Monthly Archives: January 2007

Blogging for Choice 2007 – A partial compilation

It was wonderful to read so many “Why I’m pro-choice” posts yesterday! Technorati cataloged more than 150 posts yesterday tagged with “Blog for Choice,” and I’m sure there were many others that used different tags.

Of course speaking up for reproductive and sexual freedom is something we shold do all year round, and many of us do, but it is important to have these days of concentrated focus to help build solidarity and draw renewed attention to the issue.

I’ve collected here just a few of the posts I read, and that I haven’t seen cross-posted in other places.

Tess’s “Blog for Choice Day” post at Urban Gypsy

Richard Jeffrey Newman’s “I’m pro-choice because I oppose slavery” at It’s All Connected

Lifewords’s Blog for Choice Haiku at Life Words

Meesh’s “Blog for Choice” at The Eph Word

Deborah Lipp’s “Blog for Choice: Why I’m pro-choice” at Property of a Lady

Bean’s “Why I support reproductive justice” at A Bird and a Bottle

Rachel Kramer Bussel‘s “Blog for Choice Day” post at Lusty Lady

Tugster‘s “Interruption,” (with great abortion-as-lifeboat analogy)

Figleaf has six posts at Real Adult Sex (where does he find the time?!) Of his six, these two were my favorites.

Tiffany Taylor’s “Am I pro-choice? Damn straight” at More Than The Sum of My Parts

And if that isn’t enough for you:

Here is a list and some excerpts over at Bush v. Choice, the ones who started it all.

And here is a list of blog entries from Technorati, all of which used the “Blog for Choice” tag.

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Today is “Blog for Choice” Day!

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, and invalidated laws that banned abortions. This is the 34th anniversary of that decision. NARAL Pro Choice America and Bush v. Choice ask that we who are pro-choice take a moment today to publicly say why we support women’s right to access effective, safe, and legal means to end their pregnancies, should they need to do so.

I have been pro-choice for so long that I thought this would be a simple question to answer. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how many reasons there were.

There are the personal reasons: I was raised by a pro-choice mother in a family that respected women’s rights, valued equality, was open about sexuality. I remember telling my mother when I was 17 that I wanted her to take me to Planned Parenthood so I could go on the Pill because I wanted to start having sex with my boyfriend. She talked about how she wished I would wait a while, but also told me I was the only one who could know when I was ready, and she did take me, and I did get condoms and Pills, and my introduction to sex was much more positive for the openness and safety that surrounded it. Her sister, my aunt, worked at Planned Parenthood as a nurse for several years. The idea that women should have control over their reproductive health was simply taken for granted in my household growing up.

There are the political reasons: I support gender equality and women’s rights and neither of those can be achieved if women are forced to bear children against their will. They cannot be achieved if women do not have ultimate control over when, and if, to bear children. And there cannot be equality or freedom for women if, in order to be certain that they don’t bear children they must never have sexual intercourse with men. (And even for those who choose not to have sex with men, there are cases of rape to be considered.)

There are the moral reasons: To appropriate another person’s body without their consent is to enslave that person, as my friend and colleague Richard has written in his Blog for Choice post. Slavery is about as immoral as it gets. And morally, I do not believe that all life is equal. The life of a woman who is responsible for herself and others is, qualitatively, worth more than the life of a cluster of cells or even a fetus that cannot survive except as a parasitic being within her.

There are visceral emotional reasons: I can imagine what it feels like to be the frightened young woman working hard at getting ahead, suddenly pregnant and unwilling to give up the chance to have the future she dreams of. I can imagine what it feels like to be the mother of three who can’t bare to take away from her children the resources emotional and financial it would take to raise yet another. I can imagine what it feels like to be slowly falling in love with something growing inside me and at the same time be convinced that I cannot raise it, but could not bare to give it away after carrying it to term. I can imagine what it feels like to hate the thing that is growing inside me, put there by an assailant I never want to be reminded of and to feel like nothing is more important than being rid of it. I can imagine the heartbreak of the couple who, after trying to conceive, find that the child they have created will be unable to survive after it is born.

In my ideal world, there would be some button or switch we could activate when we wished to be fertile. Everyone would have such a button. That way men would not accidentally impregnate women. Nor could they impregnate women who didn’t wish to be pregnant. Women could neither accidentally get pregnant, nor could they “trap” a man into fatherhood, and abortions would be much less likely to be needed (though there still would be a need for abortions in the case of health risks).

We do not live in such a world. We live in a world where people, despite their efforts at preventing pregnancy, get pregnant. We live in a world where people are forced, against their will, to have sex. In other words, we live in a world where women must have access to safe and legal procedures for ending pregnancies that they do not wish to have.

And so there is my last reason, a practical one: I am pro choice because I know that, from the beginning of human history, women have found ways to end their pregnancies when those pregnancies have been unwanted. The criminalizing of abortion does not stop women from doing this. It only puts their lives and their families at and unnecessary risk. I am pro-choice because women need safe and legal ways to end their pregnancies sometimes.

I have been fortunate not to need an abortion, yet, myself. I have been sexually active for nearly 19 years and have, because of caution, resourcefulness and luck, not ever had a pregnancy. I know that I don’t want to bear children, though, and I’m certainly not going to stop having sex, so protecting the right to safe, effective and legal abortion procedures is very important to me. And on a much more urgent level, this right has been important to people that I know. I know women who have needed them, I have helped a friend acquire one, and cared for her afterwards. She struggled at first with the decision but ultimately decided that she needed to complete her education before having a child. I know a mom who had an abortion because her marriage was failing and she already had two young children she knew she was going to need to devote all her resources to. I know another woman who had an abortion because she was absolutely certain she was not cut out to be a mom. She’s now in her late 50s and is certain she made the right choice.

Ultimately it comes down to this: women are not safe in a society where they can be forced to bear a child, nor can they achieve equality with men if their only recourse to not bearing unwanted children is to forsake their sexuality.

I am reserving the comments section of this post for readers to offer their own “why I’m pro choice” comments. I will only approve comments on this post that are supportive of abortion rights. On any other post I will not censor debate, but this post not a debate on the issue. It’s simply a place for declarations of support for the right to safe and legal abortions. The debate can continue elsewhere today.

Check back later for a list of links to other Blog for Choice posts.

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A bit of blogkeeping: a more inviting feed

If you’ve been reading this in a feed-reader you’ll be pleased or frustrated to know that I’ve just updated the feed. The new feed is powered by FeedBurner and will allow you to email items or save them in del.icio.us or digg!

(And of course you can still read the new feed in any reader you like.)

The new feed address is:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/SexInThePublicSquare

Please update your subscriptions. It’ll only take a minute.

If you haven’t begun your feed-reading yet, do start! It’ll save you loads of time and allow you to become addicted to many more blogs. You can start with this one by using the link above or by clicking on the little orange “chicklet” on the sidebar.

See you in the Square,

Elizabeth

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The “Voice” of the Affluent, not the Alternative

Like many others, I was saddened to learn that Rachel Kramer Bussel would no longer be writing the sex column, “Lusty Lady,” for the Village Voice. I admire Rachel and I enjoy her writing. When I read on her blog that she’d been told her column was finished, I was disappointed. Then, when I read what the Voice had used to replace her, my disappointment turned to irritation and disgust.

Some of us had speculated that the Voice had hired someone “younger” and “newer,” but as it happens, the “newness” that they’ve turned to is the newness of middle-age and convention. The Voice has hired “two married mothers living in Brooklyn” whose greatest wish is to get their husbands to have sex with them.

Now, I’m glad when I see married women writing about sex. Sex ought not disappear — as an event or a topic for conversation — just because people have hitched their wagon to the state. And married women should share their experiences just like single or otherwise-partnered women should do. Women should talk about sex no matter what their relationship status. Women should talk about sex no matter what their class or their age would lead us to stereotypically expect from them.

But these women are professionals, living upper middle class seemingly conventionally-affluent lives, apparently with little sex to speak of, and nothing much to say. As some readers already pointed out, this type of column might have been suitable for New York magazine or the New York Times, but not for the Village Voice.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, the Village is not what it used to be. Sure it still hosts many interesting and alternative folks, but there is no mistaking that gentrification has succeeded in winding its tendrils throughout the neighborhood. Still, the Village Voice used to be an “alternative newsweekly,” and now, especially in its new sex column, it appears to be becoming the Voice of the Affluent, not the Voice of the Alternative. It’s not like I hadn’t noticed this happening. It’s not like I hadn’t noticed the increasing number of ads for cosmetic surgery, expensive day spas, and other luxuries-deemed-essentials of the elite creeping in among the ads for futons and second hand clothing and drag shows. (Anything that markets itself as a cosmetic procedure and comes with a “$500 off” coupon is way out of my league as luxury treatments go.)

But I digress. I am inclined to be happy when married women write about sex. I am a married woman, much to some people’s surprise, and while I don’t live in the most traditional of marriages, I find that — based on a very unscientific sample of my friends and colleagues — lots of married people don’t live in the most conventional of marriages. I’m totally up for reading about how people negotiate sex in their marriages, how they keep themselves sexually engaged, and how they deal with, or work around monogamy. There is lots of interesting material that married folk could put out there for everyone to enjoy.

So there is no excuse — other than a radical shift in market strategy — for what passed as the Voice’s sex column this week. First of all, it didn’t contain any useful information about sex. Instead it was really not much more than a catalogue of commercial endorsements. It’s amazing how many Nora Shelley works in. By name she mentions “Forever 21,” “Zoloft,” “City Bakery,” “Cosabella” ($60 bras and $20 thongs, mentioned twice), “Aeron” (as in the $750+ desk chair), “the Limited,” and “Starbucks.” Now, Forever 21 and City Bakery are places they actually spend time in during the events narrated in the column. The other mentions are pretty gratuitous. Is there any reason in the world we should care what kind of desk chair Essie Carmichael’s husband sits in to do his online “printer research?” And even worse, in the litany of product endorsements, the only item named that helped either woman achieve sexual satisfaction does not get its brand identified or promoted! What kind of sex column tells you exactly where to buy a dress that you don’t look good in, and a lunch that spoils your diet but then doesn’t name the amazing showerhead that is reportedly the best gift Essie has ever been given and the only thing with which Nora has had sex in years?

As if that weren’t bad enough, Nora Shelley, the one who wrote this week’s column and who isn’t getting any sex with her husband, has a housekeeper and a nanny and still can’t find time not to be exhausted. Not only that, she’s not creative enough to see immediately that sex with her husband should be easier if she’s got a nanny and a housekeeper, rather than more difficult as she believes it to be. And to make it all the worse, the tone is whiny and self-indulgent instead of hip and informative.

I suppose this change reflects what the Voice understands its readers to want. I suppose it means that the alternative crowd they believed they existed to inform has become an affluent-married-mainstream crowd. And perhaps that’s exactly what’s happened. But if you’re a Voice reader and you don’t fit that description, let them know.

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A different kind of “choice”: Texas Legislature proposes and “opt in” approach to sex ed

I’m intrigued and a bit disturbed by the framing of this new policy proposal for a sex-ed “opt in” program in Texas schools. I first read about it in a post by Jessica Gold Haralson at Vivian’s Sex Carnival. You can see that post here.

Here’s the segment of the news story about the policy where I think the strange framing occurs:

“The principle behind the bill is to have parents more involved in the education of their children regarding sex education,” says Emily Snooks, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of North Texas.

House Bill 311 would require a school district to obtain written consent of a parent before the student could take sex education. Currently, all Texas students take sexual education unless a parent requests otherwise. Under the bill, all parents would have to make a choice.

Many parents support that idea.

“I think all parents should have a choice and a say in what their child is exposed to at that level,” Debbie Sherrington, President of the Franklin Middle School PTA in the Dallas Independent School District. (Click here to see the whole story.)

Is opting-out not just as much a choice as opting-in? Currently, parents need to make a choice to opt their kids out, if they don’t want the schools teaching them about sex (or, paradoxically, since the article points out that most Texas schools use “abstinence-only” curricula, then currently parents have to opt out if they don’t want the schools not teaching their kids about sex.) In what way does Ms. Sherrington, quotd above, not have a choice in what her kid is exposed to, and at what age?
Why would a parent feel more involved by virtue of having to sign her kid into a sex ed program than she would feel by virtue of having to sign her kid out of a sex ed program? This is not about choice. This is about the power to control what the default position is.

Planned Parenthood of North Texas is a supporter of the bill, and their support puzzles me. It seems to hinge on the fact that most sex-ed programs in Texas are of the abstinence-only type (according to the PPNT spokesperson quoted in the article). But it strikes me that the bill has a hidden agenda: not to empower parents, but to stigmatize those who want sex ed in the schools. This bill would not create a new degree of choice — parents would still need to choose whether their kid got sex ed in school or not, just as before — but it does change the default position from “sex ed” to “no sex ed”.

Whose interests are served by this? Certainly not those who would prefer sex ed in schools. It’s generally more difficult — at least marginally, though sometimes more seriously — to actively oppose an institution’s default position than to go along with it. At very least it requires taking an additional step, and it also requires willingness to stand out. This seems to me to be an effort at stigmatizing those who support comprehensive sex ed, not an effort at increasing choice for parents.

I sympathize, though, with PPNT‘s desire that parents all be informed about the kind of sex ed their kids will get (or not get) in their schools. If I had kids that went to a school where abstinence-only sex ed was the mandated curriculum, I would certainly want to know that so I could provide comprehensive, accurate information at home. But I don’t think the answer is to make “no sex ed” the default option. Rather, I would like to see a bill that mandates that parents be notified about the kind of sex ed program their school offers, and then to be given the choice to opt out of the program if they wish.

Note: For a thoughtful and comprehensive look at the battles over sex education in public schools, try sociologist Kristen Luker’s new book, When Sex Goes to School: Warring views on sex and sex education since the Sixties.

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Don’t panic about teen sex

I used the term “moral panic” in my post of January 12 and didn’t define it. A commenter made it clear that my use of the term was probably assumed to mean something more general than I really did mean, so I’m dedicating this post to a discussion of the “moral panic” idea as it relates to teen sex.

I first encountered the term in the work of sociologist Stanley Cohen. Cohen used the term “moral panic” to describe the phenomenon that occurs when a lot of people have an exaggerated sense that a deviant behavior is rampant and causing social problems. The exaggerated perception is heightened by a spiral of media coverage that reinforces the sense that the problem seem much bigger than it is. More recently, Barry Glassner has written about media-inspired moral panics in his book The Culture of Fear, and of course Judith Levine and Pat Califia have both written about moral panics around children and sexuality.

I think we are currently in the midst of a moral panic about the sexual behavior of teenagers, and about the dangers of the Internet. I agree that there are problems associated with the sexual behavior of teenagers, and I agree that the Internet poses dangers, but I think our mainstream perceptions of those problems and dangers are exaggerated, and worse, I think our reactions contribute to the problems rather than help solve them.

Here let’s just deal with the panic around teen sex. I remember about two years ago there was a big “expose” about teens and oral sex. Caitlyn Flanagan, writing in the Atlantic in early 2006, documents the rampant fear that young girls — middle schoolers — were out there having nearly anonymous oral sex with boys in near-assembly-line fashion. In that article, she attributed the widespread fear to a real change in teen sex behavior. She cited data released in 2005, and which were culled from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), which indicated that a quarter (26%) of 15-year-old girls had had oral sex, and that by age 17, a little more than half (55%) had done so. (The corresponding rates for boys were 35% and 56%.)

While her article described the fear that parents had about young teen girls “servicing” boys, the study she cited found that of the girls who reported having oral sex, more reported receiving it than giving it. Of the 15-year-olds, 24% had reported receiving oral sex while 18% reported having given it. Of the 17-year-olds, 49% reported receiving oral sex while 41% reported giving it. (All these figures refer to sex girls had with boys.) Also, it is very difficult to note changes in sexual behavior in this age group because they have so rarely been studied.

There is a problem with using the NSFG data to draw conclusions about what middle schoolers are doing. Kids who are 15 are likely in high school, so this data doesn’t tell us anything about what middle schoolers are up to, though we can infer that if, by 15, only a quarter of girls have had oral sex, that in middle school the numbers are fairly low. In January of 2005 NBC News and People magazine released data from a poll they commissioned on teens’ attitudes toward sex and their sexual experience. They surveyed teens as young as 13. They found that very few young teens had much sexual experience at all. Only 4% of teens who were 13 or 14 had had oral sex, for example, and fewer than half (44%) had kissed someone romantically. (Their data on 15 and 16 year olds estimates slightly lower rates of sexual activity than the NSFG data — a few percentage points — so I would suspect their estimates to be a bit low in all age groups.)

Sex surveys, like all surveys, are prone to a certain amount of self-reporting error. That is, people are not always completely honest, even when they are promised anonymity. But anonymity does go a long way to ensuring accurate survey data, and I think the data reported by the NSFG survey is pretty reliable. Yet, moral panics make it all the more difficult to collect good data. The more embarrassed or ashamed people think they should be about something, the harder it is likely to be for many of them to be completely honest. The way we report data has a lot of influence over how that data is interpreted. Imagine if, instead of raising the alarm that “Nearly 3 in 10 young teens ‘sexually active,’” (by which they mean anything from romantic kissing to touching some one else’s genitals to oral sex to intercourse), they had used a title like “More than 70% of young teens have no sexual experience at all.”

If we really want to know what teens are doing, sexually, then we need to ease our panic and approach the problem rationally. But even more than that, we should try to remember what it felt like to be teens, ourselves. What were we curious about? What did we want to try? What did we really do? How did we interact with our friends? And how can we, now adults, help teens to navigate their world respectfully and without instilling shame and fear?

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Blog for Choice Day – January 22

January 22nd is “Blog for Choice” Day. On that day, the 34th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, pro-choice bloggers are asked to dedicate at least one of their posts to the reasons they are support a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion. I’ll be participating, and I hope you’ll consider it too. If you don’t have a blog, I hope you’ll encourage your favorite bloggers to participate, and then come here on the 22nd and leave a comment about your own reasons for being pro-choice.

The idea behind the day is an interesting one. It’s not just about telling your own story. Blogs have become incredible social networking devices, and they influence the visibility of issues when lots of people are writing about the same thing. The pro-choice/anti-choice culture controversy is certainly quite visible, but I also think that lots of people don’t understand why we support safe and legal access to abortion. The “debate” often gets reduced to rhetoric, and our personal reasons get ignored or lost or rendered invisible. I don’t advocate making policy based on personal feelings, generally speaking, but personal stories help frame issues, as the recent Ms. Magazine effort did, and I think in terms of abortion access, those who oppose abortion have been much more successful at getting their stories out there.

So, on January 22nd, let’s tell our stories: I’ll tell you why I’m pro-choice and I hope lots of other folks will do the same.

For more information, click the “Blog for Choice” button below

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