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The Social Effects of Birth Control

Updated on October 2, 2012

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For most of human history, women have been subjected to the burden of the possibility of pregnancy whenever a man required sexual satisfaction. However, with the advent of the modern age, we have developed contraceptives, which is a device or drug that serves to prevent pregnancy. These contraceptives now allow women to decide whether they wish to become pregnant, giving them previously unprecedented freedom in their choices. In this present age, women are becoming increasingly more able to decide what happens within their own body and, through this, they have gradually achieved the social parity with men that they so ardently fought for.

The history of contraceptives can be traced back to Antiquity, with the introduction of the pessary, one of the most well known contraceptives of ancient times. However, after the fall of the Roman Empire, use of contraceptives fell. It was not until the Renaissance, when syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease, hit France did contraceptives become widely used. As a response to syphilis, early versions of the modern day condom were invented, allowing those engaging in sexual activity to remain safe, preventing the contraction of the disease. By the mid-1800’s, condom use was widespread. However, as condoms are a male-controlled method of contraception, feminist movements during the era were highly anti-condom. This can be partially attributed to the fact that condoms reduce sensation for the male, and, as condoms are a male-controlled method of contraception, they can willingly take off the condom or neglect the use of the condom entirely. Despite this, it was the contraceptive of choice until the approval of birth control pills by the FDA in the U.S. in 1960.

Today, the most used contraceptive in the U.S. is the birth control pill, used by over 28.0% of women who practice contraception. This shows how women are now able to be in control of their own bodies, how they are no longer subject to the carnal whims of men with the full consequences of pregnancy bore by the women. Instead, they may now submit to their own desires, as the most significant consequence of sex has been eliminated.

Nowadays, women are no longer in constant fear of pregnancy when engaging in sexual intercourse. With contraceptives, women now have control of whether they want to reproduce, to bear a child. Without the ramifications usually associated with unprotected sex, women could now benefit from the pleasures and intimacy of sex as often as men had. This came to a head with the FDA approval of the birth control pill in 1960. Immediately, the long entrenched notion that sexual intercourse was forever bound with the burden of childbearing was eliminated. Suddenly, women were no longer confined to being merely housewives, staying at home and taking care of the children. They were no longer imprisoned by their biology; they could decide when they wanted children, if they wanted children, and, in the meanwhile, they were free to pursue careers and higher education. This freedom to do what they wanted, and not what biology dictated, allowed women a greater number of opportunities that they were previously precluded from.

Women lacked this freedom that have been available to men for thousands of years. This inherent inferiority in the freedoms of women has been prevalent throughout human history. However, since the introduction of contraceptives, women have gradually gained greater civil rights. When the birth control pill was introduced, women suddenly could choose if they become pregnant, giving them unprecedented autonomy. The fact that the female civil rights movement came immediately afterwards is no coincidence either; the birth control pill changed the social dynamic of the United States, reforming the image of what a woman does in the society. Since then, women have caught up rapidly; they are now more likely to earn a college degree than men. In the labor force, the majority of workers are now women, with managerial positions now being given to a greater number of females. Previously, women were bound to the home, however, with the shackles of household duties now released, women have come to shown that they are equal to men in this new modern society, that men no longer dominate humanity like they historically have.

Some may argue this: that men still continue to dominate society. They say that the metaphorical “glass ceiling” has not yet been broken; men still control the upper echelons of society despite the gains women have made. And they may be right. However, it is undeniable that the gains that women have made are significant, and that, before long, they will come to be seen as equals in society. The emergence of effective contraceptives like the birth control pill have contributed to the gains that women have made in society, and, undoubtedly, future developments will only further the cause of women.

Others argue that contraception destroys the symbolic meaning of sex, that sex is a sacred act that is diminished by the introduction of contraception. However, we must come to the realization that the notions of the past are holding back social progress, that tradition was based on previous society, on outdated society, and that we must move forward. Furthermore, contraception is not only used for so-called baseless, sinful acts of sexual intercourse, but also to prevent the creation of new life that would be neglected. If a woman gives birth to a child that they never wanted in the first place, that child would be neglected, perhaps sent to an orphanage and fostered off. This only places more strain on the limited resources our world possesses, and with the already rapidly increasing human population, the absence of contraceptives would undoubtedly bring greater human costs than moral gains. In fact, it is inherent in organisms to have “…overproduction in the number of offspring of each species. Darwin showed that the overproduction of offspring threatened a species’ capacity to survive” (Muuss, Velder, and Porton 15). As John Stuart Mill’s philosophy of utilitarianism states, we should always settle on the choice that brings greater good for the greater number, and the use of contraceptives wholly satisfies that condition.

Contraceptives have had a profound impact on modern day society, reshaping thousands of years of accepted social norms. The change in perspective that the birth control pill offered allowed women to pursue goals that were previously confined to the realms of men, and, since then, they have been rapidly catching up to the socio-economic status of men. This empowering of a previously marginalized group of society has led to the rise and success of other movements like the gay rights movement. The foundations of society have been shaken with such a dramatic shift in the power of the household. In today’s world, it is very likely to find a household where the wife is the breadwinner as opposed to the husband. This reversal has led to an increasingly equitable society that balances out the best traits of both men and women and applies them with the greatest degree to our current day and age.

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