Something that’s been bugging me over the past couple months — since the women’s health care/reproductive rights firestorm began, basically — is the way that women who use birth control for its primary intended purpose (i.e., to not get pregnant) have basically been erased from the conversation. With all respect to Sandra Fluke and Elizabeth Banks and everyone else who has participated in the conversation about how hormonal birth control has many, many uses outside of “not making babies,” it’s almost as if there’s been a concentrated effort not to talk about birth control as something women take to avoid becoming pregnant. And, like I said, this bugs me.
I got into an argument on Facebook a couple weeks ago with a male friend whose point basically boiled down to “If you don’t want to have a kid, don’t have sex.” That does seem like practical advice, right? After all, as my seventh-grade abstinence-only sex ed teacher drilled into my head, abstinence is the only method of birth control that is 100% effective! (Let’s not talk about that class and the horrible discussions that went on in there, such as the holy quad of “condoms will give you cancer,” “condoms cannot prevent STDs,” “premarital sex will turn you into a nasty sucked-on piece of candy instead of a pristine, brand-new lollipop” and, my personal favorite, “you can get HIV from anal sex even if your partner doesn’t have the AIDS virus.” Lest you think this is some ass-backwards ’80s shit, all this took place in 2004.) But here’s the thing about the “Don’t have sex unless you want babies” argument: it’s ridiculous.
I don’t want kids. I never have. I’m not even sure that I want to get married — it’s always a possibility, but it’s not something I have ever fantasized about, and as a child of divorce from a family where divorce is kind of a hobby (my grandpa was married seven times), I have a pretty defeatist attitude about the whole concept. But I know for a fact that I don’t want to have children, for many reasons: I’m bad with kids, I have no maternal instinct, I value my freedom, my career will always come first, I don’t want to be tasked with taking on all the “third shift” chores that come along with motherhood, and more than anything else, pregnancy just flat-out terrifies me. I don’t think it’s “miraculous” that I could potentially grow something else inside me. I think it’s kind of disgusting and horrifying and I want nothing to do with it — never have, and most likely never will.
HOWEVER. I am also a grown, responsible adult, and I expect to be treated as such. I am fully capable of making decisions about my body, and I deserve the right to do so. And that includes the right to take pills or have access to other forms of health care that will keep me from becoming pregnant. SO ARE THOUSANDS — MILLIONS, REALLY — OF OTHER WOMEN. It doesn’t matter if they’re virgins or mothers or Slutty McSluttensteins* who are having sex with ten guys a night including Newt Gingrich. If you have a vagina, you are entitled to make your own decisions** regarding what goes in and comes out of it, and that includes babies. Furthermore, why would you want any woman to have a child that she’ll most likely always regard as a liability or a consequence for “bad behavior”? (And yes, this is how I, and more than likely many others, would see it — why else do y’all use the phrase “Don’t have sex if you don’t want to face the consequences”?) Once again, it seems that this issue is more about controlling the female body than it is protecting children.
Basically, what I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter why a woman takes birth control. What matters is that we’re all allowed to do so, and that it is made widely available and attainable for women on every economic level. While the focus on “alternative” uses for hormonal birth control has undoubtedly proved illuminating for people who don’t understand that exaggerated cartoon wanton mistresses of the night aren’t just popping it like tic-tacs in between seedy-motel romps with married doctors and clergymen, the discussion has been really avoidant of women who use it for its primary, baby-stopping purpose. Everyone seems eager to prove that they aren’t one of “those” women; that they use birth control for a more “legitimate” purpose. But not having kids is a legitimate purpose. And the next person who tries to tell me that not having sex is just as good an alternative to BC is getting a good solid poke in the eye.
* Note that “Slutty McSluttenstein” and “Slutty Whore” in the post title are tongue-in-cheek turns of phrase not meant to be taken seriously. Of course we all know that there is no such thing as a slut. But that’s how we’re perceived, geddit? Good.
** Vagina-holders are allowed to make their own decisions as long as larger issues of age and ability to consent do not apply, yada yada yada, void where prohibited see store for details.