NYT: the anti-contraceptive movement

There’s a growing trend amongst religious conservatives, not just Catholics, to inveigh against all forms of family-planning, not just abortion. It’s worthwhile for Australians to examine the rhetoric of the anti-choice contra-contraception crowd in the USA, because it’s their religiously motivated social conservatism which is more and more informing the reproductive rights debate here, as witnessed by the stoush in Parliament a few months ago about RU486.

The NYT examines the trend in “Contra Contraception”:

Dr. Joseph B. Stanford, who was appointed by President Bush in 2002 to the F.D.A.’s Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee despite (or perhaps because of) his opposition to contraception, sounded not a little like Daniel Defoe in a 1999 essay he wrote: “Sexual union in marriage ought to be a complete giving of each spouse to the other, and when fertility (or potential fertility) is deliberately excluded from that giving I am convinced that something valuable is lost. A husband will sometimes begin to see his wife as an object of sexual pleasure who should always be available for gratification.”

God forbid the wife might like to use the husband as an object of sexual pleasure without risking pregnancy once in a while! Or, you know, say no to him if she didn’t feel like having sex for any particular reason.

The article provides a good range of views:

“[…] some who work in the public health field acknowledge that the social conservatives have a point. “I think the left missed something in the last couple of decades,” says Sarah Brown, president of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, which positions itself as a moderate voice in the heated world of reproductive politics. “With the advent of oral contraception, I think there was this great sense that we had a solution to the problem of unintended pregnancy. But that is a medical model. I think the thing that was missed was that sex and pregnancy and relationships aren’t just a health issue. They are really about family and gender and religion and values. And what the right did was move in and say we’re not just talking about body parts.”

I dunno. This strikes me as a straw-leftist argument – I was raised by left-leaning sex-positive parents who made sure I knew all about the medical model of preventing unintended pregnancy, but who also taught me that sex should be about what I want in a personal relationship, not just about rubbing body parts together for immediate gratification (unless I was really very very horny). The result of this individual autonomy and agency approach is that unlike most of the other girls at high-school on the party circuit I was still a virgin because I didn’t want my first sexual experiences to be furtive fumblings in the back of a car, so I waited until I’d left home for uni and had my own place where I could be more in control and relaxed.

The emphasis on sexual freedoms as just a medical model of body parts rather than as an act of autonomy, especially female autonomy, is more about the way the centrist consumerist model co-opted sexual freedoms into “sexiness”, the ultimate marketing tool. So while I agree that the left at large failed to maintain the initial emphasis on sexual autonomy, I can’t agree that the left is to blame for overemphasis on sex as just about body parts – that’s all about corporatism and sell sell sell.

The Right has however been very effective in framing the trivialisation of sex as mere body parts as part of the leftist manifesto, because it’s a very good way of scaring people away from true leftist positions of considered autonomy that don’t involve submitting to your husband’s sexual desires no matter what your own are even if the thought of another pregnancy makes you feel dead inside.

The NYT article also mentions our favourite contra-contraception event.
Other blog commentary:
Feministe’s Jill focuses on the deception and misinformation used by the contra-contraception activists

Pandagon’s Amanda reminds us that the battle against contraception is tied up with a view of sexual freedom as an elite privilege that the poor don’t deserve

(and Natasha in comments notes that (A) restriction of sexual freedoms to the elites is typical primate behaviour of the most animalistic alpha-male sort, and thus surely not attributable to the noble revelations of a higher power as the social conservatives argue; (B) conservative leaders on the whole are clear hypocrites who do not practise what they preach regarding family-planning – see Bush and his two children from a single pregnancy, and all the other social conservatives conspicuously lacking a dozen children )

Categories: culture wars

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