In praise of the pill

// 18 October 2007

the pill This is just a quick follow-on from Abby’s piece yesterday on the new ‘genetic contraceptive’ pill which may become available in the future.

I disagree that this is an instance of (are they necessarily male?) scientists medicalising women’s bodies to their detriment. I actually think advances in medicine which provide more and better methods of contraception are unequivocally a good thing for women.

As Abby rightly points out, the advent of the pill cannot be understated in its importance to women’s liberation. Without being liberated from the very real biological chains of constant child-bearing and rearing I don’t believe the achievements of activists in the last century would have been possible. Before women had a method of contraception which they could control irrespective of men’s actions they were subject to male domination. The choice (for heterosexual women) was to settle down with a man in the role of housewife or to abstain. And lets not pretend that celibacy is the favoured option for all women. I’d be pretty damn frustrated if that were my only way to guarantee my autonomy.

This new pill, apparently, is not hormonally based but genetically based which means, if its development is successful, that it may be able to provide a better method of contraception for those who are unable to take the pill due to side-effects, or who take it anyway and suffer. Hooray for the prospect of no headaches, acne, blood pressure increases or weight gain, then. What’s not to like?

There are plenty of women out there (myself included) who dislike using condoms just as much as men do. They’re not ideal. They quite frequently interrupt the mood. They can be fiddly. They’re expensive (at least, the good ones are). You don’t always have one to hand. Yes, you can do other things which don’t involve penis-vagina penetration, but sometimes you’re just in the mood for a good deep [… stopping there, as I fear for my google rating]. They smell odd. They leave a strange greasy residue on your hands, which tastes bad. They sometimes chafe. And, yes, some men find that they reduce sensation. That, for me, is a bad thing. The notion that it is selfish of men to prefer a method of contraception which doesn’t reduce their physical pleasure in sex seems to me to be … well, a bit mean. I wouldn’t be very happy with a method which reduced my pleasure even by a comparatively small amount if there were a viable alternative. Plus I like to think that the person I’m doing it with is having the most fun they can possibly have. And even without all of that, there’s something very intimate, sexy, loving even, about a man coming inside you. No, it’s not always the most sensible route, and there are good reasons why we might choose not to allow it to happen, but let’s not pretend that we don’t sometimes want to.

There are of course loads of times when condoms are the most sensible option. I’ve used them before, I may use them again. I’m glad I’m not using them now. I don’t think this undermines a man’s role and responsibility in avoiding pregnancy. I would welcome a male pill if one were to come to market and I suspect Abby is right in saying that the reason it hasn’t is because male-dominated science isn’t that interested in it. But I don’t see this as an either-or. What is good for women (and men too) is a proliferation in choice in how they exercise reproductive control. Contraceptive pills for women? Brilliant. Pills for men as well? Even better. Condoms as a back-up? Why not go triple-dutch?

The pill is a godsend for a huge number of women, even given its current drawbacks. The potential for a new generation of pill without those drawbacks…? Bring it on.

Thanks to Jo from london 3rd wave who was the inspiration for this post!

Photo by Beppie K, shared under a Creative Commons license.

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