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Sex, Drugs, and Republicans

Rick Santorum wants to make sex lives "special" by imposing his religiously-influenced views on contraception on the American public, leaving detractors in a froth over this new attack on personal liberty and the weakening division between church and state.

by Tamara Watkins

Rick Santorum wants my sex life to be special. Well, isn’t that thoughtful of him?

In a recent interview, Santorum said,

One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea.... It's not okay because it's a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They're supposed to be within marriage, for purposes that are, yes, conjugal...but also procreative.

That's the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that's not for purposes of procreation, that's not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can't you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it's simply pleasure. That's certainly a part of it—and it's an important part of it, don't get me wrong—but there's a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special.

This statement, along with his attacks on birth control, make Santorum's intended meaning quite clear: If you're not willing to gamble that a sperm and egg are going to meet and form a zygote (which, of course, is a person), you have no reason to have sex. Bonobos can have all the sex for pleasure they want to, yet American men and women are slut-shamed for doing it by a man whose name is a now-famous frothy Google result.

Why are Americans' sex lives a topic for public discourse? Why do conservatives think that women's use of (legal) drugs is a matter for public discussion? Why are couples' sex lives politically relevant? Conservatives criticized the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, stating that it violates the First Amendment and invades citizens' privacy. Now conservatives are decrying women's access to hormonal contraceptive and abortion. How is attempting to restrict access to medical care not an invasion of privacy? This is not a question I know the answer to, but that is likely because I am a rational person.

Anti-choice, anti-contraceptive activists seem to be confused about a number of things, most notably what constitutes their own business (and how to mind it) and medical science. These troglodytes fail to understand that hormonal contraceptive is used for more than birth control. Women use this medication for a number of medical reasons, including the regulation of their menstrual cycles, easement of dysmenorrhea, and controlling severe acne. It's not just so ladies can be "sexual libertines." (Such a polite way of saying "sluts," isn't it?)

A number of Republican candidates are fighting the bad fight against contraceptives, including a number of elected Republicans at the state and national levels. A self-proclaimed Catholic, Santorum's religious beliefs undoubtedly inform his political beliefs. (Never mind that he ignores other Catholic teachings when they don't fit his agenda). I take umbrage at any individual, regardless of gender, religion, or political affiliation, who attempts to block my access to medical care. However, Santorum is personally offensive to me. He has a law degree—not a medical degree. Why does he assume that he is qualified to give women medical advice or comment on the use of legal drugs? Why do Santorum and his ilk think they can tell me what I may do with my reproductive system, but I, the individual who owns these organs, have no say? What qualifies him to speak about what medical care I receive? The fact that he has been elected to political office? His interpretation of Scripture?

If Rick Santorum did have a medical degree, he would understand that using hormonal contraceptives for purposes unrelated to birth control is widely accepted and practiced. It is regularly prescribed for non-contraceptive use. If hormonal contraceptives are banned, then women will no longer have access to medicine that will help them be healthy. So much for pursuing life, not to mention liberty and freedom, which are also becoming more difficult for women to pursue.

This shocking lack of concern for women's health appalls me. Women who have debilitating conditions such as endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome suffer economically and educationally. According to one study, "140 million work and school hours are lost annually due to menstrual-related symptoms." These conditions can be managed through the use of hormonal contraceptives. Why aren't these Republicans, who have been claiming for years that they are worried about the economy and want Americans to have jobs, concerned that preventable medical issues are impacting women's economic lives? I suspect that anti-contraceptive activists would respond, "Well, women should just pop a Midol! Cramps aren't that bad! They don't really need these drugs for anything except avoiding their destiny: Finding a man who will impregnate them and allow them to stop working outside the home. These women should be in a kitchen and making their men pies while incubating a fetus, not pursuing careers!"

Incubating fetuses: Women's highest calling, according to current conservative rhetoric. Fetuses are tiny little people, complete with rights and personhood, and women should never, ever consider doing anything to prevent or end a pregnancy. Currently, politicians are attacking access to contraception and abortion. Next, will Santorum and his comrades attempt to outlaw all sexual activity that is not vaginal intercourse? Because you can't get pregnant if you do the act that leads to that stuff his name means! Would it be a travesty if an egg and sperm might not have the opportunity to meet in some secluded and romantic fallopian tube? Is this what our elected officials should spend their time debating? (What happened to job creation?)

Attacks on contraceptives aside, it's fascinating that Republicans—who bill themselves as family-oriented and constantly carp about how the sanctity of marriage is challenged every time a loving same sex couple gets married—would dare intrude on anything related to connubial (heterosexual) sexual relations. Republicans telling (straight, married) couples that they should not use birth control is a violation of married couples' privacy (and Griswold v. Connecticut.)

It seems that family values proponents only value families who do what conservatives deem appropriate.

As Republicans like to remind us, America is all about freedom. Unless you're a woman who wants autonomous control over her medical decisions. Unless you're an unmarried woman who wants to have sex for recreation, not procreation—then you're a godless sexual libertine and must be stopped. (And converted into God-fearing Republicans, I'm sure.) The definition of "freedom" seems to be getting more refined daily, as does the group of people who are entitled to it.

Imagine living in the Republic of Gilead. That is the theocratic paradise anti-choice, anti-contraceptive activists are diligently working toward making a reality.

In the meantime, I’m going to go look into how to brew up hormonal contraceptives in my bathtub.

Tamara Watkins teaches college classes and spends her free time getting riled up about misogyny and politics.

Image © Tamara Watkins 2012
Copyright © Tamara Watkins. All rights reserved.