Commentary Sexuality

Get Real! I’m a Guy Interested in Receptive Anal Sex: Does That Mean I’m Gay?

Heather Corinna

Who is curious about, wants or enjoys receptive anal sex? People who are curious about, want or enjoy receptive anal sex. What does that alone tell us about someone's sexual orientation? Nothing.

bobwilkins asks:

I’m a 16 year old boy, and for as long as I can remember I have been attracted to girls and yet rarely able to feel comfortable around them and get to know them. I’ve always been a nice person (the friendly guy) but without that many actual close friends who are girls. Recently I’ve noticed I am turned on (and everything that follows that) with the thought of receiving anal. Yet when I actually tried to see what anal was like through porn (I know this isn’t realistic) I really didn’t like it (to be polite). People have sometimes quietly thought of me as homosexual as I’ve never had a girlfriend and now I’m really not sure about myself? There are so many bad stereotypes and public jokes about gays I don’t think its worth considering? I guess if I could fall in love with a girl and kiss her I would be far more confident…but I shouldn’t need this! Advice please?

Heather Corinna replies:

There are gay or bisexual men who love or like anal sex, it’s true. But there are also gay or bisexual men who don’t like it, or who just aren’t interested in it. There are heterosexual men who don’t like anal sex or aren’t interested in it, either. There are also heterosexual men who like or love it. And for all of these groups, all of that goes for being on either end of anal sex, as it were, and for people with partners of any or every gender. Human sexuality is incredibly diverse, and all someone liking a given kind of sex can usually tell us by itself is that someone likes that kind of sex. That’s it.

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Whether or not someone of any gender is curious about, wants, fantasizes about or takes part in anal sex in any way doesn’t tell us a darn thing about their orientation. Now, if and when a guy fantasizes about it, wants or or engages in it with other men, then that is an indication that guy probably is attracted to other men (though maybe not just men: being attracted to other men doesn’t always mean only being attracted to men), but that’s still not about anal sex specifically. That same guy might also feel that way about kissing and who he kisses, but if he told people he was interested in kissing — just kissing, not kissing any given gender of people — you wouldn’t hear anyone suggesting that probably means he’s gay, right?

Everyone has an anus. Some people enjoy engaging their anuses or those of others sexually, some don’t, and who’s who isn’t about sexual orientation. Wanting or enjoying anal sex is not any kind of bellwether of being gay or of being any orientation, just like wanting or enjoying kissing isn’t.

Why do some people think it is? Some of this is as trite as a lot of people being uncomfortable with that part of their anatomy. Many people have strong, negative feelings about bottoms and the things that can go into them or come out of them. Some of those feelings can really flavor some folks’ feelings about anal sex and spin their ideas into some wacky places. Fear or shame have the capacity to sometimes cause otherwise smart people to say or think things that are seriously stupid.

Some people have the idea that for someone to engage in any kind of receptive sex — in other words, where they’re the “catcher” and not the “pitcher” — means that person must not be a man, because that’s only something for women or people who some folks consider “not real men.” And for some people whose definition masculine also means only heterosexual, gay or bisexual men fall into that classification of “not man.” Often as part and parcel of that, or separate from it, some people think that being a person with a sticking-in body part taking in another person’s sticking-out body part means being subordinate: in other words, think means a receptive partner is automatically underneath or on the bottom of a power dynamic where the other person is in charge or on top. And when we’re talking about guys and butts, for some people, their idea of being a “real man” means always being on top or in charge in interpersonal situations, including sex, therefore, to them, a guy being a receptive sex partner means he isn’t masculine.

Not only is all of that something many of us disagree with when it comes to plain old logic (and something many of us find offensive to pretty much everyone), it’s something almost all of us who work in sexuality disagree with simply because we know that who is and who isn’t the receptive partner in sex isn’t about gender, and what gender or sex someone is doesn’t determine what they’ll be curious about, want or like sexually, nor what position, if any, they are in any kind of power hierarchy.

We know that people of all genders and orientations mix it up quite a lot when it comes to sex and sexual roles, and that people of all genders may or may not enjoy being receptive partners in sex (and also that some people may enjoy it sometimes but not others; with this partner, but not that one). And just like we don’t think or have any indication that men who want or enjoy receptive sex aren’t “real men,” we don’t think or have any indication that women who don’t enjoy receptive sex aren’t “real.” We’re all real, and our gender identities are what they are and, ideally, nothing anyone should need to prove to or have proven by anyone else. Most of us who work in sexuality have a big problem with the idea that what kind of sex someone thinks about, wants or engages in tells us anything at all about somone’s gender, both because we know ideas like that tend to impact many people’s sense of self, sexuality and sexual lives negatively, and because we know that those ideas just don’t reflect the sexual realities of many, many people.

You’re right: there’s also a lot of homophobia out there and a whole lot of hating on those of us who are queer. At the same time, we can say the same thing about gender, about disability, about race, about being poor, about being an abuse survivor, about being a teenager: the list of groups who get dissed by others goes on and on and on. There are a lot of crappy stereotypes and bad jokes about many, many groups of people, particularly people of any minority or people with less rights or agency than others, but I’d say that’s not a sound criteria to try and figure out who we are or want we want.

Those jokes or stereotypes also should not be considered as sound sources which can tell you any kind of truths about what’s it’s like to be a member of that group. If someone got the idea it must suck to be gay from people who have bias against gay people who say it does, that’s not sound. People hating on other people tend to be the least credible people about who they’re hating on, not the most credible. Someone who hates on women is not the person I’m going to be looking to to tell me what it’s like to be a woman or to tell me what value I might find in being one.

Rather than leading with ideas about orientations from others, or other’s opinions of who we might or must be, I think our energy is much better invested in just feeling out and figuring out who we are and what we want, being true to ourselves in that way, and discounting and dismissing stereotypes and discrimination, rather than giving those things any kind of authority. A lot of that is going to be something we do by ourselves, but we often want some help or feedback along the way. When we do, the sound places to get it are going to be from people who are open-minded, supportive, educated and thoughtful, not closed-minded, nonsupportive, ignorant or hateful.

This is, of course, assuming that you are thinking about your orientation, which it seemed you were. But if when you talk about being gay being something “worth considering,” you mean you think it’s something you need to consider just because you’re interested in anal sex, or just because you think you’re supposed to, then know you certainly don’t have to. When many of us think about whether or not we might be queer, it’s not usually an intellectual exercise, or something we consider because, in general orientation as something to consider holds merit. It’s usually something people consider and question because of internal feelings they have that suggest to them they are or might be.

If you want to try and get a better sense of what your orientation is, rather than focusing on what parts of your body you might want to explore sexually or what groups of people you don’t feel comfortable around, what you want to look at is what groups of people, on individuals, you tend to feel sexual or romantic attraction to; what groups of people or individuals you’d want to pursue those kinds of relationships with, ideally, or already have. In trying to sort out orientation, you want to think about the ways you feel like a magnet that is pulled towards other people (or not), not about what, if any ways, you might feel like a magnet that is pushed away from others or pushes away others.

I haven’t heard you say you feel any attraction to men, so I have no sense of if you feel or have felt that at all, and, if so, to what degree. I do hear you saying you feel attracted to girls and that that’s what is most familiar to you and what you have a long history with. So, let’s go ahead and let it be a given that you can be attracted to girls. Unless that changes for you, or you find that while you can be attracted to girls, but are usually, if not almost always, attracted to men, homosexuality, as it’s usually defined, is probably not where you’re at.

On the whole, when someone is heterosexual (or straight), that usually means they find they are only or mostly attracted to people of a different sex or gender than they are. When someone is homosexual (gay or lesbian), that usually means they are only or mostly attracted to people of the same or similar sex or gender as theirs. When someone is bisexual or pansexual, that usually means someone find they can be attracted to people of either the same or similar sex or gender or of a different one. These aren’t the only three words we have to talk about orientation or sexual identity around gender, mind you. Some people identify as queer, some people as questioning; some people identify as asexual, some people construct their own language or combine terms, some people don’t identify as anything at all, either because they just don’t know where they fit or because they just don’t want to have or feel like they have an identity around this. There’s a big spectrum when it comes to orientation, and I don’t know where you fall on it, but since you already know you feel attracted to girls, that might be the soundest place for you to start.

I also hear you saying you feel uncomfortable around girls. That doesn’t really tell us anything about orientation because feeling sexual or romantic attraction to someone or a group of people doesn’t mean we’ll feel comfortable with them. Those feelings can be strong or unfamiliar, and make us feel uncomfortable all by themselves: a lot of people experience those feelings as uncomfortable and feel nervous or anxious around people they have them for, especially at first. As well, how comfortable any of us feel socially, period, or with certain people, varies. So, who knows if the lack of comfort you feel has anything to do with your orientation and, if it does, what it has to do with it. If it helps, know that aversion — feeling really turned off, repulsed or uncomfortable by someone or a group of people, rather than just being disinterested — often isn’t part of orientation: again, orientation is about attraction.

It seems to me like in trying to sort this out, the outstanding question is what, if any, sexual or romantic attraction you have to guys. You might have an easy answer to that right this very second, or you might feel unsure at this point: remember that this isn’t something you have to figure out right now, nor is sexual orientation something most people figure out very quickly. More often than not, it’s something that people kind of come to over time, based on having an increasing sense of… and often, also, a relationship or attraction history to look back at. For sure, some people do have a strong sense of what their orientation is in their teens or even earlier, and for some of them, that orientation will feel right to them for a lifetime. Others may have strong feelings one way, but experience a shift sometime in life, some even more than once.

Sometimes, though, people need more time to get to these answers about our orientation. It’s not crystal-clear right at the gate for everyone: some people aren’t sure about this for decades. On top of that, if people feel like any orientation is a wrong answer, if one possible truth feels very scary or unacceptable, rather than, again, just not something we feel into, it can be way tougher to get to that truth. That can happen a lot for people who aren’t heterosexual because we all live in a world more accepting of heterosexuality than of other orientations.

You also already know that porn can be a poor place to figure out what you like. You’re right: a lot of porn is not realistic in a whole lot of ways. For instance, some of the interpersonal dynamics between partners you have seen in porn around anal sex might have been very one-note, when in real life, the dynamics people have when engaging in those kinds of sex, just like with every other kind, can vary widely. For instance, just because someone’s bottom is being engaged doesn’t mean that person has to be the bottom, that a partner is enjoying humiliating another person or having them experience pain. Those are some ways people can engage in anal sex or other kinds of sex, but only some: in real-life, sexual dynamics are all over the map.

Who is what orientation is also not something people can easily figure — or figure at all — based on who has or hasn’t dated who. Not everyone has the same opportunities to date. Not everyone has the same wants and needs with relationships, nor the same preferences or broadness of attraction to others: some people may find it very easy to find the kind of person they want to date and who wants to date them. Others may find it very challenging. And we don’t all always want to be dating at all, even if we do have sexual or romantic desires, and even if we are attracted to people who we could have dating relationships with. So, again, while I don’t know what your orientation is, what I do know is that the best expert on that is going to be you, and what other people are assuming based on this kind of non-criteria isn’t sound. Whether it’s about orientation or anything else, the surface r [at assumptions people make about us are often inaccurate, and we’re going to know more about ourselves than they are.

If you feel like you’re a straight guy and find that when you do fall in love with or kiss a girl that makes you feel more confident in that, that’s okay. I don’t see a need to make judgments about what is or isn’t okay for you to feel would make you feel better about your orientation when it’s about things I assume and hope will be something mutually pleasant and that you and the other person in that equation both want when it happens. Kissing someone we want to kiss usually does make us feel good, including emotionally. Falling in love, while it can be a bit of a rollercoaster sometimes, often does feel very good, and having people fall in love with us can certainly be something that makes us feel good about ourselves. If you’re straight and either or both of those things make you feel good about being straight, so what? You get to feel good about kisses, and you get to feel good about whatever your orientation is, including if it’s heterosexual.

I hope you know there are no wrongs or rights here, nor are there orientations which are acceptable and others that aren’t. Whoever you are and whoever you’re attracted to, that’s who you are and who you’re attracted to. And if and when you do pursue romantic or sexual relationships, as long as you do that with integrity — with care and respect for yourself and others — it really is all good. Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone will feel that way or have that kind of acceptance for all people of all orientations. Not everyone will. But when people don’t, that’s about their failings, not the failing of people they have bigotry or bias about. The same goes for what sexual activities you might choose to engage in: what they do or don’t mean to you isn’t something someone else can put on you. Only you get to determine their meaning or import, whether we’re talking about what you want and like, what your orientation is, or what you think about your gender.

My hope is that whatever conclusions you come to with any of this, they’ll be conclusions that support who you are, what you uniquely want and feel good about for yourself, and will support a sexual and romantic life that is really about you as a person — not about what other people think you should be or want — and makes you feel good about you, whoever you turns out to be.

Here are a few links that might give you some more food for thought about all of this:

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 Abortion

Language Matters: Why I Don’t Fear Being Called ‘Pro-Abortion’

Maureen Shaw

Words can and do hurt, especially when they cast people who seek or provide abortion care as immoral or murderers. But pro-choice activists can embrace unapologetic language that represents hope, self-determination, and bodily autonomy.

Recently, an anti-choice website profiled me, repeatedly describing me as “pro-abortion.” I understood immediately that this was meant to be an insult and a negative character judgment. But instead of taking offense or feeling bullied, I smiled—even as the vitriol poured into my Twitter mentions.

I haven’t always been able to smile at anti-choice trolls. They attack your ideology, personality, and even your family. It’s threatening and can feel very unsafe, and with good reason; just ask any clinic escort, pro-choice journalist, or abortion provider who has been targeted by anti-choice zealots or organizations. Online harassment and bullying is deliberate and meant to incite fear; it’s also a stepping stone to physical violence and intimidation.

The first time I was on the receiving end of such hatred, it made me sick to my stomach and I was tempted to abandon social media altogether. But removing my pro-choice voice from the conversation felt like handing trolls a victory. So with a few tweaks to my public profiles (like erasing my location and no longer posting photos of my children), I’ve decidedly moved beyond that fear and refuse to shrink in the face of online harassment (Twitter’s mute function certainly helps too).

These experiences taught me two very important lessons: first, about cowardice (it’s so easy to spew hatred from the anonymity of the internet) and second, about the importance of language. Most of us here in the United States have heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” While this is certainly true in the most literal of interpretations, we know words can hurt when they come in the form of threats against abortion providers or calling women who have abortions “murderers.”

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Indeed, the way we talk about abortion is critical, from how we describe our adversaries to legislative bill titles and abortion procedures themselves. When anti-choice lawmakers and activists wield language that is inflammatory, misleading, or demonizing, the public’s perceptions of abortion are compromised. The ensuing negativity, in turn, helps transform commonplace medical procedures into “morally repugnant offenses”—to use the language of ethics, which the anti-choice movement so often co-opts—that abortion opponents want to heavily restrict (at best) or outlaw (at worst).

The so-called pro-life constituency understands this all too well and has done a brilliant job of manipulating language to guide the national discourse on abortion. Even the “pro-life” moniker is a calculated—not to mention hypocritical—move. After all, if a person is not “pro-life,” they’re implicitly anti-family and anti-child. This automatically puts pro-choice activists and allies in a needlessly defensive position and posits anti-choice ideology as favorable.

This perceived favorability runs deep and has very real implications for pregnant people. For example, politicians and activists alike jumped at the chance to essentially redefine dilation and extraction (a surgical procedure used in later abortions) as “partial birth abortion” (and sometimes, “dismemberment abortion”). It’s an obvious misnomer and a dangerous conflation, as one cannot be born and aborted; that would be murder, not abortion. As a result, the procedure was banned without a health exception, courtesy of the 2003 federal Partial Birth Abortion Act. And there’s no ignoring the current onslaught of anti-choice legislation with catchy names like the “Women’s Public Health and Safety Act,” the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” and the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.”

Let’s be honest: These bills are not about protecting women’s health or safety. Their sole purpose is to demean women by prioritizing unviable fetuses over women’s very real health-care needs. And they’re successful in part due to their phrasing: The words “child,” “survivor,” and “protection” all evoke positive imagery, while simultaneously (and not so subtly) vilifying the person who no longer wishes to be pregnant.

To be fair, anti-choicers aren’t the only ones with a working knowledge of the power of language. The pro-choice community has made serious efforts in recent years to reclaim the word “abortion” and paint it as a positive (or at the very least, common) experience. Just look at 1 in 3 Campaign’s Abortion Speakout, the #ShoutYourAbortion social media campaign, and websites that curate positive abortion stories, and you’ll see a plethora of women embracing this shared reality. And it’s not just grassroots activists who have thrown down the proverbial gauntlet: Developers recently created a Google extension to change all “pro-life” mentions to “anti-choice.” Take that, anti-choice interwebs!

There have been efforts to move away from the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” altogether, because those simple labels don’t reflect a truly intersectional approach that goes beyond the traditional narrative around reproductive rights. I continue to identify as pro-choice because the term works for me. I believe it accurately expresses my support of the full spectrum of choice—parenting, pregnancy, adoption, and abortion—though I also understand and support activists’ rejection of the label.

As a pro-choice activist, I am heartened by these efforts and the ground gained. For so long, we’ve been on the defensive, from fighting stereotypes that pro-choicers can’t be parents to furiously trying to keep clinics open nationwide (and it doesn’t help that the mainstream media often fails to responsibly or fairly report on abortion). It’s been like trying to climb a steep hill covered in oil slicks.

But no longer. Thanks to the campaigns I’ve mentioned and others like them, pro-choicers everywhere—myself included—can more easily reclaim the power of language to shatter stigma surrounding abortion.

While I don’t pretend to have a new dictionary for those of us who work to support abortion rights, there are simple ways to leverage the words already in our lexicon to achieve success on this front. For starters, we can refuse to use the term “pro-life” in exchange for a more accurate description of the movement fighting to end access to a basic health service: “anti-choice.” We can also explicitly describe abortion as mainstream health care more consistently; doing so helps dispel the myth that abortion is rare, immoral, and a marginalized component of women’s health. And finally, we shouldn’t be afraid to embrace being called “pro-abortion.”

Why? Because “abortion” is by no means a dirty word—or thing, for that matter. I will happily embrace being called “pro-abortion.” Admittedly, the term is problematic when it’s used to suggest that all pregnancies should end in abortion or used to simplify reproductive justice and human rights issues. For me, pro-abortion means hope, self-determination, and bodily autonomy. And I’m most definitely in favor of all of those things.

I’d like to think the tables will turn in the very near future: that our courts nationwide will follow the Supreme Court’s lead and affirm the right to abortion without political interference, and that people will no longer be shamed for seeking abortion care. Until then, it’s paramount that each and every individual of the pro-choice community continues to demand progress. And what better way than with powerfully pro-choice and pro-abortion words? They’re the building blocks of our movement, after all.