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The sexual responsibility of women

An active sexual life often requires a conscious and thoughtful decision about contraception, and the most common method across Europe, North and South America is the pill. That little oral contraceptive that liberated women’s sexual life. Does it still stand for that today?

There’s no arguing that hormones, and the balanced secretion of these, have an enormous importance in what comes to regulate physiological activities and behaviours, such as digestion, sleep, respiration, growth, stress and mood, just to name a few. So hormones can be responsible for really important survival things, but also for other aspects of your life, on a very relevant emotional level: your fear responses (andropause in men will cause decreased production of testosterone which causes changes in behaviour and mood, such as taking less risks, feeling more fearful), how you see yourself and how you respond to others (increased irritability and sensitivity, and depressiveness in certain stages of women’s cycle; variations in sexual drive/libido, self-esteem).

The pill is an oral contraceptive that presents a combination of estrogen and progestogen (both hormones) that trick the body into thinking that it’s pregnant. Its common side effects include blood circulation problems, increased breast cancer risk, reduction in libido and vaginal lubrification, depression, nausea… Well, let’s think about it: pregnant women are usually not jumping around happily, their bodies are going through major changes. A caricature of a woman on the pill can be a fake pregnant lady, crying her eyes out, with no sexual desire, and feeling as pretty as a rag. But more seriously, though, by taking the pill and tricking the body, it makes sense that there are more consequences than not getting pregnant.

Some women with tendency for depression (by the way, one of the most common mental health disorders) will stay, by taking the pill, in a lukewarm soup of blameful thoughts, low self-esteem, difficulty experiencing pleasure, depressiveness in general) – but it will creep in gradually, they get used to feeling this way, and don’t even associate it to the pill.

Who really takes the time to explain this to young women when they are looking for safe contraceptives? And what doctors ever really consider side effects of medication?

So if we put it all together we have the importance of hormone regulation, with female cycles that can already be demanding for emotional stability, plus a magical pill that will influence this delicate balance.

Why, then, would women deliberately mess with all of this, and risk their physical and psychological well being?

Where does this responsibility for avoiding pregnancy come from? It is the female body that becomes pregnant, but it usually does not happen on it’s own. There’s a male part to it.

Like in other issues that concern sexuality and responsibility of women, be it victim blaming in sexual assault, or avoiding pregnancy during the zika virus outbreak, there is a 3 letter word missing from the picture, as Paula Young Lee well noted in her article: ‘The cultural reflex to hold women accountable for male lust and subsequent reproduction is so ingrained that we don’t even notice the asymmetry’.

Why don’t we hear more about the male pill? Or other means of contraception?

Women have become accustomed to having to take responsibility, and to the side effects of this decision.

The pill was indeed part of the sexual revolution (and in some places it’s still a revolution waiting to happen). But times and minds change, and it no longer makes sense to put the anti-conceptional burden solely on women.

So maybe in every day life and sex, this responsibility can be shared, in order to promote healthy minds, bodies, and sexual lives, equality and fairness.

All good things.

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