How the pill revolutionized sex… for men

In hindsight, I don’t believe it was women who gained sexual freedom from the introduction of the birth control pill.

  • The pill can wreak havoc on a woman’s body with side effects ranging from sexual dysfunction (ironic, no?) to frequent migraines to a heightened risk of breast cancer. It protects you from pregnancy but not STDs.
  • The condom, which was available long before the pill, does not. It protects you from pregnancy and many STDs.

We already had the solution to women’s freedom to have sex without worries about pregnancy: condoms. So why did we need a pill to market the concept that women could now have sex as they pleased?

Because men didn’t like condoms, and this “sexual freedom” women were being granted took place within a framework of having to sexually appeal to men and their preferences. I realize there were other apparent advantages to the pill: it was more convenient, it didn’t interrupt the moment, and for a lot of women it made periods more manageable (which sounds trivial to those who’ve never experienced grossly difficult or irregular periods, but trust me: it seems like a godsend at the time). But it wasn’t marketed as “convenient”; it was marketed as “freedom”, when condoms already provided that very freedom, plus STD protection, without side effects.

So what was it giving women freedom from? I’m asking for responses here, because I came of age in the 80’s when AIDS seemed a bigger worry than pregnancy and the side effects of the pill were known – I don’t know what women in the 60’s and 70’s were thinking or going through. All I can think of is a girl I once knew who was about to have consensual sex with a man when suddenly he refused to put on a condom and, above her protestations, raped her. Was the pill freedom from having to worry about consensual sex turning into rape over a condom disagreement? Which would mean a lot of the men women were having sex with were, in fact, rapists (by today’s standards) waiting to happen? It’s an uncomfortable thought, but given the widespread popularity of the idea that rape is the result of teasing a horny man – any horny man, even a really Nice Guy – I have to wonder.

Because the net result, it seems to me, was that men abdicated all responsibility for birth control. It was up to Her to take The Pill. It was on Her to pay for The Pill. If she got pregnant after telling you she was on The Pill, she was probably one of those lying bitchez trying to trap you into marriage or child support payments, and you were entitled to stand up for yourself and not take that crap.

Some freedom.

Comments

  1. DM says

    Was the pill freedom from having to worry about consensual sex turning into rape over a condom disagreement?

    More like freedom from having to worry about rape resulting in pregnancy, IMO. I also suppose the Pill gave women freedom from having to ask men to strap on a condom and listen to them whine about it.

    But how could any other form of birth control be considered a replacement for condom use, rather than an addition to condom use. Pills, diaphragms, IUDs, shots, patches, tubal ligation, all these hoops women have jumped through, none of them protect against STDs at all. How could men have abdicated sexual responsibility so prematurely? As long as your partner can’t get pregnant, no worries! It’s not like syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea are everywhere, or herpes and AIDs still have no cures even remotely available or anything.

    I swear.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    I think back in the 60’s and 70’s, people may have been in denial about the prevalence of STDs. Or maybe that’s just a rationalization I made up since nothing else explains why it seems no one had been using condoms when AIDS became a hot topic in the 80’s.

    But dear lord, if the pill was protection against pregnancy from rape, that really throws into stark relief just how common rape was – and still is.

  3. scarlett says

    I don’t understand what man in his right mind wouldn’t use a condom. It may be easier for women to get STDs than men, but seriously, how can that little extra pleasure be worth the risk of getting something?

    The whole thing is about entitlement, but it’s completely screwed up. Men are entitled not to have to be burdened with taking responsibility for protection, but at the trade-off of NEITHER party being protected from STDs???

    I don’t know how you would go about sharing the cost for the pill, although here it works out to be about $5/month, so there are greater things to get upset over.

    Personally, I have this theory that if men are held more accountable – socially as well as financially – for their offspring, they will collectively go about creating a birth control pill for men. I think the reason men have gotten away with abdicting responsibility for birth control for so long is because if a woman DOES get pregnant, responsibility for the kid can be abdicated as well. If men were forced – I mean, seriously forced, not this half-assed thing we have ATM – to pay a hefty chunk of their income on child support and shamed for being deadbeat fathers in the same way we currently do women, surely they would start taking more responsibility for sexual protection, including inventing a few which they have control over??

  4. curlymynci says

    The pill brought family planning and contraception into our sphere of control. It gave us a far greater level of ownership over our own bodies than we ever had before. It wasn’t about STDs, it was about pregnancy. The links between pregnancy, propriety, social convention and the oppression of women is far too complex to be narrowed to what you’re describing.

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    Scarlett,

    The pill costs $20-45 here, so there really aren’t larger things to get concerned about for a lot of American women who want to have sex without getting pregnant.

    Claire,

    Yes, but the condom had already brought family planning and contraception into women’s sphere of control, hadn’t it? What I’m asking is: what did the pill achieve that the condom didn’t? And I’m guessing the answer is: a lot of men couldn’t be trusted to participate in condom use or wouldn’t be with a woman who insisted on it.

    Which means the pill freed women from one consequence of male entitlement, nothing more. And in a strange way, maybe the AIDS epidemic was a help to my generation because now we had an “excuse” to insist that men use condoms. Not that it sounds much healthier when I put it that way.

    This is why I love that Trojan commercial, which suggests men should wear condoms because it’s the right thing to do, period.

    I mean, another great form of birth control is the vasectomy, which is a rather safe operation with no other side effects and rare complications. I’ve known men who thought nothing of getting one after all the kids were born, but quite a few just assume The Wife should take The Pill until menopause, with no regard for how it affects her body, and no sympathy when it gives her migraines and other symptoms that inconvenience him.

  6. curlymynci says

    Beta,

    I think I’m saying that the abdication of responsibility is one side of a two sided coin. On the other side is awarding of control to us as women alone; something that barrier methods (save the diaphragm) didn’t do. Would women voluntarily give up the use of the pill in a truly equal culture? Doesn’t having our own contraceptive control give us a different kind of liberation?

    I don’t take the pill incidentally. Hate the hormone effect. But I appreciate being able to as when I would like. Another thing to bear in mind is that it’s free on our NHS system, so is seen as essential healthcare.

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    No, I’m suggesting that a better kind of liberation would be not to sexually service men who don’t respect their partners enough to use condoms. The pill distracted feminists and women in general from taking that step, which still needs to be taken IMO.

  8. scarlett says

    Sorry if I seemed dismissive, I only meant that because I’m from a country which DOES heavily subsidises the pill it’s less of an issue for me than things like SO MANY women’s products being more expensive then men’s, like clothes and haircuts.

    I am aware that in other countries women are expected to fork out the whole price, and I think that just adds to the male entitlement of the pill; women can take responsibility for birth control AND foot the bill because we don’t want to be inconvenienced with condoms.

    Which brings me back to my initial point, I don’t understand what man in his right mind would NOT use a condom. Who wants to rely on someone else for their sexual health? It’s male entitelment, and it’s completely screwed up logic because men are clolectively putting themselves at risk (albiet not as much as they’re collectively putting women at risk).

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    Oh, no, I didn’t think you were being dismissive – just sharing your experience, which I then did in return. :)

    I don’t understand not using a condom either, personally. From either gender. Maybe they think “It won’t happen to ME.”

    • Keith says

      I can’t speak for other guys, but for me, a lot of it has to do with the fact that the “little extra pleasure” is actually not so little. In fact, the lack of sensation has often been enough to cause me to lose my erection, which is no fun for anyone. I’m not saying I refuse to wear condoms, not by a long shot; I’m just saying why I choose not to if my partner is comfortable with it.
      And yeah, the human brain is terrible at statistical analysis, so every time I don’t get a disease from unprotected sex, it reinforces the idea that I never will. Not saying that’s smart, mind you :-)

  10. Ide Cyan says

    The combined oral contraceptive pill was approved for use in the USA in 1960.

    Abortion was legalised in the USA in 1973. (And “for selective reasons” in Canada in 1969.)

    That’s a whole decade in which the pill provided another alternative in the prevention of unwanted pregnancies — in cases of condom failures or rape, for instance — when the options available for those women who had unwanted pregnancies were to carry them to term or to have unsafe illegal abortions, and I think that has to have been a very important factor in the impact of oral contraceptives on society.

  11. scarlett says

    Well that’s one of the reasons I like the pill. I don’t get any side effects and among other things, I like the protection against pregnancy if I’m raped. BUT…

    The point that’s being made here is that it was parketed as freedom for women but it freed men for taking responsibility for sexual protection when the only protection against STDs IS a male form of protection. The pill has dumped on women responsibility for protection even though the safest form of protection are condoms. Now, I get that the pill is a preferred form of contraception for a lot of reasons, but I don’t like the way its promoted as the best form of contraception when condoms are the only ones which protect you from STDs.

  12. Ifritah says

    I’ve always considered the pill as being a monogamous contraceptive. If you’re in a committed relationship (and know neither partner has an STI from either testing or through no other previous partners) then the pill is great. 99.9% is nothing to laugh off when it comes to preventing pregnancy.

    There is also something to be said about feeling in control of my own body. I take one pill at the same time every night three weeks of the month. I won’t even let my fiance take my mail to the mailbox in fear of him not “doing it right”. You can see why this is a nice solution for me.

    (The fiance also pays half the costs of my pills.)

    Condoms, to me, have always been considered “back-up”. But considering that I’m sensitive to latex, that’s not too surprising. (And there are plenty of men and women who are, sadly, allergic to latex. Though they do have alternative condoms that are made from a different material as a solution. They just are not as easily accessible.)

    But if a person is having sex with multiple partners or with a new partner that is a big ??? when it comes to whether they may have something (not to mention if a partner is aware that they have an STI, but it is not curable), then yes, condoms are definitely the best method.

    But we’re talking about freedom. I think condoms have their place in the freedom block. Both men and women can carry them, there are both male and female condoms, and they can (not DO) prevent STIs.

    The pill, in my view, also works with freedom. Freedom from pain (or at least not as much) if you have certain medical conditions and the freedom to have control in a contraceptive situation.

    Yes, there are side-effects to using the pill. But that’s why there are so many variations. That way you can work with your doctor or nurse practitioner with what amount of estrogen or progestin is right for your body.

    • Attackfish says

      About the latex thing, there are also some of us who are allergic to petroleum products, spermicide, condom friendly lube, etc.

  13. says

    You know, I think you make some excellent points here, and I think I’ll have to conclude, after reading you & your commenters, that indeed the freedoms we can come up with are really only important freedoms to a small, often otherwise privileged set of people. (And if you want the answer to why it was marketed as “freedom”–there you have it–privileged people are usually marketers’ targets!) But do we need to actively think about it beyond, oh, 24 hours? Probably not. It’s a little bit “feministing.com” of a discussion topic. It’s a discussion topic that only even makes sense to devote a lot of time to if you’re pretty privileged in the world. I’d say let it go as a discussion topic and only bring it up for discussion again, and then only briefly, in the form of, well…

    Say you’re involved in policymaking about birth control in Africa, and someone from that set of privileged women to whom the pill seems like freedom says, “Let’s distribute pills as well as condoms!” In that case, it’s time to chime in and say, “Here’s why not….[evidence from this page’s arguments, etc.]….”

    Bring “birth control as freedom?” up as a smaller part of working on less privileged women’s issues when it comes up, but otherwise, drop it in favor of going back to thinking aboutand working on (which BFP has fabulous advice for deep in the comments of many posts, by the way) issues of women less privileged than ourselves.

  14. Jennifer Kesler says

    Katie, I may be missing something obvious (have had a frazzling sort of day), but I’m not quite clear on what you’re saying. That it’s true but not worth discussing at length? If so, I’d say that’s why I made it a blog post – just a brief article, here today gone tomorrow.

    I see this point as part of the larger issue of how we’re told “Everything’s all good now! We made you equal, ladies! You have jobs and sex and everything!” while, in reality, even privileged women still get sexually harassed, denied promotions or work opportunities, experience rape and often encounter a lack of justice in dealing with abuses. The pill had a slick marketing campaign, and so IMO has the “post-feminist” movement.

    But in reality, IMO things haven’t changed nearly as much as the marketing suggests. ;)

  15. scarlett says

    I think Ifritah has a good point in the pill being the best contrception for certain people in certain situations. I think every form of contraception has itspros and cons. BUT…

    I think there’s a tendancy to promote the pill as the Greatest Contraception That Ever Was, which means people can overlook the necesity for condoms in other people and other sitautions.

    For me, being in a monogomous longterm relationship – not to mention being something of a control freak – the pill is best, but that’s not to say it’s best for everyone, or even the majority of people. I’ve listened in horror as male and female friends talk about not seeing the need to use condoms when they have multiple partners. I think part of that attitude stems from this idea that the pill is the holy grail of contraception, and I think there needs to be greater education about what’s suitable for individuals in individual circumstances.

    As a side note, I wonder if the pill is promoted as the best form of contraception is because of these preconcieved values about ‘normal’ relationships, ie, monogomous, lonterm hetero ones.

    I think the idea of who pays for birth control is a valid one. In my case, because of those subsidies, I don’t see that it’s worth me harassing a guy, even in a longterm relationship, for his share of $5/month. (Especially in light of the fact my current man prefers to drive, something I don’t really like doing, and I reckon he racks up far more than $5/month in petrol when we go out together.) And I don’t see how a woman who enjoys multiple partners would split the bill like that? (Yes, let’s see, my average is five men a month, so your share is 20% :p) But for longterm relationships where you are talking a decent cost, yeah, I think there should be greater expectations to split the cost – it’s not like the woman is the sole beneficiary.

    And Ifritah – I can go one better than insisting on taking your mail to the mailbox – I can’t stand the thought of anyone handling my mail, so I took out a PO box :p

  16. Ifritah says

    I’ve listened in horror as male and female friends talk about not seeing the need to use condoms when they have multiple partners. I think part of that attitude stems from this idea that the pill is the holy grail of contraception, and I think there needs to be greater education about what’s suitable for individuals in individual circumstances.

    *Nod* I couldn’t agree more. There needs to be more education out there about the different kinds of birth controls and what their pros and cons are. (I actually started a LJ community that has them all listed with explanations.)

    Hell, having birth control as an option, in any form, is a freedom to me.

    But yes, the importance of condoms (and how to use them properly) is something that needs to be understood just as well as the pill. (I love the Trojan commercials too.)

    And Ifritah – I can go one better than insisting on taking your mail to the mailbox – I can’t stand the thought of anyone handling my mail, so I took out a PO box :p

    Bwah! Okay, wow, you win. ^_~

  17. Jennifer Kesler says

    My point is not whether the pill is any good or not (and on that note, I think you guys are dismissing the long term effects, but anyway…). My point is that I know a lot of men who, even if they have the sense to use condoms until monogamy is established, think “birth control” is this thing where The Woman takes a pill and The Man just has lots of fun sex without having to think about consequences. How many women are taking the pill because it’s really the best option for them, and how many of them are taking it because to do otherwise has never occurred to them, because they’ve been taught to think it’s their responsibility to take a hormone-altering drug when there are options safer for the body?

  18. Ifritah says

    I’m not dismissing long term effects. But as you said, we’re not talking pros and cons here specifically. (Though, I have plenty to say on that subject as well.)

    How many women are taking the pill because it’s really the best option for them, and how many of them are taking it because to do otherwise has never occurred to them, because they’ve been taught to think it’s their responsibility to take a hormone-altering drug when there are options safer for the body?

    I can only speak for myself here, but I’ve never felt that way at all. I don’t consider it a responsibility for me to share alone. I consider it the best option that, to me, does not have the negative effects on my body (mine specifically, mind, not talking for all women) that you’ve been highlighting.

    The fact of the matter is, couples should use more than one method of birth control. Have multiple partners? The pill can still be a great combo with the condom, giving you not only a very unlikely chance of getting pregnant, but also increasing your chances of not getting an STI.

    Condoms break, pills get forgotten to be swallowed, things happen.

    (I’d also like to note, again, that the pill is not for everyone. Side-effects vary for each individual. I’m lucky that I found the perfect estrogen/progestin balance where I don’t have any.)

    But I’m getting off your topic of the pill being taught as the best method. To be honest, I’ve never found that to be true. Growing up, the pill was feared. Our introduction of the pill decades past was a gigantic flop that caused many people to find the entire thing evil.

    During research in college, I found that fear to have not been forgotten. The condom, however, is the first method that I’ve noted as people’s first thought of birth control. (Movies are a good example of this.)

    BUT, I don’t think there isn’t anything to the argument. The pill has introduced a method that not only gives men an added bonus of not having a barrier that “lessens their physical experience”, but also puts the proverbial ball in the women’s court and keeps it there. In some situations, this is very much unfair to the woman. It just isn’t the case for me.

  19. Jennifer Kesler says

    Right, I was assuming that you and Scarlett were aware of your options and had made your choices based on what works for you.

    But I do talk to a lot of women who’ve never considered that birth control and family planning could be achieved through barrier methods, vasectomies, or anything other than the pill or a hysterectomy. Maybe this is because I’m 35 and most of the women I know are my age or older, but it’s still something that makes me go, “huh?”

  20. says


    That it’s true but not worth discussing at length? If so, I’d say that’s why I made it a blog post – just a brief article, here today gone tomorrow.


    Okie dokey! I’m happy. :-)

  21. says

    I do talk to a lot of women who’ve never considered that birth control and family planning could be achieved through barrier methods, vasectomies, or anything other than the pill or a hysterectomy.

    Yikes.
    *sigh*

    (By the way, when Planned Parenthood in two Iowa cities had a free family planning giveaway day lately, it included vasectomies. Good for them for matter-of-factly putting all the options out there so people will think of them!)

  22. scarlett says

    I was talking to my guy about this discussion last night, and I as floored that he’d never heard of any forms of birth control beyond condoms and the pill. Between that and this discussion, I’m begining to realise that so many women just have no idea what’s best for them because the education isn’t there and society deems that they should all be on the pill.

    For me, it wasn’t even that hard – Family Planning has a whole bunch of bruchures, one of them goes through the pros and cons of half a dozen different types of contraception. I picked one up today for my guy :p But it made me think – if that kind of information is readily available at FPWA, what is it saying that so many people are ignorant to the options? Is there an expectation that women go on the pill and that there are no other options?

    • Casey says

      I guess I was lucky, in health class back in high school, we went over a massive spectrum of contraception/protection that one could use. (although everything besides the Pill and condoms were kind of painted as being weird and archaic/obtrusive…so agenda much? @_@V)

  23. says

    I already commented over at shrub. But I just wanted to say here: great post. I have been meaning to post about my thoughts on the pill over at my blog for a while but never felt ready to or rather not ready for the backlash I would expect to receive. I have gotten into arguments with other feminists and even health freaks who think I’m crazy for not being on the pill and think my thoughts about it are crazy too. I’m glad to know that I’m not alone and there are others like yourself!

    I have been using the pill for about a decade with not one breakage or issues except for coming across men who didn’t want to use it. In which case I either didn’t have sex with them or insisted they use them.

    I especially love this part in your post:
    “If she got pregnant after telling you she was on The Pill, she was probably one of those lying bitchez trying to trap you into marriage or child support payments, and you were entitled to stand up for yourself and not take that crap.”

    I so often hear of cases where people suspect that a woman got pregnant on purpose. Each time the woman in question was on the pill and it just wipes the man in the equation off all responsibility.

  24. Jennifer Kesler says

    It seems to me one of the dominant themes in our culture is that sex and its consequences are the fault of women, never men. Women are blamed for abortions, even though every unwanted pregnancy involves a man – and almost surely one who consented to sex. Women are blamed for unwanted pregnancy in general, as if we can float eggs into position by thinking about it real hard. Women are blamed for their own rapes.

    Hell, here is someone who thinks women “rape” men by wearing sexy clothes that force men to have sex with them: “Since so many people want to fling the word around, “statistically” most rapists are female, especially from the viewpoint of this and other sites definition of rape? I’ve known many men that I’ve “pressured” into sex by wearing revealing outfits and asking repeatedly… if I put on my leathers and head to a bar for a good time, I’m getting some, period, and I -will- find someone that I can get to have sex with me… so I’m a rapist, too.”

    Yep, seriously. And maybe this is what the pill was meant to “free” women from – the ignorance of people who think all women do is sit around thinking, “How will I use my vagina to control some poor man today, bwahaha?” ;)

  25. Pipenta says

    We used it, back in the day, because condoms had a higher failure rate, even when used properly. And for some of us, there were side effects that were beneficial. I had many friends who had severe periods, which the pill brought in to line, moderating the flow and pretty much putting and end to cramping. These are not insignificant for some women. And it did clear up acne, which while not reason enough to take the pill on its own, was a welcomed effect.

    Men don’t really care if we are miserable cramping or if we are having to deal with bleeding so heavy that it is a major hassle. Because we are all so so so conditioned not to talk about our periods in front of those delicate flowers who happen to have dicks. I was in a classroom with some college students and a reference was made to menstruation and a big burly basketball player sort of guy made some comment about how grossed out he was, and did want to hear it. I read him the fucking riot act, laid out his sexism and loathing for women and their bodies in big block letters. Did it in a scathing tone with no small amount of force and left the rest of the class, little dippy coed cows, shocked and speechless. And it all happened before I even knew what I was doing. LOL!

    Now I’m at the other end of things, dealing with perimenopause. It feels like a different world. Try to get info off the web and a search buries you in ads for bullshit herbal products. Or you get these condescending health sites with about as much information as you’d find in a fashion magazine and a lot of CYA, so you get a limited range of ever-so-optimal normal symptoms and for anything else, it’s, SEE YOUR DOCTOR. (Cuz HE’LL know what do do, right? Heh.)

    Only a lot of us don’t have doctors anymore. We’re struggling and riding this beast of the end of life alone. Because it is as though Our Bodies Ourselves was never published, because women don’t talk about this shit.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go on the fucking hormones. Not into inviting the cancer with open arms. Want nothing to do torturing horses just to keep my p*ssy pink.(The platform here blocked that word, but not dick, ironically enough) So not worth the karma. No PETA freak me, but there are some things one just can’t live with, can’t look at yourself in the mirror if you do them.

    All moot, because I am broke, broke, broke. Nowadays we’ve backslid. Nowadays it sucks. And that, and the lack of information is my point. Back then, when the pill came out, it felt like things were changing.

    Oh, I’m not disagreeing with your point. Jesus fuck, everything is done to serve men’s needs. It is pathetic. And so frustrating how many women never question it and stomp on other women who do.

    But, but, but, back then, back in the day, when we took the pill, we did it for OURSELVES. Truly we did. We wanted to fuck and be free and we were coming out of a time of such oppression that young women today could scarcely fathom such a thing. Only I think we are trotting right back that way, and are so feckless that our children and grandchildren will live in a very different world, one with far more limitations and oppressions.

    The chance was here, and we squandered it. I comfort myself by stepping back and looking at it from a biologist’s point of view. We do what we do, as a species, because we have behaviors evolved for a very different set of circumstances and mostly, folks don’t think enough to change them. And those of us blessed/cursed with enough intelligence to question it all, often can do very little to persuade others around us to take their foot off the gas pedal and they speed all to destruction. Doesn’t just go for feminist issues, goes for all manner of political and social and environmental issues.

    I mean, it’s not the pill, right? That’s just a synthesized hormone cocktail that can be of great use in the right circumstances, an actual benefit. What’s getting to you is the attitudes that frame the development, marketing and use of the thing? But the attitudes were there before. And you assume that men took responsibility for birth control BEFORE the pill came along, which just makes me laugh and laugh and laugh.

    Not arguing. I’m down with most of what you say. Just adding a different angle, a bit of texture to the conversation.

    Love the blog, by the by. Just recently discovered it and feel like I’ve finally met a kindred spirit.

    Rock on, my dear, rock on!

  26. says

    I didn’t mean to imply men ever took responsibility for birth control, but I see how my wording does suggest that. I’m aware they didn’t and still largely don’t. What I meant was more that they ensured the “sexual revolution” would work out nicely for them – finally, you could pressure a woman for sex, and she couldn’t deny you on the basis of pregnancy concerns because there was a magic pill! I didn’t phrase it well.

  27. Pipenta says

    You phrase things beautifully. Like I said, I only just discovered your blog, but I already know I’m a fan for life.

Trackbacks

  1. […] How the pill revolutionized sex… for men Because the net result, it seems to me, was that men abdicated all responsibility for birth control. It was up to Her to take The Pill. It was on Her to pay for The Pill. (tags: sexualitaet feminismus medizin gesellschaft genderblog frauen maenner) […]

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