Provocatively-clad women are regularly used in advertising campaigns to sell everything from car insurance to sandwiches. Studies reveal an alarming percentage of young teenage girls being forced or coerced into sexual activity with their boyfriends, with similar trends colloquially seen among adult women. Victims of “rape-culture” at universities are speaking out in increasing numbers about widespread sexual violations on their campuses.
Then there's the pornography industry, which has so normalized depictions of degrading and aggressive sexual acts toward women that mainstream films and television shows are following suit for the sake of entertainment.
All of this begs the question: Did the 1950s housewife in fact have it better than women of the 21st century when it comes to sexual freedom and respect? And, could contraception be at least in part to blame for the current climate?
One expert who believes that contraception is actually damaging to woman's freedom in society is Fiorella Nash, a Catholic novelist and researcher for the London-based pro-life group, Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC).
Instead of liberating women, a culture which readily encourages the use of contraception in fact “undermines female autonomy,” Nash told CNA in an interview last year in London.
“We’ve sort of created a situation where, in order for women to be equal to men, they have to make their bodies a little bit more like men.”
Ironically, this discrepancy between contraception's promise of freedom and the tendency to make women more susceptible to coercion begins with their fertility. Nash cited the example of the “Pill” which is widely prescribed to treat a host of conditions, from painful periods to acne, while the core causes of these ailments are routinely neglected.
“It suggests that women can’t look after their own fertility,” Nash said. Consequently, many women are uneducated when it comes to their own bodies.
“Fertility is very essential to women’s lives, and it ought to be something that we work with, rather than (something we're) constantly trying to manipulate,” she explained.
“There is something very patronizing to me about the fact that we circumvent knowledge by giving an artificial way out, almost as if women need a cure for being female.”
Contraception is often touted for its role in opening the doors to greater sexual freedom. However, rather than being a means of empowerment, Nash explains that contraception, in fact, makes women more vulnerable.
While it is not a new phenomena for men to be non-committal, or to abandon women they have gotten pregnant, Nash said, “the contraceptive culture has given men a license to do that.”
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“Why should you stand by a woman if she gets pregnant? If she had only read the instructions on the package, she might not have gotten pregnant. And, there’s always abortion, so there’s a way out, isn’t there?”
“It’s almost allowed men to get out of their responsibilities, a lot more so than women,” she said.
Nash cited the reassurance men often give to their pregnant girlfriends – “I’ll support you whatever you decide” – which, she says, is simply the man passing on his responsibility.
“They’re really saying: ‘Actually, I can’t be bothered. I’m not going to make any kind of a comment here. I’m going to leave you to go through it. I’ll sort of make reassuring noises, before I disappear into the next adventure.’”
“The contraceptive culture has completely destroyed any respect for women,” which in turn has “left women a lot more vulnerable,” she said.
Going beyond relationships, the acceptance of contraception has wider implications in society as well, Nash suggests: for instance, its role in the breakdown of marriage, the increase of recreational sexual activity, the objectification of women – even violence.