Intersections Between Culture, Contraception, Knowledge, and the Body in the USA
Women’s contraceptive use is a central feature of US culture around reproduction as evinced by high usage rates and nationwide public health efforts to further increase its use. Paradoxically, women know little about contraception within its biomedical framing, and successive public health-related educational campaigns have produced only moderate knowledge gains. Drawing on 86 in-depth interviews with a diverse sample of reproductive-age women, we set out to understand this persistent learning lag. In doing so, we found that women’s limited contraceptive knowledge extended beyond simply being uneducated about various methods. Rather, these learning lags can be attributed to many women’s lack of knowledge or misunderstandings about their anatomical bodies and reproductive processes. Employing feminist perspectives, we argue that these misunderstandings derive from factors beyond individual women’s control. Indeed, they are rooted in cultural norms that stifle and stigmatise women’s reproductive learning. Traditional public health efforts may inevitably fail to overcome these cultural barriers, perpetuating women’s gaps in knowledge. Recognising the cultural dimensions of contraceptive knowledge and education reveals how critical action is needed around sexuality education in the USA as well as the limitations of on-going educational efforts.