It’s very good news that the Affordable Care Act might eliminate copays for birth control—as Matt singles out, even the relatively small cost of those copays can be an obstacle to use. But I think making contraception cheap and readily available is only one part of the use equation. And one thing that would be incredibly useful is if pop culture showed more people actually using contraceptives.
I really like Love & Basketball for many reasons, including that it ends up being a story about a man who supports his more successful wife’s career, but the thing that’s stuck with me most is the fact that when the main characters, Monica and Quincy, have sex for the first time, the movie doesn’t cut away during foreplay, but shows Quincy getting a condom out of his dresser drawer and putting it on (SF my W, but your mileage may vary):
Sex and the City, which is theoretically super-frank about sex, shows condoms in Carrie’s purse and stored by Steve in Brady’s diaper bag, but I don’t remember a sex scene that actually includes a man putting one on. There’s one episode where a potential partner wants Samantha to have an HIV test before he’ll sleep with her, and of course Miranda and Steve don’t use protection when they have the sexual encounter that results in their son. But for characters who have as much as sex as they do, contraception and condoms are a surprisingly small part of the conversation.
Judd Apatow’s movies make contraception seem kind of bizarrely complex, whether it’s Ben, who’s too drunk to get a condom on in Knocked Up (and it makes no sense that Alison isn’t on oral contraception), or Andy, who finds condoms totally mysterious in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. It’s a confusion that sort of emphasizes the man-child nature of the characters, but that none the less doesn’t read as particularly true.
It goes without saying that most movie sex scenes aren’t particularly realistic period, nor are they particularly complete. But it would be pretty easy to incorporate that step into movies, or to have characters ask if someone’s on the pill when they sleep together for the first time. And even if stories aren’t romantic comedies or dramas, to include the fairly routine popping your pill before you brush your teeth or before dinner in the infinite montages of characters getting ready in the morning. Background is important here, and safe sex is both about the heat of the moment and about routine.