Backing up birth control, and each other
In an ironic, but perhaps unplanned turn of events, this year's Back Up Your Birth Control Day of Action comes the day after the premiere of season 4 of 16 and Pregnant. (And if you think I haven't been waiting for this television event since the end of last season...you would be wrong.)
Like it or not, MTV's shows about teen pregnancy and parenthood have become a cultural phenomenon in terms of how we learn and teach about sex. The young women, alone with the camera at the end of the show, usually confide that they regret not using protection or not using it correctly and sometimes even regret having sex in the first place. While this is happening, I’m usually imagining myself in some sort of time machine which will afford me the ability to distribute emergency contraception to these girls so they don’t get pregnant in the first place. In this scenario, they use it correctly and with conviction, but most importantly, without shame.
This is a big piece, the shame, and it strikes me as particularly salient when we’re talking about young folks. You know, those people we don’t want to encourage to have sex. The people whom we don’t teach about sex, because they’ll think it’s okay to have it. The people who shouldn’t be encouraged to access their sexuality, who then need to hide it or lie about it or pretend it’s not really part of who they are. It’s taken me a surprisingly long time to be able to say this to myself in my head, never mind out loud, but here it is: I think it’s okay for teenagers to be having sex.
It’s hard for me to be shocked anymore about what comes out of the mouths of white male Christian Republicans, but it’s not hard to see that it reflects a deep hatred and fear of women and women’s bodies. Educators, parents and basically everyone on the planet has done a great job of playing into this fear by encouraging people of a certain age (read: teenagers) to cut themselves off from sexuality, to undermine it, to ignore it. There’s no such thing, apparently, as experimenting in a safe, healthy, positive way with another person so that one can figure out what does and doesn’t feel good, what they’re comfortable with, and what the experiences of saying "no" and "yes" are like. When we engage with sexuality, we push our own boundaries and we learn about power.
This is all very terrifying if you are in the business of control, or in this case, limiting who has control and over what. What if we encouraged young women to experiment with sex and the knowledge to protect themselves? What if we gave them correct information, such as the fact that emergency contraception exists, and is actually a form of birth control? If they could not have to feel ashamed of their sexual selves or live in a constant state of fear and panic? Imagine that.
Let's back each other up.