« A Play About a Good Woman | Main | Not Gonna Happen »

Sex and Lies

This isn’t a post for International Women’s Day. Perhaps it ought to be, but it isn’t.

The thing is that I have been wanting to rant, really rant, about the whole business with Rush Limbaugh traducing Sandra Fluke. I am frustrated, though, because the incident is so awful that it’s difficult for me to talk about it coherently. See, on the one hand, I think it’s very important to say that Mr. Limbaugh is not only horrible, vicious and vile, but he either doesn’t know what he’s talking about at all, or he is outright lying about the testimony she was prepared to present but did not (pdf) as well as the testimony she did present (pdf). It would be disrespectful to Ms. Fluke, and to the women who are affected, to allow Mr. Limbaugh’s prurient misrepresentation to obscure the point that the Pill is used to treat a variety of conditions in addition to acting as contraception, and that refusing to cover the Pill, the Church and its associated institutions are refusing to cover those conditions, which is negligent and bad and wrong. Offering to cover health care but not cover Stein-Levinthal syndrome or endometriosis is not acceptable, and is well within the range of government regulation.

So. Sandra Fluke was giving valuable, useful testimony about those medical conditions, and Rush Limbaugh called her a prostitute and lied about the subject of the testimony. In its entirety. And I think it’s important, in ranting about what happened, to emphasize both the extent of the untruthfulness and the original testimony itself, because, as I say, allowing that testimony to be obliterated by the Rush Limbaugh part of it is letting Ms. Fluke down.

On the other hand, I also feel as if defending Ms. Fluke’s actual testimony is also letting down those people who want their health insurance coverage to include the Pill because they want to have sex but not get pregnant. I saw on a social networking site somebody who said that whatever you think of the language Rush Limbaugh used, it’s outrageous for somebody to want to have taxpayers pay for her sex life.

I want taxpayers to pay for contraception for college students.

Now, I’ll go off course again for a moment and state that of course Ms. Fluke wasn’t talking about taxpayers (vaddevah dat means) subsidizing anybody’s prescription for the Pill, but about the regulatory power that has been used to carve out an exemption for the Church’s responsibility to pay for the Pill where they are already paying for other medicines. The link between insurance coverage from a private insurer and taxpayer funding could perhaps be made, due to money’s fungible nature and the massive grants, exemptions and tax breaks we have legislated for the Catholic Church, but it’s a distant link at best. Actually, it’s a lie. But again—I think it’s important to point out that it’s a lie, but it’s taking me away from a point that I really think is important, which is this:

I want taxpayers to pay for contraception for college students.

Or, at least, I would be happy for somebody else to do it, but if the choice is between making the students pay for it or having the government pay for it, I think the government paying for it is a better choice. Mostly because the cost to the government and society of students choosing not to pay for the contraception is higher than the contraception would be. Mostly, I want contraception to be available to college students, and am willing to pay taxes toward that end.

Just as a note: when I was an undergraduate, in the dorm where I lived for four years, baskets of condoms were kept in the restrooms. The Health Center, of course, had a basket of condoms, but the RAs, either as a matter of policy or on their own initiative, gathered some to be available without going outside the dorm. I think that these condoms were effectively paid for through the operating budget of tuition and donations and so on, but what I am saying is that I would support a federal grant to make that universal: in every dorm around the country, there should be condoms available without going outside.

What’s more, I think it’s probably a good idea for most people who are in that 18-22 range and on a college campus to have sex. Safe sex, of course. It’s up to the people in question, of course; I wouldn’t consider mandating it at all. What I’m saying is that people who have safe sex while in college probably don’t regret it afterward. I don’t know the numbers, but I suspect that most people who choose to have safe sex while in high school don’t regret it afterward. I certainly don’t. I may be leaning too heavily on my own experience and that of those people who have shared their stories with me—it’s a self-selecting group, and it’s quite likely that (a) people are more likely to share pleasant stories of teenage sex than unpleasant ones, and (2) people of my socio-economic status are more likely to have pleasant stories of teenage sex than people of different backgrounds.

Still, it’s my idea that sex is fun and interesting, and when you get out into the world, there aren’t a lot of good, safe opportunities for screwing around. Or, at least, that’s true for many people, and probably more true for people who have less sexual experience when they get out into the world—I would guess you have to be fairly determined to take advantage of those opportunities, and unless you have taken advantage of the more plentiful opportunities college life affords you, I don’t know how you would know that you wanted to make the effort. Furthermore, I think most people will ultimately be working toward a long-term monogamous sexual relationship—you can certainly argue whether people ought to do so, but I think that for the next few generations most people will do so—and that those long-term monogamous sexual relationships will be healthier, better, more fun-filled and interesting ones if the people in them have done some experimenting beforehand.

There’s a scene in Easy A (which has very interesting points to raise about sex and teenagers, in addition to being a generally entertaining film) where the lead character’s mother says that when she was a teenager, everybody called her a slut because she slept with a lot of people. Like a lot of the movie, it’s presenting fundamentally contradictory views of sex, because (I infer) people in our culture have fundamentally contradictory views of sex. But watching that movie, as I did, in the same week as this Sandra Fluke controversy, brought out the point to me that I think people should have a bunch of sex in their late teenage years, and not be called sluts or skanks or whores. Not all people should, but many people, and probably most people. And that free access to contraception in a variety of forms should be a part of that.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


We disagree about what taxpayers should pay for, of course, but that's an implementation detail. :^)

Sex Is Not The Enemy (http://sexisnottheenemy.tumblr.com/post/18907994244/americans-are-creating-massive-public-outcries-in) quoted Greta Christina, who said "Americans are creating massive public outcries in favor of birth control. Translation: Americans are creating massive public outcries in favor of sex for pleasure, sex for reasons other than procreation, sex for sex's own sake. Americans are willing to stand up and acknowledge that they have sex because it feels good -- and they are creating massive public outcries when people try to interfere with that, or try to shame them about it. I don't think that would have been the case twenty years ago. Maybe not even ten years ago. But now, today, in 2012, Americans are willing, and proud, and passionately eager, to say out loud, 'I use birth control. I have sex for pleasure. I don't want to have children right now, I may never want to have children -- and I still plan to have sex. And that is a good thing.'"

Amen to that.

I agree entirely with the idea that young people who have reached the age of sexual maturity should not be taught a) to repress their sexuality, 2) to revile themselves if they are sexually active, or •) to revile other people who are sexually active. Rather, they should be encouraged to reach an understanding of their sexuality and be responsible toward themselves, their partners, and the rest of society in their sexual practice.

I wouldn't say, though, that I think most people should have a lot of sex in their late teenage years. It may be a good idea, and then again, it may not. Those who do shouldn't be reviled for it, and many certainly will regardless of whether it's a good idea or whether they are reviled for it. What would be a good idea for any individual person ought to be something people think about and talk about together. What we lack in American culture is any broad, mature conversation and wisdom about the role of late-teen and early-20s sexual activity in the process of reaching sexual, emotional, and social maturity. And we won't have that conversation or that wisdom as long as this stigmatizing of young people, mainly young women, for having sex continues to be prominent in our culture.

Comments are closed for this entry. Usually if I close comments for an entry it's because that entry gets a disproportionate amount of spam. If you want to contact me about this entry, feel free to send me email.