Sociology of Contraception Research Paper Starter

Sociology of Contraception

(Research Starters)

Modern contraception has caused a social revolution in the history of humankind. This article discusses sociology and the sociology of contraception. It focuses on the expressed global need for contraception and its social, health, and economic benefits. Also covered are issues surrounding a culture of contraception, including sexism in the medical profession, contraception for minors, morality, male contraception, iatrogenic medicine, and long-term contraception such as sterilization.

Keywords Contraception; Feminist; Iatrogenic Medicine; Long-term Contraceptives; Sexism; Sexual Revolution; Sexually Transmitted Disease; Social Institutions; Sociology; Sterilization

The Sociology of Contraception


Sociology is the study of human behavior in society, including its social institutions and how they develop and change over time. The sociology of contraception then, is the study of how people behave in their sexual and reproductive lives and how contraception has altered that behavior. Sociologists are interested in emerging trends in population growth and the impact of the advent of contraception. Sociologists also study how contraception changes the lives of individuals and the structure of the family. They research the differences in attitudes between men and women regarding contraception.

Global Population

Historically, large families were desirable: the more children in a family, the more chances for the family line to continue. With much higher death rates at an earlier age, people tried to have as many children as possible. A large family meant more helping hands on family homesteads and farms. But things began changing in the twentieth century with the world population exceeding six billion, and with eight billion expected by 2025. Sociologists worldwide are studying the effects of the global population explosion (Macionis, 2007).

US Population Trends

When the United States was an agrarian society, children had economic value, and birth rates American cities trended lower. In the nineteenth century, birth rates began to go down throughout the country due largely to urbanization. With farmlands diminishing, there was not a need for the extra help on the homestead that having many children provided. By 1930, because of the Great Depression, the US birth rate had fallen to about a third of that recorded in 1800. At the time, the most widely used methods of contraception, limited as they were in success, were coitus interruptus, douching, and the use of condoms.

Following World War II, a baby boom exploded, almost in reaction to the low birth rates of the Depression era. Some researchers argue that with good wages, a strong home construction market, and fathers home from the war fronts, Americans felt they could afford to have children like never before. But others point to inadequate contraception and a high failure rate of 18 to 23 percent for condoms and other devices, notably the diaphragm.

Reliable contraception did not become available until 1960 with the birth control pill. With that powerful method, the US birth rate dropped in the 1960s and 1970s, even if economically people felt that their lifestyles were comfortable. It is unlikely, according to researchers, another baby boom will occur in the United States. New contraceptive devices offer 99 percent success rates in preventing pregnancies (Doyle, 2003).

The Sexual Revolution

Modern contraception has caused a social revolution. The search for methods to control fertility while still enjoying sexual contact has perhaps been ongoing, but a necessary and workable solution was not found until the twentieth century. To solve the problem of overpopulation, family planning has become necessary worldwide. A side effect of family planning to stem the tide of overpopulation has been the ability for people to have sex without worrying about pregnancy (Benagiano, Bastianelli & Farris, 2007).

Global Need for Better Contraception

Because the worldwide average number of children born to each woman, known as the fertility rate, has declined steadily in recent decades, some believe that the overpopulation problem has been resolved. But the global population is still increasing by about eighty million people each year. And many countries have very young populations. So, while highly effective contraception is widely available to women in the United States and other high-income countries, women and men in many developing countries still lack adequate access to contraceptives, which can create severe social and health problems (Potts, 2000).

In some parts of the world, almost all of it in developing countries, rapid population growth is expected to continue for many years. These are the same countries where family-planning services are wanted but highly controversial at the same time. Many countries lack safe food and water supplies as well as medical, financial, and educational institutions, which affect the quality of life of their people.

Contraceptive use has slowly begun to take effect, with up to a 15 percent increase on average. But often, contraceptives are too expensive or not available to those who need them. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that one in three deaths related to pregnancy complications and childbirth could be avoided if all women worldwide had access to contraceptive services. Maternal mortality rates are particularly high for poor women, who have the least access to contraceptives. Unintended pregnancies increase the risk of suboptimal prenatal care and leave new mothers feeling overwhelmed and underprepared. In some countries, women are forbidden to have access to the contraceptive pill. Even in Ireland, condoms could not be legally obtained until the 1990s.

Poor countries either cannot afford the cost of manufacturing, distributing, and promoting contraceptives, or their governments do not see family planning as a priority. Sometimes, the only way that the people who live in these countries can receive help with family planning is by receiving donations from foreign countries (Potts, 2000).

Positive Social, Health,

Population Control

If large families were necessary to ensure lineage, then contraception was not desirable and the prohibition was emphasized by social institutions. Members of certain religious groups were historically discouraged from using contraception or even from having sexual contact without the desire for conception.

Infanticide, or the killing of newborn children, occurs at higher rates in countries with extremely high rates of poverty and overpopulation. Female infants are more likely to be victims of infanticide, due to certain cultural values that make male children more desirable and less of an economic burden. With overpopulation as a concern, humanistic groups and even religious institutions themselves are beginning to change attitudes about contraception. Because people are now living longer thanks to modern technology, the world's population has exploded and population control has become important.


There are other positive benefits for using contraception than controlling population growth. Some people want to plan having families around educational goals and financial concerns. Some women are not physically healthy enough to bear children and contraception helps protect their safety as well as the safety of an unborn child. Older women, as well as very young pregnant girls risk complications such as birth defects and even death of the infant or the mother (Macionis, 2007). Contraception, therefore, has had positive health benefits by also reducing the need for abortions. And some forms of contraception, such as the condom, have contributed to the reduction of sexually transmitted diseases (Benagiano, Bastianelli & Farris, 2007).


Contraception has had several positive effects on the economic lives of women. Effective and affordable contraception has given women the opportunity to choose whether and when to conceive and bear children. This, in turn, has allowed women to attain better educations and employment training.


While contraception methods have responded well to concerns about overpopulation as well as to the social, health, and economic well-being of people, there are several issues surrounding the culture of contraception. Conflict over the issue of contraception has existed at least since 1916, when Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was jailed for offering advice and contraceptives to married women in Brooklyn. The current controversies include issues such as sexism in the medical field, teenagers’ access to contraceptives, and long-term contraception in prisons.


Women often experience the health care system as paternalistic, in which their own experiences and knowledge are ignored or downgraded. Historically this has been true especially in the areas of pregnancy, childbirth, and contraception.

Because motherhood is considered a natural role for women, abortion of unwanted pregnancy is often seen as unnatural and even terrible. Contraceptive use is relatively widespread in most Western societies, but in developing societies, such as Central and Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan and West Africa, access to contraception is limited. Abortion rates are the highest in the world in these societies and, in the early 1990s, the number of abortions equaled or was higher than the number of live births in some countries. During the 1990s, as...

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