By Serene Nekoui
It’s 7:59 AM.
You sleep away your last unconscious thoughts before the obnoxious buzzing of your iPhone’s alarm clock disturbs your slumber. 8:00 hits, and you sleepily reach to tap the “snooze” button on the familiar alarm. You roll out of bed and start your routine: wash your face, brush your teeth, straighten your hair, apply some mascara, make your bed, pack your books, and head downstairs to grab a granola bar before class. You set your backpack down to tie the laces of your Converse, but a twinkling ringtone and buzzing escape your phone. You tap “snooze” for the second time that morning, this time on an alarm titled “Take Birth Control Pill”. You roll your eyes, reach for your prescribed pack, and swallow the pill that’s been part of your routine for years.
Since its introduction to the market, birth control, encompassing the birth control shot, IUD, vaginal ring, patch, pill, tubal ligation, and more, has allotted women the power and control over their body’s, pregnancies, and sex lives. But in the wake of feminist thought and scientific advancement, the language and conception surrounding the methods of birth control have not owned up to its sexist development alongside the progressive push for female reproductive rights.
The initial outbreak of the birth control Pill gave women enormous control over their fertility in the wake of the 1960 baby boom. A PBS article titled The Pill and the Women’s Liberation Movement outlines the cultural glorification of the 1950’s and 1960’s woman as a happy homemaker when the decade’s reality comprised of women working low paying jobs such as teachers, nurses, waitresses and secretaries. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 emerged, prohibiting employment and educational discrimination, the birth control Pill reached its popularity, as women were now able to postpone childbirth and pursue a career.
The broad conception of birth control, however, was not created using such progressive consideration. An article by Hannah Harris Green titled, The Future of Birth Control Means Facing Up to Its Sexist Pastoutlines Nelly Oudshoorn’s argument in the Male Pill, expressing that gynecology was developed because 19th-century scientists believed the female body was inherently linked to sex and reproduction, as opposed to the male body. Green argues that the attitude surrounding reproduction as a burden women should bear still remains, as vasectomies and condoms are cheaper, safer, and more efficient, but take the back seat to female sterilization. According to the Cleveland Clinic, men with vasectomies make up approximately 5 percent of all married men of reproductive age, where female sterilization alone makes up 25.1 percent of American women of reproductive age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Margaret Sanger and Katharine McCormick presented the birth control pill as a form of female social and political liberation, pushing to have the Pill viewed as a contraceptive women alone controlled. After aiding scientists and physicians in creating the modern pill, they had successfully furthered the belief in women’s ability to be in control of their own fertility.
Birth control is now used by millions of women across the globe, exercising its magnitude of elements that benefit women’s health. According to Young Women’s Health, the birth control pill alone is used to treat a variety of conditions, including Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, acne, excess hair growth, irregular menstrual periods, endometriosis and more. With these health benefits and doctor’s apparent push for birth control as a way to hone women’s health, birth control has become a normalized concept that is commonly introduced to young teens as a means to treat health complications relating to female hormones and health. And while there are undeniable benefits of birth control, its main function is pushed aside: birth control is used as a contraceptive practiced to prevent the event of an unwanted pregnancy. In other words, female contraceptives are used because women want to have sex. Without acknowledging birth control’s underlying use, and using its benefits as a smoke screen, we often forget it takes two to make a baby.
So, if two bodies are involved at the moment of conception, why are female’s bearing the burden of birth control? An article by Julie Beck titled The Different Stakes of Male and Female Birth Control, outlines the male birth control trial, where 4.7 percent of men experienced side effects of mood swings, and 2.8 percent experienced depression, essentially ending the trial. Julie Beck notes a similar trial that took place with the FDA approved IUD called Liletta, where 5.2 percent of women experienced mood swings, and 5.4 percent experienced depression as side effects of the implant. While the risks for a woman experiencing the side effects of birth control were higher than that of a man’s, the male injectable birth control was regarded as too risky. In 2007, a pharmaceutical company called Bayer refused to have their male contraceptives involving an annual implant and quarterly inject to hit the market, because it was less convenient than the female option of swallowing a pill every day.
Perhaps male birth control has not successfully hit the market because of failed market strategies. Hannah Harris Green suggests that the difficulty lies in using the same “empowerment” tactic that was used to push women to practice contraceptive methods, as men hold power in most areas of society already. Instead, male birth control advocates push for the marketing tactic of a “caring man” who wants to take the burden of birth control off of their partner’s shoulders. Sociologist Laury Oaks states that pharmaceutical companies fear the “caring man” is rather scarce and argues the marketing tactic that could potentially be used is the avoidance of a woman potentially claiming you as the father of her child.
Birth control has undoubtedly opened the doors of possibility to women everywhere. While there have been a number of complications, including female sterilization as forms of poverty reduction and population control, its intent was to give women the power over their bodies and sex lives. It’s important we don’t forget that men are just as involved in sexual health as women. Just because the burden of birth control didn’t lie on the shoulders of a man before, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t in the future. I urge you to be part of the conversation and promote equality surrounding contraceptives and shift society’s sexist lens to a clearer, equal future.
PBS, “The Pill and the Women’s Liberation Movement.” American Experience, 10 Aug. 2018, www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/pill-and-womens-liberation-movement/.
Green, Hannah Harris, “The Future of Birth Control Means Facing Up to Its Sexist Past.” How We Get To Next, 10 Aug. 2018, https://howwegettonext.com/the-future-of-birth-control-means-facing-up-to-its-sexist-past-848c139a57c3.
Health Guides, “Medical Uses for the Birth Control Pill.” Young Womens Health, 19, Jul. 2018. https://youngwomenshealth.org/2011/10/18/medical-uses-of-the-birth-control-pill/.
Beck, Julie, “The Different Stakes of Male and Female Birth Control.” The Atlantic. 3 Nov. 2016. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/11/the-different-stakes-of-male-and-female-birth-control/506120/.
Health Library, “Vasectomy (Sterilization),” Cleveland Clinic. N.a. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/4423-vasectomy-sterilization.
Daniels, Kimberly., Daugherty, Jill., Jones, Jo., Mosher, William., Division of Vital Statistics, “Current Contraceptive Use and Variation by Selected Characteristics Among Women Aged 15-44: Unites States, 2011-2013.” National Health Statistics Reports. 10 Nov. 2015.