Awhile back I did a series of posts on 1flesh, an organization that argues against the use of contraceptives and promotes the exclusive use of one model of ‘natural family planning’ (I will follow the lead of the CDC and call it ‘fertility awareness’).
I decided to redo the posts to address the arguments made by 1flesh in a more organized fashion. I want to do this because I believe their presentation of arguments is dishonest and spreads misinformation. I also believe that their beliefs are representative of a larger sector of American society, and consequently it is a worthwhile pursuit to engage with them.
An excerpt from the ‘about’ page on their website:
If anything can be said of our generation, it’s this: We want sexy back. Our parent’s generation, well, they lost it. They delivered to us a world with sky-high rates of divorce, abortion, and STDs; a world bored with sex and bored with romance; a world in which more and more people are turning to pornography to find sexual satisfaction; a world in which 1 in 5 women report being sexual assaulted, and the human body — the sexiest thing in the universe — is used to sell cars.
After extremely little consideration, we decided we don’t want that. We want awesome marriages and mind-blowing sex lives. We want women and men to be respected and loved for who they are, to the very depths of their being. We want sex free from fear, love free from use, and a world of people who love and respect their own bodies. In short, we want sexy back. In fact, we demand it.
So we got together — a group of college kids — to find the root of this mentality. (aka what the hell happened!?) Well, though any cultural change contains all sorts of contributing factors, we think we’ve narrowed all the wackness down to its primary cause: The widespread use of artificial contraception.
Their premise: The primary cause of divorce, abortion, STDs, sexual assault, pornography consumption, and sexual objectification is the use of ‘artificial contraception’.
I find this premise reductionist and ahistorical.
Divorce: we have higher rates now because divorce is less stigmatized, not because marriages are getting worse. People were less able to extricate themselves from unhappy and abusive marriages before divorce laws were liberalized and no-fault divorce came about. Women, especially, were forced to stay in unhappy and abusive marriages, because they had little legal recourse, few economic opportunities, and little chance of seeing their children again if they left the marriage. Please see my post on Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Abortion: for centuries, women have used toxic herbs such as pennyroyal and tansy to induce abortion. (Please note: don’t try this. These herbs can kill you.) The ancient Romans evidently used the plant silphium out of existence. Other techniques included ingesting mercury, pressuring or battering the abdomen, inserting an object such as a knitting needle into the uterus, or wearing a very tight girdle during the early weeks of pregnancy. In many eras and cultures, there wasn’t much opposition to abortion before the fetus ‘quickened’, or started to move on its own. Women sought abortions even though most of the above methods could be life-threatening, and midwives frequently provided assistance. You can read a fairly decent overview of historical methods of abortion and contraception, with relation to the Bible, here. The point is that abortion has been a common practice for a very long time. It is not a phenomenon of the 20th/21st centuries. Neither, for that matter is contraception. People have been trying to prevent and space pregnancies for a long time too, using intestine condoms, vaginal suppositories, wads of wool to cover the cervix, and other methods.
STDs: also called STIs (sexually transmitted infections), to recognize that someone can carry an infection and be asymptomatic. Again, STIs have been with us for a long time. Although the origins of syphilis are disputed, many historians believe it was transmitted during the 15th century Columbian Exchange from the Americas to Europe, where it mutated into a sexually communicable disease. Other historians believe it was already present in Europe. Either way, it spread very rapidly. My theory is that the variety and prevalence of STIs today is due to increased globalization. The movement of people across borders and continents, whether due to economic migration or war (and attendant rape and prostitution), facilitates the transmission and mutation of viruses. We live in a very globalized world, and our diseases are globalized too. Observe the recent fears over influenza epidemics, and the new strains that keep cropping up. And sometimes, as with avian flu or swine flu, and as with HIV, viruses make an inter-species leap. STIs did not magically appear because people started using reliable contraception. Plenty of people had multiple partners before the past century. I notice that they don’t include prostitution on their list, presumably because they know it’s ‘the oldest profession’ and features pretty prominently in the Bible.
A world bored with sex and romance: I guess this is open to interpretation. But if the popularity of Twilight suggests anything, it is that we are a people obsessed with sex (or abstinence) and eternal, vampiric romance.
Pornography: only became a concept in the Victorian era, which had a gleefully pornographic subculture. If you would like to disabuse yourself of notions of prudish Victorians, I suggest reading their erotic fiction. You can also look at Greco-Roman art, which features people cavorting in the nude more often than not. This, of course, was not considered pornographic by their cultural standards. But people most definitely consumed pornography and erotica, in art and literature, prior to the advent of reliable contraception. Way prior. Also: prostitution.
Sexual assault: has been happening forever. It’s just that now we have an understanding of sex based on mutual consent, rather than women being considered property and sexually available to their husbands/masters. Rape used to be considered a property crime against a woman’s husband or father, not a crime of violence against an individual human. After decades of campaigning, we’ve reached a point where sexual violence is taken seriously–and is considered a violent crime, not a crime against a man’s honor or a woman’s worth. Sexual assault against poor women and women of color is (hopefully) taken seriously. Sexual assault within a marriage is (hopefully) taken seriously. Sexual assault between same-sex partners is (hopefully) taken seriously. Sexual assault of men is (hopefully) taken seriously. Sexual assault of children is (hopefully) taken seriously. (Hopefully), rape survivors who come forward are taken seriously, and aren’t stigmatized and gaslighted into silence. Okay, we have a long way to go. But sexual assault is not more prevalent because of the existence of contraception. We’re just talking about it more, with a new vocabulary.
Sex in advertising: there was no golden age in which women were not objectified. You know what’s really objectifying? Being considered property.
Sex free from fear: I read once that Norman Rockwell was uncomfortable with his painting ‘Freedom From Fear’, because he thought the expectation that we could ever be free from fear was terribly naive. I’m not saying people should be afraid of sexuality. I’m saying that nothing will magically erase all the potential negative consequences of sexual activity, like STIs, unplanned pregnancies, and pregnancies that risk the life of the mother, and no one should be led to believe otherwise.
Respect and love for bodies: I obviously don’t see this as incompatible with contraceptive use. My healthy respect for my body’s fertility is why I use birth control. And it certainly does not make my boyfriend respect me any less.
Sigh. It’s all so very, very reductionist. And it puts forward one special way as the secret to a great marriage (nothing outside marriage, obviously) and a great sex life, free from worries like STIs and unplanned pregnancies. The world is more complex than this, kids.