One of the oddest linguistic quirks of our discourse is to phrase human reproduction in passive terms. We often say that women “get pregnant,” or “become pregnant,” and sometimes even that they simply “find themselves” pregnant.
It certainly wouldn’t be odd if we were speaking of the tiny crustacean Daphnia pulex, or the snail Potamopyrgus antipodarum – females of those species are capable of asexual reproduction known as parthenogenesis. Human females, on the other hand, are different. It’s just not possible for a woman to be walking down the street, minding her own business, only to discover that – bam! — she’s suddenly “with child.” Absent medical intervention, a man is always involved in this process.
So it seems bizarre that the debate over contraception is more often than not framed as a “women’s issue.” By definition, that’s not true. It’s not an issue for gay women (unless they’re taking the pill for medical reasons), but it is an issue for straight men.
And there are plenty of reasons why men – especially straight ones, but also anyone who has a straight woman of reproductive age in his life – should be deeply offended at the Right’s sudden attempt to stigmatize contraception with this relentless and deeply offensive slut-shaming we’ve seen of late. Here are five reasons why.
1. Modern Birth Control Methods Help Men Have More Sex
Let’s dispense with the obvious first: sex.
In North Carolina this week, commissioners in one county rejected a state grant to cover the costs of family-planning for low-income women and their men. New Hanover County Chairman Ted Davis told the Wilmington Star-News, “If these young women are being responsible and didn’t have the sex to begin with, we wouldn’t have this problem.”
Any red-blooded straight dude should be absolutely appalled by such a prospect.
While there was never a more “innocent” time when people only had sex within the bounds of matrimony (that’s just a cherished conservative myth) it is the case that when premarital (or peri-marital, or extra-marital) sex came with significant risk of pregnancy, and a ton of social stigma attached to it, women were a lot choosier. If you’re a straight man with an active sex life, you should be outraged that social conservatives are trying to shame women for using birth control, and thus trying to put a crimp in your game.
This is true for married men as well. According to research by the Guttmacher Institute, only “3% of married Catholic women who do not want to become pregnant rely on natural family planning.” That requires abstaining for about 11-12 days in a woman’s menstrual cycle, meaning that the husbands of the 72 percent of married Catholic women who use modern contraception are, in theory at least, having significantly more sex.
Also, if you’re a man in a monogamous relationship, wouldn’t you prefer your partner use the pill or another method instead of condoms? They’re both forms of birth control, obviously, but the Right’s slut-shaming doesn’t include methods that men use.
2. You Say ‘Consequence-Free Sex’ as if That’s a Bad Thing
At the heart of socially conservative antipathy toward contraception is their rage at the idea that women can go around sleeping with men without facing the “consequences” of their actions.
It’s nonsense, but it’s nonsense that cuts both ways. Shotgun weddings are largely a thing of the past for today’s man, thanks largely to modern forms of birth control (and access to abortion).
According to CNN, in 2010, “The cost of raising a child from birth to age 18 for a middle-income, two-parent family averaged $226,920,” and that figure didn’t include college. Even irresponsible men, like notorious deadbeat dad Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Illinois, can end up being ordered by the courts to pick up their share of that tab. Men should be very upset with anyone messing with their “consequence-free” sex lives.
3. Healthier Spouses and Kids
Here’s a simple and widely understood biological reality: after giving birth to a child, a woman is able to conceive long before her body is entirely ready for the next pregnancy.
Doctors have long noted that not adequately spacing their kids – studies suggest anywhere between three to five years is optimal – is associated with lower birth-weights, a higher risk of complications, and both poorer neo-natal outcomes for babies and postpartum health of new mothers.
Men who want to start or add to a family obviously have a compelling interest in having a healthy spouse and kids who start out their lives on the right track, and contraception can be an important part of making that happen.
4. Economic Benefits
Because birth control is considered a “woman’s issue,” there’s not a lot of research on the economic impact of contraception on men. But we can extrapolate. Annie Lowery, writing in the New York Times, notes that “a number of studies have shown that by allowing women to delay marriage and childbearing, the pill has also helped them invest in their skills and education, join the work force in greater numbers, move into higher-status and better-paying professions and make more money over all.”
There is no reason to believe that the same dynamics don’t play a significant role in some young men’s economic fortunes. A 20-year-old new father also comes under pressure to get a job – any job – to help support his new, unplanned family before he has had a chance to invest in the skills and education required to “move into higher-status and better-paying professions.”
5. Indirect Economic Benefits
Social critics like to point out that 50 percent of American marriages end in divorce, but that also means that half of them don’t. In 2010, economist Heather Boushey and two colleagues at the Center for American Progress analyzed state-by-state income data and concluded “that mothers in every state and the District of Columbia are financially supporting their families—and many are their family’s primary breadwinner. Women’s earnings are critical to their families’ financial stability.”
More than 19 million families with children have a mother that is a breadwinner or co-breadwinner bringing home at least a quarter of the family’s earnings. More than half of mothers in almost every state play this role… More than 6 in 10 families with children in 42 states rely on a woman to serve as breadwinner or co-breadwinner.
Lowery cites data showing “that young women who won access to the pill in the 1960s ended up earning an 8 percent premium on their hourly wages by age 50,” and notes that contraceptives “counted for 30 percent – 30 percent! – of the convergence of men’s and women’s earnings from 1990 to 2000.”
So, the indirect economic benefits for millions of men living with women are pretty clear: We’ve entered into an era in which very few families can get by with one breadwinner. When mom is able to put off childbearing until she gets an education and develops the skills necessary to get a fatter paycheck, the whole family does better.
Debt of Gratitude
We should thank right-wingers for proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that none of this newfound antipathy for contraception has anything to do with “religious liberty.” Senators Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, and Marco Rubio, R-Florida, helped clarify that by offering an amendment that would allow any employer – secular, atheist, whatever — to opt out of covering any healthcare he or she found objectionable.
Also bringing clarity to the debate is Republican State Representative Debbie Lesko and her colleagues in Arizona, who this week moved a bill out of committee that would allow an employer – again, any employer — “to request proof that a woman using insurance to buy birth control was being prescribed the birth control for reasons other than not wanting to get pregnant.”
And, of course, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Rick Santorum for being honest about the fact that it’s about crushing sexual freedoms rather than safeguarding religious liberties. “Many in the Christian faith have said, ‘Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay,’” he explained.
It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also procreative. That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can’t you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure.
This is a women’s issue insofar as the burden of contraception falls disproportionally on women, and the idea of women being able to make their own sexual choices is what’s driving this madness. But, remember guys, conservatives’ lust for slut-shaming is so powerful that they would make it harder for you to get laid, bring back shotgun weddings, make your significant other – and you – poorer, and endanger the health of your partner and kids. As such, it’s a human issue.
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.
© 2012 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.