Is Pulling Out Losing Its Bad Rep?

Elisabeth Garber-Paul

Any time a friend has described their method of birth control as “pulling out,” I instinctively give them a judgmental look. We won Griswold v. Connecticut. We can buy condoms at any corner store. Sure, Plan B is over the counter, but why risk it?

Any time a friend has described their method of birth control as “pulling out,” I instinctively give them a judgmental look. We won Griswold v. Connecticut. We can buy condoms at any corner store. Sure, Plan B is available over the counter, but why risk it?

While this seems to be the standard reaction, it could have more basis in cultural stigma than in fact. Recent studies have shown that in this age of infinite options, withdrawal might be just as good as diaphragms and condoms. According to an article on The Globe and Mail, researchers and academics have been embracing the withdrawal method as a viable option of birth control.

“‘Withdrawal has a bad rep, but if you look at the research, it substantially reduces the risk of pregnancy,’ said Rachel Jones, a senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute in New York.”

So could pulling out finally lose its stigma? The answer, it seems, rests in the results.

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According to the article, “when it comes to reducing pregnancies, withdrawal rivals even the use of condoms. Failure rates for condoms hover at about 17 per cent, while 18 per cent of couples will get pregnant in a year using the withdrawal method, according to estimates of contraceptive failure from the 2002 national survey, which was based on reports from hundreds of women.”

If pulling out is as effective as condoms at reducing pregnancies—though not at preventing STIs—why wouldn’t a monogamous couple choose it?

Commentary Violence

This is Not The Story I Wanted—But It’s My Story of Rape

Dani Kelley

Writer Dani Kelley thought she had shed the patriarchal and self-denying lessons of her conservative religious childhood. But those teachings blocked her from initially admitting that an encounter with a man she met online was not a "date" that proved her sexual liberation, but an extended sexual assault.

Content note: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence.

The night I first truly realized something was wrong was supposed to be a good night.

A visiting friend and I were in pajamas, eating breakfast food at 10 p.m., wrapped in blankets while swapping stories of recent struggles and laughs.

There I was, animatedly telling her about my recently acquired (and discarded) “fuck buddy,” when suddenly the story caught in my throat.

When I finally managed to choke out the words, they weren’t what I expected to say. “He—he held me down—until, until I couldn’t—breathe.”

Hearing myself say it out loud was a gut-punch. I was sobbing, gasping for breath, arms wrapped as if to hold myself together, spiraling into a terrifying realization.

This isn’t the story I wanted.

Unlearning My Training

I grew up in the Plymouth Brethren movement, a small fundamentalist Christian denomination that justifies strict gender roles through a literal approach to the Bible. So, according to 1 Corinthians 11:7, men are considered “the image and glory of God,” while women are merely “the glory of man.” As a result, women are expected to wear head coverings during any church service, among other restrictions that can be best summed up by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-12: Women are never allowed to have authority over men.

If you’ve spent any number of years in conservative Christianity like I did, you’re likely familiar with the fundamentalist tendency to demonize that which is morally neutral or positive (like premarital sex or civil rights) while sugar-coating negative experiences. The sugar-coating can be twofold: Biblical principles are often used to shame or gaslight abuse victims (like those being shunned or controlled or beaten by their husbands) while platitudes are often employed to help members cope with “the sufferings of this present time,” assuring them that these tragedies are “not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

In many ways, it’s easy to unlearn the demonization of humanity as you gain actual real-world experience refuting such flimsy claims. But the shame? That can be more difficult to shake.

The heart of those teachings isn’t only present in this admittedly small sect of Christianity. Rather, right-wing Western Christianity as a whole has a consent problem. It explicitly teaches its adherents they don’t belong to themselves at all. They belong to God (and if they’re not men, they belong to their fathers or husbands as well). This instilled lack of agency effectively erases bodily autonomy while preventing the development of healthy emotional and physical boundaries.

On top of that, the biblical literalism frequently required by conservative Christianity in the United States promotes a terrifying interpretation of Scripture, such as Jeremiah 17:9. The King James Version gives the verse a stern voice, telling us that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” If we believe this, we must accept that we’re untrustworthy witnesses to our own lives. Yet somehow, we’re expected to rely on the authority of those the Bible deems worthy. People like all Christians, older people, and men.

Though I’ve abandoned Christianity and embraced feminist secular humanism, the culture in which I grew up and my short time at conservative Bob Jones University still affect how I view myself and act in social situations. The lessons of my formative years created a perfect storm of terrible indoctrination: gender roles that promoted repressed individuality for women while encouraging toxic masculinity, explicit teaching that led to constant second-guessing my ability to accurately understand my own life, and a biblical impetus to “rejoice in my suffering.”

Decades of training taught me I’m not allowed to set boundaries.

But Some Habits Die Hard

Here’s the thing. At almost 30, I’d never dated anyone other than my ex-husband. So I thought it was about time to change that.

When I found this man’s online profile, I was pleasantly surprised. It was full of the kind of geekery I’m into, even down to the specific affinity for eclectic music. I wrote to him, making sure my message and tone were casual. He responded instantly, full of charisma and charm. Within hours, we’d made plans to meet.

He was just as friendly and attentive in person. After wandering around town, window-shopping, and getting to know one another, he suggested we go to his favorite bar. As he drank (while I sipped water), he kept paying me compliments, slowly breaking the touch barrier. And honestly, I was enthralled—no one had paid attention to me like this in years.

When he suggested moving out to the car where we could be a little more intimate, I agreed. The rush of feeling desired was intoxicating. He seemed so focused on consent—asking permission before doing anything. Plus, he was quite straightforward about what he wanted, which I found exciting.

So…I brought him home.

This new and exciting “arrangement” lasted one week, during which we had very satisfying, attachment-free sex several times and after which we parted ways as friends.

That’s the story I told people. That’s the story I thought I believed. I’d been freed from the rigid expectations and restraints of my youth’s purity culture.

Now. You’re about to hear me say many things I know to be wrong. Many feminists or victim advocates almost certainly know the rationalizations and reactions I’m about to describe are both normal responses to abuse and a result of ingrained lies about sex in our culture. Not to mention evidence of the influence that right-wing conservatism can have on shaping self-actualization.

As I was telling people the story above, I left out important details. Were my omissions deliberate? An instinctive self-preservation mechanism? A carryover from draconian ideals about promiscuity?

When I broke down crying with my friend, I finally realized I’d kept quiet because I couldn’t bear to hear myself say what happened.

I’m a feminist, damn it. I left all the puritanical understandings of gender roles behind when I exited Christianity! I even write about social justice and victim advocacy. I ought to recognize rape culture!

Right?

If only being a socially aware feminist was enough to erase decades of socialization as a woman within rape culture—or provide inoculation against sexual violence.

That first night, once we got to my car, he stopped checking in with me. I dismissed the red flag as soon as I noticed it, telling myself he’d stop if I showed discomfort. Then he smacked my ass—hard. I pulled away, staring at him in shocked revulsion. “Sorry,” he replied, smirking.

He suggested that we go back to my house, saying we’d have more privacy than at his place. I was uneasy, unconvinced. But he began passionately kissing, groping, petting, and pleading. Against my better judgment, I relented.

Yet, in the seclusion of my home, there was no more asking. There was only telling.

Before I knew it, I’d been thrown on my back as he pulled off my clothes. I froze. The only coherent thought I could manage was a weak stammer, asking if he had a condom. He seemed agitated. “Are you on birth control?” That’s not the point! I thought, mechanically answering “yes.”

With a triumphant grin and no further discussion, he forced himself into me. Pleasure fought with growing panic as something within me screamed for things to slow down, to just stop. The sensation was familiar: identical to how I felt when raped as a child.

I frantically pushed him off and rolled away, hyperventilating. I muttered repeatedly, “I need a minute. Just give me a minute. I need a minute.”

“We’re not finished yet!” he snapped angrily. As he reached for me again, I screeched hysterically, “I’M NOT OK! I NEED A MINUTE!”

Suddenly, he was kind and caring. Instead of being alarmed, I was strangely grateful. So once I calmed down, I fucked him. More than once.

It was—I told myself—consensual. After all, he comforted me during a flashback. Didn’t I owe him that much?

Yet, if I didn’t do what he wanted, he’d forcefully smack my ass. If I didn’t seem happy enough, he’d insistently tell me to smile as he hit me again, harder. He seemed to relish the strained smile I would force on command.

I kept telling myself I was okay. Happy, even. Look at how liberated I was!

All week, I was either at his beck and call or fighting suicidal urges. Never having liked alcohol before, I started drinking heavily. I did all I could to minimize or ignore the abuse. Even with his last visit—as I fought to breathe while he forcefully held my head down during oral sex, effectively choking me—I initially told myself desperately that surely he wouldn’t do any of this on purpose.

The Stories We Tell and The Stories That Just Are

Reflecting on that week, I’m engulfed in shame. I’m a proud feminist. I know what coercion looks like. I know what rape looks like. I know it’s rarely a scary man wearing a ski mask in a back alley. I’ve heard all the victim-blaming rape apologia you have: that women make up rape when they regret consenting to sex, or going on a date means sex is in the cards, or bringing someone home means you’re game for anything.

Reality is, all of us have been socialized within a patriarchal system that clouds our experiences and ability to classify them. We’re told to tend and befriend the men who threaten us. De-escalation at any cost is the go-to response of almost any woman I’ve ever talked to about unwanted male attention. Whatever will satiate the beast and keep us safe.

On top of that, my conservative background whispered accusations of being a Jezebel, failing to safeguard my purity, and getting exactly what I deserve for forsaking the faith.

It’s all lies, of course. Our culture lies when it says that there are blurred lines when it comes to consent. It violates our personhood when it requires us to change the narrative of the violence enacted against us for their own comfort. Right-wing Christianity lies when it says we don’t belong to ourselves and must submit to the authority of a religion or a gender.

Nobody’s assaulted because they weren’t nice enough or because they “failed” to de-escalate. There’s nothing we can do to provoke such violence. Rape is never deserved. The responsibility for sexual assault lies entirely with those who attack us.

So why was the story I told during and after that ordeal so radically and fundamentally different from what actually happened? And why the hell did I think any of what happened was OK?

Rape myths are so ingrained in our cultural understanding of relationships that it was easier for me to believe nothing bad had happened than to accept the truth. I thought if I could only tell the story I wanted it to be, then maybe that’s what really happened. I thought if I was willing—if I kept having him over, if I did what he ordered, if I told my friends how wonderful it was—it would mean everything was fine. It would mean I wasn’t suffering from post-traumatic stress or anxiety about defying the conservative tenets of my former political and religious system.

Sometimes, we tell ourselves the stories we want to hear until we’re able to bear the stories of what actually happened.

We all have a right to say who has what kind of access to our bodies. A man’s masculinity gives him no authority over anyone’s sexual agency. A lack of a “no” doesn’t mean a “yes.” Coercion isn’t consent. Sexual acts performed without consent are assault. We have a right to tell our stories—our real stories.

So, while this isn’t the story I wanted, it’s the story that is.

I was raped.

Commentary Human Rights

North Carolina’s Policies Don’t Keep Anyone Safe

Emma Akpan

Gov. McCrory’s claims to want to protect North Carolinians are not holding water if he and state Republicans continue to ignore policies that will keep all citizens safe and healthy and, instead, show support for legislation that would make it easier for people to access guns.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

We all watched the news of the Pulse nightclub massacre in horror.

In my state, on June 13, one day after the shooting, the North Carolina General Assembly moved forward on reading an amendment that would lift restrictions on our right to carry a concealed weapon. Currently, people have to take classroom training and pass a background check. The new measure would allow concealed weapons in public without many requirements. While it’s unclear when state legislators will take action on this bill, it’s troubling to know that some state leaders are not bolstering comprehensive gun control in light of the massacre.

These same legislators claim that they are supporting and passing policies that will keep citizens safe. But at the same time that hate has fueled deadly shootings in this country, state Republicans have introduced anti-trans legislation that has coincided with a wave of violence against trans people.

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Earlier this spring, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a much talked about bill that discriminates against transgender people in the state, a group of citizens already at risk for violence and harassment not only in bathrooms, but in most public places.

While there is no clear link connecting the shooting to these discriminatory bathroom policies, we know that hateful beliefs and violent actions preluded the brutal killings in Orlando, and that intolerance can fuel laws like North Carolina’s HB 2.

Just this week, state lawmakers were considering revising the law, but those changes would effectively privilege trans people who are able to, or wish to, have gender reassignment surgery over other transgender or gender-nonconforming people. Rightly so, advocacy groups were quick to criticize the proposals, which would do nothing to allow individuals to use the bathroom of their gender identity.

Gov. McCrory and state leaders talk about protecting women, but they should be concerned with protecting the safety of all residents, especially the most vulnerable: transgender residents. HB 2 puts transgender individuals more at risk of violence in public spaces. We cannot continue to have these safety and privacy arguments at the expense of transgender North Carolinians.

This cannot be overstated: There have been no incidents of transgender individuals attacking people in public bathrooms. However, there has been an uptick of attacks in public bathrooms in response to the fear HB 2 has incited. The disgraceful conversation about “scary” trans women in women’s bathrooms has people mistaking cis women for trans women and harassing them in bathrooms. A woman entering a Walmart bathroom sporting a short hairstyle was told by a stranger, “you’re disgusting!” and, “you don’t belong here!” Trans women experience this quite frequently, which is why Charlotte passed the ordinance to allow North Carolinians to use the bathroom of their gender identity, to keep trans women safe in public spaces. But then HB 2 gave license to individual citizens to police who enters public bathrooms, adding to the violence marginalized groups already experience—not reducing it.

As actress and activist Candis Cayne explained on CNN, “[HB 2] will stop people from being comfortable in this society. It will stop people from wanting to leave their house, because going to the bathroom is such a natural function. You leave your house every day. You want to go shopping. You want to go to the post office, but if you have to go to the bathroom along the way, you’re not allowed to. It’s a bill that’s really kind of making people in my community have to stay home, have to not be a part of our society.”

After Gov. McCrory signed and was heavily criticized for HB 2, he claimed that the state government was looking out for women’s privacy.

His claims have been debunked over and over again, and based on past legislation, we can see that state Republicans have not prioritized the needs of the state’s most marginalized populations over their own need to breed intolerance and government interference in the health and well-being of those populations.

I’m sure many of Rewire’s readers remember HB 465, signed into law last summer. The law stipulates that women must wait 72 hours to access an abortion. The medically unnecessary legislation directly contradicts McCrory’s statements in support of the anti-trans law HB 2 about the need to protect women’s privacy and safety, considering doctors are now required to send private ultrasounds of women who have had abortions to a governmental agency. North Carolina pro-choice advocates have been pushing that this stipulation is unnecessary and downright creepy. It also fuels stigma around a basic health-care service. That law went into effect January 1, but if McCrory and other legislative leaders truly believed in women’s privacy, they would look again at HB 465.

While we’re on the subject of privacy and safety, state Republicans leaders have forgotten that a great way to keep women safe is to ensure their economic sustainability. Many have noted that HB 2 not only affects those who can or cannot enter a public restroom, it takes away municipalities’ power to raise the minimum wage. Who will be most affected by this stalemate? Women, of course, who make up two-thirds of the people who work minimum-wage jobs.

A couple of years ago, the North Carolina state budget also reduced after-school care for children. Does this policy protect women and families? No. Not only that, it further stigmatizes low-income mothers, who are hard-hit by such budget cuts. For North Carolina women, the fear is not in bathrooms, but in the low-wage positions we are placed into.

Gov. McCrory’s claims to protect North Carolinians are not holding water if he and state Republicans continue to ignore policies that will keep all citizens safe and healthy and, instead, show support for legislation that would make it easier for people to access guns. We haven’t expanded Medicaid, we have continued restrictions on reproductive health care, and so many North Carolina women don’t make a living wage.

Trans-inclusive policies, like the Charlotte ordinance that intended to allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their gender identity, are not a threat to the safety of North Carolinians, but lifting gun requirements may threaten our safety. It’s time for state Republicans to give North Carolinians what we are demanding: an inclusive, safe, and healthy state that we all want to live in.