Although birth control accessibility and affordability have been important issues in many public health circles over the past few decades, very little attention has been paid to their representation in various commercials and advertisements. Advertisements in the US tend to depict birth control use in a positive and euphemistic way whilst understating its side effects. This idealistic representation of birth control in the media, however, is leading to a gendered structural violence against women and promoting an ever growing  “magic bullet” approach to gynecological disfunction. Extrapolating on the application of the idea of “chronic disease pharmacopoeia”, we suspect that the pharmaceutical advertisement of contraceptives plays a significant role in limiting women’s individual agency in their healthcare, by selling the “logic that maximizing health, thus producing a biological self, through pharmaceutical maintenance will ward off personal risk and uncertain futures” (Hansen 2017, 325).

To present this paradoxical representation and its social effects on women, we used an audiovisual format, interviewing women who are currently on or have been on contraceptives for varying reasons. We asked these women to describe and reflect on their experiences with birth control, as well as any misconceptions they or others had prior to or while taking contraceptives. For the sake of anonymity, quotes collected were incorporated through audio recordings made by Lily. These recordings were paired, in a video, with visual artwork done by our team members to artistically reflect the disconnect between representation and lived experience.

A transcript of the video can be found here.


Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999: Family Planning. (n.d.). Retrieved December 01, 2020, from

Adams, Heather. “New Study Examines How the First Birth Control Pills Were Advertised in the 1960s,” December 2, 2019.

Berg, Miriam. “Hey, Birth Control: Thanks a Bunch,” November 12, 2014.

Birth Control Access. (n.d.). Retrieved December 07, 2020, from

Brooke, Eliza. “The bitter Pill,” June 25, 2019.

Cueto, Marcos. 2013. “A Return to the Magic Bullet? Malaria and Global Health in the Twenty-First Century.” In When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health, by João Biehl and Adriana Petryna, 30-53. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Getaway’s EXTRA. “Lo Loestrin Fe Commercial (2018),” February 25, 2020.

Hansen, Helena. 2017. Assisted Technologies of Social Reproduction: Pharmaceutical Prosthesis for Gender, Race, and Class in the White “Opioid “Crisis”.

Kastor, A. “Contraceptive product advertising.” SIECUS report vol. 13,6 (1985): 6-7.

NEXPLANON® (etonogestrel implant) 68 mg Radiopaque. “NEXPLANON® (etonogestrel implant) 68 mg Radiopaque: Commercial,” June 4, 2020.

Randall Packard A History of Global Health Interventions into the Lives of Other Peoples: Ch 2 and 13.

Ross, Loretta, and Rickie Solinger. 2017. Reproductive Justice: An Introduction. (pps. 58-67 and 78-96) First Edition. Oakland, California: University of California Press

Squire, Bethy. “The Racist and Sexist History of Keeping Birth Control Side Effects Secret,” October 17, 2016.
TIME. “The History Of Birth Control | TIME,” January 30, 2015.

Todd, C. (2018, July 13). The History and Evolution of Birth Control in America. Retrieved December 07, 2020, from

Vox. How Americans Got Stuck with Endless Drug Ads. Directed by Joss Fong and Dion Lee. Performance by Phil Edwards, YouTube, 29 Aug. 2016,

WhyIUD. “Kyleena® (levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system) 19.5 mg IUD TV Ad,” February 17, 2020.

List of media sources adapted for the video can be found here.


Lydia Headly ’21
Nathnael Mengistie ’22
Lily Zhang ’22