Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Pill is not a girl's best friend

First, a brief housekeeping note: I'm a bit behind in my emails, as some of you who may have emailed me recently have probably noticed. I'm trying to catch up, and hope to do so soon--your patience as in all things related to this blog is greatly appreciated.

Now--one of the emails in my inbox was a link sent by my sister-in-law to this interesting piece (thanks, sis!):

The Pill, together with abortion as backup, appeared to provide full insurance against pregnancy risks. But as economists well know, full insurance tends to induce greater risk-taking: As people perceive sex to be safer, they pursue more of it. This applies especially to people who would otherwise be most vulnerable to the risks of unwanted pregnancy: the young, the unmarried, and those unable to care for a child. While a tight causal argument is difficult to make, correlations alone do not augur in favor of the Pill: The rapidly increasing sexual activity of the Pill era correlates with a staggering increase in non-marital births — less than 5 percent of births in 1960 were to unmarried mothers, compared with roughly 40 percent today. A counterintuitive result, perhaps, but a fairly human one nonetheless.

And this points to an unresolved difficulty with the contraceptive revolution, which was supposed to serve women above all: Women on the whole disproportionately bear the burden of the new sexual regime. They are expected to dose themselves with a Group 1 carcinogen for approximately two-thirds of their fertile years. They sustain greater emotional costs from casual sex. They are at greater risk of contracting STDs and disproportionately suffer from their long-term consequences, such as cervical cancer and fertility loss.And even after 50 years with the Pill, as many as half of all pregnancies are still unintended. Women, not men, must make the heart-wrenching choice between abortion, reckoned a tragic outcome even by its supporters, and bearing a child with little to no paternal support. After all, since children were negotiated out of the bargain by the availability of contraception and abortion, men have secured a strong rationale to simply ignore or reject pregnancies that result from uncommitted sexual relations. Nobel-laureate economist George Akerlof predicted nearly two decades ago that this would lead directly to the feminization of poverty, as it ruefully has. [....]

Authentic sexual equality requires that men understand with their bodies (as women do) the procreative potential of the sexual act. And this is exactly what natural methods of family planning do. By frequenting sex only during infertile times when a child is unwanted, men learn to coordinate their desires for intimacy with the natural rhythms of the female body. Feminist scholar and theologian Angela Franks notes that “[this] is unheard of in a society in which male desire appears to set the guidelines — especially in the ‘hook-up’ culture. Indeed, such a reorientation of desire is more revolutionary than any secular feminist project.” Those who practice this approach to family planning report that its use tends to make husbands more sensitive to the sexual and emotional needs of their wives — a sensitivity that many women have long found wanting.

Do read the whole thing, if you can. I found it to be an interesting essay exploring some of the realities of the birth-control culture and its impact on women, especially some of the negative impacts which are not often discussed...

...except in whispers. Or in comments, like this rather heartbreaking one left in the comments at that post:

This paragraph alone [note--the commenter cites the last paragraph I quote, above--E.M.] gave me a bit of a wake up call. The man I was married to (well, still married to until we finalize the divorce HE wanted), was quite demanding in terms of our "intimacy". I was, apparently, supposed to be prepared at all times, while he gave little in the way of closeness, real intimacy, romance. Obviously we were hardly unusual among couples, married or not. Women and men do not have the same "sexual rhythm", or very rarely do. It's probably always one of the biggest complaints, especially from men, who, by and large, seem to need and want it every single day, and more than once a day. That's fine. That's their biology. Women, by and large, are not like this.

I think this argument for natural family planning actually makes sense. Not of course to be mandated from the government, state or federal. But something for WE THE PEOPLE, as the individuals who make up society, to think about and consider.

I have always believed that the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s, that was coupled with the womens' rights movement, was a real problem for women, even while others were pointing out how "even men" were supportive of womens' rights. As a TEENAGER I had it figured out: sure men supported it - it meant easier access to sexually active women. Hate to be cynical, but there you go.

The Pill added to that - now apparently, we should be ready ALL the time because we're protected. Although one little thing that I've heard few discuss is that the Pill also can make your libido die down quite a bit. Add work, children, life's stresses in general and it makes for many women who probably don't really feel "in the mood" very often. Couple that with men who have come to expect women to be "ready at all times" and it's a recipe for disaster.

Although my marriage is just one of millions that have broken up, this article certainly adds some food for thought.

What's valuable about the above comment is that this is not just the experience of this one commenter; I've heard it before from men and women who gave up contraception, and even from women who are still using it. The reality is that the Pill isn't all that liberating for many women. Instead, like the woman commenting above, they find that their use of the Pill makes everyone from their first boyfriend to their second or third husbands simply assume that they are always sexually available whenever their partner desires that physical intimacy. Now that the fear of pregnancy has been "taken care of," think these men (not irrationally) what other reason could a woman have for saying "no" unless she's stingy with her body, manipulative, playing mind games, selfish, or otherwise a less than optimal partner? And if she's not available--why, plenty of other women are, because plenty of other women are on the Pill and don't mind "sharing" some other woman's partner (whether his girlfriend or wife knows there is another woman or not). "I can't get the other woman pregnant," thinks the cheating man, "so what's the big deal? It's just sex..."

And women, by and large, have been the ones to suffer. Marriages continue to break up at alarming rates, with many more divorces than the pre-Pill days. More and more children are born out of wedlock, as women discover that the Pill can, indeed, fail, and that abortion is supposed to be the backup for contraceptive failures--and that it's not really worthwhile to commit to a man anyway, given that he's likely to leave sooner or later. The "feminization of poverty" as mentioned above has become a reality in our culture.

It has, ironically enough, been the women who have been sacrificed at the altar of worship in the religion of Sex Without Consequences. But so successful has been the marketing of that sacrifice that women themselves are the ones demanding that the churches be forced to provide free birth control to them. And until women feel "liberated" enough to break ranks and admit out loud what some women still only whisper, which is that the Pill is not a girl's best friend, the sad reality will continue unabated.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

I think I already said this once, but perhaps it is time to stop using "we might get pregnant" as a crutch, and start talking about what it true with or without pregnancy: these are two unique individual PEOPLE making themselves utterly open and vulnerable to each other. So if you're not getting respect, demand it, with or without the pill.

L. said...

My diaphragm/IUD are, in fact, my best friends forever(or at least until menopause).

I respect the choices of anyone who doesn't want to use artificial birth control, or hormonal birth control. I would not presume to tell anyone what is right for her. But I feel "liberated" enough to "admit out loud what some women still only whisper:" my choice is the right one for me.

Red Cardigan said...

L., all I wish to say in response to your comment is that I have read your blog and recall comments you've made here as well regarding your marriage. If you wish to state here and now that your marriage is a healthy, loving one made up of two equal partners who respect each other in every way imaginable then I will not quibble; women have the right to be inconsistent about these things, after all.

JoAnna said...


Why is treating your fertility as a contagious disease that must be suppressed at all costs the right choice for you?

L. said...

Sorry for my (ahem!) enthusiasm -- I wrote my comment yesterday after a dinner at which more red wine was consumed than usual.

My partner and I do have our share of conflicts (different nationalities, cultures, native languages, religions and expectations for our children), but I can indeed state that overall, our union is a healthy and loving one made up of two equal partners who respect each other in every way -- and when it comes to sexuality, we are definitely on the same page.

Remember, I am not a great believer in marriage, and I am capable of economically supporting myself and the children, too -- I therefore have no compelling reason to stay with anyone with whom I did not have a healthy and loving union.

JoAnna, I do not wish to have any more children, with my particular body -- I decided I've had enough. Therefore, my fertility is LIKE a disease, in that it is an unwanted physical condition that thankfully I can take measures to control. I realize not everyone feels this way.

And I will henceforth curb my enthusiasm about contraception, etc., in comments on people's blogs, and try to avoid "drinking and commenting." Peace to all!

Anonymous said...

"Why is treating your fertility as a contagious disease that must be suppressed at all costs the right choice for you?"

I'm not L, but how about

(1) The man or the woman has a serious
mental illness - bipolar disorder, schizophrenia - and raising a child would not be a good idea.
(2) The woman has a chronic disease
such as MS and bearing a child would
not be a good idea.
(3) The couple already have a child
with a disability such as classic autism and that child takes up so much time and so many resources that having another child would not be fair to anyone.
(4) The man or woman has a serious genetic illness, such as Huntingtons disease or sickle cell anemia, in his/her family.
(5) The woman is a cancer survivor who underwent chemotherapy or radiation therapy which could have caused genetic mutations in her ova.


Red Cardigan said...

And, Sis2Lis, all of those will be perfectly appropriate reasons to use NFP.

(Side note: are you the commenter who used to post at Rod's about a family member? Not trying to violate your privacy here, but want to assure you of my continued prayers.)

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Those would all be good reasons to use NFP... but I have yet to see any objective reason that using any other form of contraception in those circumstances would be "a grave evil."