Why has this culture focused on women’s fertility more than men’s? Does it make sense to do this from a biological or social perspective?
It seems that culture has always been concerned with the female’s role in reproduction, beginning as far back as ancient Egypt when women put dried crocodile feces next to the cervix to prevent conception. 6th century Greece promoted eating the uterus, testes, and hoof parings of a mule. However, if one looks at 18th century Italy, Giovanni Casanova tried using animal membrane condoms tied with ribbons at the base of the penis as a method of contraception. Still, until recently with the medical procedure known as a vasectomy, which is, basically, male sterilization, all attempts at contraceptives have focused on the female role in procreation.
From a biological perspective this makes little sense. It is a sperm that fertilizes the egg, not the egg that fertilizes the sperm, and it would be more effective to find a way to nullify the sperm instead of the egg. From a biological perspective, female contraception should be the last resort, a companion to male contraceptive. The use of female contraception (and even the use of the condom as contraceptive) has a high failure rate; unplanned pregnancy still results. If there were a partnership between male and female birth control techniques, fewer unplanned pregnancies would occur.
Still, from a social standpoint female contraception makes perfect sense; while it might seem oppressive from a biological point-of-view, contraception empowers women to take control of their bodies. They are free to enjoy sex the way men are free to enjoy sex – without the fear (or at least with a reduced fear) of becoming pregnant. I think this is evidenced by the early leaders of the contraceptive movement in the United States. In the 1870s, a man named Anthony Comstock, who was the head of the New York society for the suppression of vice, authored laws that prohibited the dissemination of contraceptive educational material. As a man, he was oppressing women in their right for sexual freedom. Opposed to this was Margaret Sanger, the first person, male or female, integral in promoting changes in birth control legislation and its availability in the United States. Sanger was horrified at the misery of women who had no control over their fertility and bored child after child in poverty. She opened an illegal clinic in 1915 where women could obtain and learn to used diaphragms shipped from Europe. She published birth control information in her newspaper The Woman Rebel. Later, after fleeing to Europe to avoid prosecution, she returned to promote research on birth control hormones, a project financed by her wealthy friend Katherine Dexter McCormack.
Medically and biologically, it makes no sense to address birth control issues through a woman’s body only; however, socially, the advent of birth control in this country was an act of female empowerment promoted by women for women, and persecuted by men. It was a social issue that empowered women. Now, in our current culture with rising birth rates and poverty, it makes more sense to make birth control and contraception a true partnership addressed biologically with both sexes.