I am a slut.
At least, if I understand Rush Limbaugh correctly, I should be considered a slut. And also a prostitute. And, because I am a slut and a prostitute, I should also think about putting some sex videos online for everyone—or at least Rush—to watch.
You’ve probably read all about Rush’s astounding assertions. The radio blowhard, who still somehow attracts millions of listeners (including a good number of evangelicals), decided last week to take aim at Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student testifying in Congress about contraception. More to the point, she testified that insurance companies, to which many pay exorbitant premiums, should provide free contraception to women. Fluke had been denied the opportunity to testify before a Republican delegation two weeks earlier; the delegation assumed women had little to say about contraception, being that it affected them in some pretty personal ways, and so invited an all-male panel of clergy to speak instead (plus two token women who were there to speak on religious liberty). A committee of Democrats, perhaps sensing an injustice had been done, invited Fluke back to share why she believed insurance companies should fund birth control as part of a woman’s preventative health care.
Rush apparently interpreted this to mean that Fluke was asking Americans to pay for her to have sex, and lots of it. Hence, he felt right in calling her a slut and a prostitute and a potential erotic film star. When people across the country cried foul and advertisers began bailing, noting that Rush’s comments were misogynistic, perverse, and wrong-headed, others rushed to the bloviator’s defense: What he was saying is true! Why should taxpayers have to pay for women to have sex without penalty?! Let them fund their own recreation! And anyway, taking birth control takes away from the natural order, from God’s longing for women to carry lots and lots of babies!
I am appalled by Rush’s comments, but not completely surprised. He has said and done a number of outrageous things, many of them stupid, ill-informed, and harmful. (Remember his support for the murderous Lord’s Resistance Army last fall? He believed the Obama’s condemnation of the truly heinous group was, in Rush’s words, “anti-Christian”: the president should be supporting groups that have “Lord” in the title, I suppose.) No, Rush is an ass who happens to make millions of bucks spouting such nonsense. It’s the others who raise my ire even more—those who defend Rush, or who provide pale rebukes, or who dance around the awful things he said, not wanting to make the Great One angry. (Here’s looking at you, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum).
Last week, when one of Rush’s defenders engaged my dad on Facebook, I couldn’t help but respond. (I know, I know, totally wrong venue. But still.) I let the Ditto Head know that by his standards, and that of other fanatics, I am also a slut. Because of this: I’ve been using birth control since my mid-20s, when I was in graduate school. The medication truly protected me: in my case, from missed work, and lots of pain, and a reproductive system gone whacky by stress or running or something. Still, I paid for the medicine all by myself, even though I was using it to alleviate health problems that had nothing to do with whether I engaged in sex or not. In Rush Limbaugh et al.’s world, though, my desire to have an insurance plan covering this medication, I suppose, somehow makes me slutty. So be it.
I’ve continued paying out-of-pocket for birth control pills ever since. It doesn’t matter that I’m now married, and so—in the minds of some—am legit for having sex, or that the medication has saved my family from unplanned pregnancies, making it possible for us to build our home the way we wanted, through adoption. Others don’t think I should have access to insurance-funded birth control at all, and that any kind of contraception—taken by married or single women—somehow goes against God’s great plan. For example, a Catholic priest, writing for the Fort Wayne, Ind. newspaper this past week said “When sexual relations between spouses loses part of its full power, that is, the ability to procreate, what is also lost is the power to communicate ‘I love you, and I give my whole self to you.’ . . . So the use of contraception in marriage has not liberated the woman, but rather leads her to enslavement, leads her to being an object to be used, even by her husband.” Like Rush, the Rev. Mark Gurtner makes claims about women and their sexuality that he cannot know or understand. So that, apparently, in addition to being a slut and a prostitute, I am also a sex slave by virtue of using contraception.
Perhaps what drives me most crazy about these pronouncements (slut! Sex slave! Prostitute!) is the hypocrisy, as well as the misinformation about what contraception is, and how it works. Every time I pay through my eyeballs for birth control, I remind myself that my insurance plan covers Viagra, a medication which allows some men to enjoy sex without pain or embarrassment. Why the double standard? Where are the politicians railing against insurance companies for funding men’s sex? Why isn’t Rush assailing Viagra-using men for their habits, their intimate moments paid for by insurance?
And while some men need to take a Viagra pill every time they have sex, birth control doesn’t necessarily work that way: a woman who takes a pill 31 times a month does not in most instances have sex 31 times; you take the pill whether you have sex or not. To assume taking birth control automatically means promiscuity is wrong headed, akin to those who believe that taking birth control means killing babies. The fact is, contraception lowers abortion rates, limits unplanned or unwanted pregnancies, and—in the long run—saves insurance companies money in terms of maternal care. I’m not sure the same kind of claims can be made about Viagra.
At any rate, the last few months’ national conversation about contraception—to which Rush’s bombast only served as a stunning crescendo—reflects an entrenched belief that women need to be controlled into submission. Evangelicals are obviously not alone in their campaign to make women docile, silent, barefoot and pregnant. Of course, considerations about contraception have also become entangled with discussions about religious liberty, and about whether institutions should be required to fund contraception, if doing so somehow compromises the institutions’ religious and moral codes. In many ways, the discussion about contraception have evolved (or devolved?) into discussions about the roles of women in religious institutions, and about their sexuality: the very subjects that have guided, and continue to guide, evangelical views about women.
And so, once again, our Christian young women will receive confused—and sometimes flat-out wrong—messages about what and who they should be as female children of God. They will hear that women who use birth control are sluts, even though using contraception does not mean a woman is sexually promiscuous or that her sexuality is the church’s business. They will hear that women who want insurance-funded birth control are prostitutes, procuring free goodies for sex, even though insurance companies have an obligation to provide health services to the people who pay their premiums. They will hear that using contraception abrogates God’s design for their lives, and that doing so kills babies, even though such myths reflect a stunning lack of understanding about how birth control works. And, even more, a stunning lack of clarity about what God might design for women, as well as how and why God created sex and called it good.