By Hayley MacMillen | Refinery29 | 20 May 2016
We're with you, Jessica Biel — we're also all too often mystified by what's going on in our own bodies. The actress and activist spoke yesterday in Copenhagen at women's health and rights conference Women Deliver 2016 about her struggle to understand conception and pregnancy, and about how that struggle motivates her work with the family planning nonprofit WomanCare Global.
"I’m clearly here to talk about vaginas," she began with a laugh. She then turned serious: "I’m here because this is an incredibly important issue; women and girls' reproductive health around the world, but in the States [too] — this is something that we don’t really talk about very much."
"I have an issue, because I don’t know what’s happening in my own body," Biel continued. "When I decided I wanted to become pregnant, I had no idea what it meant and how it actually would work, and the cycle, and my period — I had no clue."
As the 34-year-old actress recounted to Glamour in September of last year, she had gone off the pill two years before she and her husband, Justin Timberlake, decided that they were ready for a baby — but suddenly, Biel had questions she had never before considered: Would it be difficult to get pregnant after years on the pill? When in her cycle would sex be most likely to lead to conception?
"Suddenly, I realized I really didn't know what's going on inside my own body," Biel told Glamour. "It was shocking."
Biel gave birth to Silas Randall Timberlake in April of last year, but the powerlessness she felt in the face of her fertility ignorance left a lasting impression. "Luckily, I didn’t have an issue" having a child, she said in her Women Deliver address, "but I was asking my friends all of these questions about my body and [if they were] experiencing the same thing, and nobody had a clue." And Biel believes that reluctance to talk openly about women's bodies is to blame. "[Body talk is] very shameful, and that’s the problem — why is it so shameful?" she asked. "I feel completely embarrassed talking about this stuff, even with my gynecologist, and why is that? It makes no sense. I am here because I want to pull the stigmas off female reproductive everything."
That goal led Biel to partner with Saundra Pelletier, CEO of WomanCare Global, and release a series of frank videos on reproductive health topics from abstinence to birth control pills to loving your vagina. The videos are part of WomanCare Global's sex ed campaign called "If You Don't Tell Them, Who Will?" — a question Biel is taking to heart.
"[Sexual health] should not be shameful," she concluded. "We’re just human beings, all experiencing the same things."
This reporting was made possible by a press fellowship to Women Deliver 2016 granted to the author by Women Deliver via Global Health Strategies.