When I was young, I learned to be petrified of getting pregnant. Getting pregnant as a teenager was one of the things that my father was totally against. By the time that I had graduated high school, I was taking birth control pills, mainly to address the excruciating menstrual cramps that I was having, but also as a way to ensure (prompted by my family’s concerns – mainly my father) that I would not get pregnant before I had a chance to reach my adolescent dreams of going to college. In all actuality, my dad, and my mom for that matter, had very little to worry about. I had such a fear of getting pregnant and disappointing my parents (and I really wanted to go to college) that having sex was the last thing on my mind in high school. Even when my female friends were sneaking or having guys over to spend the night, I was often the “nerdy” one who did not participate or who retreated alone to the bedroom. Though I had several “boyfriends” before I graduated high school, I didn’t actually “do it” until I was nearly out the door and on my way to college.
On the other hand, I did not get over my fear of getting pregnant, and thus my fear of having sex, until many, many, many years later. And, I wouldn’t say that I truly gained a sense of personal empowerment about the whole act of sex until recently, in the last two decades or so. Really – and I am forty-five years old. Hear me when I say that it was not until the mid to late 1990s that I started to feel good or okay with the act of sex with a man.
One of the other reasons that it took me so long to let go of the fear of having sex and getting pregnant was because I grew up Roman Catholic. All throughout grade school and high school, I was taught that sex outside of marriage was a sin; that it was fornication and something that the god of my childhood and of my family would only approve of in marriage (and of course that meant marriage between a man and a woman…the same man and woman…for life). My deep-seated fears about sex (and thus my relationship to my religion) didn’t begin to dissipate until the late 1990s, when I was a preacher (go figure that!) and I experienced love (not necessarily sex) with a man who I really cared about, and I believed that vice versa that he really cared about me. I have written about that man and that experience in other blogs. Anyhow, even then, when I desired to be sexual with him and thereafter, when I was finally willing to break a very long period of sexual abstinence (at least four or five years, I practiced what I preached when I was a preacher), did I begin to break down decades of indoctrination that taught me to fear sex and to only think of it in terms of confinement and punishment. I was so afraid of having sex and expressing myself sexually that when I tried it, I obsessed over getting pregnant ad nauseam, even when I used a condom successfully with my partner. On the other hand, I suppose that having an enduring sense of love from a man who loved me helped me to feel safe enough to reconsider my sexual practices and consequently, at one point, to break my commitment to sexual abstinence. I was able to set aside a lot of my fears about sex because I gained a better understanding of love and of the human reproductive system. To do the latter, I had to seriously educate myself, for the first time in my life, about the process and the facts of the human female reproductive system. I resolved to take responsibility for knowing about this process for myself, and it freed me from the fear and guilt around the matter of sex upon which I had grown up.
I am back down memory lane today for a reason. This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is okay for Hobby Lobby, and other similarly situated companies, to deny certain types of birth control methods to its women employees. It is my understanding that while Hobby Lobby may offer birth control options, it is now perfectly legal for Hobby Lobby and other private companies like it to refuse emergency contraception coverage, which is otherwise known as PlanB, and, which is also known as “the morning after pill.”
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about PlanB. Some, in error, liken it to abortion, but that it is not. Taking a PlanB pill is not the same as taking an abortion pill, or going to a clinic or a doctor for abortion services (which, of course, I am not against, by the way). It is called PlanB for a reason, and most importantly as a backup birth control method to whatever PlanA is, like using a condom. In other words, if PlanA doesn’t work, if the condom breaks during sex and when and a woman is in the fertile zone (having sex at or near the time of ovulation), then it is possible that she could get pregnant, and if the woman would like to continue the prevention of the pregnancy, which she started with PlanA or the use of the condom (which was a way to prevent the first stage of the fertilization of the egg), then she can legally resort to PlanB thanks to recent legislation. The PlanB pill does not abort a pregnancy, rather, as I have understood it (because obviously I have used it before once or twice), the PlanB pill changes the conditions of the uterine lining so that a fertilized egg, if actually fertilized in the tubes, cannot complete the final stage of fertilization in the uterus: implanting itself upon the wall. Ideally, if one is using PlanA cautiously and wisely, then PlanB, emergency contraception, won’t be necessary. That is the goal: that PlanA will be enough.
At one point, when I considered my sexual history, I realized that I had spent many years being worried about something that I knew very little about: the human reproductive system. Due to a lack of information and my religious training, I thought, falsely, that I could get pregnant each and every time that I had sex. I didn’t have a clue as to when it was the safest for me to have sex without the fear of pregnancy. Most of the men that I knew sexually, some twenty or so years ago, can attest to the degree to which I freaked out when our PlanA method failed. If the condom broke, I was an emotional basket case until my period came. As you can imagine, that was not fun. I obsessed over being pregnant. Finally, when I took the time to educate myself about the steps that would lead me (or not) to pregnancy, I began to feel quite empowered when it came to my sexual politics. And, as it turned out, I felt much more “in charge” of my own destiny.
I think that this is one of the fears that many have about women and the use of birth control. And, regrettably, women as well as men have major fears about women and the discretionary use of birth control. Because most of us lack a coherent understanding of the female reproductive process, and a good deal of that is complicated by religious ideologies, many fear what it would mean for society, and corporations, like Hobby Lobby, to experience women who are totally “in charge” of their everyday sexual practices and politics (the ways in which sex is articulated and negotiated). What’s behind this? Religious bigotry and religious ideologies, which are often informed by patriarchal norms and societal rules about who is the rightful owner of a woman’s sexuality and thus her sexual and social choices. Show me a society where men and women are educated about the facts of the human reproductive process and I will show you a society that is truly empowered and moving forward. Men, women and everyone in between, will experience better lives if we live by the facts of the human reproductive system and not by ancient and patriarchal (serving the interests of powerful men) religious ways of thinking or flawed philosophies about when life or conception begins. It perplexes me that in spite of what we know scientifically about the human body, many, nevertheless, choose to believe that a life is complete at the point that the sperm and the egg meet. Everything that I have read to educate myself about the human reproductive system says that the fertilization process is not complete until the egg has traveled successfully down the tubes and is safely where it needs to be, upon the uterine wall. At that point, it is done and allegedly, PlanB cannot change that if it has occurred. Obviously, when it comes to sexual politics, many use PlanA to prevent the first stage of fertilization – the meeting between the sperm and the egg. If PlanA fails (usually with a condom), and if one does not want pregnancy, then PlanB must be employed. Ideally, the use of PlanB will rarely happen.
In summary, I must say that I am no medical doctor, and nothing that I have written here should be taken as personal or sexual advice, but what I have offered is a part of my story and what I had to do, including what I had to learn about my own body so that I could empower myself sexually and emotionally. The information that I have learned as an adult has helped me to appreciate the human body and the female reproductive process, which I never really learned about before, at least not as a child and adolescent. Was that information deliberately kept from me so that others would feel in control of my sexual politics and my personal destiny? Probably, but, my final thoughts are simply this: every woman should educate herself on the female reproductive process because, more than like, no one else can or will do it for her (and nor should they). Each adolescent who is able to become pregnant and each woman should know what days it is safe for her to have sex, whether she uses protection or not, with a trusted partner or not, so that she can be free from all unnecessary fears that are associated with having sex. And, most importantly, every woman who has sex with a man should have at least one PlanB pill in her medicine cabinet to use at her discretion (since it is available over-the-counter at this time, and perhaps even on Amazon), because nobody, not the Supreme Court justices, not Hobby Lobby, not President Barack Obama, not the Democratic Party or the GOP should be in charge of woman’s everyday sexual politics. There is only person who can muddle through the mess that this case and its attendant religious mores have caused, and that one person is she, each and every woman who is the rightful owner of her body and her own reproductive system, and she should have PlanB on hand for one primary reason: her’s.
© 2014 annalise fonza, Ph.D.