Whitney Cummings talks sex, sleep and trying 'every birth control under the sun'

Whitney Cummings gets candid about birth control. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Whitney Cummings gets candid about birth control. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Here's something you should know about Whitney Cummings: She's "very pro mood swings."

"Emotions serve a purpose," the stand-up comic, actress and TV series creator (Whitney, 2 Broke Girls) tells Yahoo Life. "I made a whole movie called The Female Brain about how we over-pathologize some of our superpowers — 'women are hysterical,' 'they're crazy,' 'they're emotional.' I think that throughout history, those [things] kept us alive when we didn't have security systems and locks on our doors and when we had to fight off bears with our personalities to protect our children."

Exploring her full range of emotions is something the Good For You podcaster is working on.

"I've tried to have a better relationship with honoring my emotions and not having internalized, Oh, you're being crazy. You're being dramatic, " Cummings says. "It's like, no, this was bad. This person hurt me. I should be sad. I should be dramatic about this because I've been taught to minimize my feelings and keep quiet about them."

One thing Cummings isn't keeping quiet about is women's reproductive health, whether that means calling out the stigma surrounding the word "vagina" or sharing her personal struggle with finding the right birth control. Now an ambassador for Annovera, the ring-shaped birth control system which lasts for 13 cycles — "I can take it out at any time, so if I find a rich guy and want to get pregnant fast, I can," she quips — the star gets candid with The Unwind about sex, sleep and relationships.

You're part of the "just say vagina" campaign, which pushes back against the messaging women so often face about their bodies.

In my teen years, I didn't know what questions to ask. I was too afraid to say the word "vagina" — I was embarrassed to have one. The messaging I got from everything — from the Catholic schools and the religious schools I went to, to the billboards, to magazine articles, to the products that are marketed toward women — was very much "your vagina is stinky, it's smelly, it's dry, it needs to be shaved, it needs to be managed."

And then in my teen years, I'm hooking up with boys that've read a lot of Playboy magazines or maybe watched porn. And it's a very vulnerable moment when you get naked for the first time. And there was a lot of like, "Ugh, why is there hair on that?" It was like, "No, you've been watching porn and that's not what women look like." So it got very confusing.

What did your birth control journey look like?

I tried every birth control under the sun. I talked about it a lot in my stand-up special for HBO called I'm Your Girlfriend, where I went through the implant and the patch and all these kinds of things that required procedures, and you had to get a new prescription every 26 days. And I was doing 80 cities a year as a comedian later on and traveling. I spent most of my time trying to figure out where the closest pharmacy was and when the pharmacy closed and [wondering things like] am I going to be able to get this to Toledo in time because I'm leaving Michigan...

I spent so much time. Something that's supposed to make your life easier made it a little bit harder... In terms of mental health and wellness, if the product that's supposed to make us less stressed out makes us more stressed out, I think we all have to stop and really think about what's going on.

That seems to tie into this concept of freedom, which is a recurring theme that you've addressed.

Yeah. Birth control is supposed to give you freedom, and I found myself, instead of stressing about this one thing [pregnancy], just stressing about, did I take it? Did I take it at the right time? Wait a second. I took it this morning. Oh God, I'm supposed to take it right now, but I checked it in my luggage and I have a 6-hour flight and ahhh am I throwing it all off? That's not freedom, if you're spending all your time worrying about whether the thing that gives you freedom is working or not, or if you did it right. So I'm grateful that in my lifetime, I get to have this product available to me. And if nothing else, at least I can say, I have a ring. Even if it's not an engagement ring, I got a ring. "Where's the ring?" I'm like, it's in my vagina.

You've been spoken about struggling with sleep issues for a long time. What finally helped you work through that?

You know, for me and my sleep issues, a lot of it's inherited. [I've been] learning about epigenetics and learning about our roles when we were in situations that were tribal, before streetlights and alarm systems, and how there were some people that are deemed night watchers. They were the people in the tribe that were assigned to stay awake all night to protect [everyone], and they mated with each other. And I ended up becoming a stand-up comedian. I'm not sure if that's an accident, because at 8 o'clock [at night], I'm like, "I'm up! I'm ready to work." That's when I'm my most hyper-vigilant.

I also talk about growing up in a home that was fraught with dysfunction and addiction issues, and night was always a time when you didn't know what was going to happen next. I'm still working on dismantling some of those old survival mechanisms that served me very well when I was a kid but don't serve me as well as an adult.

I also have all these sleep rituals now and honestly, so much of it was about worry. I was so anxious and worried and being able to take even one worry off my plate — and not having to worry about birth control every five seconds is one — and just looking at the things in my life that were causing me anxiety when they were supposed to solve anxiety, whether it was birth control, friends, boyfriends, a work situation, a financial situation... Just going down that list of all the things that I could really remove from my plate, or [find] a better solution.

But you know, change is a tricky one. I'm the person that just gets adjusted to the hard way, and if there's an easier solution, it's like, "Oh, well, I've already kind of accustomed to this." The idea of changing can be scary, so just leaning into that, and also just being patient with myself the same way I try to be everywhere else. [There's] this emotional perfectionism that I've inherited. What I think a lot of women and now men can relate to is when you lay down and you're like, "Oh, it's been 20 minutes. I haven't fallen asleep. Ugh, I'm never gonna fall asleep." And then that perpetuates it. I think just being able to be honest — and having a podcast where I can sort of talk about all this stuff, and everyone's like, "Me too! I have that too!" — makes me feel a little less ashamed.

Do you have a mantra that gets you going?

Oh gosh, I have so many — I'm in a 12-step program! "Feelings aren't facts" is a good one for me. And also, "don't go to the problem for the solution." So if your guy is your problem, don't go to him to solve it; go to someone else to get a solution that works for you and then bring it to the relationship. And sometimes that means never coming back to the relationship [laughs].

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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