Editors note: This post talks about heterosexual sex; it is not meant to promote heteronormativity.
The system we have in place for reproductive health and reproductive choices is not sufficient. We have contention around abortion because religious folk and non-religious folk alike believe that a human life is killed and pro-choice folks believe that a woman has the right to terminate her pregnancy. We have an unhealthy culture around sex that generates perpetrators of sexual violence.
So, what processes exists right before we get to that point of contention of abortion and sexual violence? What steps are we taking to attempt to avoid arriving at the conclusion of abortion? What steps are we taking to prevent sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse?
Consider: Across the board, are we educating our children and teens and adults around healthy and safe sexual habits centered around consent and avoiding unwanted pregnancy? Do we have birth control available and easily accessible for people of every socioeconomic class, i.e. is it affordable for the poor? Do we have an inviting social structure around using birth control such as condoms, pills, ring, IUD, injections, etc., that not only makes it available and accessible but assures us that it is okay to use, safe to use, and good to use—that it is the necessary precautions to take for sexual health and safety and preventing pregnancy?
In sum, do we sufficiently try to prevent pregnancy and sexual violence?
I am not convinced that we do. So, where are our weaknesses and what do we focus on?
A Man’s Role
Too much is the ‘burden’ of birth control disproportionately on the female in a heterosexual relationship. Boys and men need to be taught and understand that it is also their responsibility. It’s their responsibility to learn about birth control and know about their options and the importance of pregnancy prevention through birth control. It’s their responsibility to pull out if natural family planning is the birth control of choice—and to NOT value the pleasure of skin-skin contact over a condom barrier if no other form of birth control is used. It’s their responsibility to pay an equal or agreed upon financial burden for the couple’s choice of birth control (more on financing birth control later).
A Woman’s Role In Lieu Of Equal Responsibility
We pay more money, we spend more time, we bear more shame, we feel alone, we lack support, we face consequences and criticism on our shoulders alone, yet sex itself takes two people. This is not fair.
On top of that, imagine a daughter in a family that is not sexually open—immigrant families and religious families are often this way—she is even more alone, faces even more of a burden and psychological weight on their shoulders regarding sin, shame, fear of punishment, etc. This is not fair. Independent girls and women like this have still found methods for safe, protected sex, with familial support or not. Yet having the birth control does not mean it will be properly used. Females are more aware of the need for birth control because they know that it’s their body that will be affected by birth, but imagine if her male counterpart supported birth control and also didn’t consent to sex without it.
It’s hard to imagine a reality where people don’t consent to sex without birth control because of our vastly uneducated culture around sex that prioritizes pleasure over sexual and physical safety, protection, and preventing unwanted pregnancy.
The Role of Education
It always starts with education, so why hasn’t American sex education caught up with the reality—the problems we face regarding sex i.e. unwanted/early pregnancy and sexual abuse.
Women often learn about the finer details around consent and the equal burden a man should bear for his role in sex when it is already too late. Abuse, fights, blame, and other consequences ensue. Many men never learn about their share of responsibility for sex—infection, pregnancy, physical well-being, reputation (all-too familiar for women and not men). Abuse, fights, blame, and other consequences intensify. Why does society tolerate this inadequacy in sex education?
The erotic is confused with the pornographic (devoid of feeling, for consumption) and sexual health and safety is not prioritized because it is vilified publicly while sex is fetishized privately by uneducated masses in the realm of sexual safety.
It’s too common to hear about how men don’t like the feeling of condoms—consider the feeling of a nine-month pregnancy. It’s too common to hear about sex performed without birth control or emergency contraception involved because men and women alike lack proper education around the likelihood of unwanted pregnancy, else don’t take the statistics seriously. Why would anyone want to gamble with life over pleasure even if they are slim?
We have a society that prioritizes pleasure via sex over safety, protection, and preventing unwanted pregnancy. The consequences of having a baby when a couple is not ready are not properly outlined to children, teens, and adults. This is a public health concern and major failure of American education. We do not respect and laud those that choose to use birth control for safe sex enough. We do not emphasize its importance enough to prevent pregnancies and attempt to stymie abortion.
I’m from a Bay Area suburb. For my high school Sex Education in 2007, a male PE teacher taught a section of PE ‘dedicated’ to sex education. He demonstrated condoms with one around his fist and forearm. He made a Star Wars joke about how boys don’t have jedi mind trick powers over their penises to explain precum. We watched a video in science class called the Miracle of Life that showed a live birthing. Those were the notable aspects of sex education other than the exceedingly verbalized joke of the entire sex education section of PE and Science. That is NOT sufficient for sexual education—we have to demand better.
A sufficient sex education curriculum should detail consent, physical safety, ALL methods of birth control, safe and unsafe sex, the responsibility of childbearing and childrearing, and maintain that sexual responsibility is imperative for both parties. Teachers must be trained with extra sensitivity to this topic, know how to deescalate jokes and respond to harmful comments. They must also teach young adults how to respect their partner and their physical and emotional well-being during sexual activities.
We need a modern and comprehensive approach to human sexuality that doesn’t just do lip service to “sex ed” but covers the aforementioned topics on top of sexual anatomy, reproduction, reproductive health, intercourse, emotional relations, and reproductive rights and responsibilities.
The Role of Accessibility
It is unjust if birth control and sufficient sex education is only taught to a portion of the population who can afford it. We lack equity in reproductive resources. A lack of education positively correlates to having more children. Underserved communities lack all types of services including access to medical care.
Everybody has a right to safe sex and protected sex. If a woman or a man wants to protect themself and their partner from unwanted pregnancy and infection, that is good for EVERYBODY. Infections spread and more births means more resource consumption. Wealth should not be a limiting factor in access to and education on sexual and reproductive health care—there shouldn’t be a limiting factor.