While the meanings attached to
female contraception have shifted over the past 50 years, women’s contraceptive
practices are embedded within a web of discourses shaping heterosexuality,
(hetero)sex and gender. Hollway (1989) identified three competing discourses,
which underpin the meanings and practices attached to (hetero)sex, to
understand how women and men are positioned by, and position themselves within,
these discourses. Here, (hetero)sex is defined as penis–vagina sex or ”real
sex” (Gavey, McPhillips, & Braun, 1999). The ”male sex drive” discourse
constructs men as biologically wanting and needing sex, where women’s sexuality
is absent and instead they are passive objects to men’s desire. Within the
”permissive” discourse, equal and free sexual expression among women and men
is celebrated, with a focus on pleasure (not reproduction) and a negotiation of
reciprocity. Finally, within the ”have/hold” discourse, (hetero)sex is
encouraged to take place within a long-term relationship. Apparently gender
neutral, this discourse is more stringently applied to women in cooperation
with the ”male sex drive” discourse. Lowe (2005b) argues that the ”male sex
drive” and ‘have/hold’ discourse construct men as both ”powerful” and
”uncontrollable” in their sexual desire and women as sexually passive and
rational, which together reinforces women’s responsibility for contraception.
Here the assumption is that women are more likely to use contraception because
of their risk to pregnancy and their state of rationality (Lowe, 2005b).

Dominant constructions of (hetero)sex also produce a similar
effect. In particular, within (hetero)sex the ”intense” and ”spontaneous”
nature of sex (Pollack, 1985) and a level of intimacy and sensory pleasure
(Braun, 2013) are prioritised. These constructions influence the acceptability
of certain contraceptives as either facilitating or disrupting how (hetero)sex
should be experienced. In Braun’s (2013) work with
young people, she found they mobilised these discourses to discount the need
for condoms. She concluded that ”such accounts work to conceptually separate
condoms from ‘desirable’ sex; condoms are constructed as not synonymous with,
or even oppositional to, things that sex is or should be about, such as
passion, or romance” (p.372, emphasis in original). Therefore, with cultural
understandings of (hetero)sex as spontaneous, pleasurable and intimate, condoms
become a less desirable contraceptive. The use of female contraception,
however, fits within the hegemonic criteria of (hetero)sex and the positioning
of women as rational (as posited within the ‘male sex drive’ discourse). In particular, female contraception allows women to be
prepared for sex without necessarily expecting sex – reinforcing the notion of
spontaneity (Lowe, 2005b). In addition, unlike condoms, female
contraception2 does not interrupt sex, does not threaten the ”naturalness” of
sex and most importantly it does not compromise men’s pleasure – in line with
the ”male sex drive” discourse. In this way, the use of female contraception
facilitates the construction and experience of ”real sex”. Wigginton et al.
181 Female contraception has also been discussed in the context of gender
theory. In particular, within a matrix of heterosexuality, Cream (1995) has
argued that the practice of taking The Pill conforms with Judith Butler’s
theory of gender performance, and in particular the notion of ”intelligible
genders”. That is, ”intelligible” genders are those which in some sense
institute and maintain relations of coherence and continuity among sex, gender,
sexual practice, and desire” (Butler, 1990, p.17). In this way, a
heterosexual, fertile woman taking The Pill makes sense, whereas a man or a
postmenopausal woman does not. Cream proposes that, in the context of
contraception, the body becomes a site of gender performance, where using The
Pill allows an expression of identity and gender configuration that is
culturally ”intelligible”, in a Western context.

We argue that the combination of these discourses feminises
contraceptive use3 which positions women as primary consumers of contraception.
In this light, the practice of using contraception allows for an enactment of
feminine and heterosexual identities, as well as an expression of
responsibility and agency. Within this discursive landscape, continuing
developments into female contraceptive options are viewed unproblematically as
empowering women to ”plan” and ”control” their fertility. Such an approach
to contraception reproduces gendered expectations around who is responsible for
pregnancy prevention, and how responsibility should be performed, thereby
limiting the discursive space for ”shared” responsibility. Our issue is that
gendered approaches to reproduction imply that heterosexual men do not have an
active role in reproductive health, and problematically, that they are ”not
interested” in such issues (Terry & Braun, 2011). Drawing on Oudshoorn
(2004), our concern is that the feminisation of contraceptive use has limited
the discursive space for heterosexual men to be involved in contraception and
stagnated developments into reversible forms of male contraception.