For most of human history, women have shouldered 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 are devices or drugs that prevent pregnancy. These contraceptives now allow women to decide whether they wish to become pregnant, giving them previously unprecedented freedom of choice. In this present age, women are becoming increasingly able to decide what happens to their own bodies. Because of this, they are gradually achieving social parity with men, which they have so ardently fought for.
Historical Use of Contraceptives
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, the use of contraceptives mostly died off. During the Renaissance, contraceptives again became widely used when France was hit with an epidemic of syphilis—a sexually transmitted infection. As a response to syphilis, early versions of the modern-day condom were invented, helping to prevent the contraction of the disease and allowing those engaging in sexual activity to remain safe.
By the mid-1800s, condom use was widespread. However, feminist movements during the era were highly anti-condom because condoms were seen as a male-controlled method of contraception. Many people still see condoms that way, noting that men can willingly take the condom off during sex or neglect the use of one entirely, with the excuse that condoms reduce sensation for men. Despite this, it was the contraceptive of choice until the approval of birth control pills by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960.
Contraceptive Use Today
Today, over 28% of women who practice contraception in the U.S. use birth control pills. This shows how women are now able to have more control over their own bodies. They are no longer subject to the carnal whims of men, with the full consequences of pregnancy borne by the woman. Instead, they may now submit to their own desires because 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 have more control over whether they want to reproduce and bear a child. Without the ramifications usually associated with unprotected sex, women can benefit from the pleasures and intimacy of sex as often as men have in the past.
Positive Social Effects of Contraceptive Use
When the FDA approved the birth control pill in 1960, 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 their children; they were no longer imprisoned by their biology. They could decide if and when they wanted children and were finally free to pursue careers and higher education. This new freedom to pursue goals outside of childbearing allowed women access to a huge number of opportunities that were previously only available to men.
Women lacked this freedom that has 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 could suddenly choose whether to become pregnant, giving them unprecedented autonomy. The fact that the female civil rights movement came immediately afterward is no coincidence either. The birth control pill changed the social dynamic of the United States by reforming the image of a woman's role in society. Since then, women have caught up rapidly and 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 being given to a greater number of females. Previously, women were bound to the home. But now, with the shackles of household duties released, women have shown that they are equal to men in modern society and that men no longer dominate humanity as they have throughout history.
Some may argue 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 women have made are significant, and that before long, they will come to be seen as equals in society. The emergence of effective contraceptives, such as the birth control pill, has contributed to the gains that women have made in society, and undoubtedly, future developments will only continue to bolster women and their cause.
Arguments Against Birth Control
Some argue that contraception destroys the symbolic meaning of sex and 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. Those traditions were based on previous outdated societies, and we must move forward.
Furthermore, contraception is not only used for so-called sinful acts of sexual intercourse, it is also used to prevent the creation of new life that would be neglected. If a woman gives birth to a child she never wanted in the first place, there's a higher chance that that child will be neglected and perhaps sent to an orphanage or foster care. This only places more strain on our limited sociological resources. 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. The use of contraceptives wholly satisfies that condition.
Final Thoughts on the Impact of Contraceptives on Modern Society
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. Since then, women have been rapidly catching up to the socioeconomic status of men. This empowerment of a previously marginalized group of society has led to the rise and success of other movements such as the gay rights movement.
The foundations of society have been shaken by the dramatic shift in the powers of the household. In today’s world, it is more 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. Those traits can now be applied to a much greater degree in our current day and age.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2012 William Shi