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  • 2016EasthamPhd

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Negotiating the fertile body: women's life history experiences of using contraception

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2016
Number of pages306
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
Original languageEnglish


British women experience a conundrum in the context of contraception. Despite knowledge about and free access to myriad methods Britain currently has high rates of unintended pregnancy (estimated as high as 2/3 in some cases). This thesis uses a feminist approach and Foucauldian theory to explore this phenomenon by addressing the gaps in current understanding namely the situated and subjective experiences of contraception use over the life course. Using a qualitative life history method and map-making, this research used Listening Guide analysis to understand 15 British women’s contraceptive life histories. Three substantive chapters situate these narratives within the political and social landscape of neoliberal Britain over the last 30 years. The first presents 4 individual life stories and drawing on the concept of ‘stratified reproduction’ indicates how many women’s contraceptive choice is not free but is shaped by structural inequalities. The second exposes the meaningful-ness of hormonal contraceptive ‘side effects’, namely the consequence to their sense of self, and argues for a departure from the typically reductive perspectives on the impacts of contraception use. The third chapter highlights the changes over time, or lack thereof, in contraceptive practice as experienced by the women participants and demands a shift from the rhetoric of ‘contraceptive choice’ towards a lived reality of supportive women-centred provision. Finally, these findings are conceptualised as ‘disconnections’ of a woman from both herself and from contraceptive providers and are theorised in relation to competing neoliberal (masculine) and female subjectivities. I argue that the current circumstances create an impossible position for contracepting women to successfully occupy. In conclusion, the narratives in this thesis compel us to adopt instead a model that approaches contraception use as more than an individual experience and to recognise and address the contextual factors that undermine women’s contraceptive choice and compromise sustainable use.