Posts Tagged ‘condoms’

Replying to more arguments regarding no-cost birth control

July 26, 2011

Since writing about birth control access last week, I’ve come across a few more arguments in the comments section of this blog/my OpenSalon version of this blog that I’d like to address:

  • Condoms aren’t that expensive, why not just use those?
  • $50 isn’t that much money, you can easily forgo excesses and scrape together the money for a co-pay.
  • If you can’t afford birth control and don’t want to get pregnant, then don’t have sex.

Firstly, condoms are cheaper than a lot of types of birth control. But two methods are always better than one, especially if you’re concerned that a condom will break and you — as the woman — could get pregnant. For me, it’s important to know that I have control over my reproductive health, and condoms alone don’t fulfill that sense of security. It’s also important to know that should a condom fail, you’re taking another form of birth control as an added preventive measure against an unplanned pregnancy.

Secondly, $50 isn’t that much money to some people, but just because you could easily scrape together $50 by going out to the bars less or eating out less doesn’t mean other people could. Some women and families already aren’t doing those things and struggle financially, and to them $50 is a lot of money each month. Also, as one commenter pointed out on a previous birth control blog, some clinics that offer low-cost birth control do so in a lump sum. So the price is reasonable per month, but you pay for everything up front — is $150 as easy to gather just by nixing pizza for a month?

Another problem with this mentality is that scraping together money for birth control each month is not a stable way to ensure birth control access. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, then you’ll only successfully scrape together enough money for birth control as long as no other unexpected expenses come your way. Say you save $50 for your co-pay, and then your car breaks down. The bill is $300 — how are you going to pay for birth control now? This leaves women using it inconsistently — a major problem that leads to unplanned pregnancies.

Thirdly, the “just don’t have sex” argument is logical but not practical. True, if people don’t want to get pregnant then they could just not have sex. This is the theme of abstinence-only education, which studies show is less effective at preventing pregnancies than comprehensive sex education because just saying “don’t do it” isn’t efficient. What is efficient is giving people the tools and knowledge they need to practice safe sex.

Some people will probably never agree here, because one side sees this as preventive and the other side sees it as enabling. I see it as realistic. Yes, yes, I hear the people in the “actions have consequences and if you can’t handle having a baby then don’t have sex” corner, but that argument just turns a blind eye to how people actually act. People will have sex, and sure, you can punish them by ensuring birth control is inaccessible so either they have to abide by your moral compass or risk an unplanned pregnancy. Or, you can admit that it’s better for everyone involved that we accept people will have sex outside of procreation purposes and that ensuring unplanned pregnancies don’t lead to abortions or unhealthy babies is more important than winning a standoff because you refuse to compromise.

Sounds like a common theme lately in politics …

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‘Real World’: Double standards when it comes to hooking up

May 5, 2011

‘Tis the season for double standards this week on Real World: specifically, (1) that gal-on-gal sexual relations are awesome but guy-on-guy sexual relations are gross, and (2) gals who have one-night stands are sluts but guys who have one-night stands are ballers.

The same-sex relations double standard came up this week when Heather and Nany had some ambiguous sexual relations. They did more than make out, but Heather wasn’t clear on the details when she told Dustin about it. Anyway, Nany wasn’t fazed by it, but Heather was particularly distraught about what had happened. She was upset after the fact, saying her confusion about Dustin manifested itself in a hookup with Nany.

This is a double standard because Heather initially had said she wouldn’t get with a guy who had been with another guy before — even just kissing. When Heather found out about Dustin’s past (living his life on a webcam with other guys, participating in a guy-on-guy porn where he admitted to giving another guy oral sex), she was very distraught — not only because he lied about it, but because she had established that guy-on-guy interactions made her uncomfortable.

Now, I don’t think this is a true double standard because Heather was upset after the fact, not claiming that it was OK for her and Nany to hook up but not two guys. It does, however, speak to how our own personal experiences can change our judgment calls. There’s something to be said about how we view something we’ve never experienced  versus how our opinion changes once we do experience it. (Other things in the it’ll-never-happen-to-me category — aside from being attracted to a member of the same sex — include unplanned pregnancy, being unemployed, needing government assistance, etc.) It could give her a fresh perspective on how she views Dustin’s past interactions with guys.

Now the other male roommates’ reaction was definitely pure double standard. Mike, who wrote a letter to Dustin basically saying he didn’t like him anymore because he had sexual relations with other guys, and LeRoy, who tried to have a religious intervention with Dustin and encouraged him to ask God for help, both thought the Heather-Nany hookup was arousing and awesome. No intervention with Jesus for girl-on-girl action, eh?

The second double standard was courtesy of Dustin, who was surprised that Cooke hooked up with his friend who was visiting from out of town (later Dustin himself made out with Cooke in the backseat of a taxi). He said he was shocked that Cooke had a one-night stand, saying, “I’m from the South where ladies don’t do that.” I might sound like a broken record, but seriously? You don’t say a word when LeRoy brings home different women, but Cooke does and suddenly you need to imply that she is a slut? Groooooooooan.

Also, for crying out loud, USE PROTECTION. Naomi got a vaginal infection (and a pregnancy scare) likely courtesy of unprotected sex with LeRoy, who admitted to having unprotected sex with some other women in Vegas too (though initially he was not honest with Naomi about it). I did appreciate their mature talk about it, and that LeRoy apologized for putting Naomi and himself in that position by not only having unprotected sex with multiple women, but not being up front with Naomi about it. Pull-and-pray not only is a terrible birth control method, but it protects against ZERO sexually transmitted infections.

Survey sheds light on attitudes toward teen pregnancy

December 29, 2010

A recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics found that the teen birth rate declined by 6 percent, and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy also recently released a survey (not to be confused with the NCHS study) regarding attitudes toward teen pregnancy. Instead of discussing the study, I’d like to address the teen responses to the survey.

The survey found that 82 percent of teens “think [16 and Pregnant] helps teens better understand the challenges of teen pregnancy and parenthood and how to avoid it,” which isn’t a surprise. It’s like the slides of sexually transmitted infections they show you in health class — that lesson about herpes has much more of an impact when you see it rather than just hearing about it.

I agree that 16 and Pregnant can definitely have a positive effect on teens, but some of the other survey results show that there’s still a long way to go when it comes to education about sex and pregnancy. Of those surveyed, 78 percent said they had all the information they needed to know to avoid an unplanned pregnancy — though 49 percent knew little or nothing about condoms and 34 percent agreed that birth control didn’t matter — pregnancy would just happen if “it is your time to get pregnant.”

These results indicate a serious lack of comprehensive sex education — if someone thinks that they know the only way to prevent pregnancy, and thinks the only way is abstinence, then yeah, they aren’t going to search for condoms or consider birth control. This is the danger of abstinence-only sex education — abstinence is undoubtedly the best way to prevent pregnancy, but it isn’t the only way. Teens need to know that it’s not divine will or fate that gets people pregnant — unprotected sex is what leads to pregnancy, and teens have the choice to use protection to prevent pregnancy.

Interestingly enough, 80 percent said it would be easier to delay having sex if they had a more open, honest relationship with their parents — with about two-thirds of both teens and adults agreeing that teens don’t use contraception primarily out of fear of parents finding out about it. And about the same number of parents said they’d be happy to find out their kids were using protection if they were having sex.

I find this statistic particularly interesting because this season on 16 and Pregnant, so many more of the teens had an open relationship with their parents regarding sex. The moms were constantly questioning their teenage kids, asking them why they had unprotected sex when they’d been taught about condoms and safe sex. One mom even put condoms under the bathroom sink for her daughter to use if necessary. I agree that open communication is definitely a good thing, but I don’t think it’s extremely far ahead of other reasons teens might not use protection, such as lack of sex education or pressure from a significant other.

The survey also addressed sexting, with 71 percent of teens and 81 percent of adults agreeing that “sharing nude or semi-nude images of themselves or other teens electronically (through cell phones, websites, and/or social media networks) leads to more sex in real life.” That is extremely concerning, considering how the “typical” age for people to get cell phones is getting younger and younger, and the expectation of sex adds pressure and danger to people who send pictures of themselves perhaps not with sex in mind (both teens and adults).

The survey results are very interesting, but they don’t lead to a definitive answer on what could be responsible for the drop in teen pregnancy. For adults the drop could definitely be related to the economy, but teens aren’t worrying about the economy when they are having sex. Both abstinence and comprehensive sex ed groups could try to claim victory. Regardless of MTV’s influence, the survey highlights that teens are still very under-educated about sex, and nearly three-quarters of adults said they’d want their kids to learn both about abstinence and contraception.

16&P: Sibling pregnancy patterns, modesty, passivity

November 3, 2010

This week on 16 and Pregnant we met Felicia, a 16 year old with — you guessed it — a douchey boyfriend who is too busy getting tattoos, working (how is he “taking off work” from the barber shop at night? What barber shop is open at 11 p.m?), and hanging out with his friends to emotionally or financially support Felicia and their newborn baby Genesis. Though douchey boyfriend is the most common theme on 16 and Pregnant, this episode had others, too.

1. It runs in the family

Felicia is the youngest of five children, and although she aspires to be the first of her siblings to graduate, she isn’t the first to get pregnant at a young age. “Both my sisters had their kids young, and I remember I was like, ‘That’s not going to be me,'” Felicia said. Teen pregnancy prevalence is not uncommon among siblings, though — younger siblings of teen parents are two to six times more likely to also become pregnant teens.

This makes a lot of sense — if you’re raised in the same environment, it means you’re likely getting the same sex education at school, the same sex education at home, and living in the same family environment. For instance, Felicia’s mom worked nights, which allows for less adult supervision and could have possibly played a role in her kids having a place to have sex.

The problem is that, despite her ambition to not become pregnant, she admits that she only used a condom twice in all the times she had sex with her boyfriend, Alex. It’s difficult to know whether pressure from Alex, the “heat of the moment” syndrome, the “it won’t happen to me” thought process, or simply a lack of sex education contributed to her getting pregnant. It’s hard to believe that her mom wouldn’t make the effort to educate her — especially after two of her daughters were young mothers — but the episode didn’t shed light on that.

2. Modesty ≠ celibacy

Both last week and this week, someone commented that they were shocked these teens were even having sex because they were so modest. “I saw myself as a goody good too,” Felicia said, seemingly insinuating that “goody goods” or modest people don’t have sex. This is a problem because these modest people might not be getting the information they need about sex, both because people assume that someone who is sexually active carries specific personality traits and because Mom and Dad think their little girl is perfectly wholesome, so why put ideas about sex and condoms and birth control in her head?

Last week was different because Brooke’s mom still educated her about sex despite thinking Brooke was very modest, but Felicia’s perceived modesty could be some of the reason that her mom didn’t think to educate her about sex. She might have assumed between watching her sisters get pregnant at a young age and her own reserved personality, Felicia wouldn’t be having sex — but assuming rather than communicating leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation.

Parents likely want to believe that the modest clothes, the nerdy personality, the quiet demeanor, the pile of extra-curriculars, etc. are signs of virginity, but really they are simply personality traits that have nothing to do with determining sex drive. Parents likely use these to convince themselves that they don’t need to have the sex talk, but they are nothing but stereotypes. Virgins can wear short skirts and sexually active teens can wear baggy clothes — hence, profiling is not an effective way to determine which teens are having sex, sexually active teens shouldn’t be the only ones getting educated, and a teen shouldn’t already be having sex before getting sex ed, anyway.

3. A little too passive

One thing that bothered me about Felicia — which bothers me about several of the teen moms I’ve seen on this show — is that they are not open and assertive enough about their boyfriends’ being involved with child care. In Felicia’s case, I initially thought this was because of financial dependence — she told her friends she didn’t know where she’d be without Alex to pay for everything — but after Genesis was born, Felicia complained that Alex wasn’t contributing financially to things for the baby.

Would Alex have been responsive to more assertiveness? I’m not sure — Felicia tried at the end of the episode to get through to him, and nothing was really resolved. But it pained me to see her struggling to finish homework while Alex couldn’t even take 10 minutes to feed Genesis a bottle, and I’m curious if more insistence from Felicia would have made a difference or if the prospect of Alex contributing more financially kept Felicia unhealthily dependent on him.

16&P: ‘It won’t happen to me’ makes for poor birth control

November 1, 2010

Season three of 16 & Pregnant started with a wedding between 16-year-old Brooke and Cody, who had been dating two years and decided to get married when Brooke was three months pregnant. Brooke gave birth to baby Brody, and Brooke and Cody worked opposite schedules to ensure they both got their high school diplomas but also still could afford the baby’s necessities.

As it is now season three, the themes I have discussed before repeat themselves, and it’s not entirely necessary for me to revisit and repeat that getting married just because you’re having a baby is a poor decision, or that teen pregnancy risk is higher if you were the child of teenage parents, or countless other themes that were found in this episode. There was, however, one theme I’d like to expound on, and it involves condoms under the bathroom sink.

Brooke was not like the typical teen moms on 16 & Pregnant who simply weren’t educated about contraception or were too afraid to ask their parents about it or afraid their parents would find it — Brooke’s mom was a teen mom herself, and she was totally open about contraception and educating Brooke about using it properly.

Brooke’s mom showed Brooke how to put a condom on (using a cucumber), and she kept condoms under the bathroom sink. But Brooke’s mom’s own teenage pregnancy struggles and stories, education, and openness about offering contraception didn’t stop Brooke from getting pregnant. Abstinence-only education proponents will argue that her mom’s open attitude encouraged Brooke to have sex, but I disagree.

A few months back, I wrote about a study that showed that when provided advanced supplies of the morning-after pill, women did not use it significantly more than women who did not have a ready supply of the pill. This contradicted the main thought that women often didn’t use the morning-after pill because actually going to the pharmacy to get the pill stood in the way (whether because it was inconvenient or they were afraid of being judged).

The main theory that explains both these scenarios — which Dr. Drew actually mentioned in his Teen Mom finale special last week — is that most people think, “It won’t happen to me.” The “heat of the moment” excuse works for not using condoms, but that’s no excuse for not taking a pill after the fact. I think an underlying and common reason that people have unprotected sex is that they don’t think pregnancy is a possible consequence for them.

This is especially true if people have had unprotected sex before without it resulting in a pregnancy. The last season of 16 & Pregnant began with Janelle, who used that very excuse — her and her boyfriend had sex a number of times without a condom while she wasn’t using birth control and she hadn’t gotten pregnant before — so she figured it would be fine to do again. The more people have unprotected sex without getting pregnant, the more immune they think they are from it.

I’m not sure of a great way to combat this mentality — lots of people have the “invincible” mentality and partake in risky behavior habitually because they never see any consequences. For example, take wearing a seat belt — it’s a preventative safety measure, so that if you have a car accident, you reduce your risk of injury. The seat belt only does its job, however, if it is actually used, and some people — especially if they haven’t gotten in a car accident ever or in a long time — neglect to use the seat belt because they don’t think they’ll get in a car accident.

People often use the logic of, “I did this once before without consequence, so it’s fine if I do it again,” but logically that doesn’t hold water because the circumstances will be entirely different each time you do whatever event. Sure those sperm didn’t fertilize that egg the first time around — does that mean they never will just because they failed initially? Of course not — that’s why safety measures are precautions — actions taken before something undesired happens, just in case something undesired happens.

I’m going to ponder how to break through the wall of invincibility — suggestions are welcome.

Discouraging condoms to discourage sex is unsafe, misguided

July 13, 2010

Some people think that eliminating condoms will eliminate sex. Abstinence-only sex education advocates think that teaching about condoms — or worse, providing condoms — is what inspires teens to have sex (not hormones or sex drives or curiosity or anything like that), so removing the condoms from the curriculum will remove the sex as well. It seems some cities are adopting this misguided philosophy when it comes to buckling down on prostitution, too.

In D.C., New York, and San Francisco, having condoms has “been used as evidence contributing to arrest and prosecution for intent to commit prostitution.” In D.C. specifically, carrying three or more condoms can be used as a factor in an arrest for intent to commit prostution, according to the Women’s Rights arm of change.org (though Amanda Hess from Washington City Paper’s The Sexist couldn’t find evidence of a specific “three-condom” rule).

Again, in this instance, the mentality is that discouraging people from using condoms will somehow discourage them from having sex — an argument that is both flawed and dangerous. In fact, Hess references a report (executive summary here, although the website with the full report isn’t working) that found “plenty of evidence of police officers confiscating or destroying sex workers’ contraception,” with 8.6 percent of sex workers saying that police officers had taken “safe sex supplies” from them.

Eventually, people will have to realize that taking away condoms doesn’t take away sex — it does take away the protection from sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. Especially in a city like D.C., where at least 3 percent of the population has HIV or AIDS (which exceeds the 1 percent criterion for an epidemic and rivals the HIV rates of some West African countries), what purpose does discouraging condom use serve? It’s not a solution to anything — sex workers are still going to have sex, except it will be unprotected.

Also, it creates an unwarranted negative stigma around condoms — condoms are a good thing! They protect against sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy — associating having multiple condoms with commiting a crime discourages people not from having sex, but from having safe sex. You can take away someone’s seat belt or bike helmet, but most people will still take the risk and try to drive and bike anyway — it will just be exponentially less safe.  

In the end, the change.org article says it best when it adds that criminalizing condom use or even sex work isn’t the right solution:

If you want to criminalize something, stick to pimping — after all, many of these women have been trafficked unwillingly and subjected to violence. If they weren’t so afraid of being arrested for stepping forward to condemn their pimps, we’d have a better chance of finding the true criminals in this situation.

Having easy access to morning-after pill might give women false sense of security

March 19, 2010

So, the morning-after pill doesn’t reduce pregnancy rates, doesn’t change frequency of unprotected sex, and doesn’t change how often people use condoms. This is according to a report conducted by The Cochrane Group, which took 11 separate studies of the morning-after pill, combined the findings, and analyzed them.

The report focused on studies where women were given an advanced set of pills, because some speculated that getting the pill from a prescription or at a pharmacy was inconvenient and delayed the pill from being taken, meaning hours could go by (and eggs could get fertilized) before a woman could get access to the pill. I mean, if you have sex at midnight, you have to wait until a pharmacy or doctor’s office is open to get the pill.

Some background: The morning-after pill is not birth control, but rather a pill that you can take up to 72 hours after having unprotected sex in order to prevent a pregnancy (not terminate one). It works in a few different ways to prevent pregnancy: preventing ovulation, thickening the cervical mucus so the sperm can’t get into the egg, and then thining the wall of the uterus so the egg can’t attach to the uteran wall and start growing.

Anyway, I hate to pick things I like about a report’s finding and things I don’t, but obviously I enjoy that the report finds that women don’t see the morning-after pill as an excuse to be promiscuous. People always say condoms, birth control, and now emergency birth control are weapons that young people especially can use in their battle to have unprotected sex with everyone they see. Unfortunately for skeptics, women don’t abuse the morning-after pill.

What’s odd to me is how people can have a stash of these pills and still pregnancy rates don’t decline — it makes me wonder who the women were in these studies and how they varied by age and marital status. I can’t see the article without paying for it, so I will hopelessly wait for the information. 

The report is more impressive if they targeted a specific age group of women who are especially prone to unplanned pregnancies, say, women aged 18-24, and then compared the statistics from the experimental group to real life statistics. Although more than 7,000 women are part of the studies, the fact that the women were from four different countries and that results came from 11 different studies makes me curious about the specifics.

I would speculate (as the report originally hypothesized) that pregnancies would decline simply because having to ask for the morning-after pill is especially stigmatized. Not only do you have to go to your doctor or the pharmacist and admit that you are sexually active — which could prompt immediate judgment from the doctor or pharmacist, depending on your age and their personal views — but you are also admitting that you made a mistake while having sex.

The condom broke, you forgot to take your birth control, you just didn’t use anything — combine the shame that society wants women to feel for having sex outside of marriage with the shame that comes along with making an additional mistake during sex, and you have a remedy for women who are too frightened to get the pill or agonize over getting it just long enough for a sperm to fertilize their egg.

I’d think having a ready supply would be a no-brainer, but as many have pointed out, the pill won’t work if you don’t take it, much like a condom won’t work if you don’t wear it. I wonder if just knowing they had the pills at their disposal gave women a false sense of security, as if the idea of an unplanned pregnancy seemed less urgent because they knew they were prepared — but forgot that ingesting the pill is what makes it effective, not having it in your medicine cabinet.

This reminds me of other instances where you might equip yourself to be protected, but the equipment along needs to be used to fulfill its duty — e.g. you install a security system in your house but forget to set it when you leave the house. Perhaps the study is accurate, and people too often fall for the illusion that having protection is being protected — you have to actually use the equipment to see the results you want.

16&P: Don’t rely on your partner when it comes to contraception

March 3, 2010

[Note: The episode that aired never mentioned that Valerie herself was taking birth control pills — I didn’t figure that out until my BFF said Valerie was taking birth control pills, according to an after-show interview with MTV that was only posted online.

The post below has been changed to reflect Valerie’s use of the birth control pill.]

Last night’s 16 and Pregnant highlighted the importance of personal responsibility when it comes to contraception, as both sexual partners need to make sure they have protected themselves and aren’t relying on their partner to do so for them.

Fifteen-year-old Valerie had unprotected (no condom) sex with her boyfriend, Matt, who is older and “more experienced” than she is. She got pregnant, he decided he didn’t want to have any communication with her unless it was about the baby, she contemplated just cutting him out of the picture, in the end he moved 200 miles away to look for a full-time job and seems to want to help support Valerie and Nevaeh.

Lots and lots of these girls have had sex education, their friends ask “What were you thinking?” and they simply shrug their shoulders and say they weren’t. Valerie’s friend Sienna asked why she didn’t use condoms and Valerie just said that she was stupid and listened to Matt because he was older and more “experienced.”

I immediately wondered if she had even thought about his “experience” and the fact that he could be passing some sexually transmitted infection like herpes or HIV thanks to all his sexual experience, but there’s another important problem this action highlights: These girls obviously know what a condom is, they know its purpose, but in Valerie’s case she simply disregarded what a teacher said in favor of what her boyfriend did or said.

Protection is something that you cannot assume your partner is going to take care of — Valerie did use birth control, but the message that the editors at MTV gave was that she did not. Either way, this editing technique does bring to light the important of personal responsibility when having sex.

More than stories of women, I’ve heard stories of men who are shocked when their female sexual partners get pregnant, all along assuming that she was taking some sort of birth control. This is the excuse Seth Rogan’s character gives in the movie Knocked Up when trying to make excuses for not wearing a condom.

You are responsible for yourself, and if you are in no way protecting yourself from STIs or an unplanned pregnancy, then you are equally responsible for the consequences. Just because a guy says he is clean, says he will pull out, says whatever he wants to avoid wearing a condom, doesn’t mean that you can’t insist on a condom and refuse to have sex without one.

From this episode, I hope that women (teenage and adult alike) learn that personal responsibility is key — it’s your body, and you can better control what happens to it when you take precautions and look out for yourself, rather than relying on someone else to do so.

I hope women also learn that scientific facts trump experience or inexperience — unprotected sex leads to higher risks for pregnancy, as nothing is stopping than sperm from fertilizing that egg. It doesn’t matter if the guy is an “expert,” if you’re a novice, or if he’s just older than you are — stick with the facts because talk is cheap, and babies are expensive.