You’d have to have been on Pluto to have not heard all of the talk about contraception that has dominated the news, the social media landscape and the GOP presidential campaign of late. Although it’s too true that birth-control coverage has not been provided by every American health-insurance group (thus the Obama administration’s move of several weeks ago to require such coverage), the vitriol that spewed forth from Rush Limbaugh and others in the wake of this action, with more utterances of “slut” and “prostitute” than one might hear in a Quentin Tarantino film, is something many of us cannot believe we are witnessing in the second decade of the 21st century.
So, as far as all of the single ladies of reproductive status are concerned (and a good many married ones, too), and with apologies to that old Virginia Slims cigarette ad, we came a long way to get … where we are today?? Fighting for reproductive freedom? Still? Guess we don’t have an economy in shambles to focus on, or a war gone very wrong in Afghanistan, or oil prices reaching record levels.
I applaud the women’s voices that have been raised by this nightmare. In a way, it’s heartening to hear from many young women who have thought it was always possible for women to have easy access to contraception, or law school, or to even think it was possible to become a Fortune 500 CEO or the president of the United States. Or that the word “slut” had become acceptable slang for women to use in fun among themselves or in music videos.
Males are also affected
But what I don’t accept is the lack of a massive outcry from the men who, believe it or not, also are affected by contraception gone wrong or denied. To be certain, a good many men have rushed to condemn Rush and his followers. And that’s great. And salutations to all of the men who have undergone vasectomies, although their numbers are primarily restricted to married guys. But what about the others? Last I heard it still took two to cause a pregnancy, wanted or not. Reproductive science hasn’t changed everything for everybody just yet.
A lot of the talk I’m now hearing reminds me of the libidinous 1970s and early ’80s, when it was very common to see all sorts of couples leaving bars in various states of ambulatory foreplay, asking each other “so what was your last name again?” In those days, before AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases became the horrors they would soon become, birth control had become (in comparison to the not completely swinging 1960s) pretty easy to obtain, even if it was not always covered by insurance. Mothers were taking daughters to get the Pill, although a lot of fathers were told the prescription was necessary to calm monthly cycles or acne.
And although a whole lot of women could not get men to use condoms, these same men were often very, very concerned that the women “have things taken care of” with regard to birth control. And that usually meant oral contraceptives or the now near-museum status diaphragm and spermicidal foam or gel. If I had $10 for every man I dated, and every man my friends dated and even married, who said they were not going to be responsible for any unforeseen pregnancies, well, I’d have a bag bulging with money. A very large, soft-sided bag.
AIDS changed everything
When AIDS reached epidemic proportions, it quickly became a lot easier to get men to think about contraception, if only to prevent disease. A great many men were buying and using condoms, plain or in colors. Once the HIV assay became available, couples and individuals were tested en masse. One man I nearly married insisted we both get tested and also said he was obligated to pay for my oral contraceptives. He said that if I had to assume the risks involved in taking the Pill, he needed to assume the financial responsibility. He wasn’t alone. A lot of the boyfriends and husbands of my friends felt the same way.
Then, maybe 15 years ago, things started to change. AIDS stopped meaning certain death. About 10 years ago, health insurance began to become difficult for many to obtain and expensive for others to afford. And many insurance plans stopped covering contraceptives. Then, the contraceptive battle so many of us thought had been fought and won (save complete insurance coverage) returned in the form of a young woman asking for coverage and a wealthy radio personality calling her a slut and a prostitute.
I know most men wouldn’t dream of using such language to describe their wives, girlfriends or daughters. But silence doesn’t help either. Because contraception is not just a women’s matter. If men don’t want unwanted pregnancies, they must speak up, too.
And maybe consider some colored condoms.
Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, lives in Minneapolis.
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