This Thanksgiving, I’m Grateful for Sex

Amanda Marcotte

It's important for sexual health advocates to remember that we're not just fighting to protect people from themselves, but to make the world a humpier -- and happier -- place to live.

I talked once with a woman who did volunteer education work with the American Heart Association, mostly going to workplaces and schools to talk to people about what they could do to reduce the risk of heart disease. She told me a funny story about talking with a group of middle-aged men about reducing their risk, and they countered with some scoffing about the litany of "Don'ts" they felt they were already familiar with from previous prevention education: Don't eat red meat. Don't smoke. Don't drink beer. Don't have sex.

At which point, the volunteer interjected, pointing out that sex, being aerobic exercise (at least if you're doing it right) was certainly not on the Don't list, and in fact was firmly on the To Do list of prevention techniques. At this point, the men scoffed even harder. Everyone Knows Sex Is Bad! It's indulgent and sinful and you're going to hell for it. We point fingers at brides who wear white without having "earned" it. You tell your kids to just say no. The sense that sex is bad is why people are willing to believe it makes you sick when it doesn't, such as the men who thought it must be bad for your heart, or the prudes who push the notion that women who have sex court danger to their mental health.

This unwillingness to counter the cultural narrative about the sinful nature of sex gives anti-choicers quite a bit of ammunition. I was reminded this while reading Jill's excellent retort to an article at San Angelo Live that traded in quite a bit of misinformation, especially in the area of lies about whether or not the non-profit Planned Parenthood profits off abortion. (What part of "non" do people not understand?) Most of the nonsense is easy enough for pro-choicers to refute, but the author smuggled in an idea that far too many of us pro-choicers let go unchallenged.

Crystal Conner, a spokeswoman for Right Choices for Youth, quoted in the San Angelo Live piece, is not convinced access to contraception in the schools is a good idea. "We don't want to send a mixed message," she said. She noted that a mixed message would be "don't have sex, but if you do, use a condom."

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Most pro-choicers will immediately address the second part of the misinformation, saying something like, "Well, people are going to have sex anyway, so we need to help protect them." This is true, but doesn't challenge the basic, incorrect premise of the argument that Crystal Conner is making, which is that Sex Is Bad and Just Say No. I propose a simple solution when you hear this nonsense about "mixed messages": challenge the idea that people shouldn't have sex. Say, "Well, I think sex is a very good thing in the right circumstances, and people should feel free to indulge. Make love, not war, and all that good stuff." Once you return the debate to the fundamental premise of whether or not sex is a good thing or not, then anti-choicers don't have much of an argument.

I realize it's hard. It's important to save face by maintaining tight-lipped disapproval of sex in public, regardless of private behavior, which is why an abortion ban in a place like South Dakota might poll high and then quietly meet defeat at the ballot boxes. I have trouble overcoming internalized shame to speak openly in favor of sexuality, but despite that, I'm going to create a holiday-appropriate list of reasons to be thankful for sex.

It feels good. Granted, our puritanical culture often treats pleasure as immediately suspect, and often for good reasons. The men challenging the heart disease educator well understood that many things that feel good have dangerous consequences, and moderation to outright abstinence are often required to manage the risk. But sex is different — if the circumstances are right, i.e. you're protected from disease and unplanned pregnancy and you're right in your head about the emotional ramifications, then there's no reason not to go nuts. Your body lets you know when you've hit your limit most of the time. There's not too many pleasures that can be indulged without concern for excess, so we should be very grateful that sex at least fits the bill.

Humping for health. Again, like a broken record, I must repeat that this is only true if you control for disease, unwanted pregnancy, emotional readiness, and lack of coercion. But assuming the criteria is met (and contrary to anti-choice propaganda, these controls are easily met with good education), then sex by yourself or in a group setting is good for your body. It's aerobic exercise, of course, but sex and especially orgasms help strengthen pelvic muscles, something most of us will be grateful for as we age. Regular ejaculations reduce the risk of prostate cancer. The phrase "cleaning out the pipes" ended up being more factual than you might suspect. Sex relieves tension and stress, which aids in sleeping and can reduce the pain from headaches and menstrual cramps, and probably can help constipation, though you might not want to mention that in the heat of the moment.

It's good for your soul. For most people, a positive attitude about sex is crucial to having good sex and good sex is crucial to happy romantic relationships. The happy humping philosophy supports happy marriages, and therefore has more claim to family values than people who wish to introduce shame and doubt into marital beds. Good sex improves your relationship to your body, as well; if your body kindly supplies you with a regular dose of orgasms, your feelings of benevolence towards your body will rise. Sex lifts the spirits and improves creativity, as well. The dirty little secret to curing writer's block is to get thee to bed with a friend or a toy until the creative juices flow, along with all the others. The stereotype that posits that writers and artists are a little slutty has to be viewed in this light; I like to consider it part of the job.

For these reasons and probably two dozen more, it's important for sexual health advocates to remember that we're not just fighting to protect people from themselves, but to make the world a humpier — and happier — place to live.

News Health Systems

The Crackdown on L.A.’s Fake Clinics Is Working

Nicole Knight

"Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options," Feuer said. "And therefore every day is a day that a woman's health could be jeopardized."

Three Los Angeles area fake clinics, which were warned last month they were breaking a new state reproductive transparency law, are now in compliance, the city attorney announced Thursday.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a press briefing that two of the fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, began complying with the law after his office issued notices of violation last month. But it wasn’t until this week, when Feuer’s office threatened court action against the third facility, that it agreed to display the reproductive health information that the law requires.

“Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options,” Feuer said. “And therefore every day is a day that a woman’s health could be jeopardized.”

The facilities, two unlicensed and one licensed fake clinic, are Harbor Pregnancy Help CenterLos Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

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Feuer said the lawsuit could have carried fines of up to $2,500 each day the facility continued to break the law.

The Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act requires the state’s licensed pregnancy-related centers to display a brief statement with a number to call for access to free and low-cost birth control and abortion care. Unlicensed centers must disclose that they are not medical facilities.

Feuer’s office in May launched a campaign to crack down on violators of the law. His action marked a sharp contrast to some jurisdictions, which are reportedly taking a wait-and-see approach as fake clinics’ challenges to the law wind through the courts.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Some 25 fake clinics operate in Los Angeles County, according to a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California, though firm numbers are hard to come by. Feuer initially issued notices to six Los Angeles area fake clinics in May. Following an investigation, his office warned three clinics last month that they’re breaking the law.

Those three clinics are now complying, Feuer told reporters Thursday. Feuer said his office is still determining whether another fake clinic, Avenues Pregnancy Clinic, is complying with the law.

Fake clinic owners and staffers have slammed the FACT Act, saying they’d rather shut down than refer clients to services they find “morally and ethically objectionable.”

“If you’re a pro-life organization, you’re offering free healthcare to women so the women have a choice other than abortion,” said Matt Bowman, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents several Los Angeles fake clinics fighting the law in court.

Asked why the clinics have agreed to comply, Bowman reiterated an earlier statement, saying the FACT Act violates his clients’ free speech rights. Forcing faith-based clinics to “communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion,” violates their “core beliefs,” Bowman said.

Reports of deceit by 91 percent of fake clinics surveyed by NARAL Pro-Choice California helped spur the passage of the FACT Act last October. Until recently, Googling “abortion clinic” might turn up results for a fake clinic that discourages abortion care.

“Put yourself in the position of a young woman who is going to one of these centers … and she comes into this center and she is less than fully informed … of what her choices are,” Feuer said Thursday. “In that state of mind, is she going to make the kind of choice that you’d want your loved one to make?

Rewire last month visited Lost Angeles area fake clinics that are abiding by the FACT Act. Claris Health in West Los Angeles includes the reproductive notice with patient intake forms, while Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the notice in the waiting room.

“To us, it’s a non-issue,” Debi Harvey, the center’s executive director, told Rewire. “We don’t provide abortion, we’re an abortion-alternative organization, we’re very clear on that. But we educate on all options.”

News Politics

Ohio Legislator: ‘Aggressive Attacks’ May Block Voters From the Polls

Ally Boguhn

Efforts to remove voters from state rolls and curb access to the polls could have an outsized impact in Ohio, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership.

Ohio Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) said she is worried about the impact of what she called “aggressive attacks” on voting rights in her state.

Ohio voters who have not engaged in voter activity in a fixed period of time, generally two years, are considered by the state to have moved, which then begins the process of removing them from their rolls through something called the “Supplemental Process.” If a voter fails to respond to a postcard mailed to them to confirm their address, they become “inactive voters.” If an inactive voter does not engage in voter activity for four years, they’re automatically unregistered to vote and must re-register to cast a ballot. 

Though other states routinely clean voting rolls, most don’t use failure to vote as a reason to remove someone.

“We have two million voters purged from the rolls in the last five years, many in the last four years since the last presidential election,” Clyde said during an interview with Rewire

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Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) dismissed concerns of the voter purges’ impact during an interview with Reuters. “If this is really important thing to you in your life, voting, you probably would have done so within a six-year period,” he said.

Ohio’s removal of voters through this process “is particularly problematic in the lead-up to the November 2016 federal election because voters who voted in the high-turnout 2008 federal election (but who did not vote in any subsequent elections) were removed from voter rolls in 2015,” according to an amicus curiae brief filed by the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights division in support of those who filed suit against Ohio’s law. 

The DOJ has urged the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a lower court’s ruling in favor of the state, writing that Ohio’s voter purge violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Since 2012, at least 144,000 voters have been removed from Ohio’s voter rolls in its three biggest counties, Reuters reported. The secretary of state’s office said 2 million registered voters had been taken off the rolls in the past five years, though many had been removed because they were deceased.

Husted contends that he is just enforcing the law. “Ohio manages its voter rolls in direct compliance of both federal and state laws, and is consistent with an agreement in this same federal court just four years ago,” Husted said in an April statement after the ACLU of Ohio and Demos, a voting rights organization, filed a lawsuit in the matter.

In predominantly Black neighborhoods near downtown Cincinnati, “more than 10 percent of registered voters have been removed due to inactivity since 2012,” reported Reuters. The outlet found that several places where more voters had cast ballots for President Obama in 2012 were the same locations experiencing higher percentages of purged voters.

“Some of the data is showing that African Americans voters and Democratic voters were much more likely affected,” Clyde said when discussing the state’s purge of registered voters. 

Clyde has requested data on those purged from the rolls, but has been turned down twice. “They’ve said no in two different ways and are referring me to the boards of elections, but there are 88 boards of election,” she told RewireWith limited staff resources to devote to data collection, Clyde is still searching for a way to get answers.

In the meantime, many otherwise eligible voters may have their votes thrown away and never know it.

“[P]eople that had been purged often don’t know that they’ve been purged, so they may show up to vote and find their name isn’t on the roll,” Clyde said. “Then, typically that voter is given a provisional ballot and … told that the board of elections will figure out the problem with their voter registration. And then they don’t really receive notice that that provisional ballot doesn’t eventually count.” 

Though the state’s voter purges could continue to disenfranchise voters across the state, it is hardly the only effort that may impact voting rights there.

“There have been a number of efforts undertaken by the GOP in Ohio to make voting more difficult,” Clyde said. “That includes fighting to shorten the number of early voting days available, that includes fighting to throw out people’s votes that have been cast—whether it be a provisional ballot or absentee ballot—and that includes purging more voters than any other state.” 

This could make a big difference for voters in the state, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership—including failed Republican presidential candidate Gov. John Kasich.

“So aside from the terrible effect that has on the fundamental right to vote in Ohio, progressives who maybe are infrequent voters or are seeing what’s happening around [reproductive rights and health] issues and want to express that through their vote may experience problems in Ohio because of these aggressive attacks on voting rights,” Clyde said. 

“From our presidential candidates on down to our candidates for the state legislature, there is a lot at stake when it comes to reproductive health care and reproductive rights in this election,” Clyde added. “So I think that, if that is an issue that is important to any Ohioan, they need to have their voice heard in this election.” 


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