Advice Sexuality

Get Real! I Think He’ll Dump Me If I Don’t Have Sex with Him. So, Should I?

Heather Corinna

Do you want to be with someone who would only stay with you because you're having the sex they want to have?

Published in partnership with Scarleteen

i.ate.the.cookie. asks:

I’m 13 and my boyfriend is 16. I’m a virgin but he isn’t and I feel like if I don’t have sex with him he is going to break up with me. Should we just have oral? Also, how can you tell if someone has already had sex?

Heather Corinna replies:

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The only sound way we can tell if someone has or hasn’t already had any kind of sex is by asking them and accepting their answer.

Obviously, sometimes some kinds of sex can result in certain outcomes, like pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, which can also tell us if someone has engaged in some kind of sex. But really, even then, the only sound way of knowing is by asking someone and taking their word on it. People won’t always be honest about that, but the idea some people have that how someone’s body parts look or feel can give us that information is just plain wrong. Bodies can’t tell us who has or hasn’t engaged in sex, only people can. I’m more concerned with your first question than that one, though.

What do you want and feel ready for right now when it comes to an intimate, sexual relationship, if you even want one? Does this situation look like that? I’m guessing it doesn’t, since it’s pretty safe to say that no one really wants a sexual relationship where sex is happening only because they feel scared that if it isn’t they’ll get dumped.

Intimate and/or sexual relationships involve being vulnerable, emotionally and physically. That’s not really a choice, it’s part of the deal. How vulnerable we are depends on a lot of things, but we’re always even more vulnerable when we have less agency—when by virtue of the way the world is or our relationships are we’ve got less power or ability to do things than someone else, due to our sex or gender, age, color, how much money we have, how our bodies are, our sexual orientation, and so on. As a 13-year-old girl or very young woman in the world, one with a male partner older than she is, and who it sounds like feels she gets to call less of the shots in her relationship than her partner, I’d say you’re very vulnerable here, and that’s something really important to know and accept.

Because of being vulnerable like that, and especially if you don’t want to take big risks in either of those departments or be more likely to deal with rough outcomes, healthy sexual relationships usually require trust and feeling and being respected, safe, and secure, including emotionally, with ourselves and our partners and having the ability, either on our own or with help, to take care of our physical and emotional health around sex. Those relationships being healthy and beneficial also includes everyone in them feeling as free, as able to say no, maybe, or not now to sex as they do to say yes, being supported in that, and not feeling like sex is something they have to give or exchange for something else, like a commitment or someone liking you only because you did what they wanted sexually. Healthy personal interactions of any kind also require that everyone in them feel valued and respected—like a person, not an object or just as a means to something one person wants. All those things are also usually what everyone in them really wants.

Do you want to be with someone who would only stay with you because you’re having the sex they want to have? Really?

I’m not you, so we might feel differently. But for myself, I know that unless the only thing I want from my relationships is sex, that is not usually the kind of person I want to be with. Heck, even in relationships that are only or mostly about sex, I tend to find that kind of setup is a recipe for crappy experiences since sex that isn’t masturbation, but something more than one person is sharing and a part of, needs to be about what both people want, and leave a lot of room for everyone involved not wanting the same things, or the same things at the same time. Even in sex-only relationships, the kind of situation you think you’ve got here usually spells “BLECK.” If what you want is commitment, then what you offer is commitment. If the other person wants it too, they’ll offer it back. If they don’t, trying to give them something else to get that commitment usually doesn’t work and also tends to leave a person feeling pretty gross and create relationships that are quite lousy.

I can’t tell you what kind of sex to have with this person or not, especially without having any idea at all what kind of sex you want, on your own terms, if any. The only thing I know you want from your post is that you don’t want your boyfriend to break up with you. So, it doesn’t sound to me like sex of any kind is even something you want. When it is, someone usually will say something about that.

If you don’t really want a sexual relationship right now, in general or with this person, what kind of relationship do you want? Whatever that is, that’s what you want to aim for, and make choices that are in alignment with that. But if you don’t really want a sexual relationship with someone, or this guy, right now, and are only thinking about doing it to keep him around, know that that choice isn’t likely to get you what you want.

Sexual choices are very personal, and when we’re going to start making them, while we can get some advice, ultimately we need to figure out what we really want and don’t, what we do and don’t feel ready for, what we are or are not up to dealing with (or what we do or don’t want to deal with), and more, and then all of that for anyone else involved too. Even being ready for that constant and often complex decision-making process takes us some time, let alone making those choices.

Should you choose to be sexual with anyone and want it to be something you feel good about before, during, and afterwards, which supports healthy relationships most likely to make you happy and support your self-esteem, having any kind of sex to try and keep someone around does not make that likely. In fact, it makes the opposite very likely: that you won’t feel good about it at all, and that it probably won’t be something good for you in the short or long term.

What’s more, you should know that one thing we know from statistics and people’s personal anecdotes is that it also doesn’t usually work in the first place. In other words, even if you do have sex with this person to keep them around, or keep them only having sex with you, chances are good that they’ll ditch you in short order anyway if the only reason they were sticking around was for sex.

Now, I don’t know if you’re getting the idea he’ll leave based on his words or actions or if this is more about your own head. If it’s coming from him, then we can know this isn’t a healthy situation. In healthy relationships, people don’t threaten to leave unless someone has sex with them. For sure, sometimes one person wants things the other doesn’t or isn’t ready for, but when that’s the case, there aren’t threats or ultimatums or pressure. In healthy interactions, when people are really different in that way, and the person who wants something feels they can’t deal without it, they don’t seek out relationships with people who aren’t feeling similar, or who they suspect aren’t there yet with sex.

While we’re on the age difference, when someone older—even by just a few years, especially in our teens or childhood where a few years is a bigger difference then it will be later on—is in a relationship with someone younger, one thing they need to be able to do is keep in mind that the younger person is likely to be in a different place than they are. If what they want is “past” where the younger person really is, they need to be able to stick with the younger person’s pace and not try and push, pressure, or nudge them up to theirs. That’s just basic courtesy, but it’s also the biggest thing that supports a romantic or sexual relationship being healthy when there’s an age or development difference (or any big difference in agency). That also tends to take a good deal of maturity, self-awareness, and patience. The fact that a lot of people in their teens and 20s are still just developing those things in a big way is why same-age teen sexual relationships tend to be healthier than those where there’s an age difference of a few years or more.

But these worries might not be coming from him or anything he’s said or done. Sometimes worries like this can come from your own head, or messages you might get from friends, television, or magazines. If we get the message or the idea that sex is either the only thing of value we have to offer, or the thing of the most value, it can be pretty easy to think it’s something we have to do to keep people around who might be interested in sex with us. But the thing is, that’s just not true. Not with people who see our value as more than just that, anyway.

No one who sees and appreciates you as a whole person is going to see your value as only sexual, including you! If and when that’s what someone wants, they get to choose that, but that is very rarely what anyone really wants in an ongoing relationship, especially love relationships. And if you want a boyfriend or anyone else to see you as more than that, you have to do your part, too, which includes being more than just that, and refusing to be only that.

Either way—or maybe if the pressure is even coming from both you and him—I’d say that so long as you’re feeling like sex is something you need to do to so he doesn’t break up with you, you’re not in a space where choosing to have any kind of sex is probably a sound choice. Only if and when you aren’t feeling that way, and sex is something you really feel ready for and want on your own, and when you’re in a relationship or situation where you feel like you can say no and the world will not end, will you be in the right spot to even consider sex as a good choice, and will it be at all likely to be something you feel good about, which is really the point. Sex is supposed to be about feeling good, remember, not just physically, but emotionally too.

Still on the fence? If so, I can toss some more things out for you to think about and talk about with your boyfriend, but also hopefully with other supportive people in your life too.

I think the best approach to figuring this out for yourself might be to ask yourself some questions and ask your boyfriend some questions too. I think if you can come to clear answers to these, you can probably figure out your own best choices here, choices that support what you really want, that don’t involve you doing anything you don’t really want to do and feel ready for, and that also help keep you from exchanging sex for commitment.

Questions for yourself:

  • What do you really want from an intimate relationship with someone right now? If it was only up to you, would you want it to be sexual? If so, what kind or kinds of sex do you really feel ready to engage in and handle? What kind or kinds of sex, if any, do you actually feel comfortable with and truly excited to explore right now?
  • Do you feel pressured to have any kind of sex? If so, where is that pressure coming from—from where or who—and what is that pressure about? What could you do to ditch or shut down that pressure so any sexual choice you make is one made without feeling pressure to make any one choice?
  • How ready do you feel to manage sex with someone else, including the more complicated parts, like saying what doesn’t feel good, rather than just what does, talking about your body parts intimately, having someone see your body, talking with partner and others, like a doctor or parent, about your physical safety (safer sex, contraception, etc.) and your emotional safety (consent and some of the scary or tough feelings sex can bring up)? Right now, with this person, does all of that feel pretty comfortable, and like things you expect will go well and leave you feeling cared for? Is this someone you think can handle these kinds of things himself? How about you? What if he said what you were doing didn’t feel good or wasn’t what he liked, or he told you he had a sexually transmitted infection (STI); could you deal with that right now?
  • Compare two possible ways what you are worried about will happen: where first, you don’t have the sex this person wants and they ditch you, and then where you do have the sex this person wants and they still ditch you. While that outcome may not happen in either case, if it did happen, is there one of those scenarios you think you’d feel better or worse about?
  • How ready does he seem for sex with someone else? One thing we can easily miss or make not-so-smart assumptions about when a partner or potential partner is older is that since they’re older, have had sex before, or they put sex on the table, they must be ready. But age or previous sexual experience doesn’t mean, for example, that someone has learned to be a good sexual partner, that they’re taking care of their sexual health, know how and when to use safer sex (and have been responsible in that way before), can communicate about sex, or can handle it if one or both of you winds up having problems with sex, from the big stuff like an unplanned pregnancy or infection to things like one or both of you just finding you don’t feel good or aren’t satisfied?

In terms of that last one, for yourself and both of you, I’d start by taking a look at this: Ready or Not? The Scarleteen Sex Readiness Checklist.

I’d then look at this: Sorting Maybe from Can’t-Be: Reality Checking Partnered Sex Wants & Ideals.

Take some real time going through those and thinking about them—days, at least, not just minutes or hours. How do you feel about those realities and issues? What do you think about him, specifically, and all of that? This is also something to talk about together. When we’ve heard back from people who took the time to go over this checklist with their partners, they’ve always reported back that they think doing it helped them make their best sexual choices, and when that choice has been to have any kind of sex, they’ve expressed that having the checklist pretty well covered is something they think had a lot to do with sexual experiences they felt great about.

Questions to ask your boyfriend and talk about together:

  • What kind of relationship is he looking for with you? Something mostly sexual, or something bigger than that? Does what he wants really fit with what you want? Does what you want really fit with what he wants?
  • Does he understand that sex isn’t something to “get,” but something to share, and for it to be the right thing for both of you, you need to be as ready for it as he might feel? Is he able to recognize that if you really, truly do not want to have any kind of sex yet, aren’t ready, or only would have sex to keep him around, that having sex with you would be seriously not OK?
  • Is he committed to making sure you don’t feel any pressure at all from him to do anything sexual you don’t want to do for yourself, not just only or mostly to keep him around?
  • What does he see sex as doing for your relationship, and for him and you separately? How about you? Does what each of you expect and want out of sex seem to fit together or not?
  • Is he just as concerned about you not sticking with him? Is your relationship continuing as deeply important to him as it sounds like it is to you? If not, why? Why does he think he feels more secure in this relationship, or less attached to it, than you do?

I know those are big questions and conversations that might make you feel uncomfortable having with him, but this is big stuff you’re considering, after all. And if you don’t feel able to talk about all of this this candidly, or even bring this stuff up with him, I’d say you have your answer right there. If we can’t talk about what we’re thinking about doing and all it entails, then usually, making the choice to do whatever that is isn’t our best choice. When sex feels like something we’re really ready for, that’s right in a given relationship or interaction, even when talking about it is awkward, it’ll be something we can do and know the other person would want us to do. If talking about it and issues around it feel terrifying, we can know that doing it is probably a pretty bad idea.

All of what I’ve said here might also feel really overwhelming. Making sexual choices is complicated, and it can feel like a lot to think about for anyone, at any age, especially outside an ongoing sexual relationship we’ve been in for a long time. But when sex is the right thing for us, even if all we need to consider or discuss is still a little dizzying, it still feels manageable. When it’s not the right thing for us, all we have to think about usually freaks us out, big time.

One more thing to know is that our earliest romantic relationships are most often going to be brief, not go on for a lifetime, years, or even months. When we are really into them, they don’t tend to feel that way—they instead can feel like the way we feel right now is so giant, it’ll last forever. But how we feel is how we feel, and what usually tends to happen doesn’t often follow those feelings in the ways we think it will. And that’s OK. Our earliest relationships, however uncomfortable it is to think about, are supposed to be how we start to learn about what we want and don’t, about how to have those kinds of relationships, not how we finish. Whether you have sex with this person or not, the chances that this relationship will go on for more than a few months, a couple years at max, is very, very unlikely. I’m saying all of that not to be a jerk, but because I want to make sure that you know that no matter what you choose when it comes to sex with this person, they or you are probably going to move on from one another sooner rather than later, no matter what.

Last, it can be really hard to make sound sexual choices without good support and perspective, especially when we’re new to making those choices. I’m really glad that you came here to ask me these questions, but I’d also encourage you to find another trusted adult in your life, someone who knows you very well, who you know cares for you and respects you, to talk about this with. Someone who can tell you how awesome you are, how much more you have to offer someone than a blow job, how lucky anyone is to date you at all, whether you have sex with them or not, and how much you’re already giving someone else by sticking with them, and you’ll know they’re not just saying all that because they really know you and have already cared for you for a very long time, without you having to do anything big for them that wasn’t also right for you and just as valuable to you.

I hope all of this helps you to make whatever choice you strongly feel is best for you and feel really, really good about.

Commentary Sexuality

Auntie Conversations: Black Women Talk Sex, Self-Care, and Illness

Charmaine Lang

These auntie conversations were just as much about me as they were about my aunts and mama. I really want to know what to expect, what to anticipate, and perhaps, even, what not to do as I age and grow in relationships so that I, too, can have a fulfilling and healthy partnership.

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

“You’re just being nosy,” one of my aunts said, after I asked her if she enjoyed having sex with her husband. I assured her this was all part of a research project on the intimate lives of Black women. She relented a bit, but still gave me the side-eye.

I’ve been engaged in archival research for the last year. While the personal letters of Black women writer-activists and the newspapers of the Third World Women’s Alliance are remarkable and informative, they provide little insight into the intimate lives and sexual desires of Black women. After all, sex improves our mood and alleviates stress: That immediate gratification of pleasure and release is a way to practice self-care.

So on a recent trip home to Los Angeles, I asked my aunties to share their stories with me at a little gathering they threw in my honor.

And they did.

I asked them: “What’s your sex life like?” “Do you want to have sex?” “Are you and your husband intimate?” “You know … does he kiss you and hold your hand?” And I learned that contrary to tropes that present us as either asexual mammies or hypersexual jezebels, the Black women in my life are vulnerable and wanting love and loving partners, at all stages of life.

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Between 1952 and 1969, my maternal grandmother had six daughters and one son. All of them grew up in South Central Los Angeles, witnessing white flight, the Watts riot of 1965, and the crack epidemic. At the same time, the women have kept the family intact. They are the ones who always plan big dinners for the holidays and organize food drives for their churches. And they arranged care of their mother toward the end of her life. I’ve always wondered how they were able to prioritize family and their own desires for intimacy.

So I asked.

My 57-year-old aunt who is a retired customer service representative living in Pomona, California, told me: “My lifetime of sex consisted of first starting off with getting to know the person, communicating, establishing companionship. Once that was done, the sex and intimacy followed. When you’re younger, you have no frets. You experiment all the time.”

I wanted to know more.

“You’re not just trying to get in our business? You’re actually going to write something, right?” was my mother’s response.

When asked about the state of her sex life, my 59-year-old aunt, a social worker, said: “I am a married woman without a physical sex life with my husband. His illness has a lot to do with this, along with the aging process.”

My Pomona aunt went into more detail about how as we get older our ability and desire changes.

“You try to keep pace with pleasing your partner, and he tries to please you. But it is hard when you are a full-time worker, wife, and mother, and you commute to work. You’re tired. Hear me: You’re tired; they are not. You grow older, gain weight, and get sicker. You start to take medicine, and all that affects your ability and desire to perform.”

“For me, in a nutshell, [sexual activity] feels like work: I don’t feel excited. When it happens, it happens,” she said.

I learned the combination of energy spent on wage work, domestic labor, and mothering is draining, dissipating the mood for sex or intimacy. A husband who does not have the same domestic responsibilities has more energy for sex. The unbalanced load equates to differences in desire.

I wondered: Did my aunts talk to their partners about this?

Illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer, can cause anxiety, depression, and fatigue, which interrupt lovemaking. Talking to a partner can help to create a new normal in the relationship.

However, as my social worker aunt made clear, “It takes two to talk openly and honestly, which I find very difficult most of the time.”

“To be vulnerable is hard because I do not want to get hurt emotionally, so I protect my heart from harm,” she explained. “[My husband and I] can be harsh and curt to each other at times, which leads to me shutting down and not expressing my true feelings. My husband can be prideful and unwilling to admit there are issues within the relationship.”

Aunt April, a 47-year-old Los Angeles teacher, had some things to share too. “My love life is complicated. After suffering an overwhelming and devastating loss in 2011 of my husband and mate of nearly 20 years, I’m very hesitant to fully try again.”

She hasn’t dated since 1991. After much counseling, grieving, and encouragement from her 12-year-old daughter, she decided to give it a try.

“I have been seeing someone, but I have a lot of fear that if I relinquish my heart to him, he will die. So, I think about sabotaging the relationship so that I don’t have to get to know him and start worrying about his well-being and wondering if he feels the same way I do. In my mind, it’s easier to be casual and not give too much of my heart,” she said.

Intimacy, then, is also about being vulnerable in communicating how one feels—and open to all possibilities, even hurt.

As a 34-year-old queer Black woman figuring out my dating life, my aunt’s words about communication struck me. At times I can be guarded, too, fearful of letting someone get close. I started to ask myself: “What’s my sex life like?” and “What role does intimacy play in my life as I juggle a job and doctoral studies?”

These auntie conversations were just as much about me as they were about my aunts and mama. I really want to know what to expect, what to anticipate, and perhaps, even, what not to do as I age and grow in relationships so that I, too, can have a fulfilling and healthy partnership.

“I enjoy sex more now then I did before,” my mama, Jackie, said. Now 55, she remarried in 2013. She lives in Gilbert, Arizona, and works in the accounting and human resource field. “My husband loves me unconditionally; with him, I’m more comfortable. It’s more relaxing.”

My mama expressed her ability to enjoy herself with her husband because of the work she put into loving herself and prioritizing her needs.

I always talk to my mama about my dating life: heartbreaks and goals. She always says, “Learn to love yourself first.” It really isn’t what I want to hear, but it’s the truth. Self-love is important and central to the success of any relationship, especially the one with ourselves. My social worker aunt often takes trips to the spa and movies, and my aunt April is an avid concertgoer. They have found ways to have intimacy in their lives that is not informed by their relationship status.

The journey to self-love can be arduous at times as we discover parts of ourselves that we don’t like and want to transform. But with much compassion and patience, we can learn to be generous with the deepest parts of ourselves and each other. And isn’t that a necessary part of intimacy and sex?

The stories shared by my womenfolk reveal a side of Black women not often seen in pop culture. That is, Black women older than 45 learning how to date after the loss of a partner, and finding love and being intimate after 50. Neither mammies nor jezebels, these Black women, much like the Black women activists of the 1960s and 1970s I study, desire full lives, tenderness, and love. My aunts’ stories reassure me that Black women activists from decades past and present have intimate relationships, even if not explicit in the body of literature about them.

The stories of everyday Black women are essential in disrupting dehumanizing stereotypes so that we can begin to see representations of Black women that truly reflect our experiences and dynamic being.

Commentary Abortion

It’s Time for an Abortion Renaissance

Charlotte Taft

We’ve been under attack and hanging by a thread for so long, it’s been almost impossible to create and carry out our highest vision of abortion care.

My life’s work has been to transform the conversation about abortion, so I am overcome with joy at the Supreme Court ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Abortion providers have been living under a very dark cloud since the 2010 elections, and this ruling represents a new day.

Abortion providers can finally begin to turn our attention from the idiocy and frustration of dealing with legislation whose only intention is to prevent all legal abortion. We can apply our energy and creativity fully to the work we love and the people we serve.

My work has been with independent providers who have always proudly delivered most of the abortion care in our country. It is thrilling that the Court recognized their unique contribution. In his opinion, after taking note of the $26 million facility that Planned Parenthood built in Houston, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote:

More fundamentally, in the face of no threat to women’s health, Texas seeks to force women to travel long distances to get abortions in crammed-to-capacity superfacilities. Patients seeking these services are less likely to get the kind of individualized attention, serious conversation, and emotional support that doctors at less taxed facilities may have offered.

This is a critical time to build on the burgeoning recognition that independent clinics are essential and, at their best, create a sanctuary for women. And it’s also a critical time for independent providers as a field to share, learn from, and adopt each other’s best practices while inventing bold new strategies to meet these new times. New generations expect and demand a more open and just society. Access to all kinds of health care for all people, including excellent, affordable, and state-of-the-art abortion care is an essential part of this.

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We’ve been under attack and hanging by a thread for so long—with our financial, emotional, and psychic energies drained by relentless, unconstitutional anti-abortion legislation—it’s been almost impossible to create and carry out our highest vision of abortion care.

Now that the Supreme Court has made it clear that abortion regulations must be supported by medical proof that they improve health, and that even with proof, the burdens can’t outweigh the benefits, it is time to say goodbye to the many politically motivated regulations that have been passed. These include waiting periods, medically inaccurate state-mandated counseling, bans on telemedicine, and mandated ultrasounds, along with the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center requirements declared unconstitutional by the Court.

Clearly 20-week bans don’t pass the undue burden test, imposed by the Court under Planned Parenthood v. Casey, because they take place before viability and abortion at 20 weeks is safer than childbirth. The federal Hyde Amendment, a restriction on Medicaid coverage of abortion, obviously represents an undue burden because it places additional risk on poor women who can’t access care as early as women with resources. Whatever the benefit was to late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) it can’t possibly outweigh that burden.

Some of these have already been rejected by the Court and, in Alabama’s case, an attorney general, in the wake of the Whole Woman’s Health ruling. Others will require the kind of bold action already planned by the Center for Reproductive Rights and other organizations. The Renaissance involves raising an even more powerful voice against these regulations, and being firm in our unwillingness to spend taxpayer dollars harming women.

I’d like to entertain the idea that we simply ignore regulations like these that impose burdens and do not improve health and safety. Of course I know that this wouldn’t be possible in many places because abortion providers don’t have much political leverage. This may just be the part of me that wants reproductive rights to warrant the many risks of civil disobedience. In my mind is the man who stood in front of moving tanks in Tiananmen Square. I am yearning for all the ways to stand in front of those tanks, both legal and extralegal.

Early abortion is a community public health service, and a Renaissance goal could be to have early abortion care accessible within one hour of every woman in the country. There are more than 3,000 fake clinics in this country, many of them supported by tax dollars. Surely we can find a way to make actual services as widely available to people who need them. Of course many areas couldn’t support a clinic, but we can find ways to create satellite or even mobile clinics using telemedicine to serve women in rural areas. We can use technology to check in with patients during medication abortions, and we can provide ways to simplify after-care and empower women to be partners with us in their care. Later abortion would be available in larger cities, just as more complex medical procedures are.

In this brave new world, we can invent new ways to involve the families and partners of our patients in abortion care when it is appropriate. This is likely to improve health outcomes and also general satisfaction. And it can increase the number of people who are grateful for and support independent abortion care providers and who are able to talk openly about abortion.

We can tailor our services to learn which women may benefit from additional time or counseling and give them what they need. And we can provide abortion services for women who own their choices. When a woman tells us that she doesn’t believe in abortion, or that it is “murder” but she has to have one, we can see that as a need for deeper counseling. If the conflict is not resolved, we may decide that it doesn’t benefit the patient, the clinic, or our society to perform an abortion on a woman who is asking the clinic to do something she doesn’t believe in.

I am aware that this last idea may be controversial. But I have spent 40 years counseling with representatives of the very small, but real, percentage of women who are in emotional turmoil after their abortions. My experience with these women and reading online “testimonies” from women who say they regret their abortions and see themselves as victimized, including the ones cited by Justice Kennedy in the Casey decision, have reinforced my belief that when a woman doesn’t own her abortion decision she will suffer and find someone to blame for it.

We can transform the conversation about abortion. As an abortion counselor I know that love is at the base of women’s choices—love for the children they already have; love for their partners; love for the potential child; and even sometimes love for themselves. It is this that the anti-abortion movement will never understand because they believe women are essentially irresponsible whores. These are the accusations protesters scream at women day after day outside abortion clinics.

Of course there are obstacles to our brave new world.

The most obvious obstacles are political. As long as more than 20 states are run by Republican supermajorities, legislatures will continue to find new ways to undermine access to abortion. The Republican Party has become an arm of the militant anti-choice movement. As with any fundamentalist sect, they constantly attack women’s rights and dignity starting with the most intimate aspects of their lives. A society’s view of abortion is closely linked to and mirrors its regard for women, so it is time to boldly assert the full humanity of women.

Anti-choice contends that there have been approximately 58,586,256 abortions in this country since 1973. That means that 58,586,256 men have been personally involved in abortion, and the friends and family members of at least 58,586,256 people having abortions have been too. So more than 180 million Americans have had a personal experience with abortion. There is no way a small cadre of bitter men with gory signs could stand up to all of them. So they have, very successfully so far, imposed and reinforced shame and stigma to keep many of that 180 million silent. Yet in the time leading up to the Whole Woman’s Health case we have seen a new opening of conversation—with thousands of women telling their personal stories—and the recognition that safe abortion is an essential and normal part of health care. If we can build on that and continue to talk openly and honestly about the most uncomfortable aspects of pregnancy and abortion, we can heal the shame and stigma that have been the most successful weapons of anti-abortion zealots.

A second obstacle is money. There are many extraordinary organizations dedicated to raising funds to assist poor women who have been betrayed by the Hyde Amendment. They can never raise enough to make up for the abandonment of the government, and that has to be fixed. However most people don’t realize that many clinics are themselves in financial distress. Most abortion providers have kept their fees ridiculously and perilously low in order to be within reach of their patients.

Consider this: In 1975 when I had my first job as an abortion counselor, an abortion within the first 12 weeks cost $150. Today an average price for the same abortion is around $550. That is an increase of less than $10 a year! Even in the 15 states that provide funding for abortion, the reimbursement to clinics is so low that providers could go out of business serving those in most need of care.

Over the years a higher percent of the women seeking abortion care are poor women, women of color, and immigrant and undocumented women largely due to the gap in sexual health education and resources. That means that a clinic can’t subsidize care through larger fees for those with more resources. While Hyde must be repealed, perhaps it is also time to invent some new approaches to funding abortion so that the fees can be sustainable.

Women are often very much on their own to find the funds needed for an abortion, and as the time goes by both the costs and the risk to them increases. Since patients bear 100 percent of the medical risk and physical experience of pregnancy, and the lioness’ share of the emotional experience, it makes sense to me that the partner involved be responsible for 100 percent of the cost of an abortion. And why not codify this into law, just as paternal responsibilities have been? Perhaps such laws, coupled with new technology to make DNA testing as quick and inexpensive as pregnancy testing, would shift the balance of responsibility so that men would be responsible for paying abortion fees, and exercise care as to when and where they release their sperm!

In spite of the millions of women who have chosen abortion through the ages, many women still feel alone. I wonder if it could make a difference if women having abortions, including those who received assistance from abortion funds, were asked to “pay it forward”—to give something in the future if they can, to help another woman? What if they also wrote a letter—not a bread-and-butter “thank you” note—but a letter of love and support to a woman connected to them by the web of this individual, intimate, yet universal experience? This certainly wouldn’t solve the economic crisis, but it could help transform some women’s experience of isolation and shame.

One in three women will have an abortion, yet many are still afraid to talk about it. Now that there is safe medication for abortion, more and more women will be accessing abortion through the internet in some DIY fashion. What if we could teach everyone how to be excellent abortion counselors—give them accurate information; teach them to listen with nonjudgmental compassion, and to help women look deeper into their own feelings and beliefs so that they can come to a sense of confidence and resolution about their decision before they have an abortion?

There are so many brilliant, caring, and amazing people who provide abortion care—and room for many more to establish new clinics where they are needed. When we turn our sights to what can be, there is no limit to what we can create.

Being frustrated and helpless is exhausting and can burn us out. So here’s a glass of champagne to being able to dream again, and to dreaming big. From my own past clinic work:

At this clinic we do sacred work
That honors women
And the circle of life and death.