July 10, 2014

Multiple Thy Sorrow:
Yes, women use birth control because they like sex and don't want to get pregnant---and that is absolutely a valid medical reason.

It began in the earliest pages of the Bible. Genesis 3 tells the harrowing tale--a woman deceived, a man that followed her, and the curse they both accrued, to be handed down forever after to their children. For women, the curse centered on what could arguably be construed as the conservative religious right's primary purpose for females: child birth.

Genesis 3:16 tells the story:
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
The curse on Eve--woman--is twofold. On the one hand, childbirth becomes painful. On the other, she is subjugated to men.

Sex for reasons other than procreation is a fraught issue within Christianity. Why? Because it divorces women from the natural consequences of sin--childbearing. Because our larger culture has absorbed those Judeo-Christian values, it becomes a fraught issue in a societal context too.

This makes conversations about contraception difficult. Rulings like the recent Hobby Lobby case become political minefields, and women lose.

Jessica Valenti recently wrote a piece for the Guardian--"Women like sex. Stop making 'health' excuses for why we use birth control." She makes a great point (several of them, actually):
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.
But maybe it's because I'm obstinate, or maybe I'm just crazily stirring the pot, but I don't think the sentiment goes far enough. I agree with it entirely, but I'd like to expand on it.

All birth control is prescribed for medical reasons. Pregnancy is a medical condition. Preventing pregnancy is a medical reason to be prescribed a medication. Preventing pregnancy is a VALID medical reason to be prescribed a medication.

I know, it's revolutionary. (That would be in a sarcasm font, if it were available.) But here's my rationale.

Pregnancy is a medical condition. What is a medical condition? Well, it's defined as:
A general term that refers to any form of illness or abnormality in the body that interferes with a person’s usual activities or feeling of wellbeing.
Pregnancy fits this bill. I know we don't want to think of it as an "abnormality"--but it is. It's an abnormal state of being, when compared to our usual state of being. If you want to be pregnant, that abnormality is a beautiful, wonderful, amazing experience. If you don't want to be pregnant? It most definitely isn't.

Does it interfere with our usual activities or feeling of wellbeing? It most certainly does. Swollen feet make it difficult to walk. Nausea and sensitivity to smells means that making it through a day becomes difficult. Carrying extra weight is difficult. Bending and stretching ligaments? Difficult. Incontinence? Difficult. Hormones causing moodswings? Difficult.

And that's just prenatal--let's not forget postpartum, when we face depression, bleeding, potential clotting issues. It's a whole heaping mess of interference.

Pregnancy is, then, reasonably a medical condition. This is why it qualifies for coverage under short-term disability leaves like the FMLA provides.

Each time I was pregnant, I gained thirty to forty pounds. At my first pregnancy, that put me at 128 at my last check-in, because I was horribly underweight starting out. During my second? I clocked in at nearly 140, which for a frame that was used to supporting 100 to 105 pounds was an insane jump in a short period of time. This affected my life. It interfered with my usual activities and wellbeing.

Pregnancy was a medical condition for me.

 Valenti goes on to say:
And when female reporters covered the Hobby Lobby decision, it was not a coincidence that the majority of us were being called sluts andwhores across 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.
Again, I completely agree, but I would go a step further.

We should accept that preventing pregnancy--the main purpose of contraception--is a valid health decision. We should be shouting this from the highest rooftops. We should change up the conversation to address the fact that having children affects our physical and mental wellbeing as women, and therefore, it's a personal decision, and a valid medical decision. Period.

Preventing pregnancy IS a valid medical reason, and it's a point that needs to be hammered home to conservatives. Over and over and over again.

This is in the context of a larger conversation about sexuality in our society, and female sexuality in particular, but it's crucial that we don't divorce pregnancy from its place as a medical condition. It's not just that preventing pregnancy lets us have sex--even though that is AMAZING. It's also that preventing pregnancy until we choose to become pregnant is best for our health.

The Constitution doesn't specifically guarantee my right to sex--although I'd be willing to argue that the whole "liberty and pursuit of happiness" is certainly applicable on that aspect--but it does guarantee my right to life. Safeguarding that right is absolutely constitutional. For the side that says they are protecting the right to life for the unborn to then stomp all over my right to life as a woman--a right that is yes, threatened by pregnancy--well, let's just say it's an obscene logical contortion.

United States stands alone as the only developed nation that has an increasing rate of maternal mortality. We've covered this before. I won't stop hammering the point home until we take action on the field, and I will never miss the chance to point out that childbirth has long been a leading cause of death for women. Pregnancy is beautiful. Pregnancy is wonderful. Pregnancy is dangerous. It's crucial that we keep that complicated nature in mind.

Every reason that a woman is prescribed birth control is a valid medical reason. Every single one, INCLUDING wanting to have sex without getting pregnant. I'm going to keep saying it and I'm going to say it in a million different ways if I need to. Pregnancy is a medical condition. Preventing pregnancy, therefore, is a completely valid reason to take a prescribed medication.

Valenti also says that:
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.
And again, I point out that I don't think it goes far enough. Health is the best reason, in my opinion, to argue for a medication. And preventing pregnancy--not wanting to be pregnant--is most certainly a valid reason to be prescribed a medication.

When you make the connection that preventing pregnancy is, in and of itself a health concern, you break down the religious conservative's logic to an almost ludicrous degree. Let's digress for a moment and put their argument as thus: Women who have sex without wanting to become pregnant are being irresponsible and no one should support those lifestyle choices, thus contraception should not be covered. Okay, let's expand that to other health conditions.

  • People that have unhealthy diets that contribute to high cholesterol, without wanting to develop heart disease or have a heart attack, are being irresponsible, and therefore no one should support those lifestyle choices, therefore cholesterol medications should not be covered.
  • People that smoke without wanting to develop lung disease are being irresponsible, and therefore no one should support those lifestyle choices, therefore chemotherapy and surgery should not be covered.
  • People that have unprotected sex without caring about the possibility of STDs are irresponsible, and therefore no one should support those lifestyle choices, therefore antibiotics to treat common diseases should not be covered.
  • People that get drunk and fuck around with fireworks, without wanting to get burned, are irresponsible, and therefore no one should support those lifestyle choices, therefore treatment should not be covered.
  • People that drive too fast on the freeway without wanting to get into an auto accident are irresponsible, and therefore no one should support those lifestyle choices, therefore treatment should not be covered.

No. Just no. There's honestly NO SITUATION where this logic makes sense. We don't deny people the ability to prevent or treat health conditions just because we don't agree with their perceived lifestyle. That's not how this works. That's not how ANY of this works.

On what planet is it acceptable to say, "Whelp, you put yourself in this situation [sidenote: of course, conveniently neglecting that they weren't the only ones engaged in the act] so if you die that's totally on you. I know, we could prevent it--but that's beside my point, you dirty dirty whore."

The points that Valenti makes are all valid--I can't stress that enough. It just sparked rage in me, because it highlighted the fact that we have to delineate "preventing pregnancy" as something different from supposedly "valid" health concerns. It's not different. They are all valid health reasons to take contraception. Period. No one should have to differentiate between the two categories, or urge us to accept the one--because there's no difference.

That women enjoy sex is an important conversation to have. I've blogged many times now about how purity culture affected me, and my view of sex, and my own sexuality--I am an avid supporter of screaming from any elevated surface that women can and do enjoy sex and that there is nothing wrong with that.

But let's not lose sight of the place that pregnancy holds as we have the conversation. It's a unique position, one that varies from woman to woman but is always underlined with the potential for danger.

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