How introducing more accessible education about birth control and sexuality was a major catalyst for the slow, still-working process of destigmatizing women’s sexuality in the west.
Birth Control is an ever-changing subject in the United States. Opinions on how birth control should be distributed, accessed, and even on the medication itself vary to this day. In the early 20th century, most people in the United States saw birth control as an obscene subject that should not be talked about or even accessed. This can be seen with instances like the passing of the Comstock Act which forbid sending “obscene” or “immoral” subjects through the mail.1 As a consequence of these overwhelmingly negative attitudes, education on the matter of sexuality has been historically sparse, and this lack of education left many women not knowing about pregnancy preventatives even after they were available. For a woman to be so free in deciding what to do with her body was unheard of at the time. Despite these longstanding hindrances, with the introduction to free sex education and clinics becoming widespread throughout the US, sexual morality would begin to undergo a long overdue change.
Many women that worked strictly in the field of unwanted pregnancies took a stand on trying to change the stigma and educate women on healthy options for pregnancy and contraception. One notable woman in this field would be Margaret Sanger. Her work included opening clinics, starting leagues, lobbying in politics, and even creating many magazines to educate people on birth control. One particular magazine that is interesting to look at is The Woman Rebel. This newsletter held many sources and voices about birth control and women’s bodies in general.3 This means that women were now focusing not only on how to show themselves physically, but that they were also concerned with how sexual views affected their mental image of themselves. Sanger was not only writing about what she knew, but she was also taking physical action into helping create clinics for any woman to receive care for issues that could be potentially controversial. Sanger’s work of bringing awareness to the need for women’s sexual education and accessible contraception options would go on to be essential in shaping American views on these topics. In an interview with Sanger conducted by Genevieve Packhurst after Sanger’s diagnosis with tuberculosis, Sanger stresses there is still a need to bring more understanding to the ideas behind birth preventatives so that not only will her legacy live on, but women will have more control of how many children they want. 4However, this was the same newsletter that landed her with charges for violating the Comstock Act. Looking at a source written by Maureen Moynagh and Nancy Forestell we see that it discusses morality as a whole. In this, the authors claim that Sanger’s teachings of birth control allowed for women to express their sexuality not only physically, but with their mental health as well.
The changing ideas of birth control came when the media took attention to actions like those of Margaret Sanger. The spread of education left women wanting to learn more about their bodies and ways they could prevent pregnancies. This was fought for many years by many people who deemed sexuality as obscene and immoral to talk about. Sexual morality is still something that is argued about in the media to this day. In order to understand the subject, one must look at its roots, and it can all be traced back to widespread education that was introduced by Margaret Sanger in the 1920s. Sanger’s drive in providing education to young, impressionable women started the shift of western beliefs not only birth control but on sexual morale. Education leads to change, and in the case of Sanger, it led to a widespread change in understanding, outrage, and power over an issue that is still in effect today.