Commentary Contraception

I Have Sex. And I Vote.

Lisa Russ

Lots of people take birth control pills because they are having sex and they don’t want to get pregnant. In fact, 86 percent of us take it at least in part because we want to be able to have sex and not get pregnant. Reproductive health, rights and justice advocates think it's a really good thing that women have autonomy over their bodies, their sexuality, and access to a full range of good choices about how to manage their fertility. 

In the birth control debate, there are too few stories about the use of contraception for just plain sex, so we have put together a tumblr to gather stories. Tell us how birth control keeps your sex life hot and heavy. Thanks in advance!

You may have seen that there is a bill being considered in Arizona that would give employers discretion about whether or not to pay for their employees’ contraception. Under these provisions, your boss could actually demand to see a doctors note and so he would know WHY you are taking birth control pills, and if it’s not for purely medical reasons, he could choose not to pay, on the basis of conscience. 

This is WTF on so many levels, but let’s try this one, because there is something we can do about it. When reproductive health, rights and justice folks responded to the craziness with the bishops, and the ensuing madness of Sandra Fluke, we were all like, HEY. Many women use these pills for reasons having NOTHING to do with sex. 

This is true. Folks have collected thousands of stories that talk about how important the pill is for managing various hormonal and uterine situations. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 58 percent of women who take the pill use it at least in part for medical reasons. 

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However, it is also true that lots of people take birth control pills because they are having sex and they don’t want to get pregnant. Guttmacher’s data says that 14 percent of women take the pill ONLY for medical reasons. That leaves 86 percent of us who take it at least in part because we want to be able to have sex and not get pregnant. 

And, we as reproductive health, rights and justice advocates think this is a really good thing. That women have autonomy over their bodies, their sexuality, and access to a full range of good choices about how to manage their fertility. 

By taking the argument only on the, “but what about folks with polycystic ovarian syndrome?” front, we ceded the critical point that coverage for birth control (including pills, vasectomies, and more) are essential for people who want to have sex but not to get pregnant. 

 It isn’t easy for us to claim our right to sex. It’s hard for all women, in this political climate—look how quickly we ceded this ground. But it can be even more dangerous for women of color. 

Paris Hatcher, executive director of SPARK Reproductive Justice Now told the Washington Post, “In this country, it’s okay to shame and blame the black woman, to pathologize and criminalize her behavior. Black women become the nannies, the mammies, the Jezebels.” 

And as Shanelle Matthews of Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice wrote on the Strong Families blog in her piece, If Sandra Fluke were Black,

When a white woman gets called a slut, America is up in arms, tearing through their closets for their shiniest white knight armor and suiting up for a battle to reclaim her dignity. But the living and breathing stereotype about Black women’s sexual prowess and the lascivious nature by which we supposedly live our lives is as pervasive as ever. No one is suiting up to fight for us, no armies of people are showing up on our behalf making threats for us, and no one is fighting to reclaim our dignity.

It’s complex. And guess what—if we don’t take a stand and own our sexuality, the Right has shown it is ready to own it for us. 

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