It’s bad enough to stumble upon the Guardian solemnly regurgitating some patent waste of research funding about how “The contraceptive pill may disrupt a woman’s natural ability to choose a partner.” It is far worse that gormless bloggers are shovelling moron-fuel into the fire by uncritically disseminating these absurd reports. (Here’s a suggestion, fellow bloggers, if you have nothing fresh to say, shush up and go back to sudoku.)
Where to start? The findings of the study in question (led by Dr Craig Roberts of University of Liverpool, to name the guilty) have so clearly been rendered with shit-for-brains Daily Mail readers in mind it hardly seems necessary to point out the Grand Canyon-sized logic gaps in their conclusions. Basically, they claim the pill “disrupt[s] an instinctive mechanism that brings people with complementary genes and immune systems together,” i.e., that women who take the contraceptive pill are attracted to the scent of more “genetically similar” men than they would be otherwise. Based on, erm, the results of a few women sniffing blokes’ sweat samples.
Logically, even the barest facts of their report are useless. For a start, define “genetically similar.” (Are they saying the pill turns women into raging cousin-fuckers?) Or, given that “genes in the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC)… play a prominent role in odour [pheromones] through interaction with skin bacteria” explain the scientific controls for the “skin bacteria” half of this equation.
Even if the flimsy-looking science is actually A-OK there is no logical connection between it and their conclusion: “Disturbing a woman’s instinctive attraction to genetically different men [by allowing the little minxes to take the pill!] could result in difficulties when trying to conceive, an increased risk of miscarriage and long intervals between pregnancies” (italics mine).
So the terrifying upshot of this pill-popping is it might possibly result in difficulties trying to conceive? So do obesity, stress, smoking, drugs, alcohol, nutrition and good old-fashioned random chance. Somehow, I think the pill is pretty far down on the list of potential culprits.
And it might result in an increased risk of miscarriage? Increased compared to what? For that claim to make sense you’d need a controlled study where the only variant factor in miscarriage rate was whether or not the woman who miscarried did so because of excessive genetic similarities to her partner. Further, you would have to know the reason she was attracted to him in the first place was because she was taking the pill. That’s impossible. There is literally no way such a study could exist.
As for the “long intervals between pregnancies” – again, compared to what? Contraceptive use tends to imply longer intervals between pregnancies, yes, and it’s a good thing. Anyway, both timing of pregnancy and access to contraception are determined by a whole raft of things like socio-economic status, education, religious beliefs, cultural norms and age. Only someone wilfully stupid (or with an axe to grind) would try to paint this as a pitfall of the pill, rather than praising the fact contraception allows women to make choices, based on their circumstances, which they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.
There lies the nasty rub of this whole story. This isn’t about saving babies from being born with too many thumbs. Or about keeping the gene pool nice and deep. Or about saving couples from not fancying each other anymore (follow the interweb trail of this nonsense and you get some PhD with a book to flog spouting rubbish about how “marriage counsellors who have never heard about these studies tell her that the No. 1 complaint among women no longer sexually interested in their husbands is that they can no longer stand how he smells.” As if only the dark arts could explain why women find men marginally less attractive after they’ve spent a few months, or years, putting up with their farting, burping, toe-picking and dragon breath). It’s about control, pure and simple. About the control women have, thanks to the contraceptive pill. Control which so terrifies the powers that be they resort to desperate mumbo-jumbo dressed up as “science” to try to scare women away from autonomy.
Control of reproduction is everything. Women who aren’t in control of their own fertility are hampered in every aspect of their lives – either by unwanted pregnancies and children, or by fear of them. I hate to belabour the obvious, but unwanted pregnancy and its attendant health risks, emotional toll and fiscal impact are far scarier than the laughable notion the pill might make you pick the “wrong partner.” (Lord knows, there are plenty of other things that make women pick rubbish partners. Speaking from experience, it is possible to be hormone-contraceptive free and still have shocking taste in men.)
Ultimately, this pointless waste of a good research grant is about sexual politics. A woman on the pill – contrary to these idiot-baiting arguments – is in control of her sexuality. If she is attracted to the “wrong” man then at least, thank god, she’s not getting up the duff with his kid, thereby shackling herself for a lifetime. The pill frees women from the hocus-pocus of the Rhythm Method, from the unfair burden of abstinence, from the invasiveness of IUDs, from arguments with partners about condoms. It gives women power. Clearly, that makes a lot of men unhappy.