sorting machine?"), we contemplated the benefit of household safes ("It'd be good if there was a fire. We could put our wills in them and stuff." Nevermind the fact that neither of us have a will) and I considered buying a portable mini-scanner ("It's like it's from the future! I could scan in business cards and receipts and construct a digital filing system!" Except that I never take business cards and never keep receipts...)

We finally came around to the paper section and were immediately absorbed in finding the difference between the inkjet, laser and multiuse papers. What difference could there possibly be, it's all just mushed up trees. The photo paper held our attention momentarily, but then we went to look at printers again. Even though we had just purchased one.

"Can I help you?" an employee asked. Staples has the most friendly staff I have ever encountered in a big box store. If you know how to dodge the sales pitches, they will happily chat with you about anything. On this visit we chatted about the pros and cons of laser printers, the mysteries of paper, printing photographs and the new store security system. Staples employees are the only strangers I don't get uncomfortable talking to. :3 We thanked him after about ten minutes and wandered back over to inspect the printer paper.

We sneaked a few sheets out of already-opened packs to compare them. "This one is more rough! And it's thicker" I whispered. "This one's a different shade of white!" T whispered back. We found a piece of ultra-expensive luxury paper. "THIS PAPER IS SO WHITE!" T exclaimed. "Thanks Captain Obvious," I had to grin back. "It's really, REALLY smooth!" I added, stroking the luxury paper as if it were a fur coat.

We eventually left Staples empty-handed, turning into the pet store on the way to the grocery store. "You know, I really wouldn't mind having a snake..." I said as we watched the sinuous creature flicking its tongue. "The initial setup would be a bit less than the fishtank, really..." T replied after a moment's thought.

And so it begins, again...
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