by Claire Davidson
It seems like quite an outdated concept, but there are still thousands of women who are passive within their own sexual relationships; they allow the decisions about when and where they have intercourse be decided by their partners, and the contraception they use (and even whether they choose to use it at all) is another decision that is made by the men, rather than the women involved in the situation. It sounds like a cliché from a bygone age, but actually, one of the first steps towards female empowerment and female liberation is being able to take responsibility for your own contraception and your own sexual health. Being able to choose if and when you want to have a baby means that you have considerably more control over your own future, and can still enjoy a healthy sexual relationship without ultimately being dependent on a man.
The Introduction of Contraception
In the 1960’s, early feminists said that the introduction of the contraceptive pill set women free. Others have argued that it simply imprisoned women in a different way, as it robbed them of their right to say no (as they could no longer use fear of unwanted pregnancy as a reason for abstaining from sex before they were ready). The patron of the first pioneering contraceptive pill wanted to free women from the ‘tyranny of motherhood’ but of course this intention has not had the desired affect fifty years on, as in countries where contraceptive pills are readily available abortion rates have risen year on year. Contraception has dramatically changed the world we live in, and in both Europe and America the figures for both unwanted pregnancies and the prevalence of sexually transmitted disease has continued to grow throughout the last three decades of the century. A statistic that can be directly correlated with the increase in contraceptive choices.
Check Your Own Sexual Health
Of course, with greater choice comes greater responsibility. And one of the responsibilities that comes with making the decision to take control of your own contraceptive options is that you and you alone are also responsible for your own sexual health. The standard advice issued to men and women alike (a message that is given to the youngest school children and repeated) is to practice safe sex all the time, every time. But sometimes, for whatever reasons, slip ups occasionally happen to everyone and if they happen to you then remember to get tested regularly for a range of sexually transmitted diseases. Some people might think it is shameful or embarrassing to have an STD test, but actually it’s just as important (and just as normal) as going for an eye exam, or making an appointment to have your hearing checked. If everyone took responsibility for their own body and their own sexual health by undergoing testing for sexually transmitted diseases each time they had unprotected sex or each time they changed their sexual partner, then we would live in a world where the figures of people suffering from these diseases would see a dramatic decline to affect a very small minority of the populous.
Are ‘Real’ Feminists Opposed to Contraception?
Self proclaimed feminist Holly Grigg-Spall has written a new best-selling book called Sweetening the Pill: or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control, which argues that the contraceptive pill is an addictive drug and that women should stop taking it: it goes as far as to state that real feminists wouldn’t take the oral contraceptive pill. This book has received huge amounts of press over the past eight weeks with mainstream newspapers and lighter women’s magazines clamoring to discuss Grigg-Spall’s claim and decide which camp ‘real’ feminists should fall into.
The fact is, there’s no right or wrong with this discussion: for some women the contraceptive pill is necessary and some women prefer not to take it. As long as you are making either decision for yourself and for your own reasons (rather than to please or impress someone else) then your contraceptive decisions don’t have to be a feminist issue.