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To share the unshareable - Strong equality ideal in young people's contraceptive work

A couple sit on a bed holding hands.
Photo: Sinitta Leunen/Unsplash

Making independent decisions about your body and your life is a big part of being a human being in Sweden today. Part of this is taking care of your sexual health and choosing whether and when to have children. In heterosexual relationships, this is a task that often falls on the person who can get pregnant. The ideal, according to new research, is different and involves an equal distribution of contraceptive use and related work. There are few options available to men.

Shortly before Christmas, the sociologist Marie Larsson defended her thesis The work of contracepting: young people's experiences and practices with contraceptives in Sweden, showing the amount of work young people often put in when it comes to choosing, trying out and evaluating contraceptives. Interviews with young people revealed that the work involves not only the individual but also others, such as health professionals, family and friends. The partner is particularly important, especially in long-term relationships and specifically when pregnancy prevention is the goal of contraception. There is a strong ideal of equality that is difficult to live up to when there are few options. There is also a moral dimension that says that you should use contraception as a good and responsible citizen and human being.

– This creates frustration, anger and uncertainty. There are options for those who can get pregnant, but many are not happy with their experiences and this stirs up emotions that sometimes get directed at their partners. Managing these feelings is a big part of contraceptive work, says Marie Larsson.

The impact of experiences

Marie Larsson wishes that there were more methods for everyone to choose from and says that the interviewees sometimes felt that the general image in the health care system and society is that there are good methods, that they are safe and have few side effects. The interviewees experienced it differently.

– Younger people are more questioning, "why should I put up with it?". There is a clash between the official and the personal.

Sometimes it is a question of weighing the pros and cons, whether it is worth sacrificing something to be able to have safe sex with that person. This also brought up the issue of condom use. If the man does not want to use a condom, why should the woman take hormones and risk side effects?

– One of the interviewees said that she broke off a relationship when her partner did not want to use a condom. She thought about an IUD but decided that she didn't want to use it for a person who is not nice.

Ways to share the work

The partner is involved in diverse aspects in different relationships, sometimes more as support during medical visits and as a discussion partner and sometimes in a more practical way, for example to share costs.

Marie Larsson describes one of the interviewees who has delegated to her partner to keep track of the calendar, purchase, learn how to use and administer the contraceptive injection.

– It was possible precisely because it was a syringe, it would not have worked with an IUD, for example.

Sharing or delegating work can be a danger in relationships where controlling behavior or sexual violence is present. 

Experience with controlling partners can damage trust even in new relationships and make people want to make their own decisions and manage their contraceptive use themselves.

Needs to be addressed at societal level

In sexual relationships where pregnancy is not an issue, work can sometimes be divided differently and equality is easier to achieve. In homosexual relationships, the responsibility for protecting oneself against sexually transmitted diseases may be shared by both partners. One situation that came up in Marie Larsson's interviews was a gay couple who made testing for diseases an almost romantic thing:

– It's rarely talked about, getting tested together and showing that way that you are a couple. It can be linked to intimacy and be nice and sweet.

According to Marie Larsson, the ideal of shared responsibility and work is the same as the ideal of sharing household work in general. 

– The young people I interviewed had strong ideals of equality. The task should be shared, that's what they want. But how? This is a situation that needs to be resolved at the societal level. We need to push for more and better contraceptives.

Marie Larsson portrait

About the thesis

On December 19, Marie Larsson successfully defended her thesis The work of contracepting: young people's experiences and practices with contraceptives in Sweden at the Department of Sociology.

The study is based on accounts and narratives from 27 in-depth interviews with thirteen young women, men and non-binary people between the ages of 18 and 29. 

The interview participants had different sexual identities, resided in Sweden, and had some experience with contraceptive methods to prevent unwanted pregnancies and/or sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

More on Marie Larsson’s research in the Lund University Research Portal.

Marie Larsson's thesis (pdf, 19 MB, Opens in a new window).

A range of contraceptives.


When the main purpose of contraception is pregnancy prevention, there are few options for men and many more for women. Condoms and sterilization are the ones that men can choose from in addition to less effective methods, such as withdrawal. For women, on the other hand, there are many different hormonal and non-hormonal options such as IUDs (hormonal or copper), birth control pills, contraceptive injections, contraceptive patches, contraceptive rings, contraceptive implants, diaphragms, femidom or sterilization. In recent years, the use of long-acting methods has increased, which is thought to have contributed to fewer abortions.