By Charlotte Partow, Harvard Class of 2019
The fight for Planned Parenthood is primarily framed in terms of a woman's right to privacy, autonomy over their body, and healthcare decisions. In fact, in Roe v. Wade, the constitutional right to privacy was found to guarantee the right to a safe and legal abortion.
However, there's an elephant in the room: until this point in history, this country has refused to name the force driving society's need for family planning services. Now, for the first time, it is starting to be acknowledged and embraced--by America's college students.
Women have sex drives. From Beyonce's Partition, to college hookup culture, women are becoming more comfortable expressing that they want to engage in sexual activity, not to please a man, but to please themselves.
In a recent interview at the JFK Jr. Forum, Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, pointed out that the increasing acceptance of women's sexuality is a trend that is beneficial to both sexes.
I think it's great to lift up a sex-positive culture in this country. We need that, and that would solve a lot of our problems. But another piece of it is that this isn't just about women's rights. My son is just as interested in women having access to birth control as the women he dates.
Planned Parenthood creates a sex-positive culture by facilitating safe sex. Young men and women are able to control their futures when they have access to birth control. However, conversations around birth control require a woman to acknowledge that sex something she is interested in participating in, making sex-positivity a necessary in order to render Planned Parenthood's services meaningful. Moreover, an acceptance of women's sexuality is an integral part of Planned Parenthood's mission and impact. So why are we not talking about it more?
Sex-positive trends have enabled female college students (and male college students) to feel more comfortable with their sexuality than ever before. They are dispelling the myth that women engage in sexual interactions to achieve some goal--confidence, to solidify a relationship with a man, or conceive a child. It's about time these students stood up for Planned Parenthood, the institution that enables this movement. Women want privacy and the freedom to decide what to do with their bodies. But women also want, like men, to have sex. If supporters of Planned Parenthood do not become comfortable articulating this idea, the pro-life movement wins.
The history of this nation and certain rhetoric within the pro-life, anti-contraceptive movement reinforces female sexual repression. Ms. Richards highlighted that much of the anti-choice and anti-contraception movements' ideology is
based on people's puritanical belief that people shouldn't have sex outside of marriage and that sex should only lead to procreation and having more children, and that's just not how people live.
This abstinence-only approach to sex, however, ignores statistics and is ridden with sexism.
Firstly, one fifth of women who seek abortions are married, according to the National Abortion Federation, and sixty-one percent already have one child, according to a Guttmacher poll. Secondly, the pro-life movements' argument that abstinence is an effective solution to unwanted pregnancy is false. According to Advocates for Youth, "to date, eleven states have evaluated the impact of their abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. None has been shown to reduce teen sexual activity."
Thirdly, abstinence-only sex education programs promote a sexist narrative that women lack sex drives and are responsible for preventing sexual activity. Excerpts from abstinence only sex education program Sex Respect demonstrate this attitude: "Because they generally become physically aroused less easily, girls are still in a good position to slow down the young man and help him learn balance in a relationship." (Sex Respect, Student Workbook, p. 12) "A young man's natural desire for sex is already strong due to testosterone, the powerful male growth hormone. Females are becoming culturally conditioned to fantasize about sex as well." (Sex Respect, Student Workbook, p. 11).
We need Planned Parenthood because abstinence is unrealistic. By refusing to name women as equally willing participators in sex, supporters of Planned Parenthood implicitly play into the pro-life narrative that: one, abstinence by women is a viable option to prevent unwanted pregnancy and abortion, and two, that women who do not abstain should be ashamed.
Ms. Richards noted that,
It's incredible to me that young women, even the younger generation than yours, are still dealing with the same kind of shame and stigma about the fact that they are a woman, and that they are sexual beings, and that they can reproduce. It runs very deep in this culture, and I do think young people are the ones that are going to change it.
A great hypocrisy exists in this country: abstinence-only education programs, the highest unintended teen pregnancy rate in the world, slut-shaming, and a sustained attack on Planned Parenthood coexist alongside a booming sexual revolution on college campuses. We need Planned Parenthood--it's about time we said why.