By Sophie Williams
Podcast Review: Birth Control
Hormonal by Clue (Season 2)
By Sophie Williams
Hormonal is a podcast produced by Clue, the app “to track your period, and so much more.” Season 2 is all about birth control. Like Season 1, Hormonal shares useful and often untold information, but suffers from awkward pacing and mixed messaging.
Episodes start with a new PSA — i.e., Clue recognizes that many women don’t have periods and many non-women do, and asks listeners to bear with guests who use less accurate language — which is a nice, if slightly lackluster, improvement. I am always struck by the strangeness of using an irrelevant qualifier combined with a relevant description, e.g., “women and people with periods.” If you’re going to say people with periods, why is it necessary to say women? I understand the intention, but still get a vaguely isolated feeling from this sort of language.
Hormonal: Season 2 is quite hit or miss. The half-hour episodes may feel short and disjointed to those accustomed to longer, more in-depth podcasts, especially since the slow talking pace lends well to putting on 1.2x or 1.5x speed. Like the first season, Hormonal often changes the subject or ends the episode just as you are getting invested. This makes the slow-paced conversation and the repetitive intro, outro, interludes, and advertisements more prominent annoyances than they should be. The host is welcoming and delightful, but clearly not an expert, and the conversation pacing makes guests appear qualified but underutilized.
The first episode (Hot or Not? Birth Control and Sex Drive) is, in my opinion, a poor start. It annoyed me for reasons I can’t quite place. Maybe it was that the guest, one of Clue’s medical experts, advised listeners to track calorie intake and weigh themselves if they felt they gained weight after starting The Pill (hormonal birth control), and gave no reason for potential weight gain besides “feeling depressed and eating more.” There was also no mention of the effects of changing cortisol and estrogen levels, or any other explanation. This is a fairly triggering, non-reassuring, and even medically misleading response. The Pill tricks the body into thinking it is pregnant; some weight gain may be expected and even healthy (See the book Big Fat Lies and many other resources), and shouldn’t always be positioned as the person’s responsibility to fear and prevent.
The fifth episode is also questionable, as the guest is a little too unapologetic when justifying the exploitation of women in occupied Puerto Rico in the process of development of the hormonal birth control pill. (He then refers to American slavery as, apparently, another example of a structure that was worth it in the name of progress, completely out of the blue. This suggestion is quite jarring and unprompted, and completely fucking arguable.) I appreciated the effort to re-cap The Pill’s tangled history, but the guest’s asides, inappropriate comparisons, and overall attitude dampened the listening experience significantly for me.
Despite these issues, the podcast has its gems. The sixth episode (Bringing Sexy Back) is excellent, featuring two midwives from Germany and the United States respectively. They bring fresh, grounded insights on heath care insufficiencies, birthing and infant-care, queer family structures, and profit-based medicine. The second episode (The ABC: Abortion & Birth Control) details abortion processes with a clear, concise attitude, reframing abortion in a medical rather than moral sense, and the fourth (Reproductive choice & reproductive justice) is an excellent (and infuriating) discussion on reproductive justice, and the lack of it.
Realizing I reached the final episode in this eight-part was a bit jarring, as I thought I’d have learned more. However, despite my whinging, Hormonal is worth a listen. It refreshed what I knew and piqued interest in what I did not, and I remember most of what I heard on the show — an impossible task with more highly detailed podcasts. It is a brief but good crash course on most things related to birth control, reproductive justice, sex, pregnancy, contraception, and The Pill, and the world would be a better place if everything discussed was general knowledge.
FAVORITE EPISODES: “The ABC: Abortion & Birth Control,” “Reproductive choice & reproductive justice,” and “Bringing Sexy Back”
Clue is a wonderful and non-girlboss period tracking app. Their podcast Hormonal: Season 2 has an admirable goal of informing listeners about overlooked health topics that affect everyone with a body. It needs to work on pacing.
Random Bonus Episode Recommendation: Episode 48 and 49 of Citations Needed: Shifting Representations of Abortions in the Media, Parts I and II