The War on Birth Control

More and more it seems like “Republican” is just a code word for “religious”.

As a sex educator, this seriously alarms me. In examining oppression, culture, and discourse around sex, it comes up time and time again that religion is one of the most oppressive institutions around — especially the Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, Judaism).

What is most deeply insulting to me is the effect these religions have on the lives on their victims. Far too often, religion robs people of a powerful human experience by telling them what to do with their bodies, when to do it, how to do it, what reasons they should have for doing it, and with whom they should do it with (and if you don’t obey, you will burn forever in hell). Abrahamic religion makes its victims feel detached and resentful of their sexuality. It creates a culture of shame and guilt around sex. It stigmatizes “virginity” and reduces women to baby-making factories. It encourages mass mutilation of mens’ genitals. It is the sole force behind “abstinence only education” – a taxpayer funded program which keeps people ignorant about sexuality. It polices our expression of gender. It forces us into relationship structures that hurt us. It encourages poor, self-sabotaging behaviors in relationships. It apologizes for & even condones rape. It glorifies heterosexuality & men. It teaches people to be okay with discrimination and hatred. It punishes the innocent, from day 1, with a life of fear and unquestioning obedience where there should be discovery, bravery, and endless curiosity.

The latest in their never-ending assault on human beings is the Republicans/religious right’s war on birth control. I’ve got to say, they must be out of their minds if they really think this is the right battle for them. 99% of women who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method.


I’m in awe at the sheer stupidity. Whose bright idea was it to wage said “war” on birth control when it affects the vast majority of the population? Politically speaking, do conservatives realize that women fought for the right to vote 90 years ago…and won? OHAI Romney, Santorum, Paul, and Gingrich–each of whom have laced their campaigns with sexism– just a reminder that women vote.

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This little diddy was passed on to me by my friend Rob a few days ago.

HAHA! OHHHHHhhh man. Does Santorum even know what “indoctrination” means? Sometimes I think these GOP nominees just like to throw out big words to confuse their audience.

Teh Google gods define indoctrination as “teaching someone to accept doctrines uncritically”.

I’ve been both a full fledged university student and a bible-thumpin child of god. Let’s take a look at where indoctrination really happens.

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Is religion hurting our sex lives?

Tough question, eh? As the days of secularism are dawning, more research is being done to look at the relationship between unhealthy sexuality (something I often refer to as sex negativity) and religious belief. In light of the research, there is compelling evidence to suggest that when religion is in the picture, our sex lives are more likely to be unenjoyable and/or unhealthy. Let’s take a look.

The guiltiest religions
A study done last year on the relationship between religion and sexual guilt was able to stratify religions according to how guilty its members feel after having sex. An important part of this research was that between all of the religious participants and nonreligious participants, they found that everybody had the same amount of sex. What varied was how much guilt they felt afterward.

FELT THE MOST GUILT: Mormon (8.2/10)
Jehovah’s Witness
Seventh Day Adventist
Catholic (6.3/10)
FELT THE LEAST GUILT: Atheist (4.7/10)

Those who had left their religion experienced a significant improvement in their sexual relationships. As the chart shows, even those who do not use a god to govern their lives (agnostics/atheists) still feel a degree of guilt, perhaps indicating that we are all subject to the oppressive values and sex negativity of influential religions. Religious belief effects us all, even if we don’t want it to.

Religious upbringing
Research also suggests that nonreligious households more often yield happy, healthy, sex positive child rearing. This is not surprising; the fact of the matter is that the religious right in America is typically anti gay marriage, anti woman’s choice, anti masturbation, anti safe sex/birth control, and anti sex health education. An example of each is provided in the links.

Let’s look at the data:

Shamed or ridiculed for masturbating
In a religious household: 22% | In a nonreligious household: 5%

Strong guilt over a specific sexual desire
In a religious household: 80% | In a nonreligious household: 26%

Source of sex education
In a religious household: more likely to be from porn
In a nonreligious household: more likely to be from parents

Researcher Darrel Ray commented:

“Our data shows that people feel very guilty about their sexual behaviour when they are religious, but that does not stop them: it just makes them feel bad. Of course, they have to return to their religion to get forgiveness. It’s like the church gives you the disease, then offers you a fake cure.”

Here’s a controversial thought: perhaps its time for us to start being more critical of what organized religion actually does for us–both inside the bedroom and out.

The Virginity Ring

Today I managed to get myself out of the house to take care of some errands I had been meaning to do for weeks. Since mid-December, I’ve been visiting my parents, so I went toddling around the city where I grew up. Waiting in line at an obnoxious department store (the colors, the lights, and the noise, noise, NOISE!) I did a double take at the woman behind me; could that be Melissa*? Snotty Melissa who made fun of my shoes in 9th grade? The Melissa who callously gossiped and lied Monday-Saturday and then showed up to church with me Sunday to worship? Oh yes, it was her. Drat.

Secretly, I hoped I wouldn’t be recognized. Unfortunately, I was. “LACCIIIIII!!!! Oh my GOD I haven’t seen you in years! How are you?”

The conversation sucked, so I won’t go there, but she did remind me of something. In 9th grade, during class at church, Melissa had proudly shown off a large diamond ring she wore daily on her finger. “A virginity ring”, she said. Even at 14, I was rolling my eyes.

Virginity rings (aka purity ring), a symbol for abstinence, come endorsed by schools and churches across America. They are worn by teenagers, often after receiving them from authority figures (pastors, mom, dad, older bro or sis, prudent Sister Smith from church, etc). The ones that I have seen have been both beautiful and expensive. Should a teen choose to take it off after agreeing to wear it, many face harassment from various extremist figures in their life…or, y’know, the media. Poor Selena Gomez.

I personally have several problems with purity rings:

1. The implication of a “purity ring” is that to have sex, you are no longer “pure”. Sex is thus dirty, defiling, and wrong instead of natural, healthy, and an act to be approached in an informed fashion.
2. Taking off the ring when you first have sex symbolizes something being taken AWAY from you. Real empowering, right? In healthy cases, you are not LOSING your virginity, you’re GAINING access to a new part of yourself–you’re making your sexual debut!
3. They are not effective. Studies have repeatedly shown that purity pledgers engage in the same sex acts in the same numbers. The only difference? Purity pledgers are significantly less likely to protect themselves, so they end up pregnant or transmitting diseases instead. Great.
4. Purity rings are a tool to “keep up appearances” and perpetuate bad communication between kids and their parents. As the studies have indicated, pledgers STILL HAVE SEX. They just learn to get really good at lying about it. Or, for the quiet parents, if they can see the ring on, they never have to talk about sex. Phew–problem solved! (Not.)
5. In my own experience, purity rings carry a lot of baggage. My sister wore one all through high school and continuously reprimanded me for not wearing one. I distinctly remember sitting across from her at Fresh Choice 5 or so years ago; leaning over her soup, she aggressively whispered: “Obviously you’re having sex since you won’t wear one.” It gave her an opportunity to demean my choices every day, even though I wasn’t even sexually active at the time. Wearing the purity ring also made her feel 10X more guilty when she finally did have sex.

…And my sister definitely didn’t end up waiting until marriage. In fact, my sister has more sex than me. As for Melissa? Well, she’s not married either. She also has a daughter, with another one on the way.

Abstinence vows oft mean learning the hard way, if they learn at all. Guilt, harassment, unplanned pregnancies, and maybe even a few STD/STIs later, some learn to approach their sexuality more realistically.

I just hope her parents didn’t spend too much on that ring.

*Her name isn’t actually Melissa. Actually, it might be, I couldn’t remember her name.