Love Doc

Plumbing the depths of the psychology and neurobiology of love.

Equal Powers Between the Sheets

Putting men on the pill impacts on gender equality.

 

Male contraception is making scientific news as reported by Pam Belluck in the NY Times, Science Health section, July23, 2011. If we try to put men on the pill, will they take it? If they do we will be one step closer to equal powers between the sheets.


Throughout the ages ─even thought it takes a male sperm to fertilize a female egg─ pregnancy has remained the responsibility of women. Without real safe and sure methods of female contraception, men were not required to be accountable for the pregnancy, but women were.


Abortion had been outlawed; so what was a woman to do with an unwanted pregnancy? Until the passage of Roe Vs Wade in 1973 many women resorted to back alley abortions only to die or remain maimed.


The sixties ushered in a sea change. The feminist movement─ the fight for equal rights mainly in the workplace ─ was spearheaded by powerful women like Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinam, Bella Abzug . Equal rights in the bedroom were forged with the arrival of the female birth control pill. Women could then take control of their bodies and feel more independent and autonomous.

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In time, however, science showed that the pill had serious side effects that could result in cancer. Although some men wear condoms, many do not. And so, women were once again in the one-down postion.


Despite the struggle for equality in women's political and work lives, despite a woman running for president, despite powerful woman like Michele Obama, Arianna Huffington, and Mika Brzezinski ─ mothers making a difference in our political lives ─ the responsibility for contraception in our personal lives continues to lie in the hands of women.


With women still assuming the burden of protecting against pregnancy, male contraception takes us one step closer to gender equality. The importance of equal powers between the genders in our love lives cannot be emphasized enough.


To love and be loved, to respect and be respected, to desire and be desired, to cherish and be cherished ─ universal wishes ─ are synonymous with equal power relationships. Alas, many women, even successful career women, relinquish their power and lose themelves in their partners.
By losing themselves in their male partners, women lose their sense of self, their autonomy, their competency, their adequacy. When a woman risks her health by taking the pill, she is once more catapulting to the needs and desires of her partner. Not only that, but, the power differential in the bedroom continues out of the bedroom. So what is a woman stuck in an unequal power relationship to do?


She can say "no more" and reclaim her inner strengths, self respect, autonomy and independence. Once she changes, her partner can't help but change as well. If this sounds like wishful thinking it is not; research reveals some convincing scientific evidence to support the notion that change in one partner creates change in the other.


In my new book, The New Science of Love: How Understanding Your Brain's Wiring Can Help Rekindle Your Relationship (Sourcebooks, Casablanca, 2011) I elaborate on a groundbreaking discovery of a special type of brain cell called "mirror neurons" that explains this kind of sequential change.


Discovered in the 1990's in Parma Italy, mirror neurons link two people at an internal level in a meaningful relationship. In a romantic relationship, matching mirror neurons reflect each partner's thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and desires to each other. With matching mirror neurons, lovers can walk in each others' shoes emotionally ─ which is what empathy and intimacy is all about.


These remarkable mirror neurons operate in yet other ways. Linked by mirror neurons when one partner creates change, the other partner can't help but change as well. Think of it this way. Mirror neuron links are like links in a bracelet; move one and the other will then move.


But psychological matters are more complicated than bracelets. In the case of repeated ongoing relationships in which partners engage in unequal powers, this unhealthy dynamic becomes lodged into the brain. And it seems like change is impossible; that partners can't dislodge the old patterns of relating from their brains.


But they can.


Partners can change their behaviors and dislodge the old dynamics from the brain and replace them with new healthy equal power styles of relating. All of this is possible because of another scientific finding: the plastic brain. That means that the brain can shape itself and reshape itself; it can form itself and reform itself. So when women take a firm stand in and out of the bed, they will gain the power to change their brains and those of their partners.


These private changes can have repercussions in our public lives. Indeed, our personal lives always reverberate to our political lives. In other words, if men make compromises by swallowing the pill, they will help create healthier relationships between the sheets. Now, imagine our politicians striving to make compromises, swallowing some bitter pills, and creating a solvent healthy nation. Can you imagine that?


Email: drpraver@cs.com
Web: www.drfranpraver.com
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Frances Cohen Praver, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and relational psychoanalyst and author.

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