Contraception has been a constitutional right in the US since 1965 and as stated by The Guardian this year allows women ‘freedom, opportunity and self-determination’. Despite changing attitudes surrounding women enjoying sex and the freedom of choice surrounding contraception being positive, it still seems that contraceptive responsibility has fallen to women.
This is a very real reality for women, as shown in a YouGov poll that showed one in three men are uncomfortable with the prospect of male hormonal contraception. Arguably, if the contraception fails it is women that endure the bodily consequences. Women in Brazil can face up to three years in prison for carrying out an abortion and increased abortion bans in American states has put unprotected women at great risk. In some US states, young girls are being taught sexual refusal skills as opposed to being educated about contraception.
The social expectation for women to protect themselves can be seen in the abundance of contraceptive options, while only two existing forms of contraception are available to men. When researching forms of male contraception, listed alongside condoms and a vasectomy, the NHS suggested the ‘withdrawal method’. This unreliable form of contraception highlights the lack of social responsibility placed on men when it comes to protection.
With vasectomy seen as a drastic and daunting prospect for many young men, this leaves the more assumed option of using a condom. Many men, however, choose not to use a condom as it has been seen to take away from sexual pleasure. In some cases, men have admitted to using resistance tactics such as seduction, deception, and condom sabotage (PMC). Other studies have shown that people opt not to use a condom during sex as it ruins the spontaneity of the moment and that conversations about contraception during sex aren’t particularly sexy. Therefore, it is evident that a drive for varied forms of male contraception is needed.
The University of Edinburgh are aiding studies surrounding a contraceptive gel for men that would be applied to the body, however this is still in the early stages of development. A pill for men is also being developed at The University of Washington, as reported by the BBC, although there have been concerns that it lowers sex drive. Despite studies showing that participants in the study continued to take part in regular sexual activity, it has been reported that it will be a while until the pill is perfected.
The female pill certainly isn’t perfect. Although it hasn’t been reported to lower sex drive, it does cause headaches, nausea, breast tenderness, mood swings, increased blood pressure and increased risk of blood clots as confirmed by the NHS. Some contraceptive pills have even been known to cause depression. Other forms of contraception such as the Intrauterine Device (IUD) and the Implant can be viewed as intrusive and have been known to cause both mood swings and weight gain.
Contraception for women has been readily available for around 50 years and extensive research has been organised in order to develop varying forms. This focus upon protection for women comes from the societal expectation that they should protect their own bodies from pregnancy.
Despite this mindset having an element of empowering autonomy, it arguably feeds male privilege in that men are able to enjoy sex without seriously considering the repercussions. As it has become assumed that women take the brunt of responsibility, are there limits to its extent of empowerment?
Safe and healthy sex should be equally enjoyed by both parties and as it takes two to tango, the responsibility should be a shared one.
Attitudes towards men using contraception has to change in order for there to be a push for varied forms of contraception.
In the meantime, opening up conversations about contraception with sexual partners and the encouragement of active consent being introduced into school sex education curriculums should work to encourage men to use the contraception that is available to them, hopefully lifting the burden from women.
Image: Marco Verch via Flickr