Scarleteen, sex ed for the real world

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Submitted by Andrea Grimes on Thu, 2011-03-10 10:21

I had a favorite line, in high school, when debating people on the subject of abortion. It was "Hey, that thing in your stomach's not gonna come out a toaster, right? It's a baby!"

Oh, I thought I was really, super clever with that one. Because I loved talking about the babies. I talked about the babies at the high school Young Republicans Club--not only was I the president, but also the founder. I talked about the babies at Club 412, the evangelical punk teen hang-out in Fort Worth I frequented with my friends. I talked about the babies in class. I cried about the babies while I strummed my guitar. I wrote songs about the babies, imagining myself as a broken, murderous whore who regretted her abortions.

I didn't have an opinion one way or the other on abortion until I started hanging out with right-wing punk rock kids in high school. Then, somebody -- probably one of the older teenage punk rock boys I would later fend off in the back of a car or behind the chapel at church camp -- handed me a pamphlet with an aborted fetus on the front. The pamphlet told me abortion causes breast cancer and how women who abort can never be redeemed in the eyes of God and will live with heartache and depression for the rest of their lives, a shell of the beautiful thing they could have been if they'd only carried to term. I was outraged. I couldn't believe women were killing members of my own generation -- my sisters and brothers! -- just because they couldn't keep their legs together.

Because while I said it was about the babies, it wasn't. It was about slut-shaming.

I absolutely loved slut-shaming. Because I was saving myself for marriage -- well, oral sex doesn't really count anyway, does it? -- I knew that I would always be right and virtuous and I would never be a murderer like those sluts. The issue couldn't possibly be up for real debate, to my mind: either you were a baby-killer slut, or you behaved like a proper Christian woman and only let him get to third base. Babies were simultaneously women's punishment for having premarital sex and beautiful gifts from Jesus Himself. That didn't seem like a contradiction in my mind. It was just another one of God's perfect mysteries.

After all, I was 16, 17, 18. I knew everything. And what I knew more than anything else was that anyone who got herself into the position of having an unwanted pregnancy was filthy in body and soul. And again, since I would absolutely never have premarital sex, I would absolutely never make the decision to murder my child. Because I was pure, and so were babies, and together, me and the babies and my perfect hymen, we were all going to be fine if we could just fight the ignorant sluts. So that's what I did. I talked and argued and cajoled and pontificated. I ministered to the heathen nerdgirl sluts in Telnet chats and online bulletin boards. I stood up for what I believed in, which was: If you do not believe like me, you deserve whatever brand of God's wrath comes your way.

But, you know, to hear me talk, it was all about the babies. The innocent children. The mass genocide! Perpetuated, of course, by millions of American women who I imagined happily scooping out their wombs with ladles before heading back out for another gang-bang. In private, my anti-choice friends and I would laugh and laugh (or, in some cases, LOL and LOL, if we were chatting online) about how stupid women were for having premarital sex. How evil they were for not being able to control themselves. How great I was for not having sex with my boyfriend. How loved and special I was in the eyes of God because I didn't let my boyfriend, you know, do it with me.

If I'd thought about it any, I might have realized that it takes two to create an unwanted pregnancy. But the conversation was never, ever about men or their behavior. It was only about women.

So, what happened? How did I come to be editing a lefty, pinko-assed feminist blog?

Well, I got off my religious high horse and on to a sex life I enjoyed and found fulfilling.

At college, I met a wonderful, sweet Jewish boy who fell in love with me and who I fell in love with right back. And he didn't have any hang-ups about sex, though he was also a virgin. And we did all of the things except for The Big Sex, and the more I grew to love him, the more I thought back on those people I knew back home who told me sex was awful and would break me. How could sex with this guy, this absolute sweetheart, break me? And so we had The Big Sex. And it was great and fun and loving, and we kept having all of The Big Sex, for about three weeks, until I realized it was about time for my period.

Suddenly: I was the dirty, filthy slut. I was the horny bitch. I was the callous murderer-in-training. What, did I think my womb was going to grow a toaster if we had a condom mishap?

Of course not. I didn't think babies were toasters and I didn't believe I was going to birth a toaster if I got pregnant, so how had I managed to belittle women for years with this condescending, patronizing line about a small kitchen appliance? I was frozen in a kind of moral limbo: I couldn't believe I found myself simultaneously relieved that I could access an abortion if I wanted to, and saddened and stressed out by the possibility of having to make that decision.

So I went right the heck out and got myself some hormonal birth control, is what I did.

I marched into my college women's health center -- oh, thank God they had one -- and I got my first pap smear and the Ortho-Evra patch and talked to the nurses about STD's and pregnancy and how to take care of my body. I had never had any of those conversations with my family or church or friends or teachers back home in Texas. I learned more in a two-hour visit to that college women's health center than I had in the 19 years leading up to it. And yet as a passionate anti-choicer, I had considered myself an expert on sex and reproductive health -- my own and everyone else's -- because of a few pamphlets and preachers.

Today, I see that nothing about my religious anti-choice views did anything to prevent abortion. They did a lot to shame myself and my friends, but nothing to prevent abortion. Today, I hear anti-choicers talk about the babies and the unborn and the American genocide, but what I really hear beneath all that is slut-shaming and fear of female sexuality. I hear that language clearly because I spoke it once, myself. It is a familiar language to me.

And I even have a little bemused sympathy for old men who try to pass anti-choice legislation. Because they really will not ever have to worry about abortion. And once, I thought I wouldn't, either. So I see where they're coming from. I see how blind to the experiences of others they are. Privilege does that to people. If they weren't so damned full of themselves, and so damned politically powerful, I might even find them funny.

What saddens me more than anything else are women who want to make abortion either so inaccessible as to render it impracticable, or who want to outlaw it altogether. Because I truly believe that most women, anti-choice or otherwise, who've experienced even a flicker of uncertainty about a pregnancy in this country since 1973 have been glad, in their hearts, to have a choice. I believe wanting to take that choice away from others is deeply about shame and punishment and judgment, and not about righteousness and love. I believe that because I rarely see those who want to outlaw abortion doing anything to combat its cause: unintended pregnancy, and I see them doing a lot to punish and shame women.

There is nothing "pro-life" about sonogram bills and denying Medicaid funding to (some!) rape victims or allowing doctors to opt out of giving pregnant women life-saving abortions. I know that what has kept me from having to make a decision about an unintended pregnancy is not the prospect of hearing a fetal heartbeat or having to go through a 24-hour wait period, but safe, easy and affordable access to contraception and good, honest medical information disseminated by doctors and medical professionals without religious agendas.

I was a girl growing up in Texas who was failed by abstinence-only education and soured by extreme religious dogma.

I don't want other girls to go through that, too. And so if you've gotten through this whole essay, consider donating to Planned Parenthood. Get on a NARAL mailing list. Fight HR3. Stand up against empty religious and political pandering and stand up for real solutions like affordable health care, comprehensive sex education and contraceptive access.

Originally published at Hay Ladies.

Comments

Comments

Can I get an Amen!?

I appreciate the eloquent response and rebuttal to "it's not about the women's rights, it's about the baby's rights." The tone of the essay was a wakeup call for empathy, understanding, and compassion. It's purpose was to shed light upon the blind hypocrisy that follows public shaming of any group of people. Many pro-lifers hide behind the argument of "I will be the voice of the unborn, who have none" which is convenient when one has never experienced circumstances that would require that individual to make a choice. In regards to a pregnancy, a person has 3 options: carry and raise a child (a minimum 18 years and tens of thousands of dollars dedication along with unmeasurable emotional and physical trials and tribulations that come along with raising a child) putting a child up for adoption (very difficult 9 months of knowing that you will not be a parent on the other side of these circumstances, abuse from others throughout the process of an "out of wedlock pregnancy," and of course the worries and sadness of such a sacred separation that feels more than unnatural) and finally abortion (very stressful- especially with the added social stigmas, similar to adoption- a biologically exhausting and sad separation, then depending on the circumstances it can be very physically uncomfortable).

My own journey has led me through each side of these circumstances. I was raised in a massively staunch, Catholic household and brought up very pro-life. I myself was pro-life because at the time it made sense. I didn't really care how others conducted their own sex lives, I personally thought contraception was very reasonable and responsible, regardless of how little I was taught about it. I was very sold on the idea that unborn babies didn't have a voice so someone had to speak for them, and if two people were to get pregnant through failed contraception or none, then they could at least bring the baby to term and put him/her up for adoption, right?

Things are definitely not that clear-cut... I was saving myself for marriage not to avoid pregnancy, but because I was told I would not have a meaningful sexual relationship with my husband unless I waited until after marriage (and of course avoided any sex whatsoever with any other person). This all obviously went to shit when I was sexually assaulted in my first year of college and became pregnant as a result of it. Because of my strong personal convictions I carried my baby to term and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, whom I gave up for adoption. It was a secret I kept from my entire family, with the exception of my parents, but of course that didn't stop my judgmental mother from blaming me for the rape and pregnancy... I was looked down upon during my pregnancy by others who only saw an unwed 18-year old and then strangely praised by others who thought what I did was "admirable." I hated that, because it was so much more complicated than either one of those attitudes. Yes, it was a sacrifice, but I really didn't think I had any other choice. I had a wonderful, healthy son who makes his family wonderfully happy, and I was thankful for that, but there was still a part of me that struggled with that separation and felt empty and worthless afterwards. I never regret the choices I made because it was all meant to be.

Later on in life, after a complete makeover of my personal definition of human sexuality, and a revamp of my understanding of gender conflict in the world around me, I found what I thought was a place of homeostasis. (This of course was not without a multitude of extremely self-destructive behaviors and a violently successful rugby career to desperately regain a feeling of personal power and control in my own life...) By the grace of the Universe I eventually defined a "healthy sex-life" for myself within a very good relationship, so I was comfortable and knew what I wanted even though things with him did not work out in the end. I eventually found myself in a relationship with a person I knew I wanted to be with. This person was someone I could see myself with very long term (as in could potentially have a family with...) We didn't know much about contraception- really, I thought I knew more about my cycle than I actually did, and found myself pregnant for a second time. We spent hours discussing our circumstances, crying, trying to seek clarity. At the time, we were pretty much homeless and away from a support system of any sort. We also discussed the reality of adoption. This was something I didn't think I could go through yet again. Plus, we wanted to be together and what would we tell our children if they had a direct brother or sister running around in the world "that we didn't want"? Over my soul searching (after the first pregnancy) I had decided to define FOR MYSELF when I thought would be an absolute cut-off day in a pregnancy that I would absolutely not get an abortion. I expressed my request to my partner we went together for an abortion within my time constraint. It was absolutely physically and emotionally exhausting. We both cried and talked about what had happened, and of course there was a temporary negative impact on our relationship. It's incredibly sad- JUST LIKE ANY OTHER DECISION WE WOULD/COULD HAVE MADE.

The thing people forget about in an unwanted/unplanned pregnancy is that there is no decision that won't be massively difficult. This is something my partner and I both will have to continue to heal through, but just like with the decision I made with my first pregnancy, neither of us regret our decision. It's been close to a year now, a copper IUD, and lots of good times and bad times later and we are stronger than ever. We both are excited to continue on with our lives preparing our circumstances for raising a family. I hope this helps anyone who is in the process of healing, or that it softens the hearts of anyone that finds themselves "unswayable." As cliche' as it sounds, watch where you point your finger because in that stubborn fist are three other fingers pointing back at you.

    I Can Definitely Relate

    I was raised Catholic my entire life and have only attended private, Catholic schools from Kindergarten until high school. I graduated from high school about a week ago, and am moving on to college. However, I am one who has questioned my religious beliefs and those around me constantly, especially recently since I am one who speaks her mind.
    In 8th grade we had to write a persuasive essay, and to win my extremely religious teacher's approval, I did it against abortion and the pro-choice view. Throughout my life and high school career, I've seen photos of aborted fetuses and many powerpoints (especially when it came to making persuasive speeches this past year) describing why it's wrong. And yes, it is horrible for the baby to never have a chance at life... but I have some feminist views as well (perhaps that came along with attending an all-girls high school). Mainly, THERE IS A CHOICE FOR THE WOMAN. I always feel that women are blamed for having sex when we get pregnant, and that men get off much easier. I know this is a stereotype and doesn't always apply, but it seems to me that it always comes down to us. Honestly, if I was faced with an unexpected pregnancy, I don't know what I would do. I love children and cherish them, but I also have goals for myself. It sounds self-centered, especially if one had sex willingly, but it's true. Sex is natural, and many explore their sexuality. I loved this post in that it shows the other side. You may still consider abortion murder, and I honestly don't know where I stand exactly on that issue. But sometimes, it's okay to be a little selfish and think of yourself... and to know that there is always that choice you can make for yourself.
    Thanks for the post!

      I am what you might call an

      I am what you might call an anti-choice religious freak. I am Catholic, pro-life, and pro-abstinence, but I am thankful for blogs and websites like this because I absolutely agree about "slut-shaming." There is a crisis of knowledge about sexual health, and even someone who plans to save sex for marriage should know how their body works and why. Abortion activism should focus more on preventing unplanned pregnancy and giving women the ability to choose pregnancy.

      Feminists for Life is one organization I know of who values women and their choices while remaining pro-life, so not every pro-lifer is a woman-hater. A sad number of them are, but not all of us.

      Thank you for providing information to the men and women of the world.

        Wow

        Your story has touched me. I am still undecided. However, your story is EXACTLY like mine. I was never one to preach about pro life or por choice but, I too, was thinking it was only for the sluts who didn't have the sense of morals, who couldn't control themselves. I thought I was one of God's perfect and pure angels. Until I met this wonderful guy in college who I am still with. I never want to be in the position to where I have to make that desicion of being pro choice, but it is nice to know that if there is ever a need, there is that option of...let's just say I hope I never have to, but I'm glad I have that option.
        I do have a question for you though that I have been struggling with. What do you think God thinks about sex before marriage? If you have sex with one person, you are married to them spiritually. I have struggled very much and I do regret a lot, but then, I love my boyfriend with all my heart and we do hope to marry eachother one day.

          This made me tear up, and

          This made me tear up, and gives me a lot of hope for women's rights.

            That's really fantastic that

            That's really fantastic that you could get around to examining how your beliefs injured other people the moment that those beliefs stopped being convenient for you.

            Truly, you are a saint.

              Thanks!

              It took me 23 years to figure out I had been failed by my (not extremely) conservative family's views on sex and/or womanhood. You did a much better job than I ever have of explaining everything.

                punk rock kids

                What sickens me most about this article is the idea of "right wing punk rock kids". Yuck. I was into punk for many reasons but one was how liberal the punk rock ideal is. One of the first bands I was into "good riddance" had a song talking about America called "America flies first class." Russ Rankin would scream "were a womens not a women but another incubator." We have Blink 182 and bands that sing about empty meaningless crap to think for these new punk rock kids who are seriously just poser phonies. Republicans can listen to Ted Nugent.

                  Can I hear a Hallelujah for EDUCATION!

                  Learning something is a magical thing.

                    This is awesome!!

                    This is awesome!!

                      great post except...

                      once again... it's the jewish guy's fault!

                        its not about womens

                        its not about womens rights.Its about the babys rights.
                        as far as I"m concerned, once your pregnant that babys life is more important than your own.
                        And I would never give money to this website

                          It's a dangerous line of

                          It's a dangerous line of reasoning to start questioning which lives are worth more than others- this was the excuse for enslavement, hangings, witch-burnings, genocides, ect. But in any case, this article isn't about the morality of abortion- that's something only you can decide for yourself. This article is designed to explain the hypocrisy and failure of pro-life education programs that stress abstinence only, and to expose the true intent behind these attitudes- that the focus isn't about preserving life, but rather about censoring the sexuality of women (if it wasn't, I think any promiscuity on the part of men would be held in higher contempt as they are the other half of the equation). I don't know anyone who would relish having an abortion, and I can say that none of the people I know who have had to make that unfortunate choice have enjoyed it or taken it lightly. You don't ever have to have an abortion if you don't want to- but the woman next to you, who may not share your convictions, has a right to have a CHOICE. And that is what you'd be supporting- the right to a choice. We are people, not vessels, and I am especially contemptuous that the fate of my choice is in the hands of men who will never- CAN never- be in the shoes of a woman who has an unwanted pregnancy.

                            Fair to have your opinion:

                            But whichever conservative told you that "sex would break you" is completely wrong. Sex was MADE by God, so it's most definitely good. He just created it for a man and wife to share only with each other. You're totally right about us Christians preaching against abortion and premarital sex not doing much to educate against WHY and against the diseases and whatnot. I'm not "holier than thou" either, especially since I'm now 24 and had sexual relations with an ex and at the time, I was 18,19.. No one is perfect and those who preached that Christians are perfect are wrong-we're just forgiven. You've probably heard that before because you grew up in the church. This is why it's so important to educate the youth not just threaten against youthful lusts, Which I've been a victim of countless times. My current boyfriend and I are waiting for marriage. It's been over a year and we still have this strong conviction. He even Warns me all the time that guys are dogs, in every natural sense of the word. It's just in their nature to seek sex--GOD-given nature. Some people just abuse the beauty of sex. I'm sorry you're now against the ways you grew up in, it's true, if you don't stand up for one thing you'll fall for anything, but if you stand up for one thing without really knowing why and without foundation, it's still wrong. God forgives, always, and judges always. In the end, just because some people don't understand the concept of a loving but righteous God or they're afraid of judgement, doesn't stop it from happening. I love sex and can't wait to experience it again with my future husband. We're getting married soon! :) And we can have sex all we want and it's going to be AWESOME and just how God intended it to be. Naturally you're free to have a choice in this world...doesn't necessarily mean it's right.

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