For the past month, I have felt under assault. At every turn, someone in the political space was talking about some aspect of women’s sexuality and doing it in a way that was intended to limit it. My neighbors to the south in Virginia – as well as in other states – were fighting their legislature to stop them from mandating ultrasounds, usually the vaginal kind, and a waiting period before abortions. Women in other states are watching “personhood” measures marching along, legislation that would give fetuses legal standing that would limit abortion access as well as raise questions about the legality of some forms of contraception and IVF treatments. In the US Capitol, the enactment of an Affordable Care Act provision requiring insurance coverage of birth control as a preventative care measure led to fireworks because the only employers allowed to opt out of the rule are actual religious institutions, such as churches, not organizations affiliated with religious institutions, such as universities or hospitals.
I’ve been following all of it in a kind of shocked awe that today, in 2012, we are still debating the politics of women’s choices so bitterly. For years I’ve labored under the delusion that the choice war was being waged along a single, simple, line: those who believe an embryo is a fully formed life versus those who believe it is merely potential life. In other words, those who see abortion as murder and those who see abortion as a tragedy that stops short of death.
I was wrong.
It has become unquestionably clear to me that the real root of the issue is the question of women’s sexual activity. When there are factions objecting to coverage of contraception, raising fetuses to the same legal standing as the adult women hosting them, and forcing medical decisions such as ultrasounds and scheduling an abortion procedure out of the hands of doctors and patients and into the hands of the state, there is no denying that a significant portion of politically active Americans are willing, in fact eager, to punish women for having sex. Probably because they believe they should not have been having sex in the first place, except within the bounds of a Christian marriage with the possibility of conceiving.
It is patently unfair that women bear the brunt of the punishment for sexual activity even though men are usually in bed with them but women, by dint of biology, bear the evidence of sex. We are able to be pregnant and the measures we take to avoid pregnancy leave a paper trail of doctors visits and prescription claims. Men can pay cash for condoms and cavort in societal anonymity. They live in the shadows of the sexuality wars and, as such, escape the condemnation of the forces that are coming after women now. Forces that have no respect for either medical or sexual privacy and autonomy.
We only need to look as far as Rush Limbaugh to see what one potent attitude about women who use contraceptives is. Mr. Limbaugh devoted three days of his program to shaming Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke who advocates in favor of the contraception coverage mandate, calling her a slut and a prostitute and speculating at length about the amount of sex she must be having. The puerile and disgusting nature of his commentary aside, it is striking to notice that he didn’t condemn the presumed male partners of this woman. He only condemned her. Implicit is the fact that male sexual activity has his approval but the women who are in the bedroom with men are sluts and prostitutes.
Which may explain Mr. Limbaugh’s multiple failed relationships with women.
I humbly argue that it is time to bring men into this sexual judgement limelight. It is time to acknowledge that 100% of pregnancies are caused by sperm. It is time for men to be as accountable to the politics of sex as women have been. It is time for a bold-faced acceptance of the fact that we, women and men alike, are all fucking and we are all accountable to the realities of fucking. Right now it appears that sex for women is considered a tremendously serious act with grave consequences, whereas for men it’s recreational and all risks can be mitigated with a trip to Walgreen’s for condoms and therefore has no political repercussions. That attitude is why the obstacles that anti-fucking forces are trying to throw up – limited contraceptive access, forcing women to carry pregnancies by making them difficult to prevent or terminate – are targeted exclusively at one half of the fucking population and it’s time for that to stop.
We need start to focus on men’s sexual activity and responsibilities in the same way we have focused on women’s. One way I think we can to do that is by putting male contraception on equal footing with women’s. Condoms should be covered by insurance as a preventative health measure the same way women’s prescription birth control is. I’m not saying to hide them behind the pharmacy counter because I want them to be as easily accessible as they are now, available at retail cost with no restriction for the uninsured. But I think that flashing an insurance card at checkout should render condoms cost-free. Condoms should be covered not only by private insurance plans but by Medicaid, making condoms just as much a taxpayer issue as the women’s contraceptives under the Medicaid formulary.
And when any woman is asked, “Why should we – your insurance co-subscribers or taxpayers – subsidize your sex life, your pregnancy, your abortion?” simply respond by saying, “We subsidize each other’s health care. How mine is executed is between me and my doctor. And my sex life is none of your business.”