Contraceptives- The Birth of A Sexual Revolution & The Empowerment of Women

A majority of my posts will solely surround my need to force opinions down the throats of anyone who would bother to listen.

Contraceptives birthed a revolution of sexual liberation, key to the progression of women.

The idea of contraception has been standing for most of human history; there, in fact, is a reference to the “withdrawal method” in Genesis 38.9. Regardless, America had had a difficult history with female sexuality, especially under the Comstock Laws of 1873, which actively banned information on sexuality and attainable STDs/STI’s and defined contraceptives as “illicit” and “obscene”, therefore banning all access to birth control/abortion. The act was repealed in 1936 but contraception remained against the law for married couples in 28 states until the early 60’s.  (Thompson, 2013)

 

Margret Sanger was an active warrior on this issue for a majority of her life and spent many nights in prison for her views. After years of work, the first version of an oral birth control emerged. However, following the introduction of the drug in 1960, contraceptives were accessible only by married women, as governments did not want to be seen associating themselves with the “free-love” movement. This had to do mostly with the coming to terms of chosen promiscuity and the empowerment of women that society could not face. Anxieties about a lack of morality and familial values triumphed many. Nonetheless, within seven years’ time of the release of the birth control pill, about 12.5 million women globally were taking the pill and in forty years’ time, this increased to 100 million. Susan Douglas narrated the liberating consequences of the pill, beginning with traditional media stepping out and introducing female sexuality, which greatly opposed the common marriage and domestic lifestyle. With this introduction, women were told to pursue their careers and were given a chance at choosing sexual partners. Douglas wrote “For once, women started thinking that they could be equal in the bedroom (and) after a while, they started thinking they should be equal in other places as well” (Douglas, S. J. (1995). Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media. Times Books.)

Contraceptives became a symbol of sexual revolution and liberation. Drug makers of the time could have never predicted that combinations of estrogen and progestin could imbue such social and political change. With birth control, people were willing to thing outside of the norm and no longer forced into parenthood, women could choose when to have children, if ever, and focus on their careers. It was a freedom that seemed unattainable years before; It would be near impossible to compete with men if childbirth and motherhood were a priority. This liberation from children was the beginning of female empowerment in the twentieth century.

By the 70’s, birth control was a widespread concept and women were in positions to pursue careers that required commitment. There was a dramatic increase women’s education in medical, law, dental and business schools as employers had more confidence in a women’s ability to not become pregnant. Without the constant fear of pregnancy, American sexuality became mainstream to a point where women could talk about their sexuality and share experiences and lifestyles on national television. Acceptance was in great quantities during the late 90’s and onwards. On the opposite side, women were sexualized more than ever but despite this, female doctors and lawyers became a common staple in society and while women, to this day, have yet to reach full equality with men in such fields, the introduction of birth control allowed for the progression that is relevant today. (Langley, n.d.)

Another change in relationships involves the opening of the gay rights movement, where other oppressed groups and minorities found empowerment and acceptance through the openness of sexuality in women. It was a successful revolution for the gay community solely because of the alterations in perspective that couldn’t have been evident without contraceptives. Self expression began with moving past the taboo and this later influenced fashion, culture and the music of the twentieth century.

Without effective birth control or sexual education, researchers have noticed a decrease in life expectancies.  Women in Sierra Leone (GDP: 166.08 as of 1999) have an average 45-year life span (men having slightly larger lifespans), which is almost half the lifespan in developed countries and this is not due solely to civil unrest; 1/8 women die from childbirth in this region and in countries where most women give birth to more than six children (many are in Africa, such as Chad), it is rare for women to live to 60, the average life span being 50.7 years. This speaks in volumes about the risks of extreme childbirth and the possibility for empowerment that could emerge from accessible birth control in countries like this. For example, researchers have found that countries with the highest fertility rates also have the least rights for women. In countries like Niger and Mali, who have some of the greatest fertility rates, women of all ages can be forced into marriage (as shown by the enormous age gaps in marriages). In direct relation to these points, it has also been found that countries with the highest fertility rates have the highest poverty rates. This statistic speaks for itself as it would be easy to derive the fact that with the increase of people, more resources are used and more money is spent attaining these resources. And in countries like Afghanistan (again, with extremely high fertility rates and low contraception use), the lowest rates of literate women prevail.  This occurs because there is very little access to birth control and hence, many women do not get the chance to educate themselves as they are burdened with raising their family. With access to effective birth control methods, women would be given a greater opportunity to create lives for themselves as they were able to do in countries like America or, at the very least, be able to create financial stability before choosing to have children. As a matter of fact, before contraception, there were no women in CEO positions. Katherine Graham became the first female CEO in 1973 and as of 2011, 18 women are currently serving as CEOs. There were also very few women in congress before contraception, especially women of color. (Goff, 2012)

Although contraceptives provided many good thing, side effects remained a problem- many came with a decreased libido, irregular periods and hair loss. And although these were important, the positive aspects trumped the good changes in relationships between women and other communities. (Smith, 2016)

Because of women in the sixties, seventies and eighties, women in the nineties and forward understood that they were not limited to their biology and could challenge themselves in ways unimaginable. In countries where birth control does not exist for most, we can see that women lack control over their own lives and are forced to dedicate them, instead, to their offspring. This affects their own health and the health of their countries.

The empowerment of women opened an entirely new social structure and this all began with contraceptives.

 

 

 

References

            20th Century London. (2013, August 30). Retrieved November, 2016, from http://www.20thcenturylondon.org.uk/sex-and-birth-control

Birth control pills helped empower women, changed the world. (2015, July 17). Retrieved November, 2016, from http://www.religiousconsultation.org/News_Tracker/birth_control_pills_helped_empower_women_changed_world.htm

Cafe, R. (2014, December 11). How the contraceptive pill changed Britain. Retrieved November, 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-15984258

Douglas, S. J. (1995). Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female With the Mass Media. Times Books.

Goff, K. (2012, February 13). 10 Facts About Contraception (And How It Changed the World) That Every Man and Woman Should Know. Retrieved November, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/keli-goff/contraception-facts_b_1274828.html

How have contraceptives changed your life? (2014, April 19). Retrieved November, 2016, from http://www.gatesfoundation.org/What-We-Do/Global-Development/How-have-contraceptives-changed-your-life

Langley, L. (n.d.). How Birth Control Changed Everything. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from http://www.alternet.org/story/145948/how_birth_control_changed_everything/

Thompson, K. M. (2013, December 14). Why Birth Control is Essential to Women Everywhere – Our Bodies Ourselves. Retrieved November, 2016, from http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/health-info/why-birth-control-is-essential-to-women-everywhere/

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