Sexuality Throughout the Ages

Explore the history of sexuality.

Birth Control and Women’s Rights

In the 1870s feminists advanced the concept of voluntary motherhood as a political critique of involuntary motherhood and expressed a desire for women’s emancipation. Advocates for voluntary motherhood disapproved of contraception, arguing that women should only engage in sex for the purpose of procreation and advocated for periodic or permanent abstinence.

In the early 20th century birth control was advanced as alternative to the then fashionable terms family limitation and voluntary motherhood. The phrase “birth control” entered the English language in 1914 and was popularised by Margaret Sanger, who was mainly active in the US but had gained an international reputation by the 1930s. The British birth control campaigner Marie Stopes made contraception acceptable in Britain during the 1920’s. Stopes assisted emerging birth control

 movements in a number of British colonies. The birth control movement advocated for contraception  to allow sexual intercourse as desired without the risk of pregnancy. By emphasising control the birth control movement argued that women should have control over their reproduction and the movement had close ties to the feminist movement. Slogans such as “control over our own bodies” criticisedmale domination and demanded women’s liberation. In the 1960s and 1970s the birth control movement advocated for the legalisation of abortion and large scale education campaigns about contraception by governments. In the 1980s birth control and population control organisations co-operated in demanding rights to contraception and abortion, with an increasing emphasis on “choice”

Women’s access to legal abortions is restricted by law in most countries in the world. Where abortion is permitted by law, women may only have limited access to safe abortion services. Only a small number of countries prohibit abortion in all cases. In most countries and jurisdictions, abortion is allowed to save the pregnant woman’s life, or where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. According to Human Rights Watch “Abortion is a highly emotional subject and one that excites deeply held opinions. However, equitable access to safe abortion services is first and foremost a human right. Where abortion is safe and legal, no one is forced to have one. Where abortion is illegal and unsafe, women are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term or suffer serious health consequences and even death. Approximately 13% of maternal deaths worldwide are attributable to unsafe abortion—between 68,000 and 78,000 deaths annually.” According to Human Rights Watch “the denial of a pregnant woman’s right to make an independent decision regarding abortion violates or poses a threat to a wide range of human rights.” Other groups however, such as the Catholic Church, the Christian right and most Orthodox Jews, regard abortion not as a right but as a ‘moral evil’.

1.Freedman, Lynn P.; Stephen L. Isaacs (January – February 1993). “Human Rights and Reproductive Choice”. Studies in Family Planning (Population Council)

2.Gordon, Linda (2002). The moral property of women: a history of birth control politics in America. University of Illinois Press

3.Sanger, Margaret (July 1919). “How Shall we Change the Law”.




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This entry was posted on April 2, 2012 by in 20TH CENTURY SEXUAL REVOLUTION.
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