Women, sexuality and contraception
The relationship between women's contraceptive experiences and the social relations in which they take place has been little explored to date, either empirically or theoretically. The importance of such an approach lies in its ability to perceive women's contraceptive concerns, capacities and problems, as socially and politically derived rather than as the consequence of individual/couple/group inadequacies. The position of women in society is central to this perspective. The search for a theoretical framework which allows for visibility of the social relations between women and men, and the potential for explanation, is as significant in this research process as the gathering of empirical data. A small scale qualitative study was undertaken to explore the experiences of women with sexuality and contraception. The decisions and actions women took regarding contraception, the problems they encountered and the information they received provided the focus for data collection and analysis. In—depth, semi—structured interviews with a random sample of fifty women postgraduate full—time students at the University of Warwick were conducted in the Summer Term of 1977. The sample was deliberately highly selective for motivation, access to information, alternative career possiblities and experience with contraception. The purpose of this selection was to highlight the experiences and difficulties with contraception faced by even those women in a relatively good social position, and thereby to indicate the problems in contracepting likely to affect all women. Data analysis revealed three major areas of social relations to influence the conditions in which women made decisions and took actions: first, the arena of personal sexual relationships; second, the quantity and quality of information received about sexuality and contraception; and third, the field of contraceptive health care services encountered. The sex—based division engendering social relations of male domination and female subordination were seen to be operable in each of these areas. The social and political relations of this sexual hierarchy emerged as central to the understanding of the experiences of women in the study with sexuality and contraception.