Interview with Contradeception
Contradeception is a piece of digital theatre encompassing a series of stories from an online survey collecting real people’s views, voices and opinions surrounding the contraceptive pill. Created by Gaia Ahuja, Lizzie Perkins and Laura Noble. The piece uses actors to anonymously re-tell some of the stories collected from the survey. A few days after its release on the 8th March, International Women’s Day 2019, Mxogyny interviewed the creators of Contradeception:
Firstly, could you tell us just a little bit about who created the project; who you all are and what you do?
Gaia: Hiya! My name is Gaia and I am currently in my 2nd year training as an actor at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. I was born and raised in Brixton, South London and I’m so blessed to have had an upbringing there, as gentrified as it is now, it’s still such a hub for diversity, community, and always has the sickest energy. Liverpool is similar; everyone is just so lovely and there’s a massive collaborative characteristic in the city as well as in the creative industry up here! That’s how I started working with Lizzie!
Lizzie: Hi, I’m Lizzie, I’m 20 years old and currently in my third year at Edge Hill University doing television production management. I’m from a completely different scene to Gaia, just south of the Lake District, fields, sheep, farmers etc. My boyfriend is actually in Gaia’s year at LIPA, so that’s how we met and that’s how I got to be connected with so many talented and diverse creatives.
We love the concept of Contradeception and how thought provoking it will be for many people, what inspired you to want to create this piece of digital theatre?
L: Contradeception literally started from a chat between me and G on Instagram after I replied to a story of hers asking about one of the HUNDREDS of types of pills, and we started like getting heated about why girls have to go through this, wondering whether it was just us that experienced it and that sense of ‘Really? Are we mad? Are we actually the only ones?’. So that passion and anger really came out, and G said like people need to know about this, and what can we do, and that’s basically how it all started.
G: Yeah like Lizzie said, I put up an Instagram story about Rigevidon (the devil) just to see if other girls had been having the same kind of reaction that I was (extremely negative) and I was overwhelmed and shocked at how many replies I was getting with girls saying similar stuff. Me and Lizzie had an idea we wanted to do something; we just weren’t sure what. Perhaps a series of monologues or a devised theatre performance. We put out an anonymous survey on SurveyMonkey with a series of questions and from that the ball just started rolling really. Something else that we had in mind from the early stages of the process, once we knew we wanted to film it, was the directorial choice to only film half the face. Focusing on the mouth to really emphasise and heighten the potency of these stories being told as well as creating a small sense of anonymity.
L: The responses we got were so honest and raw and, honestly, you’d be shocked by some of them. Even then, we still had people’s horror stories coming in, like people had had to go through some shocking experiences. We didn’t get to see the people who answered the survey, so it seemed natural, especially in G’s mind, to make sure that we had every regional accent, every ethnicity, and age to be as representational as possible.
G: 100%, the data we collected (over 300 responses) was representational of age, region and ethnicity, therefore our presentation needed to be as well. We teamed up with Laura Noble, who filmed and edited our piece which exceeded our expectations; what really resonated in our collaboration with not only her but the rest of our amazing and committed cast was the connection we all had surrounding this topic, and how casual and transparent we all were about discussing contraception. From heart wrenching home truths to some laugh out loud anecdotes, it truly was such a special process.
One issue in the UK currently is a lack of information about other methods of contraception, how do you feel your own experiences growing up were in regard to awareness of the contraception?
G: Well… Ha-ha I don’t even know where to start! I’ve personally only ever used the pill as a form of contraception, I am aware there are others, but I have a phobia of injections so anything else was a no from me! I can’t even remember being taught about it in school, mainly just discussed amongst friends but I’ve tried multiple (pills). When I finally found one that didn’t make me want to bludgeon my own face in, my doctor said they had stopped prescribing it and gave me Rigevidon as a replacement. I am very open about my experiences, low moods, weight gain and that feeling of just absolutely loosing sense of who I was! A ‘dragon’ my friend once described me as! I didn’t know whether I was going to punch someone or burst into tears! I truly wouldn’t wish these feelings on anyone else and I’m very lucky that my friendship group is so open, and that we all share our experiences, offer advice, alternatives and always provide me with a voice of reason when I need.
L: I think I was 15/16 when I went on the pill and I kept it a secret from my parents because I didn’t want them to have an opinion of me but I literally went to the doctors said ‘I don’t want periods’ (they’re so heavy for me) and they were like “Yeah, ok cool, have this one”, I think progesterone only. I took that little shit 7 DAYS A WEEK, 365 DAYS A YEAR. That hormone, fyi, is what you have just before your period, it’s basically PMS emotions all the damn time. It was only after I got with Matt, my boyfriend, he said I should go talk to someone and consider coming off it for my mental health. I went to the nurse this time and told her about how bad I felt, she asked me if I was on the pill and I said which one. This woman literally looked to the heavens for Jesus to come down and smack me, she got leaflets of all kinds of contraception and laid them out and said “Right, I’m going to explain to you what you’re doing to your body”. That was the first time I was actually told that that was the hormone, I should’ve researched it, sure, but I just assumed your doctor wouldn’t do that to you. I’m now on the coil (worst pain ever having it inserted) but my mental health is so much better. I just remember accepting in school that we would probably go on the pill and it’ll make you fat and moody…honestly never questioned it. Sad that, isn’t it.
Do you think most teenagers have adequate access to information about contraception in general?
G: First of all, going to the clinic can be quite a daunting experience innit? And, personally, when I have gone to the clinic or the doctors I have been informed about different forms of contraception, but it’s so difficult to advise each particular one to an individual when they are all so subjective. There’s a quote from ‘Contradeception’ which is “it’s not some kind of Brandy Melville one size fits all” and I think that perfectly captures the problem when advising contraception to young women. Also, we live in an age where we can literally pick up our phones and Google anything, it’s not hard to educate ourselves. However, from some of the feedback from our survey, it seems like there has been a lack of sexual health education taught in schools, which is a vital and integral part of our socialisation and growth as young people.
L: My mum was a nurse, then a midwife and now works for HSIB (health service investigation bureau) her and even my dad have always been really open, supportive and informative about my choice of contraception, making sure I’m safe and happy; so I’ve been blessed in that respect. However, apart from shoving a condom on a banana in year 9 I literally just got told the pill is probably best, even though you can experience weight gain and mood swings. Like G said, it’s so important to learn about sex from a young age so why wouldn’t we learn about how many contraceptive choices there are to enjoy sex safely and therefore not feel embarrassed or uncomfortable when our time comes, as well as exploring our options to ensure we are protected quite literally but also psychologically.
How do you think this piece of theatre reflects attitudes to the pill as a whole?
G: Do you know what, from the feedback we’ve had since uploading it so many people have been so surprised by some of the content, the prospect of a male pill for example, would men take it and what are their attitudes towards it? This offers a different take and angle, which loads of people watching probably never considered or regarded much before!
L: Yeah, exactly, it came from a survey so it honestly reflects a multiplicity of different attitudes and experiences, which is great. Everything you hear has come from what people said on that survey, G and I sat down and formulated and edited it to make it conversational.
G: Yeah, our piece is Verbatim, a style of theatre embodying real people’s original words and I think that’s what is so powerful about it, how authentic it is.
Many of the monologues are fairly negative, do you think this could put people off from taking the pill in the first place?
L: If I’m honest none of what you hear isn’t something you haven’t heard before from your friends, friends of friends, your aunties nieces second husband’s sister etc. etc. etc. Of course, not everyone has the same experience, our American female actor shows that. ‘Contradeception’ is not there to scare people off the pill, but it is there to lay out the genuine responses we got and to encourage both women and men to educate themselves about how they have safe sex and how they have the right to try different options of contraception. The pill isn’t the be all and end all.
G: Yeah, definitely, but to be fair, most of our feedback from our survey was negative! We were quite surprised actually at some of the honest reflections from some male respondents “should have reassured her more”, “looking back I probably did pressure my girlfriend to take the pill” which just makes the whole project so much more real and personal. I think the piece perfectly sculpts different reactions and opinions, trying the pill, it’s like one big trial and error process. You’ll only know if you try kind of thing!
Since Fallan Kurek’s death as a result of taking Rigevidon in 2015 and the ongoing petitions to ban it, do you think there has been an increased awareness in the more dangerous side effects of the pill?
G: Definitely, I remember my girls sending that exact petition to the group chat and other Facebook posts regarding dangerous pill side effects. Once again, the power of social media and our generation using it as a means to speak up and take action is evident here! I know so many girls that signed that petition, and I even had a nosy in some of the Facebook comments and I actually took so much solace in the fact all these women had one common denominator were uniting together to make a change. It’s pretty fucking brilliant.
L: I honestly never heard about Rigevidon until Gaia to be honest, I just knew how my pill made me feel. It does feel like if a man died from taking a contraceptive pill people would be much more like “shit, that needs to change”. Much like when they tried a contraceptive pill for men and they stopped it because the men found they had side effects where they felt down. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t even know a girl had died, that’s fucking tragic, and that pill is still on the market? That’s genuinely offensive to women and shows a lack of care around women’s sexual health. So, men don’t have to wear a condom so that they can feel sex better; so, you put your health and mental health at risk, yeah? Err, no, enough is enough.
One aspect of this piece that’s so interesting is the number of men who had little to no awareness of how the pill could impact their friends and girlfriends, how do you think the UK as a whole can address this lack of awareness and what can we as individuals do to help this problem?
G: I think it’s simple really; it needs to be spoken about in everyday conversations, openly and freely amongst both men and women. Starting with more focus in schools, less demonization of young women expressing their sexuality, and a lot more fucking respect and consideration for what we put our bodies through at the expense of having safe sex!
L: Yes!! I totally agree. Honestly, considering, let’s be real, almost every woman is on some form of contraception it’s still whispered about like it’s a problem to the patriarchy. I’d love for kids much earlier in school to be told about contraception and know that you don’t have to! Boys can, and could, wear condoms, there are so many options you can keep going back and demanding what’s right for your body. We are all so incredibly different, and that’s beautiful, but with that difference means what works for Gaia might not work for me. It’s just time to erase this stigma around contraception and be clear about what’s best for you as an individual.
The presentation of this piece as digital theatre is quite striking, what made you decide to put Contradeception together in this way and choose this particular medium?
G: Yeah, I go to a drama school, so the obvious option was to put on a small-scale production there I suppose. My university always encourages us to produce our own work, providing us with the space and resources and that was definitely an option. The issue was this particular topic; its problems are national, actually global from what we found out from our survey, therefore doing it in Liverpool would’ve been restricting our audience.
L: Definitely. This was something that we honestly wanted the world to see, to get people talking and to start that conversation. Liverpool just hasn’t got a big enough reach to get people talking about contraception, in 2019, in a way that is still so needed. So, we made the decision to film it and put it on YouTube, which seemed like the perfect medium being accessible for all – especially when you can share that link to your other social media platforms.
G: Also, can I just add, our generation is always getting hate and slander for our consistent and obsessive use of social media but honestly, without social media NONE of this would have been possible!
Contradeception so far has been a great success, what are your plans for the future? Will there be any follow up to this first piece?
L: Well within 48 hours we had over 1000 views on YouTube, and we’ve had people of all ages message us saying stuff like “Thank you for making this” and “This is so important” so the conversation has already been started. We do have some things in the pipe works, but we’re just figuring them out at the moment to carry on the talk about contraception.
G: Our next steps are partnering up with some sexual health charities and hosting some fundraising events for them as well as perpetuating and encouraging this idea that this is something we can and should talk about. The stigma should have been broken years ago, and it is our responsibility as two young women in the creative industry to use our artistry to inform and educate. I think this is what theatre, and other media platforms ought to be doing, commenting on sociopolitical issues, it’s very, very important! And a fat, massive thank you to everyone who watched, liked and shared – it means so much to us!
L and G: Can we just reiterate how much we appreciate the work of Laura Noble on this project and how committed our incredible cast were to speak these words as truly as possible, and of course huge thanks to everyone who answered our survey, and to those who are yet to be involved!
Thank you so much to Gaia and Lizzie for taking the time to work with us!