series event

The emotional politics of family planning campaigns in 1970s and 1980s Britain

New Histories of Health: NHS 70 series

In 1984, the Family Planning Association of Great Britain (FPA) launched its year-long ‘Men Too’ campaign to encourage greater male involvement in family planning and personal relationships that represented a wider shift towards promoting ‘male responsibility’ for contraception in the 1980s. In this paper I argue that ‘Men Too’ formed part of a broader rethinking of masculinities and heterosexual relations in the late-twentieth century but that it also represented a shift in wider British emotional culture in this period towards valuing emotional expression. In particular it provides an insight into how educational campaigns such as those focused on family planning understood and attempted to manipulate the emotions of their publics amidst this shift.

To encourage male involvement in contraception, the FPA sought to reimagine masculinity amidst the apparent ‘crisis’ in both masculinity and contraceptive responsibility that was unfolding in the early 1980s. The latter crisis was prompted by the vast uptake of the oral contraceptive pill amongst a younger generation of women since the 1960s that had the effect of producing the uninvolved male contraceptor. However, by the late 1970s increasing numbers of these women were discontinuing use of the Pill over its reported iatrogenic effects, thus, for the FPA and similar organisations, reimagining masculinity and encouraging male responsibility grew increasingly urgent if unplanned pregnancies were to be reduced. With a focus on young, working-class urban men, the FPA incentivized this demographic with the guarantee that reforming their masculinity to permit themselves to be more emotionally expressive would also bring personal fulfilment.  In doing this, the FPA reframed ‘crisis’ as an opportunity for men to reflect on and change their intimate and emotional conduct in the hope that this would improve intimate relations between the sexes and encourage negotiation of contraceptive responsibility.