Population decline and female contraception – this is not female empowerment

By Georgia Cadoret |

In recent news, a population forecasting study released in The Lancet suggests that, due to a continuing decline in fertility rate (the average number of babies born), global population is set to peak in 2064, before declining by nearly one billion by the turn of the century. Once a fertility rate drops below 2.1 the population of a given country starts to decline; the fertility rate in Britain is 1.79.

Amongst other things, studies such as this are integral to planning the economic and environmental future of planet earth. Many news outlets and journalists have responded to this information by suggesting that fertility rates are falling not only because of increased widespread sexual education, but because “women are assuming more power and control” and choosing not to have children. 

There is an element of non-consensual health compromise occuring, rather than a positive assumption of responsibility from women

The BBC recently added to this argument, stating that “[falling fertility rates are] driven by more women in education and work, as well as greater access to contraception, leading to women choosing to have fewer children. In many ways, falling fertility rates are a success story.” This suggests that the decrease in reproduction worldwide has been a naturally occurring phenomenon as women take ownership of their bodies, sexual health and contraception. 

It is true that, as women are increasingly given the opportunities that their male counterparts have always had access to, we are participating in the workforce and contributing to the strength and structure of the world’s economy more and more. As Janice Turner points out, “Women… do not naturally glory in motherhood; they see pregnancy as frightening, painful, even life-threatening; they realise raising small children makes you vulnerable, financially dependent on men or the state.” Given that career opportunities are less available for mothers, not to mention the low rates maternity pay (if provided at all), it isn’t surprising that women are choosing not to procreate. 

“Women… do not naturally glory in motherhood” | Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition/Unsplash

This said, I resent the fact that declining fertility rates be seen as a result of “women assuming power and control over their bodies,” because in order to be in full control, women must be told the full extent to which hormonal contraceptives affect their ability to conceive, should they decide toafter long-term use. The sad fact is that the majority of women are totally unaware of the effects of these methods of contraception with regards to libido, fertility, and a multitude of silent but detrimental side effects. 

Trials for male hormonal contraceptives have been scrapped after reports of the same negative side effects as the female pill, yet it is never reviewed or spoken about. In other words, there is an element of non-consensual health compromise occurring, rather than a positive assumption of responsibility from women. 

A woman cannot take full control over her body or reproduction until she is fully informed of all the health risks of hormonal contraception. In a multitude of studies, hormonal birth control has been linked to side effects such as infertility, depression, decreased libido, increased risk of multiple cancers and reduced ability to absorb key vitamins and minerals. Oh, and the World Health Organisation classifies it as a known carcinogen (along with tobacco and asbestos). 

“A multitude of silent but detrimental side effects” | Louis Reed/Unsplash

Sadly, this is not an exhaustive list. I relay this information not as a professional, but from in-depth, validated research as a woman looking to uncover the full picture, and it would seem that responses to our declining fertility rates have not fully considered these factors. For anyone wishing to learn about the side effects of hormonal contraception further, I recommend reading Period Power by Maisie Hill

The truth is, if young women are lucky enough to be sexually educated, they are told that contraception is almost entirely down to them. Sure, condoms may work, but it’s not a man’s fault if you use them and still fall pregnant, it is her responsibility for not having sorted out the “back up” of hormonal contraception. This is the story I have been told ever since I learnt about contraception at thirteen years old. 

If you have a quick google, you can read the UN Info Note on Girls, women and sexuality. This outlines that “full attention should be given to the promotion of mutually respectful and equitable gender relations and particularly to meeting the educational and service needs of adolescents to enable them to deal in a positive and responsible way with their sexuality, taking into account the rights of the child to access to information, privacy, confidentiality, respect and informed consent.”

But will men ever adopt responsibility over fertility rates, or will it always be down to women? 

Given that it is our human right to be sexually informed, you would think we could expect transparency of what hormonal contraception really does to a woman’s body. I wonder if even most GPs are aware of the real consequences of these drugs that we roll out to girls of under 16 years old without parental consent. 

Whilst one might have thought that a good dose of population decline is just what the doctor ordered, putting less strain on the environment and natural resources, it seems that we still can’t get it right. Declining fertility rates means there’ll be just as many people turning 80 as there are being born by 2100 – put simply, more old people than young people. This will bring with it the “negative consequences of an inverted age structure.”

Japan is a country which has already seen this phenomenon happening, with adult diapers on the cusp of surpassing the sales of baby diapers. In the mini documentary Sex in Japan: Dying for Company, it is apparent that the working demographic hardly get a chance to date, let alone procreate, with the average person working 100 hours of overtime per week.

“Salary men” admit to being too stressed to find a girlfriend, and who needs to with Japan’s renowned culture for sex toys, shops, clubs and virtual porn services? Moreover, Japanese women are just finding their place in the working world, which goes against the men’s general preference for amiable stay-at-home women. 

“The working demographic hardly get a chance to date, let alone procreate” | Karen Lau/Unsplash

Okay, so Japan sounds very 1950s with its not-so-secret sex club visiting businessmen and childbearing housewives, and the country is well behind the western world in its attitudes towards sex and marriage. But it goes to show that it could be our highly stressful jobs with long hours that are having an impact on how much people want to – and physically can – bonk. 

But will men ever adopt responsibility over fertility rates, or will it always be down to women? The birth of online dating and hook-up apps has given first-world humanity a taste for having multiple fingers in multiple pies, as it were, meaning men are less likely to want children either. With marriages in the UK dropping by nearly 40% since the 90s, commitment is far less common. Even for couples in a long-term relationship, the world is far more readily available to grasp by the balls, with accessible worldwide travel and ever-growing freelance work, children seem increasingly like an unnecessary hindrance. Besides, who needs kids when you can make a mint from a laptop on a beach in Bali? 

This article is in our Opinions section. As such the views within are those of the contributor and do not represent an editorial stance.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Falmouth University, the University of Exeter or Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union.