The Burden of Contraception: A Gendered Issue
In the United States and across the world, the responsibility for preventing pregnancy in heterosexual relationships disproportionately falls on women.
Despite scientific advances and the testing of a “male birth control pill” in 2019, birth control options for men remain extremely limited—to using condoms or having a vasectomy, with condoms being the only reversible male contraceptive method. There are also non-verified options such as pulling out (withdrawal) and outercourse.
While the limited number of male contraceptive options may explain the physical burden of contraception on women; it doesn’t mean that the time, attention and stress of preventing pregnancy should also be mostly assumed by women. Many hetero men have expressed the desire to share this responsibility equally with their female partners. Even so, the gap in available options is extremely large.
Since 1990, worldwide access to contraceptives has increased—and the rate of unintended pregnancies has fallen. From 2015 to 2019, there were 121 million annual unintended pregnancies, contributing to a global rate of 64 per 1,000 women. This was a decline from 79 per 1,000 women throughout the years 1990–1994. But progress is not the same in every country. Women in the poorest regions were nearly 3x as likely to face unintended pregnancy, compared to those in the wealthiest countries… revealing persistent and severe inequities in access to reproductive health care.
Obviously, there is a real need for additional family planning methods that don’t rely solely on women. And to make matters even more disproportionate, women are only capable of reproducing for about half of their lifetimes… and can only give birth about once every year or so. Making the female ability to have children only a fraction of what men are capable of. Science has tried to fill the void, but multiple research studies have started and stopped over the course of many years. Some potential male birth control options are in the pipeline, but we don’t know yet when they’ll hit the market.
In the meantime, the distribution of the mental and emotional responsibilities of contraception is a product of and contributor to gender inequality. It’s up to all of us to deconstruct reproductive health care as a gendered issue.