Recent national kerfuffles over abortion and contraception access bring up many important questions: Should employers retain control over your wages and benefits after they sign them over to you? Is contraception, a service used by 99 percent of American women, really so controversial? How much state regulation should there be over women’s most private decisions? But amidst all those questions is one overarching one: Do conservatives need a crash course in sex ed?
Usually, when we think of the sex education debate, we think of junior high and high school kids putting condoms on bananas. But recent events indicate that this country needs remedial sex education for adults, specifically social conservatives who wish to hold forth on reproductive rights without seeming to know the basics regarding who has sex and how it works in 2012. With that in mind, I designed a quick curriculum for these surprisingly necessary courses.
Intercourse 101: It Takes Two to Tango. After voting for a mandatory ultrasound bill that serves no other purpose than to shame abortion patients for their sexuality, Virginia delegate David Albo complained in the legislature that he’s not getting the sex he feels entitled to from his wife. CNSNews columnist Craig Bannister shamed women on the pill for being “sex-crazed co-eds” who exhibit too much “sexual zeal” — before ending his piece by wistfully wishing he could have sex with all the sexually active women he just insulted. Rush Limbaugh, who is on his fourth marriage and is an admitted Viagra user, called Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who testified before Congress about her use of contraception, a “slut” and a “prostitute.”
In this first section of the remedial sex education course, we will discuss this sexual double standard: When having sex, men are behaving well and women behaving badly. The midterm will be an essay on the following prompt: “If women are supposed to say no to sex, whom do you propose straight men sleep with?”
Contraception 101: History as Prologue. Many conservatives appear to believe that prior to the Obama administration requiring employers to fully cover contraceptive care as part of their health plans, contraception wasn’t considered a medical service, but something more like a party item you pick up with your beer and cigarettes. Tina Korbe of Hot Air argued that supporters of the new regulation “labor under the illusion that contraception is a medical necessity.” Limbaugh argued that health insurance covering contraception means women are “paid to have sex.” The reaction on the right suggests that this is the first time in history someone has suggested that contraception care be included in general health benefits.
During this portion of the class, we will look at the history of medicalized birth control. Students will learn (in conjunction with another mandatory class, The Pill 101) that the birth control pill has always been controlled by doctors and pharmacies, and that insurance companies treat it as medical care by offering the drug with a co-pay. Special attention will be paid to the 28 states that already require contraception coverage, the existing Medicaid coverage of contraception, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decision that found that contraception coverage is a normal part of women’s healthcare that should be covered by healthcare plans.
Premarital Sex 101: A Quantitative Look. Underlying many of the arguments over women’s reproductive healthcare is a widespread fear of women using these rights to have sex outside of marriage. During the Arizona Republican primary debate, Rick Santorum blamed contraception for the problem of teen pregnancy, presuming that teenagers in a contraception-free world would instead abstain. Utah Republican state representative Bill Wright defended a bill banning discussion of contraception in schools by saying: “Why don’t we just be honest with them upfront that sex outside marriage is devastating?”
Contrary to students’ expectations, there is no high-level math prerequisite for this course. The statistics involved are relatively straightforward. Students will learn that 95 percent of Americans have premarital sex and have done so for decades without bringing ruin to the nation. In addition, students will read literature showing that the teen pregnancy rate actually declined after the sexual revolution, leaving it at half the rate it was in the 1950s. Students will be asked to research why it is that blue states, where residents are more likely to use contraception and delay marriage, have lower rates of divorce and teen pregnancy.
The Pill 101: A Scientific Look. The ignorance on display on the right regarding the birth control pill, which has been around as a contraceptive for over 50 years, has been astounding. Limbaugh’s comment — “she’s having so much sex she can’t afford her own birth control pills” — indicates that he believes there’s a correlation between the number of sexual encounters and the number of pills necessary. Limbaugh also seems to think mothers and women who use birth control are mutually exclusive categories, saying: “How do you become a mom if you’re into birth control?” Additionally, with words such as “slut,” “prostitute” and “sex-crazed” flying around to describe women on hormonal contraception, it appears many conservatives believe that the drugs exist primarily for use by single women with multiple partners.
Students in our remedial sex ed course will take their time learning about hormonal contraception. They will learn that women on the pill must take one every day for it to work, no matter how much sex they’re having. Students will discover that monogamy isn’t enough to prevent unintended pregnancy, and thus married and monogamous women use the pill just as single women do. To drive home what not using contraception would mean for women, married and otherwise, students will be asked to watch the TLC show about the Duggar family, with its 19 children, and then offer a five-minute presentation in class.
As evidenced by the ignorant rot tumbling out of various right-wing mouths in response to these controversies, a curriculum of this kind is sorely needed. Perhaps female Democrats in Congress can write a bill funding Sex Education for Grown-Up Pundits and help elevate the conversation with a little basic understanding.