Birth Control is About More Than Pregnancy

It’s time to reframe this conversation


On Wednesday morning, Vox published the following headline: “Poll: 80% say women should be able to have sex for pleasure, not pregnancy.” The article goes on to examine the data from a recent study about American attitudes towards sex, but it’s a little hard to get past the headline, isn’t it? “A new poll on public attitudes toward birth control finds that Americans are pretty progressive about it,” reads the subhead. I guess we’re supposed to be excited that one in five Americans thinks women should only have sex as if they want a freaking child as a result.

The poll was conducted by PerryUndem, “a nonpartisan public opinion research firm in Washington, DC,” and covers topics like whether respondents believe women should have access to affordable birth control, believe birth control impacts women’s freedom or oppose defunding Planned Parenthood. The results, which I hesitate to call good but will call “okay, fine,” indicate that the majority (in many cases close to 70%) of Americans support at least some reproductive freedoms, which paints a slightly more optimistic picture than the grim one we’re seeing in Washington.

Still, a little digging into the study reveals a line of questioning that remains shrouded in sexism. How are we still here? How are we still framing all this as a women’s issue? We knew we wanted to open this conversation on Man Repeller, but we weren’t sure how. Below is the conversation we had in our Slack room trying to figure that out. In the end, we just decided to just publish the dialogue and open it up you guys. How does all this make you feel?

Leslie: This Vox poll

Haley: Whoa

LeandraThis whole thing is a joke. Just like Leslie’s piece about maternity leave, this isn’t a woman’s issue! Pregnancy occurs in a female body but the fucking baby belongs to two people

Haley: Yeah definitely

Leandra: We’re working so hard to protect these rights and being so tough but are we doing ourselves a disservice by assuming all of the responsibility?

Haley: I guess it’s good to see is the stats are more in our favor than the news lets on. 80%…

“This point is worth pausing on. One of America’s two major political parties is ideologically committed to policies on women’s health that most Americans don’t agree with at all.”

Leandra: Yeah. Worth pausing on. But not surprising. You know?

Haley: Right…but the rhetoric always makes it seem like half the country disagrees with us, rather than just 20%

Leandra: OBVIOUSLY 80% of Americans think women should be able to have sex for pleasure

Leslie: How is this a discussion/poll? Would we ever do this for men?

Leandra: Exactly

Haley: Well, they phrased the question like that to point out how insane it is right? Because really what they’re asking with that question is, “Are you for or against birth control?”

Leandra: Yes, but I think the story is: Why are we even asking? I mean I know why we’re asking, but can we just all take a minute to acknowledge that if we keep getting pregnant, that’s not a female issue. That is a human issue. So in the event ALLTHEBILLS pass and you are a man who knocks up a woman, how about a corresponding bill that legally beholds the sperm donor to child care? I’m speaking in extremes. But I don’t understand why it took me until right now to realize that we are essentially being manipulated into fighting for sexual liberation

Leslie: It is left to a woman to figure it out, pay for it, etc.

Leandra: Which will yield men as the greatest benefactors of this coup

Leslie: It’s bizarre

Leandra: It’s embarrassing. It’s a double standard I had not even considered. Like, what are we fighting for? This way, instead of making noise that resists the bills, we accept but suggest that “male rights” are adjusted accordingly. This sucks

Leslie: There’s a thread of biological determinism that runs through it

Haley: I guess there’s two things about this article. 1. The headline is depressing, yes, but when you read through, the point is: Americans don’t feel as strongly about restricting reproductive rights as all three branches of government are making it seem. Which is good. Or rather, it’s better than if it weren’t true. 2. The fact that we are even asking the question about sex for pleasure is bizarre. It’s weird to see it stated like that. It strips away the context and makes you realize what we’re fighting for. Feels very 1960

Leslie: It also makes you realize that the slut narrative isn’t going away

Haley: Yeah totally

Leandra: Yes the slut narrative is such an important part of this. It feels like an overwhelming manipulation! We’re fighting to stave off unwanted pregnancy? When did that become a female issue? IT TAKES TWO IT CANNOT HAPPEN WITHOUT SPERM.

Leslie: “Some had moral objections to birth control, or balked at the idea that they should have to ‘pay for’ a woman’s choice to have sex.”

Haley: “A woman’s choice” to have sex? Do they know what sex is?

HarlingOur next satire in the vein of millennial theory should be what the world would look like if men were the ones who got pregnant.

Photo by Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images.

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  • Bee

    The words “should be able to” really freak me out. Does that imply that the other 20% literally believe that women should not be legally permitted to have sex without the intention of having a child? That brings visions of the girls from Mad Max: Fury Road to my mind. Very, very weird.

    • Right?? Even though they’re the minority, that’s still a huge number. I’d understand 2% but it blows my mind that 20% of American women essentially view themselves as baby machines.

  • The fact that in the “free”, democratic world of 2017, we’re still questioning women’s rights of having sex for pleasure scares the hell out of me. While I know the 20% varies from country to country (I’m from Romania, where 3 mil. people support a movement that wants to interdict abortion), what disgusts me is the fact that among the respondents there are WOMEN who support the idea of other women being subject to restrictions regarding their bodies and desires.
    I mean, it’s great that in the US 80% might support women freedom of choice (from a sexual pov), but the existence of the 20% that disagrees this fundamental right profoundly saddens me.

  • BarbieBush

    Yes. I am reading a book another commentator suggested in the FAM article called “Taking charge of your fertility” which the title is mildly lame but is actually a great informative book that I feel like is changing my life. BUT in it, it talked about how birth control coming up was this great feminist thing, women taking control or whatever but it was also women taking responsibility for managing pregnancy.

    Which yes all that was said above proves how insane that is. I can’t say anything smarter or better I don’t think. The woman is still seen as the child’s caretaker nationally. So its up to a woman to make sure she doesn’t get pregnant, but when she does…she also has hella rights to that kid including most of the time complete custody and child support $$. So it is interesting paradigm IMO that the responsibility men ARE forced to take is monetary.

  • BarbieBush

    ALSO I would bet both of my breasts that Trump has paid for an abortion in his life.

    • snakehissken

      Considering there’s a rumor that he wanted Marla to abort Tiffany, I would say the chances are high.

      • Lucinda

        Pretty sure that rumor is from a Howard Stern interview. I remember reading a transcript, but I don’t think he used the word abortion. It was something like “well what are you gonna do about it?” or similar.

        • snakehissken

          That’s so spurious. I take back what I said, that’s like no evidence at all.

  • Camilla

    If children were not being born and taken care of, humanity would extinguish. So this is not a womens issue, and its also not just a woman+man=parents issue. Even if parents might or might not be the first care givers. As an issue, child birth and care belongs to society and the bill should be passed to society. This is what we should be asking our states for. The discussion should not be focused on making the nuclear family alone responsable for children, but to expand the care network through community and the state.

  • EP

    I second what was said in the slack chat, but what about the fact that some people take birth control for reasons beyond preventing pregnancy. It is medication that regulates hormones to help deal with a range of issues, including debilitating cramps and heavy periods, acne, mood issues, etc.. I would guess that for a lot of women, like myself, taking birth control is a lot more about dealing with other issues and not even about sex.

    • CM

      eek, birth control does not regulate hormones. Birth control pills contain synthetic, hormone-like chemicals that can sometimes help the symptoms of hormonal imbalance, but the idea that they “fix” the underlying hormonal issue is a misconception.

  • tmm16

    Birth control is more than just preventing sex and so many people are misinformed about that. One of those people is my mother. As a teenager, she told me birth control was “bad for you” when I asked her to go on it to help with acne. Um, what? Mind you, my mother is a Republican and a nurse for 25+ years.

    I have A LOT of friends who take birth control to regulate hormones and their periods, help with cramps and symptoms, clear acne, help with PCOS, and much more. This mentality that birth control is just for preventing pregnancy is so outdated, yet apparently, 20% of the country disagrees. Ugh.

    Maybe the outdated thinking is stemming from the people who think women should only aspire for marriage, have babies, take care of babies, etc.? Just a thought.

    • CM

      I’m going to put the same reply as I did to someone above, because this is a big issue that people should spend more time researching. Birth control does not regulate hormones. Birth control pills contain synthetic, hormone-like chemicals that can sometimes help the symptoms of hormonal imbalance, but the idea that they “fix” the underlying hormonal issue is a misconception. They often suppress our own hormones, and cause even more of an imbalance when someone goes off them.

  • Eva Skewes

    In the 1920s, a New York judge ruled (I believe in a case involving Margaret Sanger and her sister) that women should not have sex if they were not willing to die in childbirth. It’s sickening how close we still are to that reality. (Also everyone should read Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman; that’s where the story is from).

  • Aydan

    what I’d really like to see are the toplines from this survey–aka not just the summary of the data that the vox article lists to. Inherently in every poll there is a level of bias and I think it would become much more clear if we were able to actually see the language used. Second, I’d be curious to know who paid for the survey–was it the polling firm themselves? an external client? etc. etc. That also will influence how the questions are phrased, what works are used, etc.

    On the other hand this is incredibly illuminating and I thank the team for bringing this to our attention. It just goes to show how much language can coop and also hide massive unbalances that still exist in our society today.

  • 20% of people don’t think women should have sex for pleasure? Like wtf? Who are those 20%? I really don’t understand how or why we’re having this conversation, framed in this way, in 2017!?!

    • CM

      they are likely fundamentalists of certain religions.

    • Also, like, imagine a headline showing the percentage of people who think men should be able to have sex for pleasure (versus because they are trying to get pregnant) lol

  • Amy L Campbell


  • Abi Newhouse Vaughn

    Also, why is it always about the women? How women should feel, should do this, should do that? It’s like we’re supposed to be disconnected from our bodies, that somehow this body does not belong to me.

    Ever since I got married, people ask me when I’m going to have a child. I understand that’s the “next step,” but in my world and MY body, the next step is to get an MFA at George Mason and think about babies after. (If it’s even a possibility, right??)

    Birth control is about my choice with my body. It has nothing to do with the people around me, and yet those people keep trying to barge in.

  • *buries head in the sand*

  • Samantha B

    The focus on women as the “burdened” party when a baby does involve two (at least–see the technology that allows for three people to contribute genetic material) people does have some positive effect on women’s rights. For example, laws requiring the fetus’s father’s consent have been struck down by SCOTUS as unconstitutional. You can imagine that the states trying to implement those laws would seize on the idea that pregnancy is a two-person issue to enact those abortion restrictions.

    • Julia

      ^interesting point

    • CatMom

      Well, I mean, physically speaking, we are the burdened party. Even with an active and equitable co-parenting situation, the non-pregnant partner is starting out at a deficit.

  • Lucinda

    I’ve always had a problem with the term birth control pills, since there are so many uses. Some people even take “birth control pills” with such a low dose of hormones that they wouldn’t prevent pregnancy. I think a big problem is that people just don’t get a proper sex education course, people don’t know how a woman’s body works and they spend their lives not understanding how birth control pills or other birth control works. Why are there 20% of people who think women shouldn’t have sex for pleasure? Do they feel the same way about men?