Please help with some basic maths. If it takes two people to make a baby, then two people should be prepared to deal with contraception. Right?
Many women in England are struggling to access contraception and advice, says a report from the all-party parliamentary group on sexual and reproductive health (APPG SRH). Long-term underfunding and cuts have resulted in service reductions, reduced staff, limited choice and what amounts to a postcode lottery. In some areas, oral contraception isn’t available from SRH services for over-25s. In others, free emergency contraception is unavailable for certain younger age groups or not commissioned at all. APPG SRH wants a progestogen-only pill to be made available over the counter. England has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in western Europe. Last year, abortion rates in England and Wales were the highest since the 1967 Abortion Act.
Coronavirus has exacerbated what was already a crisis in SRH. At the beginning of lockdown, there was widespread smirking about the baby boom to come but for some women unable to easily access their trusted method of contraception, or the morning-after pill, it is no joke. Domestic violence charities have reported a huge rise in cases and much of the abuse is sexual. Apart from that darkness, it seems that contraceptive chaos can be added to the many ways that women have been hit harder by lockdown.
Why is it that, even during a pandemic, contraception remains primarily a female concern? Not all women are having difficulties but if they are, why can’t men simply use condoms? While a global condom shortage was forecast at the beginning of lockdown, as yet, it doesn’t seem to have affected England and Wales. In April, the makers of Durex condoms reported that sales were down, mainly because of far fewer casual hook-ups and less sex generally. However, there’s also the bizarre and telling attitude some men have towards condoms. It appears to be one thing when single (preventing pregnancy and disease); however, once men are in relationships, there’s an assumption that they don’t have to worry about contraception any more. Far too often, it becomes, by default, the woman’s job.
Women, for obvious reasons, will probably always feel the need to be proactive about contraception. One hopes that many of the women experiencing contraceptive difficulties have already agreed with their partners to use condoms, either on their own or as a back-up. Certainly, in these extreme circumstances, there should be even less patience with that familiar male complaint about not liking condoms; that somehow it’s an imposition to wear one.
How was this bid for contraceptive mollycoddling ever taken seriously? Where are the women who revel in taking the pill or delight in having IUDs fitted? Right now, while women are pressured under lockdown, they shouldn’t suffer additional contraceptive pressures alone. Not when men can do something as simple and easy as putting on a condom.
Thank you, Shere Hite, for awakening women’s sexuality
All women should be thankful to Shere Hite, the pioneering feminist sexual researcher, who has died at the age of 77. US-born Hite achieved prominence with 1976’s The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality, which was based on the sexual views and fantasies of 3,500 women.
Famously, she focused on the importance of the clitoris and how penetration alone didn’t stimulate most women, going against previous male-centred research. For this, Hite achieved more than 50m book sales, and torrents of criticism from angry men. Playboy called her book the “Hate Report”.
Hite had previously posed for Playboy (to fund her studies). She also modelled, draped over a typewriter for an Olivetti advert, but when she saw the tagline (“The typewriter so smart, she doesn’t have to be”), she joined feminists in protesting against it.
Hite’s groundbreaking research heralded a turning point in the perception of female sexual pleasure. For a start, there was the assumption that women were even entitled to it. And that they weren’t deformed or frigid because penetration didn’t arouse them.
“I was saying that penetration didn’t do anything for women and that got some people terribly upset,” she told the Guardian in 2011. “Men heard about this thing that the first book said, that they weren’t doing it right in bed and that made some media moguls angry.”
RIP, Ms Hite. As much as some men were threatened by her work, perhaps they were also informed.
More castles in the air from Game of Thrones author
Winter is coming, but no castle is forthcoming for Game of Thrones author, George RR Martin. He has been denied permission to build a seven-sided castle-style library, with roof deck and elevator tower, in his compound in Santa Fe, New Mexico, after the planning proposal drew complaints from more than 40 neighbours. This is the second such proposal from Martin that has been turned down by the Sante Fe historic districts review board, with one board member saying: “It is a medieval castle and I don’t understand how we could possibly approve it in this style.”
No, you’re not tripping in lockdown – this Game of Thrones/medieval castle dispute is unfolding in real life. Martin certainly knows how to stay on-brand, even with something as routine as a planning application. While his architect took other medieval-type structures in Sante Fe into account in his design, it could not be denied that the castle would be positioned bang in the middle of a residential area. Let’s just hope that Martin isn’t, right now, asking himself: “What would Cersei do?”
Martin has already been involved in one major inexcusable eyesore: that of the progressive direness of the Game of Thrones television series, culminating in what must be a powerful contender for one of the worst, least satisfying concluding episodes of all time. Martin must accept some blame for this for not having completed the series of fantasy books, A Song of Ice and Fire, on which Game of Thrones was based.
One sympathises with the Sante Fe folk, who are mainly concerned that Martin’s medieval castle would encourage Game of Thrones fans to besiege the area. Then again, I’d be more concerned about the arrival of White Walkers. What did people expect from a planning proposal from Martin? He’s hardly the type to fantasise about tasteful gazebos or koi ponds. Sante Fe should consider itself lucky that he didn’t go for a wall.
• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist