Thursday, February 10, 2005

I choose sex

One of the things I’ve noticed about the Unplanned Pregnancy Debate (hey, notice that reframing?) has been the elision of one aspect of choice – the choice to have sex.

Amanda at the XX Blog hits the issue on the head when she says:

I don’t really think that most Americans are confused about what they want to see, which is safe, accessible contraception and abortions in the first trimester.
For those women that “deserve” abortions, that is. The real gray area that has always been a huge gray area is where the idea of pregnancy as punishment for naughty girls comes into play.

In the current conversation about choice and pregnancy (and whether or not you get to choose to be pregnant) options seem to be available if you deserve it. The price of deserving choice, or redemption if we want to use the language of religion, is a woman's victimhood. In other words, I can exercise authority over my reproductive choices/future only if my autonomy has been compromised by an act of aggression - rape or incest. Victimization earns autonomy.

Autonomy that I already exercise, by the giving and taking of sex, cuts off further choice. By practicing safe sex, by even saying that I have the right to be sexual on my own terms and that I can maintain or manage my sexuality, I am opting out of choice later on. Apparently, in today's sexual politics, for both the right and the left, a woman only gets ONE choice.

So who receives the benefit of a full range of choices? Not the Victim Woman; once she uses her choice to have/not have an abortion, the choice flow chart ends. She stays victim - either of the aggressor or the act the aggressor forced her to make. Her agency virtually disappears. The Naughty Woman, who's chosen sex over...whatever, if an unplanned pregnancy occurs, must learn the lesson of consequences. How many times has a discussion between pro-lifers and pro-choicers devolved into someone sniffing,"Well, she shouldn't have been doing that, anyway!" or "Well, now she knows what happens when you have sex." The chance to remedy a mistake, an accident, disappears in order to punish the Naughty Woman for having sex in the first place.

I think the Consequences argument is (for lack of a better word) bullshit on a couple of levels. Not only does it seek to make pre-marital sex punitive for the woman participating in it, it returns sex to the marriage bed as if that's where it belongs naturally. Moreover, it posits that women have never been fully aware of what the product of unprotected sex or a failed condom can be. Basically, it nullifies our earlier choice to have sex. In other words, I only had sex because I didn't have all the information.

Which brings us to moral agency. Hilary Clinton’s speech successfully repositioned the argument as prevention of unplanned pregnancy vs. prolonging abortion, and correctly made sex education the center of the solution – but only in terms for teens (children), poor women who don’t normally have access to contraception, or married women who wanted to use contraception for family planning. What about women like me? Single women who choose sex – maybe with one partner or perhaps with a few. What about women like me – educated, knowing women, who rationally (or irrationally, depending on the lover) choose a sexual life and considers it appropriate (and moral) to have one? Is premarital sex a moral act for a woman? Over at XX Blog, Amanda thinks so. So do I –less so for religious reasons than for ethical ones, if that’s the right word. (Though I have to say that my religious background is always hovering just at the corner of my vision…much to my dismay while in the throes of whatever folly I’m in at the time.)

I had a rhetorically beautiful line of argument laid out about female agency and choice but I guess I’m less coherent than I thought. I guess I’m trying to say that I’m tired of the single woman, the strong woman who has always known what she’s wanted and why, being a blank in our conversations about sex and morality.


bitchphd said...

Amen. Amen, amen, amen.

(Don't forget that the "victim" argument also totally nullifies married women who get abortions. Unless maybe they're abused, or something.)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that "punish the naughty" argument used against "choice" is one that I've always found annoying, because of it's punitive childishness, but even more, I find it just plain GHASTLY, because its wielders are saying that this unborn life shall be a punishment unto thee for having tasted the evil pleasures of the flesh (never mind that child's own humanity and soul.)

Jeebus, people. That bible is for guidance and support, NOT for thumping, and NOT for vetting your sexual psychopathy.

ding said...

no no no.

the bible is the correct guide for *everything* (including which major to pick) and so will provide limitless guidance for every point of our post-agricultural society.

you see?

johnb said...

I don't know if it's used much anymore, but Bev Harrison's *Our Right to Choose* helped me to sort the ethical/ religious issues (I don't distinguish them so much) surrounding moral agency, especially in the context of women's reproductive/ sexuality decisions. It was published by Beacon Press in the early '80s, I think. It's fairly dense & academic, but also very much engaged in the public debate. I think you mentioned an interest in Religious Studies, right?
Grace & Peace

ding said...

dude! you're about to reveal my alter identity! ;)

but you're sort of right. being raised in a baptist house and turning into a feminist sort of makes you a de facto religious studies type person.

(my scottish pastor would love it if i went to seminary. i, personally, would totally shrivel up and die.)

i'm gonna pick up that book, though. thanks!

MEP said...

This is a REALLY great post. I hadn't ever extended that type of analysis, but I've always hated the "consequences" argument vehemently. And of course I hate the demonization of sex because you know women are the ones who bear the brunt of it.

Great post!

ding said...

hey, MEP - great to see you over here! i really like this post, too. even now, the Consequences argument is at the back of my mind, especially whenever engage with a church person who doesn't understand why i'm pro-choice or pro-reproductive rights.

at the heart of their argument is a fundamental disprespect of women and it's something i can't ignore.