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Birth control or control of population growth has been a raging debate for centuries because it is a sexual issue that religion, traditions, politics, and the entire society has silenced and laden it with lots of taboos.
During the ancient times, sex and sexuality had been under immense silence as no one was supposed to talk about it in public places. According to Foucault, sex has been a secret affair because there has been so many forces that reduced it to silence, but has recently loosened up and allowed people to question the intricacies of sex (78).
Realizing that sex has been secret and silenced for centuries, modern society is struggling to unravel the mystery behind sex through various discourses. In the late 18th century and early 19th century, population growth rate of the world was growing exponentially. For instance, in the United States, women had an average of seven children, and thus, necessitated control of population.
Although governments saw the need to control population growth, various religions and cultures were against it, for they perceived reproduction as a natural process that needs no interference. Religions, cultures, and politics have been grappling with the issue of population growth because while some perceive it a societal issue, others perceive it as a reproductive issue of women.
Discourses in culture, religion, politics, education, health, feminism, sexuality, gender, race, and class show that birth control is an issue that touches on women’s health, and therefore, women have the right to control population growth.
Culture and Traditions
During ancient times, culture and traditions imposed many taboos on sex and sexuality in that societal values determined matters related to reproduction. Since men dominated society, they had powers to determine the number of children that their wives should have in marriage. Men had powers to decided ethics regarding sex as they imposed taboos to restrict how women perceive their sexuality and reproduction.
Foucault asserts that sex exists in a binary system of right and wrong, legal and illegal, permitted and forbidden, which shows that it is subject to law and power (83). The law and power associated with sex gave men powers to have control over women and decide their sexuality, gender and reproduction.
Cultures and traditions suppressed women, for they did not give them freedom to champion for their rights as members of the society with reproduction capacity (Berreman 400). Due to male chauvinism that dominated the society, issues involving sex and women were in deep silence and under the domain of men because taboos imposed many restrictions.
Evolution of cultures and traditions from ancient times to modern society has led to empowerment of women and diminishing of taboos, which restricted women from advocating for their rights. The adoption of various cultural and traditional practices, from various parts of the world, led to development of civilized culture and traditions that recognize exceptional needs of women and empower them.
Sex and sexuality transformed from silence state into public debates due to the emergence of many discourses. Discourses have significantly enhanced perception of gender, sexuality and humanity, which subsequently led to the emergence of the need to control population.
Luker argues that, counter normative approach to sexuality is an effective discourse that has empowered women by restructuring and configuring societal power (29). In spite of cultural taboos that restrict women from having power to control their sexuality and reproduction, modern society has made significant strides towards empowering women in matters of birth control.
Society has different members with different attributes that classify them into races and classes. Race and class influence how people perceive the essence of population control. In the society, race and class determine social status and power of an individual. Ability of women to control their sexuality and reproduction in spite of societal pressure depends on racial and class prejudices of the society.
Conventionally, whites are privileged race relative to blacks, hence making them to have a higher social class than blacks. Luker debates that, due to diversity of race and classes, people have used different contraception methods because of their unique beliefs, traditions, and cultures (54).
Since whites have a high social classes and race, their family lifestyles of having few children has formed the basis of civilization. Blacks are aping whites’ culture because they have empowered their women to have control over their reproduction and sexuality. Trends of population growth show that, blacks have high growth rate, yet they have lower social class because most are living below the poverty level.
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Critical analysis of race and class shows that, white women have control over their sexuality and reproduction; thus, they have low reproductive rate. On the other hand, black women have limited control over their sexuality and reproduction, which explains why they have high reproductive rate. Therefore, it means that privileged race and high social class are factors that empower women to regulate the sexuality and reproduction.
Regions have played a critical role in restricting control of population through their teachings on morality and spiritual matters. Dominant religions of the world like Christianity, Islam and Hindu have been against control of population using contraceptives and abortion.
Religious leaders assert that, the use of contraceptives and abortions as means of controlling population is contrary to divine teachings, and thus an abomination to God. Nevertheless, diverse religions perceive control of population as a moral, as well as, a spiritual issue that an individual or political entity has no power to dictate.
Therefore, religions perceive that women have no right over their sexuality and reproduction because they fall under family, which is an integral unit of society. A moral society has responsibility of ensuring that every family adheres to religious principles that reflect divine values and virtues.
According to Teltsch, Pope Paul IV issued encyclical banning artificial birth control methods because there are against Christian teachings (17). The encyclical triggered mixed reactions not only among Catholics but also in healthcare systems across the world.
Many Catholics perceived banning of artificial methods of family planning as a bold move that deserves praise, while others perceived it as retrogressive move that would deprive women of their sexual rights. Mixed reactions among population showed that, birth control would continue to be a raging debate until women attain right to their sexuality.
Religions perceive procreation as a divine gift that God gave to humanity; thus, they have a responsibility of ensuring that families should comply with divine principles to respect marriage as a divine institution. According to Islam, use of contraceptives and legalization of abortion is an abomination and sin that God does not support.
Muslims believe that control of population using contraceptives is unspiritual because it promotes prostitution and promiscuous behavior in the society. Moreover, abortion is not only an immoral act but also a crime because it involves murdering of innocent fetus, which has no power to protect itself unless religion and society protect it.
Srikanthan and Reid explain that, Muslims believe that a family is a basic unit of society, which depends on sex for procreation purposes according to the will of God (132). They believe that use of artificial methods in control of the population is contrary to the will of God and detrimental to humanity due to loss of morals.
With time, religions have come to realize that population control is a critical issue in the society that is subject to many factors apart from religious teachings. Ancient religions depicted sexuality from divine perspective, but current religions have reduced it to moral levels where people can have their own opinions.
Thus, in modern society, there are no explicit religious principles that outline recommended contraceptive methods except abortion. Various religions agree that abortion is a crime unless done under a medical condition that threatens life of mother and baby. In response to economic, legal and social pressures, diverse religions have recommended different methods of population control.
According to Srikanthan and Reid, catholic recommends abstinence and rhythmic method, while Islam supports coitus interruptus and some contraception methods that are safe, legal and temporary (132). Hence, disparity in religious beliefs has led to diversification in contraceptive methods.
Trends of contraception methods among religions show that women have ultimate decision on the nature of contraceptives that they use in controlling population. Although religions can recommend kinds of contraceptives that women should take, they cannot force anyone, hence women have the power to decide their reproductive health.
Population control is a political issue since it relates to economic growth and welfare of population of a country. Demographic experts are warning that exponential growth of population signal impending disaster since economic resources are diminishing gradually.
Since population growth is going to strain diminishing resources, many countries are trying to use various means of contraception to slow down population growth and stabilize economic growth sustainably. Increase of population in one country threatens the sustainability of resources in other countries since resources flow according to factors of demands and supplies.
To achieve a stable political economy, politicians are formulating policies and regulations, which are essential in regulating population growth. A country with the capacity to regulate its population has assurance of better economic growth and improved welfare of the people because there is sustainable utilization of resources.
A country with uncontrolled population growth has no future prospects because it cannot sustain its own people with time. Michelle asserts that, empowering women to advocate for their rights, and have access to family planning methods are ethical and most effective means of controlling population growth (34).
Stable economy requires that every woman should have an average of two to three children to guarantee both sustainability of resources and maintain stable growth rate of population. From a perspective of political economy, control of the population is a matter that is in the sphere of women, and thus they deserve to have right to their sexuality and reproduction.
Countries with exponential growth of the population are now advocating for birth control by use of contraceptives and abortion to eliminate unwanted or unplanned pregnancies. Unplanned pregnancies are a serious burden to women because it affects their welfare state by restricting them to childbearing lives.
Siow argues that, availability of birth control pills and legalization of abortion has significantly improved welfare of women because they can postpone marriage, pursue their careers and accumulate wealth while indulging themselves in sexual activities (3). The importance of the contraceptive pill became evident in 1970s when number of women who join universities and colleges increased markedly.
Hence, use of contraception and legalization abortion is an effective way of not only regulating population growth but also empowering women to focus on their careers as their male counterparts.
For centuries, childbearing has been basic responsibility of a woman in the society because men dominated their sexuality. However, advent of contraception methods and legalization of abortion has enabled women to make an informed decision on when to have children without any undue pressure from men.
Gender and Sexuality
Realizing that men have been dominating society, as well as their sexuality, women began to advocate for their empowerment through ideology of feminism. Feminism is an ideology, which asserts that, men and women have equal capacities in the society for it seeks to dispel cultural and traditional beliefs that have led to marginalization of women.
The society had perceived women as weak and different from their men counterparts, hence weaker gender. Such perception led to the emergence of gendered roles in the society because women had limited roles of childbearing, but men had unlimited roles, which allowed them to pursue their careers and develop their human capital leaving women behind.
According to Seidman, Fischer and Meeks, feminists advocated for equal treatment before the law and socio-economic terms (44). Feminists argued that gendered roles emerged in the society because men correlated their sexuality with gender, yet they are quite different entities.
They claim that sex is biological condition while gender is a social construct that men created, so that they can determine their place and roles in society. Thus, if men perceive women as equal partners in the society, then they will not impose unnecessary restrictions on their sexuality and reproduction. Gender inequality is restricting women from advocating for their rights and accessing various family planning methods.
To emancipate themselves from dominance of men, feminists targeted political arena as means of fostering their feminism agenda. In 19th century, women in the United States did not have the right to vote; therefore, feminists struggled extremely hard to ensure that they obtained the right to vote. After attaining the right to vote, women continued advocating for their rights by competing for political positions.
With time, more women joined politics so that they could exercise their power effectively towards empowering themselves in the society that men have dominated. Political positions accorded powers to women, which significantly transformed the perception of women as mere weaker gender, since they demonstrated that they had equal capacity as men.
Seidman, Fischer and Meeks state that, women who entered politics made marked contribution to emancipation of women since they advocated for affirmative action (45).
Affirmative action enabled formulation of policies and laws that led to empowerment of women in the society, for it recognized their vulnerability to dominance of men. Thus, making women have reproductive rights by allowing them to have access to contraceptive methods and abortion is also going to support affirmative action.
Education has also empowered and liberated women in modern society. During ancient times, women have been groping in darkness because they had limited education regarding sexuality, reproduction and careers. Men dominated various fields of knowledge and restricted women to childbearing because culture and tradition dictated so.
However, as more women went to school, they started gaining knowledge concerning sexuality, reproduction and career development that emancipated them from cultural and traditional shackles that men had imposed on them. Luker contends that schooling of women was a significant step that enabled them to compete effectively in family, community, and political spheres of society (56).
Currently, it is quite evident that men and women have equal opportunities in the society because they perform similar duties, have same careers and equal rights. Given that birth control relates to women’s health, it is imperative that women should have reproductive rights of deciding types of birth control that they use.
Improved health care services of reproduction have enabled women to make informed choices concerning methods of contraception. Healthcare system has provided numerous contraceptive methods that suit various needs of women, hence, allowing women to control conception and their sexual activity.
Prior to the emergence of numerous contraceptives in the market, women relied on their husbands to prevent them from conceiving. Then, common methods of preventing contraception were coitus interruptus, abstinence, and rhythmic method, which entirely depended on men; hence, women did not have the capacity to control of their sexuality and reproduction.
According to Srikanthan and Reid, emergence of contraceptives such as pills and intra uterine devices gave women power to control conception and their sexuality (134). In modern society, women can decide whether to conceive or not without necessarily consulting their partners. Therefore, since contraceptives are readily available as over the counter drugs, women should have right to control their sexuality and reproduction.
Additionally, healthcare system has provided an option of abortion following legalization of abortion. Legalization of abortion has considerably enhanced powers that women have in reproduction because statistics shows that out-of wedlock births have reduced significantly.
In the modern society, women cannot accept to give birth to a child out of wedlock because it is extremely expensive, and it is going to ruin their potential of getting another husband. The modern society has few single mothers, as compared to the recent past, because legalization of abortion has provided a means for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies.
Siow reasons that, the availability of legal abortion has reduced the bargaining power of women for marriage, since they can control their sexuality and reproduction, unlike earlier when fear of pregnancy compelled them to get married (2). Hence, legalization of abortion has demonstrated that women need power over their sexuality and reproduction for them to control population effectively.
Control of population growth elicits immense controversy in the society since it clashes with cultural, traditional and religious beliefs of the people. Matters of sexuality and reproduction date back to ancient times when society held firmly to the taboos, which restricted women from exercising full control of their bodies.
Religion strictly asserted that family is a basic unit of society with procreation powers bestowed on it; hence, control of population using contraceptives and abortion is detrimental to the society and family, as well. However, various governments across the world realized that control of the population has economic benefits for it promotes economic growth and sustainable utilization of resources.
Feminists then emerged and advocated for empowerment of women through affirmative action, which enabled women to obtain more powers to control their sexuality and reproduction.
Recently, improved healthcare system enhanced reproductive health by improving accessibility to various methods of contraception and abortion following legalization. In view of all these developments, it is quite evident that modern women have control over their sexuality and reproduction, thus have right to control population growth.
Berreman, Gerald. “Race, Caste, and Other Invidious Distinctions in Social Stratification.” Race Class 13.1 (1972): 385-414.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Volume 3. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1990.
Luker, Kristin. When Sex Goes to School: Warring Views on Sex and Sex Education Since the Sixties. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007.
Michelle, Goldberg. “Skirting the Issue; Debates about Population Growth are Missing the point: Women Need More Control over Their Fertility and Lives.” Los Angeles 17 May 2009: 34.
Seidman, Steven, Fischer, Nancy, and Meeks, Chet. Introducing the New Sexuality Studies. New York: Routledge, 2011.
Siow, Aloysius. “Do Innovations in Birth Control Technology Increase the Welfare of Women?” University of Toronto (2002): 1-46.
Srikanthan, Amirrtha, and Reid, Robert. “Women’s Health: Religious and Cultural Influences on Contraception.” Journal of Obstetrician and Gynaecology 30.2 (2008): 129-137.
Teltsch, Kathleen. “Rise in Birth-Curb Services Is Likely to Continue.” New York Times 31 July 1968: 17.