Pro-Sex, Anti-Choice: A New Chapter in the War on Women's Bodies
by Symone New, RRASC Intern, Supported by the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program
Admittedly, when I think of the word "sexy" the last thing that comes to mind is the GOP. Words and phrases that do come to mind when I think of the Republican Party are sexual repression, anti-choice, Puritanical, outdated, chauvinistic, and theocracy. So you can imagine my surprise on May 27th when Meghan McCain, daughter of 2008 presidential nominee John, appeared on the Colbert Report in an effort to lure young people into "a new, sexy, Republican Party" seeking to distance itself from evangelical extremism.
Introduced as a "pro-sex, pro-life, and pro-gay marriage" young Republican, McCain reluctantly admitted the accuracy of these labels. When prodded, Meghan went on to justify each of these beliefs using personal experiences. For instance, when asked why she identified as pro-sex, she explained that she "practices what she preaches" and believed abstinence to be unlikely, as evidenced by the likes of Bristol Palin. In contrast to the predominant stance of the right, McCain affirmed the importance of "comprehensive sexual education involving birth control and condoms."
Although in this regard McCain's stance surprisingly parallels my own, I still cannot help but be frustrated. If individuals such as Meghan McCain are in line enough with the movement to support gains such as a national, required, and comprehensive sexual education program, how is it that they fail to recognize the necessity of linking it with reproductive choice? With thousands upon thousands of unplanned pregnancies annually, many of which result from the misuse or failure of contraception, how can anyone truly justify depriving young women of the spectrum of choice necessary to make comprehensive, informed decisions about their bodies and their lives? While many such individuals are quick to spout out the "abortion is a sin against God" argument, they fail to recognize that the same Biblical doctrine that inspires this belief states that premarital sex is, too.
As a young, non-religious, semi-middle class woman of color, it is difficult for me to both relate to, and fall in line with, individuals such as Ms. McCain who utilize their privilege without recognizing the variation in degrees of access and decision making power across geographic and demographic lines. Although Meghan McCain is at least on the right track when she realizes that "just saying no" to sex is unlikely due to to both natural biologically driven sexual desires and societal pressures, she fails to realize that for many young women, "No" is not always an option. One clear example can found in the recent article "When Partner Abuse Isn't a Bruise but a Pregnant Belly" published by RH Reality Check a month after McCain's television appearance.
Janey, the nineteen year old focus of the article, has two children by her former partner. Over the course of their relationship, he practiced various forms of sexual coercion and "reproductive control" including hiding her birth control pills, demanding unprotected sex, lying about "pulling out", and making her feel guilty about using emergency contraception. Incidents such as those that Janey experienced affect thousands of young women every year, leading to miscarriages, unintended pregnancies, long term psychological trauma, and a myriad of STDs, including HIV.
While comprehensive sexual education should be available and required for all middle and high school students nationally, it is important for these programs to not only inform students about methods of contraception, but also address the intricacies of intimate relationships for young people. Although it is necessary to teach both male and female students how to properly use condoms and other forms of birth control, this alone is not effective. It is equally important to revamp sexual education curriculum to include topics such as Intimate Partner Violence, dynamics and stereotypes of LGBT relationships, and tools to effectively navigate the medical and legal system as a minor. Additionally, a classroom-based sexual education curriculum alone will not reach its true potential without the assistance of external counseling and support services for young people that non-judgmentally addresses both teen sexuality and reproductive choice.
As demonstrated by young women such as Janey, the fight for reproductive justice is often fought on two fronts- one against a controlling partner who seeks to control reproductive decisions as a means of asserting power within a relationship, and the other against political figures that deceptively claim to be progressive in regards to sex, but instead gamble with young women's lives and health by picking and choosing which areas of sexual health and reproductive choice to support, a la Meghan McCain.
Although building alliances has historically been, and continues to be, an essential part of the fight for reproductive justice, we cannot let ourselves become sidetracked by partisan politics, a limited spectrum of choice, or bargaining down to anything less than a national sexual education program which addresses not only the logistical nature of sex as it relates to contraception methods and techniques, but also the personal factors that influence contraception usage, such as religion, demographic characteristics, geographic location, and the nature of the intimate relationship in which one is involved, specifically as they relates to IPV and sexual coercion. The time is now to send a clear message that we will no longer allow either the Right or progressive but idle politicians to jeopardize the reproductive health and psychological well being of young women in this country.