Zealots, Hypocrisy, Rubber, and Pills: The fight for control of my vagina (and yours)

People are speaking for me. Men and women, corporations and branches of governments, are all arguing over what my body is for, and how it should be used. What I should fear, and what I should want. What makes me bad or good. If I’m a good girl, I won’t want sex, not outside of marriage, not unless it’s to make babies. If I’m a good girl, I’ll stay quiet and let this be decided for me.

I’m not a good girl. Instead, I’m a girl who’s smart, a girl who knows her rights instead of waiting to be granted privileges. Of course, that doesn’t stop extreme conservatives from trying to control my sexuality. For my own good.Where would my immortal, immoral soul be without them?

The arguments against contraception have been the same since before Bishop John Chrysostom of Constantinople preached against their use in the year 390. Since then, those that agreed with him through the ages have called the avoidance of pregnancy “murdering those yet to be conceived” (as stated by Jerome, the original translator of the Bible into Latin, d. 420 AD). The dogmatic pronouncements of men who lived well over a millennium and a half ago are still helping to convince people that I should be denied control of my sexy parts. These remain some of the favorite arguments of many sects of Christianity, and of right wing politicians in America. Their archaic views torture the birth control debate into existence today. Today, when we have the medicine and tools to save the lives and the destinies of so many people.

The topic of contraception is so anathema to these extremists that birth control education is banned at many public schools. These bans are alarming throw-backs previous anti-obscenity laws in the United States that forbade the purchase or advertisement of birth control. Such laws spring from conservatives across the nation who oppose the use of birth control on religious grounds, and who are apparently terrified that any mention of condoms will turn their daughters into huge slutty sluts who might actually enjoy themselves once they reach the age of consent. Heaven forbid.

With birth control education or without it, people are going to have sex. As humans, we are biologically drawn to combine our parts in various frenzied fashions until at least one person (namely me) comes. It’s no accident that even touching another person causes pleasure-inducing chemicals to be released in the human brain. Sexual arousal can even reduce the sensation of pain, orgasm can relieve menstrual cramps, and both sex and masturbation have been shown to reduce stress. Women have an entire organ (a tiny one, but still) dedicated to sexual pleasure. While it’s feasible that those who know how to protect themselves from the unwanted consequences of sex (passels of unwanted children, sexually transmitted diseases)may have more sex, the knowledge and use of birth control will certainly reduce those unwanted consequences across the board.

Increased birth control availability reduces unwanted pregnancies. There. It’s simple, but it bears repeating. This was recently proven (again) as the result of a Colorado initiative that allows teenagers to receive free IUDs (a form of long-term contraception that consists of a small t-shaped object inserted into the uterus). Between 2009 and 2013, Colorado’s teen birth rate decreased by 40%. A study conducted by Colorado state health department staff estimates that 70% of this decrease was due to the availability of free reversible long-term contraception. Even beyond saving the futures of thousands of young women, this decrease in teen pregnancy has saved the state of Colorado $42 million that would have otherwise been needed for the health care of teen mothers and their children. Again, this is only one instance. Across the nation, studies have shown that increased access to birth control reduces unwanted pregnancies.

Conversely, some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy occur in heavily religious areas that focus on abstinence-only education. Considering this information, it’s important to question whether conservatives are more interested in protecting the unconceived, or in punishing women for owning and enjoying their bodies.

Even if we give extreme conservatives the benefit of a reasonable doubt, and say that they are truly interested in protecting those children that have not yet been conceived, we still acknowledge that they are granting greater personhood, greater agency, and greater rights to those who do not exist than to living, thinking women. They are saying that a separate sperm and an egg that could conceivably join and implant into a uterine lining are more important than the right of a woman to maintain her autonomy and to control her own body.If we do not give extreme conservatives that benefit, then we acknowledge that they are interested in simply keeping people from enjoying sexual activity, and in punishing them if they do have sex. Well. I am a bad, bad girl.

Whether to protect an unfertilized ovum or to punish women for having sex, those who wish to limit access to birth control often do so based on their own personal religious beliefs. When a woman makes up her mind to avoid birth control based on her religion, that is her right. When the owners of a company decide that their employees, over whom they have power, shouldn’t have access to birth control based on personal religious beliefs, then we are faced with a gross violation of rights.  The most famous case of the moment is that of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, recently ruled on by the Supreme Court, which has granted Hobby Lobby the ability to deprive its employees of insurance that covers the purchase of birth control, on the grounds that Hobby Lobby’s owners find the use of birth control morally repugnant. The owners of Hobby Lobby (which was also recently in the news under accusations of anti-Semitism) have the right to whatever personal beliefs they hold. They can never, ever have sex, if that’s what gets them off. They can judge everyone else for enjoying it, if that’s what they want. What they cannot do is impinge upon the rights of those over whom they have power. They cannot force their own religious beliefs on others.

Of course, some people would say that if an employee wants insurance that covers birth control, they can work somewhere else. I would challenge those people to find a job at all (given the resume of an average American), let alone one that pays a living wage. People are terrified to lose work, even if theirwork environment is abusive and their rights are threatened. This gives businesses like the Hobby Lobby an unfair degree of power over their employees. It allows them to subsume the rights of women under the weight of their own religious dogma.

Beyond the fundamental issue of rights, how can we believe that the religious mores of those who preach against birth control are so very strong? Studies show that approximately 99% of sexually active women in America have used contraception, and according to a 2011 article in Reuters.com, 98% of sexually active women in the Catholic faith have used a form of birth control that has been banned by the church. This suggests that the majority of people against birth control find excuses for their own use of contraception (fact: it’s totally ok to use birth control if you never stray from the missionary position and completely avoid that greatest of all sins, the female orgasm). How many men have enjoyed increased sexual activity due to the women they have been with having access to birth control? How many of them would condemn their daughters for wanting to use birth control? How many women are quick to excuse their own personal use of birth control, while speaking againstothers who use it? The scent of hypocrisy is in the air, and it smells like rubber, spermicide, and ball sweat.

We are a country based upon individual freedoms and rights. The rights of women to control and protect their own bodies are being ignored in favor of the privileges of corporations to control the medical care that those women may receive. This is an injustice, and it must be corrected.

Women, we have our bodies and our minds. That is all that can truly, irrevocably, belong to any one person. Use them the way you see fit. Just a suggestion, though: be safe. Below are some ways for you to find free or reduced cost birth control.

Planned Parenthood: Planned Parenthood is famous for providing free and reduced cost contraception to those who qualify (you probably qualify). Use the “Find Health Center” tool at the right of the homepage (http://www.plannedparenthood.org/) to see if there a Planned Parenthood health center near you.

Bedsider: This website features tools that can help you find contraception in your area. Just visit http://bedsider.org/where_to_get_it and type your zip code into the correct space for information on birth control in your area. Use this link http://bedsider.org/free_birth_control to see if you qualify for free birth control.

Clinics in your area: By simply typing “free birth control” and your county, nearest large city, or even state into a search engine, you can find clinics in your area that may offer reduced cost or free health care and birth control. For example, by typing “free birth control seattle” into Google, I was led to the government’s public health page for King County and Seattle (http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/locations/famplan.aspx), which provides information on clinics in the area that allow people to pay for care and birth control on a sliding scale.