Why Attacks on Contraception Meet Success In Such A Pro-Contraception Culture


Another month in the ramped-up war on women, and another unfortunately successful attack on women’s access to contraception. The story of the North Carolina legislature defunding Planned Parenthood is remarkable mainly for the doggedness of the anti-choice faction, from the fact that it had to be done with an override of the governor’s veto to the fact that it was done late at night before a holiday. Never let it be said that North Carolina conservatives don’t take keeping affordable birth control out of the hands of women very seriously.

Occasions like this tend to cause pro-choicers not just to be sad about the setback, but also to despair of every gaining any ground. We live in a society where 95 percent of Americans have sex without being married first, contraceptive use is functionally universal, mainstream media largely portrays sex as an ordinary life (which it is), and formerly marginalized sexual identities are becoming more socially acceptable by the minute. You would think in such an environment, the gap between how we actually live and the sexual lives conservatives demand of us — sexual lives that are practiced by a vanishingly small  minority, so small that very few of the conservatives pushing this image actually live it –would be enough to overcome their efforts at slashing reproductive health care access. Attempts to force people to embrace abstinence or face very serious consequences should, logically, be seen as just as ridiculous as attempts to force people to abstain from going outside when the weather is nice or going to the movies.

And yet, here we are, watching the legislature in yet another state, where, I guarantee it, the vast majority of citizens are pro-choice in their behavior, attacking access to contraception and getting away with it. In fact, the odds are high that most of the people voting to de-fund Planned Parenthood have rejected for themselves the abstinence course they’re trying to push on others by taking their birth control away. The disconnect is just stunning, if you really think about it.  Why can’t we win even when we’re winning?

Part of the problem is the perennial “glass houses” phenomenon. There’s a quirk in human nature that allows us to imagine that when we do behavior X, we have a very good reason for it, unlike everyone else who does behavior X. People who are supportive or even just indifferent towards these efforts to punish women’s sexual behavior often imagine that they’re not the ones who are being targeted by these efforts, that their sexual choices are so obviously above the line that no one could want to hurt them. It’s always those other women, right? Until it’s not, but by then it’s often too late. 

That said, I think one of the major reasons that this tendency is being turned up so loudly now, to the point of attacking not just abortion but contraception, is precisely because conservatives are losing the culture war. Another, possibly stranger quirk in human nature is this tendency to double down when you’re in the wrong. It’s as irrational as it is predictable; taking a louder, more radical stand for a wrong belief has so far not actually made anyone suddenly in the right. It usually just makes you even more wrong, and has the side effect of making those in the right even more alarmed at how wrong you are. And yet, this kind of angry lashing out is just what people do when they’re losing. That’s exactly what we’re seeing going on in places like North Carolina. Unable to actually persuade people that sex is bad, conservatives instead are escalating attacks on reproductive health care, so they can at least make people who are in the right on this suffer as much as possible for winning the cultural argument.

The problem here is that it’s entirely possible to have a totally contradictory society, where the culture is largely sex-positive but the policies are sex-negative. Most of the evidence suggests that people’s ideas about sex are shaped almost completely by their own desires and their cultural narratives, and not at all by some of the more pedestrian questions about contraceptive affordability or disease prevention, which is why unintended pregnancy and STDs have been a constant problem throughout history. The only real consequence of these kind of disconnected societies is off-the-charts rates of negative sexual health outcomes. So yes, while we’re winning the culture war, a loss on the policy front is simply too tragic an outcome to bear.

But I really do believe that we’re facing down the last generation that has enough political pull towards anti-sex ideas that they can get these kinds of political victories. They’re on their way out not just because they’ve lost the cultural argument about sex, but because they have increasingly fewer numbers of people in each subsequent generation who believe that it’s good to have such a divergence between what you say you believe and what you actually do. It may feel now like we’re just trying to hold them off, but if we can hold them off long enough — if we can weather this storm — eventually we will win.  

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  • grandmother

    Dear young one, our generation and the generation before us have made too many mistakes. As I tell my daughter and son, their parents (in the sexual revolution years) made some horrible mistakes — empty sexual encounters and broken hearts — to name a few. 

    Back then there wasn’t such a plithera of sexually transmitted diseases and not such deadly ones at that. It’s not that I am anti-sex, I am saddened by the broken marriages, the empty sex, the injured women and men (physically and mentally). Sadly, the HIV/AIDs epidemic, that continues today, which has obviously failed to scare self-responsibility into our youth, now has produced a population of ill individuals who exist solely by taking daily concoctions of pills. One of our major costs for healthcare is — sex. Yes, sex. (This was not the case when I was young.) PRESENTLY, the U.S. has a population where one out of four young women has an STD. This is a great boon to the pharmaceutical industry, but a great burden on the ill indivdual and society. Correct, we are dying off, but we love our children, grandchildren, and our country. We have obviously not educated individuals on why we have this stand on promiscuity and contraceptive, because you have wrongly conjectured about our generation’s motives. My heart breaks for those young adults who think casual sex is such wonderous entertainment, while playing russian roulette with their health. I am not angry, but saddened. And I hope that future generations live a healthier lifestyle.

  • jennifer-starr

    My parents, happily married since 1971, three kids and still as much in love as they were on their wedding day-have used contraception. Ditto for both sets of grandparents–each married over 60 years. Over 95 % of women in this country have used contraception–Catholic, Protestant, Liberal and Conservative. I don’t care what your own children did in the past–your stereotyping of anyone who uses contraception as leading some sort of ‘wild lifestyle’ is very offensive. 

  • crowepps

    Your informing your grandchildren that their parents were sluts and the problems you claim that caused them was all their own fault makes you sound like an anti-sex fanatic and a pretty poor excuse for a grandparent.

    Your lack of knowledge about the skyhigh medical costs and massive maternal and infant mortality arising from unwanted pregnancy and widespread venereal diseases pre-contraception sounds massively ignorant of history.

    I’m a member of ‘our generation’ as well, and you don’t accurately summarize ‘our’ motives.  You speak only for yourself.

  • jennifer-starr

    Also, to badmouth your children in front of their kids is pretty low–my grandparents never would’ve done something like that. 

  • j-rae

    ***As I tell my daughter and son, their parents (in the sexual revolution years) made some horrible mistakes — empty sexual encounters and broken hearts — to name a few***

    Every family is different of course, but in my family this is considered TMI. I would never consider telling my kids personal details of my sex life. I would also not expect my adult children to tell me details of their sex lives.

     

    ***Back then there wasn’t such a plithera of sexually transmitted diseases and not such deadly ones at that.***

    I hate to tell you but STDs have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. There were a few years there after the development of ATB that we thought it might be eradicated, but we now have resistant strains instead. STDs in the past were always eventually deadly without treatment.

     

    ***I am saddened by the broken marriages, the empty sex, the injured women and men (physically and mentally)***

    You need to meet some people with a healthier outlook on life. While we all know people who have issues generally most people cannot be described as above.

    *** Sadly, the HIV/AIDs epidemic, that continues today, which has obviously failed to scare self-responsibility into our youth, now has produced a population of ill individuals who exist solely by taking daily concoctions of pills.***

     

    HIV/AIDS patients survive by taking medication to control the disease. As do diabetics, people with cardiac conditions, kidney failure, ect, ect. We have failed not at scaring young people but at educating our young people about STDS. We gutted our sex education and replaced it with abstinence only education. Instead of giving facts while educating our youth we have given them fairy tales. 

     

    ***One of our major costs for healthcare is — sex. Yes, sex.***

    Well, yes. If you include all care that women need over a lifetime for reproductive health. Pap smears, mammograms, childbirth, tubal ligation, vasectomy. It could go on and on. I am not even sure what your complaint is about this. Are you suggesting that women receive no prenatal care? That they just squat anywhere and have babies? That they receive no care or screening for cancer?

     

    ****We have obviously not educated individuals on why we have this stand on promiscuity and contraceptive, because you have wrongly conjectured about our generation’s motives.****

     

    I skipped over a bunch of crap to this part.

    We have stopped teaching sex education in many parts of the country and now teach “wives tales”. Those who promote this teaching pat themselves on the back and tell everyone how well this works.

    We would never think of giving the keys to a car to an 18 y/o without teaching them how to drive safely. We would never tell them that seatbelts and air bags don’t protect you. We would never say that driving 80mph is great.

    But, we have classes that teach that condoms and contraceptives don’t work. That the best thing for young people is to get married in a hurry.

     

     

     

  • donnag

    She’s not even pretending it’s about “the sanctity of life” of zygotes. She’s coming right out and clutching her pearls over all the sexytimes you slutty sluts are having.