XO Jane's Health Editor...are you playing with me?

Oct 15 2011 Published by under Health Care/Medicine

You know, sometimes I think I've reached the pinnacle of my ability to be outraged by things on the internet. And then something like this comes along. So I'm sorry, my friends, this is going to be a rant. A mean, probably nasty kind of rant. Sci is not naturally a mean person, but some things really do make me roar with rage.

This is the thing.

It is an article at XO Jane, where the Health Editor talks about how New York City is out of Plan B, and how much that sucks. I agree that it completely sucks. Plan B is an important contraceptive. She then goes to on state why it personally sucks to her. She depends on it for birth control, because she doesn't like condoms, and birth control pills will get her fat and she can't be bothered to take them on time. She sticks to Plan B as her contraceptive of choice. That's her choice to make, and if she wants to spend $50 on Plan B every time she has unprotected intercourse, that's all her.

Here's my problem. My problem is that this "health editor" spends her entire editorial spreading COMPLETELY IDIOTIC AND WRONG notions about HEALTH. Seriously, XO Jane. Have you been hacked? you can admit it, it's ok, we all get hacked once in a while. Are you playing some joke that is only funny on a meta level? Because I find it very difficult to believe that you have a HEALTH EDITOR that is so ill-informed and willfully ignorant about, you know, HEALTH.

So I want to dispel these myths, and I want to talk about fact checking.

2) Birth control pills. NO. They will make me fat; they will make me "spot" (another thing I squeamishly just DON'T LIKE TALKING ABOUT; don't worry, though, everyone else who works here does); they will give me acne; and quite frankly, they will NOT prevent me from getting pregnant! I know this because IT HAPPENED TO ME™.

No, I didn't take my pills right; I forget things like this unless they are FUN pills, or what I BELIEVE, delusionally, to be a "fun" pill at the time; anyway, the point is, unless a pill gets me speedy or doped up as all hell I will NOT remember to take it, and then I will get pregnant! I JUST WILL. (IHTM™.)

For the 50 BILLIONTH TIME. Birth control pills (the estrogen and estrogen/progesterone combination pills). Do. Not. Make. You. Fat.

Would. You. Like. More. References?

Yes, they can affect your skin. They can cause spotting. You can try different kinds until you get one that works for you. But there is NOT a significant side effect of weight gain. If you gained weight, I'm sorry, but it was probably something else.

Also, I understand that some people really DO have problems taking a pill every day. But that DOES NOT mean the pill doesn't WORK. If you had a headache, and I asked if you'd taken aspirin for it, and you said no, do you blame the aspirin for your headache? OF COURSE NOT. Because that's STUPID. The pill DOES WORK. When taken correctly, it works 99.9% of the time. If you cannot be bothered to take the pill, try the patch or the ring, or another method entirely, but do not blame the pill for being ineffective.

So the author says all this stuff about how birth control doesn't work for her. Ok, I get that, estrogen or estrogen/progesterone pills don't work for you...

...so why, exactly, are you taking Plan B?

Let's see here

Plan B One-Step® is safe, effective, and FDA-approved. It contains levonorgestrel, the same ingredient found in many birth control pills. The difference is that Plan B One-Step® requires just one pill, which uses a larger dose of levonorgestrel than a single birth control pill. And, unlike many birth control pills, Plan B One-Step® doesn’t contain any estrogen, only progestin.

(From the Plan B site)

So those meanie estrogens make you FAT and cause you ACNE and they SUCK, and so you're going to take a BIG WHOPPING DOSE OF PROGESTIN INSTEAD?!?!

Of course, she talks about the science behind plan B to back her up.


Honey, this ISN'T HARD. Haha, yes, I get it. Teehee, science is HARD, you guys!

No. This isn't hard. This is your BODY. And it's REALLY IMPORTANT that you know what it's doing, why it's doing that, and what you're putting into it. It's your body, and it's your life, and if you have a right to one thing, it's to know what's going on with your own body. If you are confused about ovulation, menstruation, pregnancy, abortion, or birth control, there are lots of sites where you can go which will explain the relatively simple science behind this. Heck some of them even use nice small words.

Far be it from me to tell XO Jane how to handle their hiring, but I do think it's generally wise to have a heath editor who's taken a health course. And who can read. But perhaps I'm too picky.

22 responses so far

  • Emmers says:

    Thank you for writing this! Especially the part about how "just because you don't use medications correctly, it doesn't mean they don't work." This woman reminds me of the (apocryphal?) woman who sued the contraceptive company because she spread spermicidal jelly on toast and ate it, and then got pregnant anyway.


    I'm interested to see if this person responds to you, and what she has to say.

    • Emmers says:

      Another good analogy: http://alcoholicsconspicuous.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/shutup-cat-marnell-youre-making-us-all-look-bad/ --> it's like putting condoms on your feet and then complaining when you get an STD. FAIL.

      • Eireann says:

        Glad you liked my foot condom analogy 🙂 I regret making it because it might give Cat ideas on fun, original ways to use condoms. What bugs me the most about the whole thing is that people are saying "What do you care whether or not she uses Plan B or doesn't use condoms? It's her body." It might be her body, but the STIs she can get and spread are not just her's. It's a PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE. How is that not abundantly clear to people? If I sleep with someone that Cat's slept with, her STIs become MY problem. Maybe I'm just selfish and don't want to have to be doubly cautious to compensate for less-than-cautious morons.

        • Emmers says:

          No, I totally agree that STD prevention is a public health issue. It's similiar to the anti-vax/herd immunity thing: no form of STD prevention is 100% effective (aside from abstinence, obvs) but if everyone "on the market" uses condoms, there probably won't be an epidemic, because the cases will be somewhat more isolated.

          (IANAS, so if that analogy is bull, let me know!)

  • Christina Pikas says:

    I would think that the spotting might have been worse for her if she was skipping doses and then doubling up. I'm horrified that she's running around having unprotected sex in this era and the only thing she's worried about is preventing pregnancy. eek.

  • THANK YOU! This article pissed me off in a way few such articles have in years. And it's depressing as hell to see editor Jane Pratt excusing it on the "diverse voices" grounds.

    This "OMG I am so forgetful and can't be bothered to look up all that hard science becuase I'm too brain-dead from all the pills I've taken" schtick does seem to be the writer's "persona," but speaking as a writer, it takes a certain degree of skill to pull that off, tone-wise, and this person doesn't have it....

  • Emmers says:

    Also, isn't most recreational pill use illegal? (either illegal drugs or off-label use of prescription substances.) If I were writing a column on the Internet professionally, I wouldn't talk about illegal things I did. (Or is that common?)

  • @Emmers: It's pretty common, at least since the days of Hunter S Thompson. 🙂 And probably even earlier ("Confessions of an Opium Eater" etc).

  • It's the attitude to condoms that bothers me. Plan B won't stop you getting hep C, honey.


    Progestin. Not estrogen. /pedantry

    • scicurious says:

      Whoops, typo! Thank you. Makes my point even better, because progestins are the ones that actually DO have a side effect of weight gain (like in Depo Provera).

  • Karen says:

    Good. Good for her. Admitting you're a stupid whore is the first step toward self-realization.

    I know a health writer who, until she met her current boyfriend, was smart. The first STD she got from him - and it wasn't the last - was to willfully forget that using condoms prevented other STDs.

    Seriously, maybe that stupid woman is the reason they're running out of Plan B. Stop having sex with her, New Yorkers!

    • Lab Rat says:

      Stupid she may be, but a whore she is not. There is no indication anywhere that she accepted money for sexual services and even if she did, I think there are nicer words you could use to express that.

      Actually most workers in the sex industry are actually far more careful and sensible about their contraception choices than this woman, simply because they have to be. They are also far more aware of the dangers of STIs, which the pill would not prevent.

    • scicurious says:

      She's definitely not acting what I'd call bright, but she's NOT a whore, and there's no call here for slut shaming.

      She says she gets blood tested for STDs, but you're right that she doesn't seem to know or care a lot about her own sexual health.

    • Let me add my own objection to the use of the word "whore". No call for slut-shaming. It's her choice how she chooses to express her sexuality and I want her to have that choice. I just want her to be smart and healthy about it, and not pass on bad information to readers who look up to her because of her position at XOJane.

  • ema says:

    It's important to note that Plan B has been discontinued for quite some time. It's been replaced with Plan B One-Step (1 pill dosage). [Nextime and Postinor 1/Postinor2 Unidosis are the equivalent brands for Plan B One-Step; Next Choice and Postinor are the equivalent of Plan B.]

    Also, no mention in the original article of the 1) fact that ECPs are not recommended as a regular method of birth control because they're less effective, and 2) two most effective methods, IUDs and implants.

    Bottom line, I couldn't agree more with your assessment. This article does not belong in the "Health" section of any reputable site.

    • scicurious says:

      Oooh, good to know.

      There's some indication that she intended brash satire. But judging by the comments thread below it...she totally failed. Makes it extra sad to me.

  • Gerty-Z says:

    wow. that article is really fucked up. good job with myth-dispelling and YAY for fact-checking.

  • Eireann says:

    this is great. thanks a bazil. really funny.

  • KateClancy says:

    Brilliant, Sci. Thanks for doing this.

  • Katharine says:

    I want to go burn a stack of women's mags. Anyone who works at those execrable publications should be kicked in their generative organs.

    And I'd like to burn a stack of men's mags too, just for balance.

  • [...] Neurotic Physiology from Scientopia has an excellently outraged blog with references to studies that prove that birth control does not make you fat and that anyone writing about health should know a little bit about health. [...]