buying birth control in Lebanon

Despite being viewed as more progressive than many other countries in the region, when it comes to women's rights, Lebanon still witnesses stigma regarding women's sexual freedom.

Female members of society continue to be policed and scrutinized under a patriarchal microscope, affecting various aspects of their lives.

For instance, the mere act of purchasing contraceptives can subject women to scrutiny and backlash from people in the medical field. 

StepFeed spoke to several people in Lebanon about their experiences with accessing birth control and their thoughts on the taboos surrounding the topic:

"Patient confidentiality isn't real"

An American University of Beirut (AUB) alumnus, who chose to remain anonymous, told StepFeed she does not trust people who work in Lebanon's medical field when it comes to respecting confidentiality. 

She therefore rarely buys contraceptives herself and instead asks her partner to do it, to avoid being judged or recognized by pharmacists.

She explained that she worries her father would find out about her purchases, saying, "He's a doctor and medical people in Lebanon all know each other, so I don't know if confidentiality would be respected."

Furthermore, she added that the case is no different regarding pregnancy tests, as she sends male friends to buy them for her. 

"And I can never get a contraceptive implant or an intrauterine device (IUD) because my father works at the hospital I would get it at and he would definitely find out," she said. 

"Patient confidentiality isn't real."

"They asked me if I'm married"

Lea Afifi, who is currently pursuing a master's degree in sexual and reproductive health, recalled an incident during which pharmacists claimed they do not have any birth control pills after she told them she is not married. 

Afifi had tried to get the pills from a pharmacy in Bliss in an attempt to delay her period until after her graduation.

"Right when I asked for the pills, the pharmacists - a man and a woman - looked at each other and asked me if I'm married, so I said 'no'." 

She went on to say she is not sure if they really searched for the pills or only pretended to do so.

"They had a weird look in their eyes and then they said, 'No we don't have any'," she recalled. 

Afifi noted she did not justify why she needed the pills, explaining, "I gave up rather easily. I felt they were judgmental, so I just said 'okay' and left."

When asked about the consequences of the stigma surrounding the topic, Afifi said women are more likely to partake in unsafe sex due to the barriers that limit access to birth control means. She also said the stigma gives men more power over the method of birth control used

"For example, if a man doesn't mind going to a pharmacy and asking for condoms, they would have a birth control method, but it might not be the method the girl wants or feels most comfortable with. In a lot of cases, it's another way of how the patriarchy kind of controls female bodies and female sexual pleasure," she explained.

She went on to say that women in Lebanon need easier access to contraceptive methods, as well as education on these methods.

"He gave me disappointed looks and his voice changed"

Another young woman who asked to remain anonymous said she often volunteers to buy products related to reproductive health for her friends who feel uncomfortable going themselves.

"I usually enjoy seeing the reactions from pharmacists when it comes to reproductive health and contraception methods, just to get a clue on their perspectives and the biases that can come out during such encounters," she explained. 

She then recalled an encounter with a pharmacist she was acquainted with when she asked him for pills that can assist in abortion which is only legal in Lebanon within a tight frame of conditions.

The woman was getting the pills for her friend, who did not have a prescription. She noted that she did not mention the pills were for her friend "because I know he would not believe me and because I wanted to feel all the shame he would put on anyone else directly." 

"When I asked him if he has any pills, the colors on his face had changed. He took a moment and laid back, almost as if he is dizzy, and put both his hands on his head to support himself," she said. 

"He gave me disappointed looks, and his voice changed when he approached me again and told me he will ask a friend of his."

According to the woman, the pharmacist said he could not help her unless she had a prescription.

"But I did not [have a prescription,] and I surely would not ask anyone to go through the humiliating experience of getting a prescription from doctors who will judge, who will give false directions, or who will probably try to brand unsafe, expensive surgical abortions illegally," she explained. 

"I never went into that pharmacy again even though I was a customer, and I cannot imagine more encounters with someone who would rather show me this theatrical performance of judgment rather than assist me in getting access to a basic human right."

While women face scrutiny, men can buy contraceptives almost hassle-free

StepFeed also spoke with a male healthcare professional who has experienced first-hand the double standards women are subjected to.

He explained that his female friend began asking him to buy contraceptive pills for her after she experienced a disturbing encounter at a pharmacy.

"One pharmacist in Tariq El Jdide told her she is a whore for wanting to have premarital sex and defying the word of Allah by preventing the formation of a baby," he recounted, noting that the pills were actually prescribed to her. 

Meanwhile, when he goes to buy contraceptives for his friend, the purchase goes smoothly, with no questions asked. 

"When I buy them, they (pharmacists) give them to me with a big smile, a wink, and [they tell me to] 'enjoy'," he said. "While she used to get 'the look'."

The experience has not been negative for all women

While many women receive negative feedback for buying contraceptives, others have faced no struggles while doing so.

Rayan, who chose to be identified by her first name only, told StepFeed she has bought birth control pills on several occasions for her hormonal problems. She described her encounters as a "smooth ride" and "very routine".

"So many contraceptives are demonized through misconceptions"

Sarah Kaddoura, who works as a sexuality hotline coordinator at The A Project, spoke to StepFeed about the repercussions of the taboos and misconceptions surrounding contraceptives.

Kaddoura handles the hotline that is open to all people seeking to ask questions and discuss various topics, including sexual and reproductive health, as well as sexuality and gender.

"Through the hotline, we notice how many misconceptions are spread regarding contraceptive methods, and how these misconceptions affect women's choices when it comes to choosing a suitable method," she said.

According to Kaddoura, such misconceptions usually revolve around use, impact on fertility, and side effects.

"Your body belongs to you!" Source: Facebook/theaprojectleb

Kaddoura went on to say that contraceptives are often "demonized" through these misconceptions, leading women to feel like they do not have many options. 

"We receive many calls from young girls who are paranoid about unwanted pregnancy, and they are not to blame when sex education in classrooms is still prohibited, and when allowed, given within a patriarchal discourse that focuses on abstinence only," she said.

Kaddoura added that the lack of general knowledge on the topic makes it difficult for women to know the best and most affordable methods. 

She also noted that insurance companies usually do not cover reproductive health, thus women from lower classes or refugee and migrant statuses face further hardships to access contraceptives.

"While the public in general throws judgments on women from lower classes, refugees and migrants on 'bringing children to life,' aside from how classist and racist that is, it ignores the fact that the state does not provide access to these people to have control over their reproductive health, rights and bodies," she explained.

For questions or inquiries about reproductive and sexual health, contact the sexuality hotline on 76-680620.