When I was a little girl, before I’d sussed the strings attached to religion, I felt the same excitement at the approach of Easter as I did before Christmas or my birthday. Easter was about eggs: painted, chocolate, boiled. What I didn’t know then was that the other two celebrations were about eggs as well, in a manner of speaking. Now I know. And now that sense of anticipation comes monthly. I am a Persona owner.
There are not many other forms of contraception that can be considered with the same delight. Since the days of the dried sheep’s bladder, it has been a messy business. All the options seem to demand compromise of one sort or another: of spontaneity, sensuality, aesthetics, taste.
The pill sought to revolutionise women’s sexuality, and of course it did. But it left us with a host of unanswered questions and a feeling that, somehow, we were polluting our bodies. In my late teens, a doctor dismissed my worries that my pill had been listed in that year’s breast cancer scare: the medical profession knows best for you, dear. Years on, pill-scare still follows pill-scare. And in the meantime there’s that feeling that your body has been taken over: periods are the beginning of a natural cycle, not a fake bleed at the end of a course of drugs.
So what else do we have: implants, injections, that cause untold damage; IUDs, with their risk of ectopic pregnancy, and that gut reaction of I-don’t-want-that-contraption-in-me. Of course there’s rubber, which sounds so promising. We all know about those rock chicks in their black, talcum-powdered sheaths, and the glamour that comes with that. We can know, and accept, the arguments: rubber is good, rubber is healthy. But rubber is sexy? Please. The magazine articles that urge the woman to take part, get involved, to put the condom on her chosen bearer... who do they think they’re kidding? This is a con, a male myth: they don’t want to touch the things either. And, no, it doesn’t help if they’re pina colada-flavoured and glow in the dark.
Although the answer, it seems, does come with flashing lights, in the shape of a hormone monitor. Persona is the first contraceptive device that feels as if women were involved in its own conception. It doesn’t remove something from your life: instead it adds to it. It asks questions, absorbs information, and tells you things about your body that you don’t know yourself. It can tell you when you can have sex, no worries: it tells you when to worry; it tells you when you’re ovulating, and when you don’t (it hadn’t occurred to me before that sometimes you don’t, not every month).
The point of the monitor, of course, is that it is a piece of highly sophisticated technology, yet it has none of the cold hardness that generally goes with that territory. This machine takes user-friendliness to extremes, with its rounded smooth lines, its compact size and compact-like operation. It is clean and white, but not clinical (even though it tests your urine), and while not ovoid it is somehow suggestive of eggs, of albumen.
On the first day of your period you press a button, then the machine takes over. Consult it first thing every morning for that day’s instructions: a green light for go, red for stop, and an amber light if a urine test is required. The disposable test sticks are simple to use, and allow the monitor to read the levels of the hormone that indicate the beginning and end of the fertile period. On the basis of this information, it will give a green or red light, remembering to allow for the survival times of both ovum and sperm. (Persona has an inbuilt instinct to err on the side of caution – unlike so many contraceptive users.) In the first month the monitor will require 16 tests; thereafter it needs eight. As it learns about your body, it reduces the number of red, unsafe days, eventually leaving you with a fertile period of between six and ten days, and the rest of the month goes green.
The monitor pre-empts all your other questions: it starts to flash when it thinks your next period is due, and shows an egg symbol when you are ovulating. It tells you if you are doing something wrong, and warns you when the monitor needs cleaning or the batteries need to be replaced.
Persona claims to be 94 per cent effective (as reliable as the condom) and a behavioural study has suggested that, unlike the condom, it has improved the sex lives of more than half of the couples using it. And why shouldn’t it? There are no side-effects – no nausea, no loss of libido – and nobody ends up with spermicide on their hands.