Social Media Trends Are Moving Against Contraception Access
Reproductive health advocates and providers should be aware of a disturbing social media trend that appears to be moving in the same direction as the early anti-Roe efforts in the 1980s.
Decades of attacks on abortion changed enough people’s opinions on abortion to lay the groundwork for the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision.
“The attacks on abortion that [predated] Dobbs and laid the groundwork for Dobbs took decades,” says Amanda Stevenson, PhD, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Opponents of abortion rights started when Roe was established; they stigmatized abortion as dangerous and morally wrong and established that states should have control over abortion in special ways,” Stevenson explains. “That work started with the stigmatization process, and the process has ramped up a lot in the past decade around contraception.”
As a demographer and sociologist, Stevenson studies social responses to policies. Through her research, she discovered a parallel between the anti-abortion forces and the current anti-contraception movement.
“There are legislators and advocates concerned about contraception, especially in the wake of Dobbs,” she says. “But I think we’ll see a countervailing force from the opponents of reproductive liberty broadly. They’re laying the groundwork for their strategies to be effective.”
The groundwork includes a trend of TikTok influencers saying that using contraception is bad for a person’s body, love life, and relationship, Stevenson says. “It’s a big groundswell, connected to the anti-vax and natural health world,” she adds. “I hear about this from younger advocates.”
These influencers promote the idea that contraception is unhealthy and harms one’s identity. They say that if a woman uses contraception, she is attracted to the wrong kind of men. “There’s this whole quite sophisticated set of claims that frame modern contraception methods as physically dangerous, sexually damaging, and socially deviant,” Stevenson explains. “And there’s a ‘tradwife’ thing [from] neoconservatives.”
These young conservatives are a growing presence on social media worldwide, with their message that women benefit from traditional gender roles, similar to the marketing ideal of the 1950s. The term “tradwife” is derived from the words “traditional” and “wife.” They celebrate their roles as housekeepers and mothers on social media, displaying photos of themselves in dresses and aprons. In one Instagram post featured in a Katie Couric Media article, a young tradwife wrote about how wearing an apron is a badge of honor. Another self-proclaimed tradwife told the BBC that her role is “submitting to and spoiling her husband like it’s 1959.”1
“In that world, contraception is a big way that you can violate the terms of good womanhood, by their standards,” Stevenson says. “Being a good woman is being open to pregnancy at all times and welcoming pregnancy with every act of sexual intercourse.”
While it seems extreme, it is not that extreme in the scope of the broader culture, Stevenson adds. That type of undercurrent is what enables Idaho public universities to tell all staff that they cannot prescribe contraceptives or discuss abortion and contraception with students and employees.2
“That lays the groundwork for the claims we’re hearing in the bleeding edge of state legislatures that talk about banning IUDs,” Stevenson explains. “These things don’t happen in a vacuum; they happen because the groundwork has been laid in the culture.”
No one is effectively countering this effort. Stevenson says she is worried it may work. “It’s happening faster than it did with abortion,” she says. “If you talk to advocates about it, they’ll say that’s just medical misinformation, but that’s a totally inadequate response.”
There are good messages about reproductive rights and health on social media, but they are not successfully addressing the message that contraceptives are dangerous, she adds.
Reproductive health providers and leaders should be aware of this undercurrent of backlash against contraception and prepare messages to adequately address it before state legislatures begin to ban IUDs and other contraceptive methods, Stevenson says.
Over the past five years, people have been stunned when Stevenson described a world in which IUDs and other contraceptives are banned. But after the Dobbs decision and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ opinion noting the Griswold v. Connecticut contraception rights decision of 1965 could be overturned, it appears less implausible that states will be allowed to ban contraceptives.
“It may happen unless there are massive efforts to forestall the social consequences of controlling access to contraception,” Stevenson says.
- Katie Couric Media. The real tradwives of 2022: Why more young moms are becoming traditional housewives. April 8, 2022.
- Boone R. Idaho universities disallow abortion, contraception referral. Associated Press. Sept. 27, 2022.
Reproductive health advocates and providers should be aware of a disturbing social media trend that appears to be moving in the same direction as the early anti-Roe efforts in the 1980s. Decades of attacks on abortion changed enough people’s opinions on abortion to lay the groundwork for the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision.
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