By Jessica Valenti
Jul 18, 2014
When 99% of the female population uses contraception, it's sad that we can't just come out and say that we use it for sex. And that we like the sex – a lot.
Women like to have sex. Some women who like to have sex don't want to get pregnant, so they use birth control. I understand that these are not particularly revelatory statements, but for some incredibly irritating reason, the punditocracy is still dwelling on the fairly mundane facts that sex happens and contraception is often a part of it.
Conservatives won't admit their deep-seated fear of non-reproductive sex, so Washington media's machine is propping it up for them. But if this is our mid-summer debate, well, let's at least try to find a reason for the stupidity, shall we?
When Sandra Fluke gave her now infamous testimony before the US House of Representatives about insurance coverage for contraception, the bulk of her opening statement focused on a friend who needed to take birth control to treat polycystic ovarian syndrome. In the wake of last week's supreme court decision on Hobby Lobby, Elle magazine ran a piece on "10 Medical Reasons Why a Woman Might Be Prescribed Birth Control". And then the National Journal published a widely shared articledeclaring that what "everyone is missing" in the ongoing Hobby Lobby debate is all the women who need to take birth control for medical reasons. "Even if these women never have sex once in their lives, they need to be on birth control," wrote reporter Lucia Graves. She continued:
These women depend on the pill to regulate their hormones and do everything from ease pain to reduce the risk of cancer. These medical benefits have nothing to do with sex or the prevention of pregnancy.
I agree with Graves that the link between contraception and women's health should not be ignored – and it's important that the national conversation, post-Hobby Lobby, is looking beyond the court's shameful ruling on behalf of sex-fearing "freedom-seekers".
But it's awfully depressing that, in the summer of 2014, when 99% of American women use birth control, we can't just come out and say that most women use birth control for sex. And that we like said sex – a lot.
I can promise you this, too: focusing on the non-orgasmic reasons women use contraception will not magically change conservatives' minds about the issue. No matter how many articles come out imploring the public to think about the very real health problems women have, conservative organizations have had their minds in the gutter for years, and they like it there.
The organizations that supported Hobby Lobby with amicus briefs, for example, tell a pretty clear story about what conservatives care about – and it ain't health:
- The Independent Women's Forum filed a brief arguing that women already have plentiful access to contraception through Planned Parenthood (which, ironically enough, IWF thinks should be defunded) – and that's just the latest in the group's long line of arguments that sex is somehow ruining women.
- The Catholic Medical Association wrote a brief arguing (inaccurately) that contraception causes abortion, but a 2011 memo from the organization sheds more light, stating that "widespread use of contraceptives contributes to sexual promiscuity". (As Bill Maher once joked, "It's like saying if you give a kid a tetanus shot she'll want to jab rusty nails in her feet.")
- The Eagle Forum and the Beverly LaHaye Institute also wrote briefs in support of Hobby Lobby; they have also deridedcontraception and women having sex.
And when female reporters covered the Hobby Lobby decision, it was not a coincidence that the majority of us were being called sluts and whoresacross social media and elsewhere. To conservatives, contraception is not about health – it's about sex, their fear of sex, and a panic over women having sex that doesn't lead to babies. The more we ignore that truth – or focus on on the "valid" reasons women use birth control – the more women give ammunition, and give up the moral ground, to the right.
Liberals concede the same ground when we make pro-choice arguments using the most extreme examples – rape, incest and health. Yes, women need abortions for those reasons – but they also need them when they're simply not ready to be parents. And that's OK.
It's also OK – wonderful, even! – that women use birth control to have sex and not get pregnant. Even more wonderful: it works. The advent of contraception is arguably the most important liberatory discovery for women of all time. We're allowed to use it. And not just for our periods – but to have hot, sweaty, fantastic, fun, non-procreative sex. That doesn't make us "sluts"; it makes us human.