Imagine a world where, one day, out of the blue, we found out that condoms didn’t work for the majority of men because of their weight. And imagine that instead of outrage—and instead of making sure everyone knew—no one said anything. People shrugged their shoulders, and we moved on with our lives like nothing happened.
Sounds totally crazy, right?
That did happen—just not with men and condoms. A few years ago, a team of researchers and scientists were studying emergency contraceptives and found that many of these drugs, including Plan B, might not work—at all—for women who have a BMI above 25. (That’s the majority of women in America.1)
To state the obvious: it’s a big f—ing deal when you learn that a contraceptive method that’s supposed to work for everybody may not work for half the women in the U.S.
I’m one of those women—and personally, I would have expected a national effort to make sure we all heard these results. Instead, eight years after that groundbreaking study, a lot of American women still have no idea that Plan B may not help them prevent a pregnancy when they need it most.
For me, this story is a powerful illustration of the way our healthcare system routinely fails women. Research that centers on women’s health tends to be rare and poorly funded2. The studies that are done almost never get the attention they deserve. And America’s healthcare conversation so often leaves so many women out, whether because of their weight, their age, their ZIP code, the color of their skin, or because the powers that be have decided that women don’t deserve to be active participants in their own care.
This is especially true when it comes to reproductive health. Studies have shown that if you’re under the age of 25, your doctor is less likely to explain all the birth control options that are available to you3. If you’re African-American, the odds are very good that you’ll experience discrimination in a consultation about family planning4. The odds are also appallingly high that you’ll die in childbirth5. Meanwhile, if you live in a rural area, you’re going to have a harder time getting an appointment with a doctor, a longer drive to the pharmacy, and more difficulty getting a prescription filled. More than 19 million women in the U.S. say they live in a contraceptive desert without access to a clinic that provides birth control6.
None of this is acceptable. Every woman deserves to be in charge of her own health. That means having access to unbiased information and judgment-free counseling. It means the ability to choose the option that’s right for you. And it means being able to obtain the care you need on your terms, when and where you want, at a price you can afford.
The good news is that there are a lot of people working to make that possible. For example, there are now a lot of healthcare companies like Hers where you can go online, see your birth control options up front, and have them shipped directly to your door. And, in the coming months, Hers will also offer emergency contraceptives. One of them is a product called Ella, which, I’m proud to say, works equally well if you have a high BMI or a low one. (We’ll carry Plan B, too, by the way – and, to be perfectly clear it’s a great option for women who can use it and have the information they need. We’ll always make sure they do.)
This work has been so inspiring to me, because I hear stories every day from women who have never before been able to find the kind of care that truly puts them and their needs first, without judgement or unnecessary obstacles. Like the mother who was traveling an hour each way to pick up her birth control prescription because there wasn’t a pharmacy in her town. I’ll never forget the wife who was told that she should just take a bath to re-ignite her sex drive. These are the women who need a better healthcare system, today.
Of course, no single company is going to ensure that women have equal access to healthcare in America. We need equality before the law. We need full representation in the halls of power. And maybe more than anything, we need to start a more open and inclusive conversation about health that puts women firmly in charge of their own bodies. To put a finer point on it: it’s bananas that the Plan B thing is still new information for so many people after nearly a decade. We need to get to a place where vital information for women’s health is no longer buried or ignored.
You can help. Today, on Women’s Equality Day, share your story of the inequity you've experienced in healthcare. Tell us what a more equal healthcare system would mean to you. Tag us (@wearehers) with #Everybodyisabody, because we all need to demand progress every day of the year.
Hilary Coles is the co-founder and VP of Product at hims & hers.
1 Average BMI for an American woman is 29.6, per CDC.
6 Per the CVS/Caremark statement, Power To Decide.