Apr 16, 2011

On shame, sex, reproductive rights, and the "S" word

I was talking to a friend the other day. One of my best friends. One of my best educated and most liberated friends. We were talking about her sex life, and being single, and her dating life in general, which is, as things go, is not particular crazy or dramatic, and she noted "I just don't want to be a slut".
Now, we weren't talking about some crazy need for affirmation manifesting itself in wanton promiscuity. We weren't talking about a sordid trail or used and thrown out men. We were, quite actually, talking about her pretty much sleeping with one man she wasn't sure she ultimately wanted to marry. That slut.

I've been circling around this lately. Women, their reproductive rights, their ability to do what they wish with their bodies when they wish to do it, and the desire and ability to do it without shame. And how much this shame and empowerment connects to so many of our confusing and controversial issues.

Now hold with me because I am going to get political and personal.

Whether or not you are religious, whether or not you believe in monogamy, or polyamory, or sex out of wedlock, or abstinence or monogamy or polygamy or a free love pile, it is undeniable that birth control changed the face of society.
Countless books, essays and expository articles around the sexual revolution, around the pill, around open and unloaded access to family planning have made it clear that, for better or worse, a woman's liberation is undeniably tied to her ability to choose when and where she has a baby, without also having to choose abstinence.

But there is more: there are also a lot of arguments that will posit that our economy, crime rates, and violence rates are directly correlating to a women's access to family planning. And that is the term folks. Not birth control. Not baby killing. The ability to start a family when they want to, not when they lose their hymen.

So, basically, it more than likely that access to family planning services makes women more independent, and society safer and less economically depressed.

But yet, this is still hard for a lot of folks and it makes sense that it would be. To be clear, sex and reproduction are undeniably tied together. Also, to be clear, I absolutely respect those who choose abstinence, who have religious or moral beliefs that say birth control is wrong or abortion is wrong or sex out of wedlock. If you believe that, that is your right.

But I don't believe that is really what is going on here. Because ongoing and countless surveys show that the majority of religious married couples use birth control. All over the internet you can find statistics around the amount of people who have sex not solely for the end goal of procreating.

We seem, on the most part, pretty aware of that and even mostly okay with that. Middle America is more than happy to watch a happy loving affair that clearly entails sex on the big screen and call it romance. Every time you turn on the tv you will see it. Even more traditional shows, which stress waiting until you are in love or married don't necessarily say "and will have sex solely for the act of procreation."

And yet the open and unfettered access to family planning for independent single women still seems to rankle. So what is it? There is something there. Still. Is the controversy not around killing babies, as so many would have you believe, so much as the having of the sex in the first place? Is it all about who does it, when, where and why they do it? Because we all know that if Planned Parenthood loses funding happily married well insured and well off couples will probably still be able to walk into their doctor's office and say "doc, we just aren't ready, can we get a prescription"? We all know that, odds are, that woman who just gave birth will be able to choose the post birth IUD option without lot of "controversy".

Who will not have easy, non-judgemental access to birth control will be the single woman, often the economically disenfranchised single woman, and most certainly the uninsured single woman.
Those poor sluts will not be able to walk into a clinic and choose sex without "consequences".

And so I can't help but to think that is it. Below it all. A certain belief that women really shouldn't have as much control over their bodies as they do. A resentment that women CAN choose to have sex with someone they would NEVER want to have a baby with and then go to work the next day and not hope and pray that the rabbit doesn't die.

I think what is really going on here is that society still hasn't made clean terms with the power that birth control gives SINGLE women. And I don't know if it is our love affair with the middle class nuclear family, or a fear of empowered women in general, or just an underlying puritanical believe that women shouldn't want and get sex without fear, denial and shame, but I think it is there. And I think, that while the argument is about abortion for a few, it gains strength and momentum in the larger society based on much larger and farther reaching grounds.

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