The (contraceptive) pill, taken on a daily basis by a woman, contains hormones that stop her ovaries producing eggs. A condom, worn by the man over his penis during intercourse, prevents semen entering the vagina. A woman can wear a rubber diaphragm over her cervix (neck of the uterus). A woman can also have a coil inserted by a doctor, which prevents sperm entering the uterus. The morning after pill, which may prevent her getting pregnant, is taken by a woman the day after having unprotected intercourse.
Sterilisation involves rendering a person infertile (incapable of reproducing). In a woman, the fallopian tubes are cut. This prevents an egg descending into the womb and being fertilised. In a man, the tubes from the testes to the penis are cut. This prevents sperm being added to his ejaculate. In either case the surgery is irreversible and therefore it is a serious decision to make.
A woman is easily identified as a mother. If the father is absent or unknown the shame falls on her and the child. Men are not so easily identified or put in a situation where they have to take responsibility for the consequences of unprotected intercourse. Even with the availability of reliable contraceptives, parents still protect their daughters more than sons. Marriage laws exist to ensure that men accept responsibility for the consequences of intercourse.
Before the availability of reliable contraception, intercourse inevitably led to pregnancy. Marriage is a social obligation aimed at ensuring that men pay for the families that result from the regular intercourse they want. Marriage is also a legal contract. A woman marries in order to secure the financial and possibly the practical support she needs to raise children. A man marries in order to secure a sexual asset or perhaps to secure socially advantageous family connections. Some men use infidelity to get the erotic variety they need. Other men are content with marital intercourse over decades. Women hope for love, respectability and support for their family goals. Although a woman tries to attract a man, she waits for him to propose marriage before considering the attention he pays her to be a sign of love rather than lust.
Fathers appreciate that their daughters do not have the carnal instincts of young men. Most girls hope for love and they tend to feel used after a one-night stand. For boys, a variety of lovers adds to the erotic enjoyment. Lust arises from male arousal, which is a physical rather than an emotional response. Because of their sex drive and regular arousal, men view intercourse as an erotic act, which they rarely connect with reproduction. The pleasures of the flesh refer to the gratification a man obtains from sex.
If a man experienced platonic love for a woman, he would be just as concerned about the risk of pregnancy as a woman is. He would be concerned about the risk she takes of becoming pregnant and he would take precautions or abstain from intercourse to ensure her welfare. But male sex drive means that men want intercourse regardless of the consequences.
Even with reliable contraception, there are occasions when a couple is caught unprepared. Men are unwilling to use a condom because it reduces their pleasure. Some women make bad decisions (they are persuaded by irresponsible men to risk pregnancy) and the result is an unwanted pregnancy. Even though it takes two people to make a child, women continue to be held responsible for unwanted pregnancies, abortion and for a child’s daily care. Women have to make sure they protect themselves by using reliable contraception such as the contraceptive pill. Men usually get away scot-free but if they are caught, they may have to pay substantial financial compensation. Some women, both today and in the past, also exploit men by using pregnancy to obtain money or a marriage proposal.
For centuries only married women were encouraged to engage in intercourse. In the absence of reliable contraception, a woman inevitably becomes pregnant when she has regular intercourse. The contraceptive pill means women can have intercourse without risking pregnancy. But even the pill is not 100% effective (if a woman forgets to take it). When women become unintentionally pregnant, they are offered abortion as a solution. Abortion is an issue connected with the freedom women now share with men to be sexually active without the need for a supportive relationship that would allow them to raise the children resulting from their sexual activity.
Abortion laws vary considerably between countries. A woman often needs both the father’s and a doctor’s consent. Most European countries give a woman the unconditional right to have an abortion within the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. Shame and fear of reprisal often cause women to delay getting help. Many women are ignorant of the symptoms of pregnancy or the cause. A woman, who has allowed a man to impregnate her, gets little sympathy.
Abortions are used by women when contraception fails. Safe, legal abortions performed by qualified practitioners are rarely associated with any fertility risk. Most women return to their pre-pregnancy fertility immediately following the abortion procedure. Most doctors who have relevant experience of women undergoing the procedure, conclude that the psychological effects of abortion are positive and serious adverse effects are rare. Women who make their own clear decision about abortion generally find it a health enhancing experience. Having an abortion is not inherently traumatic. However, every step in the process of accessing abortion services can be made traumatic for a woman because of how she is judged by others.
… no matter what she says, how much she likes sex and all that jazz, if she is literally being penetrated by you … then her emotional and mental well-being will always be involved as well. Always. (Alice Carter)