Smiling man holding a condom / Photo by 123rf.com
In the digital age, also commonly termed the information age, a wealth of information is available at everyone’s fingertips regardless of age. With the kind of access that even children have now to so much information, they can easily be inundated with unfiltered information that lacks context, which can obviously be perilous in contexts like that of sex. Kids notoriously start exploring sexuality earlier than parents ever anticipate, and they get their information from friends or from the Internet because they don’t want to discuss it with their parents. Despite all the progress made in the US in recent decades with regard to increasing sexual awareness among high schoolers and even middle schoolers, new research confirms that boys still don’t want to have the contraception talk.
The issue starts with the notion of casual sex. It is, of course, one of the things conservatives fear most when pondering the kinds of decisions their children might be making, second perhaps to the decision to do drugs. Society as a whole has grown increasingly liberal about it, though, expecting that a night out for college kids usually means casual sex is in the offing. That’s more of an attitude change, but it’s a legitimate marker of progress. More substantive progress is needed, though, as new research published in Culture, Health & Sexuality, finds young men to struggle with reconciling the concept of women having control over their own bodies and the notion that guys are equally responsible for decisions relating to contraception. That kind of social inequity is age-old and has persisted despite other forms of progress having been made.
The study interviewed 44 participants, al young men in college in the western US. The participants each similarly explained two categories of preconceived notions they brought into bed with their sexual partners. One category essentially espoused the idea that men should be just as invested in decision-making when it comes to contraception as women are. The other is that women have the last word, given that the physical and social responsibility is inexorably theirs if a child is conceived. The caveat here is that it ultimately places the burden on the woman to request contraception. In other words, these young men are exhibiting implicit biases even in doing what they think is the right thing to do in this circumstance.
This kind of confusion on the basis of gender role bias can preclude men’s effective communications about contraceptives with their partners, so it’s counterproductive. Most of it obviously pertains to condoms specifically since birth control has its own set of caveats as a topic between partners. Contraception is almost inherently marketed toward women, which naturally illustrates the androcentrism of society at large. It suggests a correlation between sex and women, which automatically precludes any correlation between sex and men; therefore, women have no choice but to be sex symbols. Sexuality is imposed upon them.
In light of this, many men can’t reconcile the need for an equally shared responsibility for contraception with respect for a woman’s inalienable right to control over her own body according to the study. They even said this factored into their reluctance to have the conversation in the first place. They understand there’s a problem, it confuses them, and they aren’t proactive about figuring out what to do about it basically. The study’s findings indicate that sexual health education may actually play the right role to normalize so-called affirmative consent so that men and women regularly communicate clearly on these points.
One other androcentric theory out there about women’s relationship to contraception is that women’s sexual preferences can be altered by ovulation and birth control. New research has finally debunked that theory. Past studies have concluded that both hormonal contraceptives and getting one’s period can independently make a woman more favorable of male facial features that bear no correlation with testosterone — features like thin brows or rounder jaws. These studies are now being considered to have been flawed from the beginning based on what the University of Glasgow’s Ben Jones has to say as the lead author of the study.
Jones is a professor in the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology in the UK. “Researchers have highlighted some potential methodological problems with these studies, like testing only a relatively small number of women,” he said in an interview. “We set out to address these criticisms by carrying out the largest study of these issues to date.” He and his team pulled some 500 women who all identified as heterosexual into their study, and they showed the women 10 pairs of arbitrarily selected, male faces all displayed at once, and the women then had to choose the one to whom they were most attracted. The team had digitally altered the faces a tad to be either masculine or more feminine.
The participants rated faces based on liking them for long-term relationships or short-term flings, and these surveys were administered every week for five consecutive weeks. Next, the research team asked participants to return for further testing about six months later and again two years after that. Each session required the women to submit saliva samples with which researchers tracked their hormone levels. “We found no evidence that women’s face preferences tracked changes in hormone levels or changes in women’s use of oral contraceptives,” says Jones. “Instead, we found that women generally preferred masculine men regardless of their own hormonal status.”
The study did have some significant limitations like the fact that all participants were White, as were all the digital faces. This was also a thoroughly controlled experiment with faces that weren’t real, so the applicability of the findings isn’t concrete.
Couple smiling each other / Photo by 123rf.com