Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sociological Perspective: Birth Control

Sociological Perspective: Birth Control
By: Kate Fawcett, Sarah Owens, and Wesley Ply

This topic will explore the topic of birth control from different sociological perspectives. It will discuss how birth control, an issue of our social world, can connect individual experiences and societal relationships. We will discuss American contraceptive culture, how society influences the individual’s views through the media, and demonstrate how different forms of conflict theory can influence the perception of birth control. 
Culture from a sociological perspective is made up of many components. There are tangible components, such as technology and symbols, and there are intangible components, such as values, beliefs, norms, and taboos. Culture changes through out history as discoveries are made and new inventions are created. There are subcultures that are considered deviant from society that form their own set of tangible and intangible components. When looking at birth control as a part of American culture, it is easy to identify our symbols, beliefs, and norms of using birth control. However, it was not always like this. As stated above, culture changes with discoveries and inventions and it has been an uphill battle for birth control to be considered a norm. Today, there are still subcultures that completely condemn the use of any contraception.
The pill, condoms, spermicides, intra-uterine devices, diaphragms, vaginal rings, and the morning after pill are all examples of the tangible components of birth control in our culture. There are literally 20+ methods of contraception to choose from in our culture today. These methods can also be a symbol of maturity or promiscuity. To a teenage boy, receiving a condom from his dad before he goes on a date can be a symbol of the boy maturing and coming of age. It can also be a sign of the dad’s respect or trust that he has for his son. While the pill has many different medical uses, seeing a teenage girl using the pill can be a symbol of her promiscuity. In college, some girls may view the pill as a symbol of her independence and ability to make her own decisions. Each method can have a different symbolic meaning to different people.
The values, beliefs, norms, and taboos of birth control in our culture vary but there is an overall acceptance of contraception that wasn’t there before.  There is a belief among Americans that contraception is a smart and healthy choice. There has even been a push to make the pill an over the counter drug. Statistics show that the vast majority of sexually active Americans use some form of birth control making it a social norm of our culture. Of course these beliefs are not shared among all Americans. There are many who believe contraception to be morally wrong, mainly for religious reasons, who do not use any form of birth control even during marriage. This would be a taboo to our culture now. They might even be considered a subculture that has developed their own cultural components.
The acceptance of birth control is a relatively recent cultural conception. Congress passed an anti-obscenity law that deemed birth control information obscene and outlaws it’s dissemination in 1873. Since then, technology and science have greatly progressed and new methods of birth control were invented and tested. The social view of contraception slowly began to change from obscene to healthy. This is not all due to the advance in technology. The beliefs and values of Americans concerning sex began to change as well, taking on the perspective that sex is more acceptable. In 1965, Griswold v. Connecticut made the prohibition of contraceptives illegal, setting the course for American culture and birth control in the years to follow.
Society’s opinion of birth control heavily influences the media that we see involving the topic. On the other hand, various mediums of advertisements and commercials play a huge role in providing the public with knowledge of the methods and facts concerning birth control as well as swaying their opinions on the topic. Some of the first birth control pill advertisements were seen in 2000, with Tri-Cyclen. There is a direct correlation with the time that commercials for various birth control methods came about with society’s opinion on the topic as a whole. The United States government began supporting birth control clinics in 1974, and it was not much later that public messages endorsing contraceptive through various mediums were accepted. The FDA accepted the pill as an effective and safe contraceptive in 1990 and a decade later, multiple television and magazine advertisements for the pill would be seen by millions of Americans. As time as progressed, especially with society’s growing acceptance of the pill as well as other forms of birth control, the media has received more freedom in selecting and placing what was once seen as controversial or sacrilegious advertisements and endorsements for various contraceptives. Although companies have been more liberal about the content of birth control advertisements in recent years, many companies still tread on thin ice with media promoting or even involving contraceptive methods.
Many perspectives are based on items seen in magazines, on television, popular culture as well as life pressures.  Throughout the late 60s, catholic officials refused to accept any form of birth control, including the pill. However, due to the need for it as well as the influence media placed on many individuals, over two thirds of catholic women across the world were on the pill at that time. As more information has become available to women and their spouses, the acceptance of birth control has become more widespread. In recent happenings, society’s common “need” for birth control has stopped many republican governors and representatives from making various forms of birth control illegal or much more difficult to obtain. Media and pressure from spouses are major contributing factors to a woman’s decision to start taking birth control.
Deciding what form of birth control to use is dictated by when you believe that life begins.  Contraceptives are the most utilized form of birth control, and are defined as any process, device or method used to prevent conception.  Conception marks the onset of pregnancy, and once this occurs the only birth control option is abortion.  Abortion is a very controversial topic in our society and women are forced to make decisions based on their beliefs.  Conflict theory is the idea that conflict between competing interests is the basic, animating force of social change and society in general.  The conflict in abortion is the battle between “pro-life” and “pro-choice”.  These competing interests are what drive most advertisements for birth control in our society.  Advertisements can be seen everywhere, either promoting “choice” or promoting “life”.  Laws have also been passed because of these competing interests.  All states had banned abortion by 1965, but in 1973 the Supreme Court in the famous case of Roe v. Wade, declared state abortion laws to be unconstitutional.  The conflicting beliefs of different groups in our society have been the cause for major changes in our societies views and even our laws. 
One type of conflict theory is feminist theory, which involves the advocacy of social equality for women.  In today’s society, women are becoming more and more active in the work force.  Women are becoming just as successful as men, and are much more career oriented than they were in the past.  In many cases, women are faced with the conflict of deciding between starting a family or focusing on their career.  Traditionally women were expected to be stay at home moms, but with the rise in birth control methods and awareness, women have become empowered to make their own decisions on whether to have children or not.  Recently women have been trying to increase the availability of birth control.  Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke went before a Democratic hearing in February asking them to consider including free contraceptive pills in the new health care bill.  She claims that she spent $3000 on contraceptives during her three-year period in law school.  This caused a lot of controversy among right-winged conservatives specifically catching the attention of radio host, Rush Limbaugh, who called her a “prostitute” because taxpayers would be paying for her to have sex.  As you can imagine, there was a large outcry from feminist throughout the country, and Sandra Fluke has become a symbol for women’s empowerment and contraceptive availability. 

Birth control, although more widely accepted now, is still a controversial issue in our social world. Companies must take into consideration culture, society’s pull, and conflicting ideologies when promoting their contraceptive methods. It is important to look at this issue from a sociological perspective to gain a better understanding as to why birth control is such a prominent topic.

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