Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Hey Everyone, I know it's been awhile since my last post and I apologize. I was originally taking a little break and then my computer crashed. So needless to say, it will be a little while longer until my next post. Feel free to send questions and topic ideas and I'll try to research as much as possible. Kierra
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Several months ago, I remember participating in a friendly online debate in a forum with some friends and acquaintances about communication in sexual interactions. The debate started because my friend asked if anyone ever had any difficulty with saying no to unwanted sexual advances. Somehow this conversation devolved into a debate about soft refusals (refusals that try to placate the other person) and hard refusals (saying “No”) and women’s use of them in particular. It was said that soft refusals were a disservice to everyone involved because the refusal is not clear enough, leads to confusion and is a waste of time. Statements like “I can say 'no', why can’t they?” were being said and I felt like we were only ten seconds away from someone saying, “If only women would just be blunt about their feelings, then men would finally be able to understand them.” The whole discussion started to disturb me. The conversation went from discussing how difficult it was for people in general to refuse unwanted sexual advances to pretty much chastising women for not refusing ‘properly’.
I have not forgotten about this discussion/debate and to this day, it still makes me uncomfortable. The only difference between now and then is that I am able to describe why I feel this way. I feel uncomfortable because this discussion reminds me of the miscommunication theory. Hannah Frith and Celia Kitzinger describe the miscommunication theory, in their article “Talk About Sexual Miscommunication,” as a theory “used to argue that rape and other forms of sexual abuse are often the outcome of "miscommunication" between partners: he misinterprets her verbal and nonverbal communication, falsely believing that she wants sex; she fails to say "no" clearly and effectively” (518). According to the miscommunication theory, a woman’s use of a soft refusal could lead to a potential misunderstanding and this misunderstanding could then lead to sexual harassment, assault and/or rape. The theory was created by Deborah Tannen who claimed that because men and women are raised differently in society, they develop different methods of communication and are therefore unable to understand each other all the time (Firth and Kitzinger, 517-518). There are “benefits” to this theory. Men who are accused of sexual harassment or other forms of sexual abuse can always say that the woman simply was not clear enough and “that she gave off mixed messages, and that even if she did say "no," she didn't say it as if she meant it” (521). Her response was far too ambiguous to be understood and therefore the blame should be placed on her and not him. Before I continue, I should say that any individual of any gender or sexual orientation can be a harasser/abuser/rapist and anyone can be the person who is harassed/abused/raped. However, this specific theory and its criticisms focus on the gender and sexual relations between men and women, where women are the ones being abused, specifically. The miscommunication theory does not just apply to instances of rape. The theory could also be applied to ‘persistent suitors’. Imagine a situation in which a man approaches a woman and asks her out on a date. The woman declines, saying, “Um, no sorry, I can’t. I have to go do xyz.” However, in spite of this refusal, the guy persists: “Oh well, what about next Tuesday? Or Thursday? I know a little about xyz. Maybe I could help you…” and continues to pursue her despite the refusal. A miscommunication theorist would argue that if only the woman said, “No.” bluntly. This would have hypothetically made it clear to the man that she was not interested in him at all and he would have gracefully walked away and left her alone. Another “benefit” is the false sense of control this theory gives women, the same way carrying keys in their hands while walking home at night would. A woman could always say, “Oh, it would never happen to me if I just did xyz.” “I’m not like her. I do this and that.” However, on the flip side, the theory also makes a woman feel guilty if she is sexually abused: “Oh, if I only communicated clearer…”
It should be obvious by now that I do not agree with the miscommunication theory. There is something inherently wrong with a theory that blames the victim for the abuse they suffered, gives the abusers an easy out and provides others with a false sense of control instead of actually dealing with the problem of abuse. And honestly, I do not agree that instances of sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape and other sexual consent violations are the result of innocent miscommunication. Humans are social creatures and we have developed very sensitive and sophisticated methods of communication and communication analysis. We are able to determine an individual’s mood through quick analysis of verbal and non-verbal cues, including body language. It just does not make sense that suddenly our methods of communication can be so utterly deficit in this one aspect of life.
This miscommunication ‘debate’ boils down to one question: Are the communication styles of men and women different?” Two recent articles have looked into this question using conversation analysis tools and data from focus groups and have come to the conclusion that the miscommunication theory is a hoax. In the first article, “Just say no? The use of conversation analysis in developing a feminist perspective on sexual refusal,” Celia Kitzinger and Hannah Frith analyze the effectiveness of the “Just say no” refusal strategies that many date rape prevention programs teach women through the use of conversation analysis. According to many rape prevention programs, if women were taught to say “no” clearly and resolutely, then men won’t be confused by ‘mixed signals’. According to miscommunication theory and, to a large extent, the “Just say no” date rape prevention programs, women seem to be predisposed to having an almost abnormal difficulty in saying “no” to refusals, sexual ones in particular. The reasons for this supposedly female problem have been cited to be due to society teaching young girls to be meek and mild, evolutionary pressures that apparently cause women to lack aggression and become submissive or low self-esteem (Kitzinger et al., 297). These refusal strategies also play into the miscommunication theory by implying that it is up to women to be clear and to avoid the consequences of being misunderstood (i.e. sexually assaulted/harassed/raped). In their article, Kitzinger et al. brings up a very good point. The difficulty that women seem to face in bluntly refusing unwanted sexual advances is not a phenomenon exclusive to women. The authors state, “However, what these explanations leave out is the simple fact that saying no is difficult in any context…It is common for people to experience difficulty in refusing invitations or declining offers, at whatever age, and across a wide variety of situations”(297). In our society, we are taught that a plain “no” in response to an offer is rude. If someone offered to give me a sandwich that I did not want, the polite thing to do would be to say “No, thank you.” Or “No, thank you. I already ate.” Kitzinger et al. continue saying, “Saying no ‘nicely’ has always been a key question of etiquette and therapists and counselors also often find themselves giving advice on how to say no. Such advice would not be so widely available if most people experienced saying no as unproblematic” (297). When one analyzes general conversations in which individuals accept or refusal an invitation or offer, patterns can be recognized. When one is accepting an invitation or request, the answer is immediate. There are no delays and a simple “yes” is given. This is true in sexual and non-sexual situations (Kitzinger et al., 300). However, refusals are very different. Usually, when someone is refusing an invitation or request (sexual or non-sexual), there is a pause before the refusal. Also words like “um” and “uh” and “ah” are used and then “a palliative remark, and some kind of account aimed at softening, explaining, justifying, excusing, or redefining the rejection” are also used (Kitzinger et al., 302). An example of a palliative remark and an account being used in a refusal would be: “Well, that sounds nice, but I have a doctor’s appointment that morning.” Weak agreements (“Um, well, I guess…) prefaced and followed by delays and pauses are also shown to be seen as refusals. The apparent lack of enthusiasm is obvious and would normally put a damper on one’s request. Pauses, palliative remarks and weak agreements are used in everyday conversations as nicer, more polite ways to reject someone. In this example from the article, an individual offers something to another individual:
“C: Well you can both stay.
Got plenty a’ room.” (308)
In this example, Person C offers their place for this individual to sleep over. There is a pause in the conversation because the individual is silent and does not respond to the offer. Person C takes this pause as a refusal or as a potential refusal and tries to sweeten the deal by saying they have plenty of room. The individual hearing the invitation never had to say “no” or anything for that matter for their intentions to be relatively clear. Kitzinger et al. conclude that women should not be blamed for refusing advances unclearly or be taught to say “no” bluntly because they are simply following the standardized and commonly used methods of refusals that everyone uses on a daily basis and they state, “it is not the adequacy of their communication that should be questioned, but rather their male partners’ claims not to understand that these women are refusing sex” (309-310).
The second article that I would like to discuss is in many ways a sequel to the Kitzinger et al. article. The Kitzinger et al. article used conversation analysis to argue the point that women are not the only ones who experience difficulty in just saying “no” and that, in actuality, women should not be required to do so because that is not how most people normally refuse invitations and offers in everyday non-sexual scenarios. Expecting women to just say “no” is placing an unrealistic burden on them that is not placed on anyone else in any other situation. The second article, “‘You Couldn’t Say “No”, Could You?’: Young Men’s Understandings of Sexual Refusal” by Rachael O’Byrne, Mark Rapley and Susan Hansen, collects data from two focus groups of young heterosexual men between the ages of 19 and 34 years old and uses conversation analysis to study men’s abilities to perform and understand refusals in both sexual and non-sexual situations. Using the data from this study, O’Byrne et al. have concluded that men are perfectly able to perform refusals and understand societal rules clearly. The men in the study agree that a simple “no” is not how refusals are done. They also add palliative remarks and make excuses to gently couch the refusals, as shown in this example:
“You might come up with something to say
some other way you’re feeling at that time
that night “I’m sick so I’ll be in bed”
or “I’m going out with someone else” or
“I’m having dinner with my grandparents” that kind of thing…” (138).
Not only were the men in the study able to show they could perform a refusal, but they also were able to show they could understand refusals as well, and, in particular, sexual refusals:
“Mhmm great okay so are there ways of knowing when it’s not on the cards [pause] how would a guy pick up that sex is not on the cards that way
John: Body language
George: The conversation gets shorter
John: …you know there’s always little hints like letting you know that “I’ve just uh changed my mind” [pause] yeah there’s always little hints” (144).
Here, it is clear that the men do not need to hear the word “no” to understand that a woman is not sexually interested in them. They pick up on things like body language, the shortening of a conversation and excuses/hints and clearly recognize them as refusals. Even absolute silence is interpreted as a refusal. As O’Byrne et al., state, “The men claim that simply getting ‘no reaction’ from a woman […] that, although extremely indirect, successfully accomplish a clear refusal” (148). One of the men even says that if a woman “doesn’t respond in the same way then you know it’s a pretty good sign and you’re not on the same level” (148). One of the most striking comments made by the men in the study was the idea that giving and receiving consent is not a one-time act. According to the men, sex is not something that just happens. Instead, “sex is constructed…as a sequential, with a beginning and an end, which requires a great deal of interactional work in between” (143). Within this frame of thought, consensual sex is an act that requires effort from both parties in order to take place and this effort throughout the entire act is how each party reinforces the consent they had given in the beginning. And, as a result of this necessary interaction, “by ‘not putting effort into it’ or not ‘really playing up the whole sex thing’ is, effectively, to produce a refusal” (143). So therefore, one vague/weak agreement or even silence should not be considered to be enough consent to sexual activity. Without this interaction and effort performed by both parties, the sexual act is not consensual. It is harassment. It is assault. And it is rape.
So the O’Byrne et al. article clearly shows that use of the word “no” is not necessary in order to successfully conduct a refusal. Men are able to properly perform and understand sexual refusals even when the word “no” is not used. This fact makes miscommunication theory impossible and unrealistic. Kitzinger et al. agrees, saying, “If there is an organized and normative way of doing indirect refusal…then men who claim not to have understood an indirect refusal (as in, ‘she didn’t actually say no’) are claiming to be cultural dopes, and playing rather disingenuously on how refusals are usually done and understood to be done. They are claiming not to understand perfectly normal conversational interaction and to be ignorant of ways of expressing refusal which they themselves routinely use in other areas of their lives” (310). This miscommunication theory, if true, basically considers men to be wholly unintelligent and unable to remember and understand basic communication skills. I personally would find this extremely insulting if I were a man. So if misunderstanding is not the problem then what is? It is my assertion that sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape occur not because men are unable to understand the refusals of women, but because they do not like what they are hearing and choose to ignore it. Our culture has taught men that they are entitled to the bodies of women and has encouraged the idea that their refusals mean nothing. When someone feels entitled to something, not getting what they want feels like a robbery. Women’s bodies (and the bodies of others who are harassed, abused and raped) become objects to be seized and/or pried from fingers as a result. When it comes to ‘persistent suitors’ (aka harassers), abusers or rapists, it is not that they don’t understand. They just do not consider willingness to be as much of a priority in relation to their own desires. The refusals are not taken seriously and consent is not made a priority and this is wrong.
Ensuring that you have the consent of your partner and avoiding a situation in which you become the harasser (or worse) is actually quite simple. Make your feelings known once and if you don’t receive a definite affirmative answer, back off. Do not try again later. Do not offer the person more drinks or try to persuade them. Do not touch them or try to otherwise seduce them. They are not interested. If you try again and continue to push, you are a harasser at best. Open and honest communication makes for the best interactions and the best sex. And gracefully accepting a refusal and moving on makes for the best kind of person.
Sunday, April 1, 2012
What is an orgasm? Many people would describe an orgasm as the highpoint of sex. Others may even describe it as the only reason to have sex. In nearly every sex scene in mainstream movies and in nearly every porn, sex (and more specifically, sexual intercourse) is not portrayed without someone having an orgasm. And let’s not forget the women’s magazines that always seem to have the next new trick to giving and/or receiving mind-blowing orgasms. But I wonder: Are orgasms really the end all, be all of sex? And is this intense focus on orgasms by the media and by individuals doing more harm than good?
I guess I should preface this by saying I do not have anything against orgasms. The last thing I want someone to do is walk away from this post, thinking I hate orgasms or something. I don’t. However, I do think that this tendency to perceive the orgasm as the most important part of sex is damaging to everyone’s collective sexuality. This ideal alienates individuals who have trouble having orgasms or whose orgasms do not feel like the fireworks that others describe. It also puts pressure on people to have an orgasm every single time one has sex. What if you don’t or what if your partner doesn’t? What happens then? Also it renders the other moments of the sexual experience invisible. If someone does not have an orgasm during sexual activity with a partner, does the sex automatically become bad sex?
To start, I want to go into a little history and theory regarding orgasms. It’s pretty much common knowledge that orgasms (and in particular, women having orgasms and enjoying sex in general, for that matter) were a taboo subject in the Victorian Era. This began to change in the twentieth century. In the article, “Social Representations of Female Orgasm,” Maya Lavie-Ajayi and Hélène Joffe discuss the work of three prominent figures in twentieth century sexuality research: Alfred Kinsey, William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson. Kinsey, in his famous studies on human sexual behavior, described orgasms “as the peak of the human sexual response cycle (99)”. Masters and Johnson agreed, situating the orgasm as in the peak of their model of the human sexual response cycle. Their model consists of four phases: Excitement, Plateau, Orgasm and Resolution (Potts, 61). In the excitement phase, the body responds physiologically to sexual stimuli (The individual starts to get “turned on”). This feeling continues to build, reaching a plateau: a point in which sexual feelings/responses no longer increase, but stay at its current high point. This is followed by the orgasm, the famed intense sexual release, and the resolution, which is the body returning to its previous state before it was sexually stimulated. This model is seen as both the ideal sexual experience and the standard sexual behavior for everyone. Not only are orgasms depicted as a necessary part of a healthy and normal sexuality, they are also seen as a primary way to achieve sexual independence. This perspective is especially clear in the analysis of women’s magazines in the Lavie-Ajayi/Joffe article. Women’s magazines tend to depict achieving an orgasm, and, in particular, women achieving orgasms as “taking charge of their sexuality” (101). This view is a clear retaliation against Victorian views that devalue and problematize orgasms (female orgasms more specifically). Orgasms become a sexual right that one must have or they are sexually incomplete, unable to truly get in touch with their sexual selves.
As a result of these modern theories of sexuality, orgasms came to be seen as a natural and necessary (almost obligatory) part of one’s own sexuality. The orgasm became a sexual right to be demanded during every sexual encounter. On one hand, the seizing and owning of one’s sexual pleasure is a beautiful thing. Getting to know one’s body and exploring it is also a beautiful thing. However, seeking orgasms like a scavenger hunt might not be so beautiful in my opinion. What happens to the person who is constantly seeking orgasms, but cannot find them? The gut reaction for most people is to label this a problem. When orgasms become naturalized, as Annie Potts discusses in her article, “Coming, Coming, Gone: A Feminist Deconstruction of Heterosexual Orgasm,” it “comes to be the sign of sexual competence and well-being in medical discourse” (57). The ability to have orgasms is associated with good sexual and psychological health and when someone cannot have orgasms or does not have them frequently, it is decided that something must be wrong with them. This common belief does not have a positive impact on those now seen as “dysfunctional”. As Lavie-Ajayi and Joffe state, “Those experiencing themselves as having problems with orgasm, in particular, find that their efforts to have orgasms leaves them feeling pressurized and with feelings of failure, inadequacy, embarrassment and frustration” (102). If having an orgasm is the way to take charge of one’s sexuality, then what does this mean for those who have trouble experiencing one? Are they unable to take charge of their sexuality? Are they sexually incomplete in some way? Or is it possible to be sexually whole person without orgasms? And what about individuals who do not experience the type of explosive orgasm as described in the orgasm script? They would also feel inadequate in comparison. There are so many biomedical research studies and so many pills and procedures that are trying to fix the “problem” of “orgasmic disorder”. But I have come to question whether or not this is actually a problem. To clarify, I am not referring to a scenario in which someone does not enjoy the sexual experience at all. I am referring to a situation in which an individual experiences pleasure during sex, but does not orgasm. Using Masters and Johnson’s model as an example: what if an individual experienced the excitement and plateau phases and then went right into resolution? Would that really be so terrible? Remember, the plateau is supposed to be the point in which an individual experiences a large amount of sexual pleasure. Objectively, what can be so wrong about feeling a steady amount of intense sexual pleasure? Also the experience of trying to have an orgasm and failing can cause anxiety in sexual situations. The person can be so focused on whether or not they are going to orgasm that the anxiety could make it difficult for them stay sexually aroused. This can lead to a cycle of disappointment and frustration. This orgasm ideal can also put pressure on individuals who consider themselves to be “normal”. Most people do not have an orgasm every single time they have sex. Maybe it is because they are tired that day or just are not in the mood for one reason or another. Maybe it is just physically unlikely to have an orgasm every single time one has a sexual encounter. But the expectation is that every individual must/should orgasm every time they have sex. No one wants to be seen as dysfunctional, of course. Everyone is obligated to orgasm and everyone is obligated to make sure their partner orgasms. So, as a result of this expectation, when a person does not orgasm, it becomes an individual and an interpersonal issue. The partner wonders if it was something they did or didn’t do. The individual may blame their partners or themselves, wondering if something is wrong with them.
Most people do not want to experience this kind of scenario. So what do they do? Many people fake it. In their article, “Men’s and Women’s Reports of Pretending Orgasm,” Charlene L. Muehlenhard and Sheena K. Shippee discuss some of the reasons why an individual might pretend to orgasm during sex. Common reasons why an individual might pretend to orgasm during sex is to avoid “being interrogated by their partner, […] having their partner think that there was something wrong with them; and protecting their partner from feeling inadequate, hurt, or unattractive” (553). Another common reason why an individual might pretend to orgasm is when they realize that their partner is about to have an orgasm so they fake an orgasm to avoid a potentially awkward scenario. The most common reason why an individual would pretend to orgasm (and, to me, the most striking) is they believe that having orgasm is unlikely or is taking too long and that […] they wanted sex to end” due to tiredness or no longer being in the mood (560). The idea that everyone must have an orgasm every single time they have sex in order to be normal and sexually independent leads to inability to truly communicate with partners regarding their orgasms (or lack of). Even something so seemingly small as wanting the sex to end somehow requires theatrics. The fact that it seems easier to pretend to orgasm rather than to talk to one’s partner or to even conceive of a sexual reality in which the orgasm does not rule all disturbs me. There has to be an easier way.
Once again, I should clarify: I am not saying that no one should try to have an orgasm or that wanting to experience orgasms is a bad thing. What I am saying is that this orgasm-focused sexuality seems to not be wholly positive or realistic. This drive to orgasm is similar to a race. Many people seem to be in such a hurry to get to the finish line that everything else around them is ignored. The journey is disregarded in favor of the end. And since most people do not orgasm every single time they have sex, what do those other sexual encounters become? A waste of time? Bad sex? And for the instances when people do not orgasm, many would rather fake it or lie when the dreaded question (“Um, so did you…?”) is asked. Wouldn’t be easier to have a more realistic view of sex and the sexual interactions one has with their partners? Would it be so wrong to just enjoy the pleasures of sex without expecting anything? I would imagine the perfect sex (whether by yourself, i.e. masturbation, or with others) to be one in which every moment of pleasure is savored. Instead of thinking about a potential future orgasm, which may cause anxiety for some people, one would focus on the many ways to experience and give pleasure during the act of sex itself. The orgasm ideal is just another way to fit every individual into a certain script of how things are “supposed” to be. How would the act of sex change on a macro level if the focus was taken away from the orgasm itself and directed towards increasing general pleasure and focusing on the other moments of sex? Maybe it would be easier to become more in tune with what gives pleasure to the self and to one’s partners. At least it would no longer be necessary to lie to one’s partner if an individual does not have an orgasm, nor would not having an orgasm be such a huge deal. And any related guilt would at least decrease. Again, orgasms are awesome and great. But maybe it should be the icing on top of the cake and not the raison d’être?
Follow “SexMiseducation” on Twitter for updates and to ask any questions and/or to make comments.
Friday, March 16, 2012
You have to be living under a rock to not know about the birth control “controversy” that has been brewing over the past several months. Conservative politicians are trying everything to deal contraception use in this country a death blow: spreading misinformation, shouting about morals, taking funding away from programs that support contraception use and even trying to pass bills in Congress to allow employers to refuse to grant their employees access to any kind of medicine or treatment that they object to for religious reasons (including access to contraception). I am still shocked that birth control is a topic up for debate in this day and age, especially considering the fact that birth control use in this country is the norm. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 99% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 “who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method.” Also 62% of 62 million women between the ages of 15 and 44 currently use a method of birth control. Not only that, men use and value birth control as well. So what’s the point in fighting something that most of population does not have a problem with?
I’ve been asking myself this question for months now and I think the best way to try to answer it is to look at the arguments against contraception. From what I can see, the most recent arguments against full and unhindered access to contraception are: It is morally dangerous. And insurance companies should not fully fund it because it is a serious waste of taxpayer money. I am going to break down these arguments and explain why they are complete and utter nonsense.
Contraception is Morally Dangerous
In October 2011, Rick Santorum spoke with a reporter from the Evangelical blog “Caffeinated Thoughts” about his views on “the dangers of contraception”. Santorum believes that contraception is not ok “because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be”. He continues on to say that “…if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation…then you diminish this very special bond between men and women…all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure”. So this makes one wonder: how are things supposed to be? Would it really be that wonderful to go back to a time where having sex meant playing Russian roulette because a woman had to worry that she would become pregnant before she was ready? No, of course not. And think about it: Men do not have this fear. They could have all the unprotected sex they want without ever having to worry about becoming pregnant. Men do not have to worry about carrying a baby for nine months and dealing with potential health risks due to the pregnancy and childbirth. In the end, Santorum makes it obviously clear that women having sex for simply pleasure (i.e. doing something that men can do) is somehow morally wrong and diminishing to healthy heterosexual relationships.
And what kind of women would dare to have sex without wanting to worry about getting pregnant? Sluts and prostitutes, according to Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh calls Susan Fluke, a woman who spoke up about the importance of full birth control pill coverage by insurance companies (in her case, Georgetown University’s private insurance), a slut and a prostitute. He said that Fluke “went before a Congressional committee and said she’s having so much sex, she’s going broke buying contraceptives and wants us to buy them.” He seems to think that the pill works just like a condom in the sense that a woman needs to take a pill every single time she wants to have sex. Clearly someone desperately needs to read my birth control 101 post. And another thing, this is not about the American people using their taxpayer money so women can have rampant sex. This is a about a law (The Affordable Care Act) that requires insurance companies (including Medicaid) to fully fund preventive services like contraception and contraceptive counseling without co-pays. This is because the Obama administration realizes that preventive reproductive health measures are essential for the general health of women. For example, full access to the birth control pill is not just about sex. The ability to have sex without becoming pregnant is important, but the birth control pill is essential for other reasons as well. Birth control pills reduce the pain of menstrual cramps, lighten period flows and offer protection against pelvic inflammatory diseases, which can lead to infertility if left untreated. Combination birth control pills (pills that have the hormones estrogen and progestin in them) also provide some protection against “acne, bone thinning, breast growths that are not cancer, , endometrial and ovarian cancers, serious infection in the ovaries, [fallopian] tubes, and uterus, iron deficiency anemia, cysts in the breasts and ovaries and premenstrual symptoms, including headaches and depression”. But, of course, none of these things matter to Limbaugh.
And what about the Republican candidates? What do they have to say in response to Limbaugh’s highly offensive and ignorant statements? Romney casually replies, “That’s not the words I would have used” and Santorum explains that Rush is simply being an “absurd” entertainer. Neither of them condemns him outright. Romney is arguing over semantics, implying that he would not have used those exact words, but has similar views and Santorum saying he is absurd, but never comes out against what Limbaugh said. Why? Because they agree with Limbaugh. The candidates agree with the slut shaming of women who use birth control but won’t actually come out and say the incendiary things that Limbaugh would. Limbaugh is a shock jock while they are presidential candidates, trying to sneak their way into the White House.
Birth Control is a Waste of Money
Something that touches on both the moral and financial arguments against full access to birth control is the outrage from the Catholic Church and other religious groups as a result of the Affordable Care Act and creation of the Blunt Amendment. The Catholic Church and other religious groups complained that their businesses (i.e. religious hospitals and other religious institutions) should not be required to cover contraception in their employees’ health plans (without co-pays) if it is against their religious convictions. The Obama administration compromised, saying that if religious employers do not want to cover contraception then the insurance companies alone will cover it. The Catholic Church and other religious groups were not pleased and did not want to accept this compromise. In response, Senate Republicans put forth the Blunt Amendment, which stated that employers should be allowed to withhold any medication or treatment if it is against their religious beliefs. The medication/treatment could be birth control, but it could also be a blood transfusion if the religious institution does not believe in it. There was a vote in the Senate over a week ago on whether or not to add Blunt Amendment and the Senate voted against the amendment (51-48). Those who supported the Blunt Amendment argue that the Affordable Care Act is blocking the religious freedom of the employers. However, this argument does not take into consideration that allowing employers to decide what kind of healthcare their employees receive tramples on their right to good health and their own beliefs regarding what is right and wrong.
There are two contrasting arguments against insurance companies providing full access to contraception circling around. One, that birth control is cheap so why should it be covered by insurance companies and the second, covering birth control is a waste of precious tax money and it would be forcing people, who don’t agree with the use of birth control due to religious reasons, to pay for something they do not agree with. Rick Santorum used the first argument at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last month. He said that birth control only costs “a few dollars” and that it is “a minor expense” that the insurance companies should not have to cover because it “is not a critical economic need”. Well, actually, contraception costs much more than a few dollars. Without health insurance, a monthly pack of birth control pills can cost anywhere between $15 to $80 a month ($180 to $960 a year) and that’s one of the cheapest birth control methods. The most expensive would be surgical sterilization, which costs between $1,500 and $6,000. Secondly, providing contraception is a critical economic need. The birth control pill, especially, has health benefits beyond just preventing an unwanted pregnancy. Pregnancies, abortions and health problems cost money and this would be extra money that the insurance companies would have to pay. In fact, according to a report written by Adam Thomas for the Center on Children and Families, “taxpayer spending on Medicaid-subsidized medical care related to unintended pregnancy totals more than $12 billion annually”. Also allowing insurance companies to fund contraception will actually save money. Prevention against heavy and painful periods allows women to be more efficient in the workplace, resulting in more money being made. And let’s not forget that hormonal birth control protects against and treats some serious health issues. This preventive protection would also save insurance companies money that would have been spent on further, and possibly more expensive, treatments. Thomas agrees, saying, “…publicly financed mass media campaigns, comprehensive teen pregnancy prevention programs, and expansions in government subsidized family planning services are estimated to save taxpayers between two and six dollars for every dollar spent on them.”
And on the topic of not wanting to be forced to pay for things one doesn’t agree with: Um who does? If I could control where my tax money went, I sure as hell would not have financially supported the Iraq/Afghanistan war and abstinence-only/based education. So seriously, grow up.
And as a nail on the coffin on the financial argument against insurance companies funding contraception: Bill O’Reilly argued that if women’s contraception should be covered than “men’s activities” should be covered as well, like football equipment and injuries. Um wow, so sports are strictly “men’s activities”? No woman could possibly play or have an interest in football. And secondly, insurance companies do cover “men’s activities”. It’s called Viagra. So in his world, it is perfectly logical for men to have free access to erection pills, but women cannot have access to contraception to avoid becoming pregnant and to avoid suffering from health conditions. What else do men do with erections other than have sex? So really, tax money is being used so men can have sex. And unlike the birth control pill, men need to take Viagra every single time they have sex. Maybe conservatives are confusing how the birth control pill works with Viagra. Understandable. They seem to only care about men’s issues anyway.
In the end, as much as conservatives want you to believe otherwise, it is not about money or morality. It’s about punishment and control. They want to punish women for daring to have sex without the “consequences” of childbirth. It does not matter if you are married, single, have 5 kids already or never want kids. It does not even matter if you are using contraception for a completely different health-related reason. In their eyes, taking the pill or using other forms of contraception makes a woman a slut who must be punished.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
To round off my 101 post series for the time being, this is an abortion 101 post where I will discuss: The types of abortion procedures, how these procedures are conducted, aftercare, the effectiveness of these procedures, the advantages and disadvantages of each procedure, the cost and common abortion myths. At the end of this post, I will list each of the potential 2012 presidential candidates and summarize their views on abortion. As usual, with my 101 posts, my sources will be cited as links at the very end of the post.
An abortion is a safe and legal procedure that terminates a pregnancy. Abortions were made legal in the US in 1973 as a result of the well-known Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade, which basically stated that an individual’s right to privacy includes a woman’s right to have an abortion. Simply put, a woman has the right to do what she wants with her body without outside interference. There are two types of abortion procedures: medical abortion and in-clinic/surgical abortion.
Medical Abortion (The Pill)
What is it?
A medical abortion involves taking a pill that ends an early pregnancy. The pill is called mifepristone. It was called RU-486 while it was being developed. The pill can be used up to 9 weeks (63 days) after the first day of an individual’s last period. After 9 weeks, it will no longer be effective and an in-clinic/surgical abortion will have to be performed.
How does it work?
Before the pill is given to the patient, the health care provider will talk to the patient about their options and medical history and conduct physical exams/medical tests. This is to make sure that the patient is making an informed decision and is healthy enough to undergo the procedure. Before going home, the patient is given more information, take-home instructions and a number to call in case they have any more questions.
There are three steps to a medical abortion procedure:
The health care provider will give the patient the abortion pill along with some antibiotics to take. The abortion pill blocks the hormone progesterone, which causes the lining of the uterus to break down, ending the pregnancy. At this point, the patient can go home and continue the rest of the procedure there.
Up to three days after taking the abortion pill, the patient will take misoprostol, which causes the uterus to empty. The health care provider will provide the patient with a timeline of when to administer the misoprostol. Misoprostol causes cramps and heavy bleeding as the contents of the uterus is expelled. Pads and tampons can be used at this point. The cramping and heavy bleeding usually lasts a few hours and some bleeding may continue up to four weeks.
After two weeks, a follow up with the health care provider is required to make sure that the pregnancy was definitely terminated and to make sure that the patient is ok.
How effective is it?
Medical abortions are 97% effective, but its effectiveness decreases over the course of the 9 week period. If a medical abortion procedure fails, then an in-clinic/surgical abortion is performed.
Some advantages to having a medical abortion compared to other abortion procedures include:
- Medical abortions can be conducted early in the pregnancy.
- Medical abortions take place in the privacy of the individual’s own home.
- It may feel less invasive than an in-clinic/surgical abortion procedure.
- No anesthesia is needed.
- The resulting bleeding is heavier with medical abortions than surgical abortions.
- The cramping is more intense with medical abortions than surgical abortions.
- It is not 100% effective.
- Rarely, an individual may have an allergic reaction to the pill or develop an infection.
Where can one find the abortion pill?
One can find and/or be referred to a place where one can find the abortion pill at a Planned Parenthood center, a clinic or a private health care center.
The abortion pill costs $300-$800, depending on the geographic location and the cost of medical exams.
What is it?
There are two types of commonly used in-clinic/surgical abortion procedures: Aspiration and Dilation and Evacuation (D&E). Aspiration is the most common in-clinic/surgical abortion procedure and it is usually performed during the first 4 months (in the first trimester and in the beginning of the second trimester). Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) is performed in the second trimester.
How does it work?
Similar to the medical abortion procedure, the health care provider will talk to the patient about their options and medical history and conduct physical exam/medical tests. This is to make sure that the patient is making an informed decision and is healthy enough to undergo the procedure.
Before the procedure, the health care provider will give the patient pain medication and the patient may be sedated so they can relax. Then a speculum is inserted into the vagina and numbing medication is applied near the cervix. The patient is also given antibiotics to prevent infections. The cervix is then dilated and a tube is inserted into the uterus through the cervix. Then suction is used to empty the uterus. Sometimes a curette is used to make sure the uterus is empty and if not, remove any remaining tissue. The procedure takes 5 to 10 minutes after the cervix is sufficiently dilated.
Dilation and Evacuation
Similar to the aspiration procedure, the health care provider will give the patient pain medication and sedation if the patient needs help relaxing. Also, similar to the aspiration procedure, the cervix needs to be dilated and the patient will be given antibiotics. A speculum will also be inserted into the vagina and numbing medication is used near the cervix.
Because the D&E procedure is performed later in the second trimester, the health care provider may also administer a shot in the abdomen to ensure fetal demise before starting the procedure.
Medical instruments and a suction machine then empty the uterus. Once the cervix is dilated, this procedure lasts for 10 to 20 minutes.
After the Procedure
The patient will rest in the recovery area for about an hour. The health care provider will then give the patient aftercare instructions and a telephone number to call if they have any questions. Some clinics offer to insert an IUD (see birth control 101 post) after the abortion procedure. After 2 to 4 weeks, the patient is required to see the health care provider for a follow up appointment. After an aspiration procedure, an individual should be able to return to their usual activities the next day. Recovery after a D&E procedure may take longer.
How effective is it?
Both procedures are 99% effective and rarely fail. In the case that an in-clinic/surgical abortion fails, it is repeated.
- There is less bleeding and cramping than a medical abortion procedure.
- In-clinic/surgical abortions can be done later in the pregnancy than medical abortions.
- In-clinic/surgical abortions have a higher success rate than medical abortions.
- The procedure takes place in a clinic instead of the patient’s home.
- It may feel more invasive than a medical abortion.
- The patient may have allergic reactions to the pain medicine or experience side effects.
It costs $300 to $900 in the first trimester and more in the second trimester.
Did you know that some states in the US require that individuals who are under 18 years old obtain parental consent? Yeah, seriously. And the only way to avoid asking one’s parents for permission is to go to court and obtain permission from a judge to have an abortion without telling your parents/legal guardians. What about cases in which individuals are abused or raped by these guardians? Either deal with the stressful/triggering situation of reliving the experience in front of a stranger (the judge) or deal with the horrific reality of confronting the abusive parent with the situation. Just food for thought. The parental consent laws vary from state to state so check out what your state has to say on the matter.
Common Abortion Myths
“Abortions are extremely dangerous.”
Actually, a legal induced abortion is safer than giving birth. The mortality rates are 14 times higher in childbirth than in a legal abortion procedure.
“If you have an abortion, you will become psychologically scarred for life.”
Not True. There is no scientifically proven link between having an abortion and poor mental health. Abortion syndromes and other fabricated psychological disorders that one is supposed automatically acquire after having an abortion do not exist. Previous studies which declared that these syndromes exist failed to check for confounding variables that would distort the validity of their research data (E.G. Not checking to see if the individuals had psychological issues before having the abortion).
“If you have an abortion, you won’t be able to have children in the future.”
Incorrect. A person can become pregnant very soon after having an abortion. It is very important for the individual to start using birth control once they are ready to have sexual intercourse again.
“Most people have abortions because they are selfish.”
The most common reason for someone to have an abortion is that, because of their current life situation, they are financially unable to provide the child with a good life.
“Partial-birth abortions are common.”
Ok so what is a “partial-birth abortion”? According to the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003,” a partial-birth abortion is “an abortion in which a physician delivers an unborn child’s body until only the head remains inside the womb, punctures the back of the child skull with a sharp instrument, and sucks the child’s brain out before completing the delivery of the dead infant”. Now, a reader might wonder, “Why didn’t she talk about this method in the procedure section?” Let me explain: This is an extremely utterly rare procedure (0.6% of all cases), which would occur in the third trimester. Nearly all in-clinic abortions procedures occur in the first or second trimester. The only instances in which a third trimester abortion (i.e. partial birth abortion) would occur is if the individual originally intended on keeping the baby, but cannot for serious health reasons, like severe fetal abnormalities that would make it impossible for the baby to live outside of the womb or if giving birth to the child would be fatal for the mother. So why ban a procedure that is extremely rare and is only used if the baby or mother is threatened? Doctors and pro-choice organizations fear that this is just the first step in an attempt to ban other abortion methods. Spreading the myth that partial-birth abortions are common or at least common enough to warrant a law being passed also maintains the lie that abortions are dangerous, immoral and should be banned. One lie feeds another.
Some more food for thought, if politicians are so horrified and worried about late-term abortions, then why don’t they support comprehensive sex education and better access to birth control to reduce unintended pregnancies? And why are laws being passed and bills being written that would require mandatory ultrasounds, waiting periods and parental consent before an abortion and allow pharmacists and institutions to refuse to supply emergency contraception for religious reasons? These bills/laws make it harder to have the usual abortion procedures (which are performed early in the 1st and 2nd trimester) and could lead to an increase in the late-term abortions that they claim to want to prevent.
And Now For Some Politics
President Barack Obama
April 2008 - Obama said that he has not “come to a firm resolution on” whether or not life begins at conception. - 2008 Democratic Compassion Forum at Messiah College
He stated that comprehensive sex education should be taught in order to reduce teen pregnancies and abortions. Abstinence should also be taught, but not as the only option.
2008 - “On an issue like partial birth abortion, I strongly believe that the state can properly restrict late-term abortions.”
April 2007 - On the topic of partial-birth abortion: “And I trust women to make these decisions in conjunction with their doctors and their families and their clergy…There is a broader issue: Can we move past some of the debates around which we disagree and can we start talking about the things we do agree on? Reducing teen pregnancy; making it less likely for women to find themselves in these circumstances.” - 2007 South Carolina Democratic primary debate, on MSNBC
March 2001 - “Obama was the only Illinois senator who rose to speak against a bill that would have protected babies who survived late term labor-induced abortion. Obama rose to object that if the bill passed, and a nine-month-old fetus survived a late-term labor-induced abortion was deemed to be a person who had a right to live, then the law would ‘forbid abortions to take place.’ Obama further explained the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not allow somebody to kill a child, so if the law deemed a child who survived a late-term labor-induced abortion had a right to live, ‘then this would be an anti-abortion statute.’”
June 2011 - “I believe people understand that I'm firmly pro-life…And I believe in the sanctity of life from the very beginning until the very end.” - 2011 GOP primary debate in Manchester NH
December 2007 - “I believe from a political perspective that life begins at conception. I don’t pretend to know, if you will, from a theological standpoint when life begins. I’d committed to the people of Massachusetts that I would not change the laws one way or the other, and I honored that commitment. But each law that was brought to my desk attempted to expand abortion rights and, in each case, I vetoed that effort. I also promoted abstinence education in our schools. I vetoed an effort, for instance, to give young women a morning after pill who did not have prescriptions. So I took action to preserve the sanctity of life. But I did not violate my word, of course.” - Meet the Press: 2007 “Meet the Candidates” series
November 2007 - “Let me say it. I’d be delighted to sign that bill [to overturn Roe v Wade]. But that’s not where we are. That’s not where America is today. Where America is, is ready to overturn Roe v. Wade and return to the states that authority. But if the Congress got there, we had that kind of consensus in that country, terrific.” - 2007 GOP YouTube debate in St. Petersburg, Florida
October 2002 - While running for governor in Massachusetts, Romney said that he would “preserve and protect” a woman’s right to choose.
January 2012 - Gingrich supports the Pro-life Presidential Leadership Pledge, which states that the candidate agrees to support a very strict anti-abortion political platform.
August 2011 - He believes that women should not have abortion even in cases of rape or incest: “You know, the US Supreme Court on a recent case said that a man who committed rape could not be killed, could not be subject to the death penalty, yet the child conceived as a result of that rape could be. That to me sounds like a country that doesn't have its morals correct. That child did nothing wrong. That child is an innocent victim. To be victimized twice would be a horrible thing. It is an innocent human life. It is genetically human from the moment of conception. And it is a human life. And we in America should be big enough to try to surround ourselves and help women in those terrible situations who've been traumatized already. To put them through another trauma of an abortion I think is too much to ask. And so I would absolutely stand and say that one violence is enough.” - Iowa Straw Poll 2011 GOP debate in Ames Iowa
June 2011 - "I believe that any doctor who performs an abortion should be criminally charged for doing so."
July 2006 - Santorum voted for the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, which was designed to require that the parents of a minor be notified if the minor wants to get an out-of-state abortion.
April 2003 - He believes the right to privacy does not exist: “The undermining of the fabric of our society all comes from this right to privacy that doesn't exist in the US Constitution… The idea of the "right to privacy" is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals' passions. I disagree with that. There are consequences to letting people live out whatever passions they desire.” - Associated Press in USA Today: Santorum Interview
March 2003 - He voted in favor of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.
June 2000 - He voted for a motion to maintain a ban on privately funded abortions on overseas military bases.
May 2011 - Paul voted in favor of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which was designed to ban federal health coverage that includes abortion, except in cases of incest and maternal mortality.
April 2011 - “It is now widely accepted that there's a constitutional right to abort a human fetus. Of course, the Constitution says nothing about abortion, murder, manslaughter, or any other acts of violence. Criminal and civil laws were deliberately left to the states. I consider it a state-level responsibility to restrain violence against any human being. I disagree with the nationalization of the issue and reject the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states.” - Liberty Defined, by Rep. Ron Paul, p. 2&6-7
April 2005 - He voted against the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, which requires that the parents of a minor be notified if the minor wants to get an out-of-state abortion.
October 2003 - Paul voted in favor of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.
September 2002 - He voted in favor of the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act of 2002, which prohibits the federal, state and local governments from not funding health care providers, health insurers, health maintenance organizations, and any other kind of health care facility, organization or plan that decline to refer patients for, pay for or provide abortion services.
May 2001 - Paul voted in favor of banning Family Planning funding in US aid abroad.
June 1999 - He voted against the Child Custody Protection Act, which was designed to make it a federal crime to transport a minor across state lines for the purpose of obtaining an abortion.