Skip to comments.Birth Control Isn’t Really About “Women’s Health.” It’s About…
Posted on 02/25/2012 8:52:11 PM PST by Ultra Sonic 007
This is a polemic: Access to birth control isnt really about my health. Its not principally about the management of ovarian cysts or the regulation of periods.
Birth control isnt about my health unless by health you mean, my capacity to get it on, to have a happy, joyous sex life that involves an actual male partner. The point of birth control is to have sex thats recreational and non-procreative. Its to permit women to exercise their desires without the sword of Damocles of unwanted pregnancy hanging gloomily over their heads.
This proposition is radical only by default, because mainstream liberal voices in Congress, especially, have euphemized womens desires out of the current birth control and abortion disputes.
I understand why theyve done this, in terms of narrow political expediency. Weve been on the defensive about reproductive rights and women's sexual liberty for decades. Weve used a euphemism of choice for years.
The problem with choice is that it pairs the philosophically monumental with the rhetorically puny. On the one hand, choice describes the abortion cause that weve taken thousands of political casualties to defend; on the other hand, it describes 20 brands of toothpaste.
Rhetorically, liberals have also argued from the exceptional cases to defend reproductive rights, sensing a more sympathetic ear when they do. For example, assaults on abortion rights are often combatted with the anecdote of the tragic but less common abortion-seeker: victims of incest, rape, or life-threatening medical danger.
These three subjects form a hallowed trinity of morally unimpeachable abortion users, because they became pregnant or need an abortion through no fault of their own: In other words, through no exercise of their libido, or their desire.
It should go without saying that these women matter in the abortion debate. But the more we argue by way of non-consensual examples, the more we communicate that were embarrassed by the larger population of unexceptional, consensual examples of women who get pregnant or use birth control because they want to have sex.
The phrase womens health in the birth control dispute is the latest nimble euphemism.
There are many examples. Barbara Boxer frames the birth control issue a la mode as about defending womens health. We will fight for women and their families and their economic well-being and their good health, her website declares on the matter. EMILYs List refers to the war on womens health.
The New York Times (a reliable source for yuppie prudery and subtle anti-feminism alikeremember their atrocious coverage of the gang rape of an 11-year old in Brownsville, Texas?), used the outlier example of a lesbian college student who only took the pill because she had an ovarian cystnot to have sex, you can be reassured!and she couldnt afford it without health insurance, so she ended up with a ruptured cyst, and a costly hospital stay.
We tiptoe around the heterosexual womans unsightly libido, and end up with a strangely euphemistic rhetoric, a defense of birth control that seems to involve no sex, desire, sperm, or men. It's all about access, womens health, and the non-libidinal reasons to use birth control.
This might secure sympathy in the short run, but when we euphemize, we convey a squeamish, ambivalent view of our own values. When we rely on exceptional cases, we embolden no-exceptions extremism. We give up on defending the promiscuous abortion seeker, but cling to the trinity of Non-Consenting Cases. Then, bit by bit, social conservatives, sensing opportunity, start chipping away at the exceptions, too.
Now, if the Oklahoma personhood bill becomes lawand 12 other states are considering similar legislationabortion will be absolutely outlawed, along with many forms of birth control.
Its counterintuitive, but when deeply-settled rights are most in danger, its not the time to euphemize, or retreat from assertions of sexual liberty and self-governance. Its time to gun it instead.
So heres the subject I advocate for, because no one dares to speak her name: Its the 20-something unmarried heterosexual woman who wants to have sex, has sex, enjoys a good sex life with her boyfriend, and, in that sex life, uses birth control. Or, she accidentally gets pregnant.
She doesnt get pregnant because shes a victim of non-consensual sex. She gets pregnant while enjoying sex. She doesnt use birth control to regulate her menstrual cycle. She uses birth control because she has sex.
I advocate for the slut who sleeps with lots of men, as well as the woman who sleeps with only one, ever. Promiscuously heterosexual, and happy about it? Ive got your back.
A second polemic: If birth control isnt actually about womens health, its also not strictly speaking just about women, or a womens issue. Again, this is a basic but mysteriously obscure truth of the issue. The rhetoric emphasizes womens health, rather than the desire-driven world where it takes two to tango, one from each biological sex, and to get pregnant or need to plan to avoid pregnancy. So we end up focusing on women's equality in health insurance coverage. Thats a critical issue, certainly.
But when we start talking about birth control as being, well, about sex, it becomes clear that its an issue for men and women.
Dont men have some right to have sex without the fear that every relationship will come with the game-changing threat of unwanted pregnancy?
Are men destined to go back to the contraceptive roulette days of condoms, rhythm method, luck, or nothing? And, how many men would want that life back? How isnt this a mens issue and a womens issueor a men and women, together, issue? Without access to affordable, reliable, convenient birth control, heterosexual mens and womens sex lives are effectively rolled back to the pre-Griswald 1930s.
Birth control doesnt come across as a mens and womens issue because acknowledging that would be to declare the idea that we want people to have recreational, non-procreative sex lives as part of their humanity, their intimate life, and their human experience.
The days of second-wave feminism when Erika Jong gleefully celebrated womens sex lives feel like another world. Im looking at my collection of second-wave feminist paperbacks on my shelf. I could throw a pen and any book Id hit would have some affirmation of a pro-sex agenda for womenan article about the myth of vaginal orgasms, for example, or the importance of the vibrator as a tool of liberation. Second-wave feminism wasnt just fighting against sexual violence. It was fighting for the emancipation of the female libido.
Where would you find that attitude today in the cultural mainstream?
In glossy womens magazines, its true, youll find ways to please your man features, and at least these magazines are writing about sex, but I dont really see theirs as a feminist treatment of sexuality. They might want to run more features on ways to please yourself to boost their feminist bona fides.
In the world of public health, youll see erudite discussion of sex as a social morbidity and risk factorto wit, girls who have sex are much less likely to get admitted to a top tier schoolbut thats not exactly a triumphant narrative of womens libido, either.
You can go to slasher flicks and get the Hollywood Have Sex and Die narrative, or, in more self-declared feminist flicks such as Thelma and Louise or the The Piano, the slight variation of rebel, have sex, and be forced to kill yourself, or lose a finger for your trouble.
It makes me wonder, who stole my libido?
Even though personal liberty in private relations is a foundational concept of modern liberalism and its understanding of the right to privacy, sexual liberty isnt exactly the rallying cry.
And thats unfortunate, and consequential. Because it seems to me that the bottom line of 21st-century politics is that you cant be embarrassed or equivocal about the things you believe. It always shows.
Having custody of one’s own children is a good thing, not a burden.
I did not say it was a burden, I said it was the hardest job that I have ever done. I have built and sold two successful business, I’m a retired AB ranger, but I am most proud of being a successful and effective father.
Great. And more fathers should have the opportunity to raise their own children instead of being treated as ATMs.
calling pro drug enforcement positions a "war on medicine".
Way too many get mad at the court system and choose to move on start another family and leave the past behind them. I am a firm believer that men need to make their children a priority in their lives even if they do not have custody. That means don’t run out and try to replace them.
True. Also true that the system needs to be radically changed so it is no longer actively working against fathers.
Cigarettes and beer.
Wow - sore spot? Men are just as responsible as women when it comes to preventing pregnancies - I don't think we should pay for either sex. If both fail to take precautions, then let them live with the "mistake" and pay for it too. How does that make me sexist and/or irresponsible? It sounds to me like you have a more sexist chip on your shoulder than I.