Browsing Tag

sex education


personally pro-life, politically pro-choice

I’m about as pro-choice as it’s possible to be. I’m unflinchingly pro-choice, even. There are no ifs, ands, or buts  in my approach to abortion, no caveats, no disclaimers. I am completely opposed to “late-term” abortion bans, TRAP laws, and any other restrictions on a person’s ability to conduct their own medical affairs. I believe that abortion should be treated no differently from any other medical procedure: it is safe– far safer than childbirth— and it is private.

However, I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, this position is relatively recent– more recent, even, than where I was when I wrote the Ordeal of the Bitter Waters series over two years ago. My feminism is continuously evolving, and back when I wrote that series I was more uncomfortable with so-called “late-term” abortions than I am today. I’ve been evaluating and re-evaluating my stances on reproductive rights for almost eight years now, and I’ve arrived at a place that feels more drastic than a complete reversal should.

As an inexperienced and woefully uninformed young woman, I was fervently pro-life. I picketed clinics a handful of times; I canvassed neighborhoods trying to get TRAP laws put on my state’s ballot. I didn’t think there should be exceptions for rape and incest. Over time, however, circumstances forced me to confront what I believed about abortion, and I realized that my pro-life position was morally indefensible.

My theological and political background puts me in an interesting position, especially as I’ve been observing this election season– my first presidential election as a registered Democrat. My social media feeds are a sometimes-hilarious mix of extremes because some of my friends are Marxists, some are Libertarians, and at least two friends post almost nothing but pictures of guns. What’s becoming troubling to me is that we all seem to have forgotten the value– and governing necessity– of compromise, of embracing a spectrum of beliefs and positions in order to accomplish a good work.

I don’t think there’s anything that demonstrates how polarized we can be than abortion. This election season, it seems that tension has coalesced around Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential candidate, Tim Kaine. He, like other Democratic men like Joe Biden, embrace a complicated position toward reproductive rights: personally opposed to abortion (a somewhat ridiculous position for a man to hold, I’ll admit), but still in support of abortion remaining legal and accessible.

This is where my perspective can seem a little bit wonky to some of my pro-choice friends and colleagues: I don’t have a problem with Clinton choosing Kaine as her running mate. He wasn’t who I was hoping for, but I think the reasoning for choosing him is logical and practical– two of the things I admire most about Clinton’s approach to politics.

I do have a problem with Kaine’s history. He supported abstinence-only education because he felt it would lower the abortion rate in Virginia, which flies in the face of common sense and well-established fact. He banned “partial birth” abortions, a ridiculous position that speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding of medical procedures. He used state funds to support Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which use deceptive, manipulative, and unethical tactics. Even though he’s seemed to have evolved on these positions, I understand the hesitancy many of my pro-choice colleagues are feeling.

However, as fervently pro-choice as I am and as much as I will fight to protect our reproductive rights, I can support Kaine for vice president because he embodies one of my most valued positions:

I will work with anyone,  even someone who’s pro-life, to advance reproductive justice.

I am absolutely for what some call “abortion on demand.” I am vocally in support of bodily autonomy being seen as a fundamental right. However, I am troubled by certain unfortunate realities surrounding reproductive care in this country because I am pro-choice. The US has a much higher abortion rate than many other developed nations, and I think that’s indicative of larger problems.

For example, for teenage girls who gave birth by fifteen, 39% of their partners were older than twenty. For girls who gave birth by seventeen, 53% of their partners were older than 20. There’s some nuance there, of course, but that research indicates that up to half of all teenage pregnancies are a result of rape. That, to me, highlights the gross and horrifying failure in sex education. The abstinence-only “purity” approach leaves people, especially girls, vulnerable to violence and abuse.

In a survey from 2004, a huge number of the people who responded— 73%– said they’d had abortions because they couldn’t afford to have a baby. There’s other reasons to have an abortion, obviously, but when three quarters of the people having an abortion cite their finances as the most important reason they needed an abortion, it means that there’s a definite lack of choice involved in their decision. That’s unfortunate, and upsetting. Abortion should be available without limits– you shouldn’t have to prove you have a “good enough” reason– but if they would have preferred to keep their pregnancy but can’t afford to, that’s a problem.

There are so many avenues to provide real choices. Reducing child care costs. Making reliable contraception widely available. Offering comprehensive education on reproductive health and consensual sex. All of those things are proven in reducing the abortion rate (as well as just being good ideas on their own), and this abortion-on-demand feminist thinks that’s an important enough goal that I’ll even work with Tim Kaine to ensure that people are free to make a true, unbounded, personal choice.

I don’t need ideological purity in the people I work with. I don’t need to agree with you on everything to try to get something accomplished. I don’t like litmus tests, and I abhor movements that are unwilling to bend in order to get the work done. If you’re personally pro-life, but think that decision is a personal one best left to a person and their doctor, we can shake on it.

If you’d like to know more about these pro-choice positions, I recommend Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement by Sarah Erdreich.

Photo by Toshiyuki

one time, I had a crush on a girl

woman in white

At the college I attended for undergrad, room assignments were unpredictable. You had no idea who your roommates were going to be until you arrived on campus in the fall semester, and you were only permitted to request one roommate when you frequently had three. In the tight quarters of my dormitory, who your roommates were could make or break  your entire year.

I was fortunate enough in my roommates– I only ever had one fight all four years, and I managed to end up with a junior nursing major every year– by the time I graduated, I knew more about what a junior nursing major went through then they did, I think. One of my roommates was Julie*, and she was dedicated to her work, always optimistic, tidy without being neurotically clean, kind and gentle, encouraging, and in general one of the more awesome roommates I had.

She was also beautiful. Stunningly gorgeous,  in fact.

And it was the first time I’d ever noticed how beautiful a woman was.

In the environment I’d grown up in, the only thing I was really taught about physical beauty is that it was deceiving– the implied idea was that beautiful women could not be trusted, and I believed that, although not consciously. But, looking back, all of my friends through high school and early college . . . didn’t fit inside either my idea of a beautiful woman or my culture’s ideal. I tended to avoid women I felt were attractive, and for reasons I didn’t understand, I felt more comfortable around those who didn’t fit inside what I thought was beautiful. When I talked about this idea, which is weird that I did, come to think of it, I emphasized how important it was for me that their personality shine through. I wanted to be friends with people, and not with people’s looks. And, over time, as I got to know these women, anything about them that didn’t fit inside my culturally constructed idea of beauty… faded. It ceased to matter, not that it ever really did.

However, when you combine this principle, this innate distrust of anything beautiful or attractive, with the idea that any kind of attraction that isn’t for the person you’re married to . . .  things become more difficult. There’s no difference between appreciating beauty and lust. The way I’d been taught, they were one and the same, although they only ever phrased it in heterosexual terms.

The year I lived with Julie was a terrifying year for me, because I thought I might be bi-sexual, and growing up believing that identifying as LGBTQ was an “abomination before God” made me tremble and panic. I struggled so hard that year, because I couldn’t not notice Julie, and I was convinced that even just noticing how attractive she was made my sexuality questionable.

I figured out a long, long time later that I could have been spared some gut-wrenching agony  if I’d had a real, honest understanding of sexual identity and sexual attraction. I would have realized that there was a difference between noticing that Julie was gorgeous, a wonderful human being, and a woman I admired, and being aroused by her, which I was not.

But I didn’t know the difference.

I didn’t even realize there was a difference.

I think this is one of the central problems with the abstinence-only form of education. Many people seem to be afraid that if you give teenagers information about sex it’s automatically granting approval for them to have sex. It’s why conservatives fight programs that make condoms available to teenagers; it’s perceived as “giving up,” as just shrugging our shoulders and saying “oh, well, they’re going to do it anyway, might as well make sure they’re smart about it.” Because of this, being “smart” about sex, or being taught about our sexuality is conflated with permissiveness.

The supposed solutions of the abstinence movement are entirely too easy. It promises that abstention guarantees mind-blowing sex once you’re married, which is ridiculously not true. Any kind of sexual act, intercourse or otherwise, requires people to listen and respond, and it takes time to learn. That’s just common sense, and anyone can learn to have amazing sex with the right person, married or not.

It also teaches that the only way for teenagers to not have sex is to know as little about it as possible– which means they don’t just lack an understanding of the mechanics, but that any kind of discussion surrounding sexuality, attraction, desire, and arousal are all silenced, and teenagers are left without enough information to process their daily experiences in a healthy way. Many of us end up completely guilt-ridden because we noticed a man or a woman was attractive, and we think that’s lust. Or, we may even go to the extreme of purposefully looking for and marrying people we aren’t sexually attracted to because we’ve been so assiduously taught to avoid that in all its forms.

In most environments, abstinence-only education seems to be based on a huge shame of our bodies, or splintering off our sexual selves from the rest our physical experience, and I don’t think that’s healthy. Finding a balance is important, and sexual over-indulgence (from porn addictions to what have you) can be damaging like any other form of indulgence, but being educated about the nature of our bodies isn’t indulgence, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We were designed to experience intense physical pleasure in a variety of ways, and we weren’t given that ability strictly to deny it, but to enjoy it.


I was pro-life until I need an abortion, part 2

I rarely think of that week, now. For years afterwards I tried not to think of it at all– the guilt and shame I carried were debilitating when I let myself dwell on it. I had been so close to crossing an absolute line– the line, the only line that really mattered to most of the people I knew. Before, there was always the comfort of comparison– at least I wouldn’t do that, I could tell myself.

Not anymore.

I would do that, and I had made my decision in a little less than twenty-four hours, not even knowing if I was pregnant. Sometimes I ask myself if I would really have gone through with it– maybe, if I’d known . . . if it hadn’t been some unsettling fear of the unknown driving me to desperation . . .

One thing has been clear since then: my “beliefs” about pro-life weren’t as cut and dried as they were. They couldn’t be.

When I was in highschool, I once argued in favor of mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasounds for women considering abortions. I defended a position I now see as a disgusting, hideous form of legal rape. When I think back to that blind teenager who had no idea what she would someday be facing, I shudder– and I feel pity for her– and I feel envious of her. To her, the world was so simple, so clear, so black and white.

Learning that it is a messy, complicated place has been a difficult process, but I’m glad for it.

I don’t even have a name for where I stand in the pro-life/pro-choice debacle.

But, for political clarity, I’m pro-choice.

I’m pro-choice because I believe that the goals of the pro-choice platform align better with what I could describe as pro-life-ish beliefs. I believe that lowering the abortion rate is the right thing to do– for the health of women, because medical and surgical abortions carry risks, like any other medical procedure. The American abortion rate is double that of any other first-world nation, and I find that troubling.

I believe that making birth control methods freely available to the women who need them–the women who are statistically more likely to have an abortion and are also the women who, statistically, don’t have as much access to birth control–should be a priority. I also believe that the rhetoric surrounding birth control in many pro-life circles is … well, asinine, idiotic, misinformed, deceptive, and ridiculous–to be blunt. The Pill isn’t a “Baby Killer,” as I’ve heard it called– it actually lowers the rate of zygote passage, which a woman’s body does naturally, by the way.

I believe that teenagers should have access to real sex education– a sex education that is focused on delivering all of the facts while focusing on giving young men and women a informed idea of sexual health, and a healthy environment to discuss a holistic approach sexuality– including that, girls, you have a right to say no, ALWAYS, and you also have the right to experience pleasure. And boys, grabbing a girl’s vagina through her pants isn’t funny– it’s a violation.

And I believe that it would be horrific to reverse Roe vs. Wade, or to outlaw abortion federally, simply because that just makes abortions more dangerous, more fatal, to the women seeking them.

I also believe that it is a very, very bad idea to require a woman to have “permission” from the father. A young man I was speaking to, recently, brought up this point. He felt that it “takes two to make one,” and as the father of the baby he should have a “right” to decide whether or not the fetus is terminated. He feels that the current laws paint men as “assholes” that “don’t care” about the possible outcomes of having sex, that men are irresponsible jerks. I understand his feelings, and I get how he can feel that way . . . but that idea, which I’ve heard discussed plenty of times, misses the point.

The laws aren’t there to make men seem irresponsible– they are there to protect women. To protect young girls, like me, who face possible beatings, or possibly death, at the hands of their abuser. They protect women from having to go through the ordeal of proving their abuser a rapist in order to have the right to make decisions concerning her own body– which may or may not even happen.

The “rape exception,” that a lot of pro-life people talk about, is clouded by a lot of misinformation in pro-life circles. There’s an impression that rape is rare, when it is not rare at all, and that pregnancy from rape is also rare, which it is not. This murkiness is in part due to what Mr. Akin called “legitimate rape”– a rape that is so horrific, so violent, so clearly and obviously rape that it can’t be questioned. When, in fact, most rape is not that way. Most rape may not even “look” like rape at all to a fundamentalist– it will look like a sexual encounter where the woman is clearly responsible for leading that poor man on.


I’m confused why so many in the pro-life campaign refuse to consider any realistic method the could actually lower the abortion rate– unless their goal isn’t to lower the abortion rate, but to control women, especially to control a woman’s sex organs, which it absolutely is.

I will be gathering links and source material over the next few days, and I will continue to post it here, but, for now, here is Libby Anne’s amazing article on how she became pro-choice.

Photo by Greta