We live in a tumultuous time and few can predict the news each day will bring. However, we can be certain that under a Republican Congress and President and with a Supreme Court that is bound to become more “conservative,” the U.S. government will move to limit its citizens’ access to contraception and sex education.
When I say citizens, I mean both women and men.
Yes, men will be intimately affected by limited access to contraception. Why do so few of them seem to understand this?
Shutting down funding for Planned Parenthood is always presented in terms of its effect on women’s health. Reproductive choice is regarded as a woman’s issue, something that might sway the votes of women, but never men. It’s as if men don’t play a role in pregnancy at all.
Men may no longer have the luxury of ignoring the fact that they do.
Let me pause here to say for the record that my argument has nothing to do with abortion, which is about what happens after conception. I’m talking about the access adult men and women have to modern medical technology that will enable them to have sexual intercourse without conceiving a child.
But seriously, you say, who would take this access to birth control away from us? That would never happen!
Haven’t you noticed? All kinds of crazy and unimaginable things are happening these days.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of powerful male politicians who either actually want to take access away--especially from the young and people with low incomes--or who go along without thinking through how it might affect their male voters’ lives. Too many of us take for granted that contraception is part of our right to privacy. Birth control has nothing to do with government control. However, a look back in history shows that our government has zealously denied its citizens access to contraception for a period of over ninety years.
Before the Comstock Act, a federal law pushed through a tired, distracted Congress in 1873, birth control was legal in the United States. The Comstock Act cleverly prohibited sending any device or information having to do with contraception through the mail. Its pure-minded father, Anthony Comstock, was also appointed as a special agent to the post office to enforce his law, which he did with sanctimonious enthusiasm. He most often targeted small-scale, immigrant-run condom and “womb veil” producers, while letting Goodyear, a wealthy company which manufactured rubber condoms as well as other rubber goods, avoid surveillance and consequences. By the way, the Comstock Act also prohibited sending obscene materials through the mail—including sex toys, pornography and erotica, although the latter was surely not as well-written as erotica authored today!
The Comstock Act was terminated in 1957--that is, not all that long ago--although in 1936 there was a court ruling, United States v. One Package of Japanese Pessaries (the best court case name ever!), that the federal government could not prevent a doctor from providing contraception to his patients. In other words, those who were wealthy enough to have enlightened physicians who supported family planning could enjoy the benefits of reproductive technology much earlier than the common man.
In Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court decided that the Constitution protected the right of married people to use birth control as late as 1965. Only in 1972 did Eisenstadt v. Baird allow unmarried people the same right. Estelle Griswold was the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut who opened a birth control clinic in New Haven to challenge the state’s lingering Comstock law. William Baird purposely got himself arrested and convicted for handing a condom and package of contraceptive foam to a 19-year-old unmarried woman after a lecture on birth control. We must remember this didn’t just happen. These brave people along with many others (Margaret Sanger and her husband and many more) endured prison and hardship to win us our right to control our reproduction.
It might be a fight we have to wage once more.
Indeed some want to turn back the clock to a more idyllic time in America, before all these pushy women had the idea they were equal and wanted to have sex without consequences. I’d like to consider what such a renaissance of old-time values and customs would mean for men who want to have sex today.
Until the 1920s, when sexual intimacy was first acknowledged as an important part of a married couple’s happiness, an enlightened man would be considerate of wife’s health and abstain from sexual intercourse as much as possible. That was the only universally accepted way to control family size. The desire for sex was a bestial urge, and the civilized man would conceive a few children to help his wife fulfill her womanly nature, then nobly refrain—or visit a prostitute.
Now some men were not so noble, or inclined to visit prostitutes, and relied on other means to control family size.
Clelia Mosher’s survey of married women beginning in 1892 revealed that withdrawal was a fairly popular birth control method back when men were men and women wore corsets all the time and not just for fetish reasons. Planned Parenthood reports that if always done correctly, only 4 in 100 women will become pregnant each year using the withdrawal method. I was told it was a terrible form of birth control, so I’m surprised it’s that good. Of course, the rate climbs to 27 out of 100 if the man is not as conscientious, so it probably is not a great method for teenagers.
Back in the early twentieth century, many doctors recommended against withdrawal because it would make men weak and mentally infirm. The argument was no doubt self-interested, but most men today would probably agree. The rhythm method was not discovered until 1930. Before that, most physicians thought women were “safe” at the midpoint of their menstrual cycle based on studies of animals. The rhythm method might also be called “limited abstinence” because the couple might have to abstain as many as ten days of the cycle. If you don’t like sex during menstruation, the period of abstinence will be even longer.
Is traditional-values living sounding good so far?
Condoms were the most popular purchased contraceptive back in our glory days. Goodyear rubber condoms were so thick and sturdy they could be washed and reused. If we return to such a way of life, remember that recycling is good for the environment! Latex condoms were invented in the 1920s but men still had to purchase them under the counter in cigar stores, gas stations and saloons. Bellboys usually had a few on hand if you tipped nicely. Again we might ask—who would take condoms from the shelves of CVS? Can we take anything for granted in this crazy twenty-first century world of ours?
The other option was and is, of course, to have lots and lots of children. If followed to its logical conclusion, a policy which prohibits family planning and sex education means that someone with an active sex life will have twenty children. Since every other man with an active sex life will also have twenty children, that's a lot of babies. And babies don’t die as often as they used to from diphtheria and measles as they did back in the day, although with an anti-vaxxer in the White House, infectious diseases might be great again, too. But let’s figure the world will be really crowded and competitive with all those kids running around. You think it’s hard to get into a good college now?
So in summary, gentlemen, if you don’t stand up and insist on every citizen’s right to reproductive options to your elected officials in the most vehement terms, you may well be left with the following choices of yore:
Then again there is one more option for sexual expression I forgot to mention: read erotic stories with your lover and pleasure each other manually and orally. Save the intercourse strictly for when you want kids.
Come to think of it, if we’re not slapped with a revival of the Comstock Act, the new era of reproductive restriction might be good business for erotica writers after all.
Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman and a collection of short stories, Mammoth Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor