Let’s talk about it…

I’ve just been joining in a friendly debate on Twitter following news that the morning-after pill is going to be freely available over the counter in Ireland. While I enjoyed the debate, it’s very hard to get my ideas over in a few characters, especially when putting in five or six usernames too!

NB Whilst I have some strong religious views on some of this stuff, this isn’t what the post’s about. Just so you know.

I have long been of the opinion that sex is being totally devalued, and this just confirms that. There are so many deep emotional links to sex, and there should be, it’s the most intimate experience you can have. It should be special and important and romantic, and whether that takes place in marriage or not is a whole other question and completely down to the people involved. But the fact remains that it should be valued and taken seriously.

Quite apart from the health risks in promiscuous sex – yes HIV but also STDs and the Big P, Pregnancy – what kind of emotional fallout is there from not valuing your body or affections enough to take sex seriously and treat it as a big deal? I understand that people want flings and no-strings-attached affairs, but I don’t, personally, think it’s healthy. I understand that people want sex to be fun – it can be, and it can and should be better in a monogamous relationship. Trust and affection are a huge part of what makes sex fun and these are things that are overlooked but should be highlighted. You are opening yourself up (if you’ll pardon the expression) to an awful risk by being that intimate with someone – they can see all the parts of you that are normally hidden, both physical and emotional. Wouldn’t you rather that person was committed to you? And that that trust was being taken seriously?

I think one of my biggest worries in the whole debate is the question of pregnancy. It’s a huge deal, but it’s used far too much as a cover-all.

My husband went along as part of his job to watch a local company deal with the issue of sex in a secondary school. He came away shocked that by far the biggest emphasis of the training was about not getting pregnant. The overriding message being sent home with some pretty young kids – if I remember rightly there were some under 16s there – was that sex was fine in any context as long as you didn’t get caught, and that’s how pregnancies can be treated – getting caught. We talk about ‘unwanted pregnancy’ as if it was crabs or syphilis or even HIV – an undesirable illness to be avoided. I’ll leave aside for this post the whole issue about life before birth, it is much more than that, and repercussions can come out years later. But reducing sex down to the possible bringer of unwanted consequences totally devalues it, and THAT’S my problem today with the morning-after pill debate. It’s been available for years as a contraceptive, and if you needed it you had to go to a little extra trouble to get it. You had to just think that little bit more about what you were doing.

It’s as if sex is a hobby that can be fun but dangerous. Like rock climbing. You don’t want to fall off the cliff but if you know that extra rope is there it’s fine, take whatever risks you want. Sex isn’t a hobby. How many people will now have more and more casual sex, knowing that that pill is there if they want it, and regret it later? And if it’s available over the counter, what are the restrictions on it, for example age-wise?
*edited from original*
On the other hand, someone’s sexual choices have to be their own. I just think it’s important that they are educated choices. I’m basically saying it should be as freely available to use as it is needed but while the current phase of celebrating casual sex is in full swing (again, pardon the phrase…) can we make sure we’re upping the education as much as the celebration? Talk about it, but take it seriously.

22 thoughts on “Let’s talk about it…”

  1. The main issue I have with this and a whole other shed-load of stuff is that we are sexualising children far too early. Young girls sit ogle-eyed watching their favourite female pop stars dress and cavort like performers in a soft porn video. Clothing for young girls can be highly inappropriate – padded training bras, thongs? I mean, really? For pre-pubescent girls? And for young boys who are also exposed to these influences, why should we expect them to have any respect for girls when these are the images we show them?
    I personally think the morning after pill should be available for the occasional – and I mean occasional- times when good sense can go out the window. It does have its uses. But as you said, it is a form of early abortion and that should never, ever be used as a form of contraception.
    We need to start to teach children to have respect for their bodies and for themselves, both boys and girls. We need to teach them the real risks of early and promiscuous sex. I think we need to change out attitudes as a society, not to ostracise the children who are born of promiscuous, uncommitted parents, but to at least provide some sort of incentive to these young men and women to change their behaviour. And before you ask me, I have no idea how we would do that.
    I’m confused by the whole issue, but I do think the MAP should be given only by a nurse or doctor and on medical premises so that the importance of what they are doing gets through to the young women who use it.

  2. I agree with most of what you are saying, there should definitely be education regarding all consequences but even better placing the discussion in the context of relationships and respect. My point is that it’s not just about young people behaving irresponsibly, all ages and situations of women are affected, some like me in strong married relationships who get ‘caught out’ and are left desperate when the doctor’s is not open. In my situation I had a 4th ‘surprise’ child but getting caught out again would mean a fifth c-section and too many children for me to cope. I am absolutely against and horrified by abortion but don’t agree that it includes the early stage the MAP covers. There seems to be this caricatured idea that there is a section of society running wild who need to be contained for their own good. There are young people who need information and guidance and there are ordinary decent people of all ages who are doing the best they can.

  3. Just to give the flip-side to your argument;

    When I was 23 I was in a serious, loving and committed relationship (and reader, I married him!) My OH and I were young, in love and flat, stony broke. We knew we’d want children someday, but not until we were at least able to pay the rent and still eat.

    Thanks to a couple of courses of antibiotics, there was a month when the pill wasn’t to be relied on, so we resorted to condoms. First one burst, leading to a trip to the doc for the morning-after pill; then a week or so later another burst. On a Saturday night. The Saturday night of a bank holiday weekend.

    That weekend is one I won’t forget in a hurry, the cold fear and dread of an unwanted pregnancy, the worry that I wouldn’t get the MAP in time, or that the doc wouldn’t give it to me twice in one month. 9am Monday morning saw me waiting for the doctor, almost hysterical – it was 70 hours and counting, and the MAP has to be taken within 72 hours.

    The doctor didn’t give me any funny looks, or ask awkward questions. He didn’t even seem to remember that I’d recently done the same thing. I parted with another sum of money I could ill afford, and went to work feeling slightly relieved.

    It’s 15 years, one child and two miscarriages later, but I’ve never regretted those morning-after pills. The only thing I regret was that lost weekend of fear and panic. The over-the-counter morning-after pill is designed for women like I was, careful but unlucky, and no-one should say they can’t have that.

    After all, any pharmacist will probably be more careful and ask more questions of a woman seeking the MAP than that doctor was 15 years ago. I felt then, and feel now, that he only wanted his consultation fee, nothing else. If you ask me, the over-the-counter MAP is progress for women.

  4. I don’t think the answer is not making the MAP readily available for women. There seems to be a stereotype of young girls sleeping around being the only people who would use it when quite a few of my friends have taken it. (in their thirties, in relationships, with children already). Making it available over the counter isn’t going to encourage people to go out out and have irresponsible sex, they’ll do that anyway whether they’re 15 or 43. I do have a problem with it being associated with abortion, it’s not the same thing. The MAP acts to prevent fertilisatiion, hence the need to take it within 24-72 hours, it is a contraception. An abortion happens after conception.
    I do agree though that we need to tackle the whole subject from the other side and concentrate on sex education. My 9 year old is starting to ask questions and it seems that schools concentrate on the physical aspects, it being a case of avoiding getting pregnant and catching diseases. But I see it as my job to talk to her about the emotional aspects of it. I don’t think anybody can tell anybody else how they should approach sex, everybody has different views, but we do owe it to our children to inform them so that they can make their own decisions.

  5. Firstly, what a fabulous post, Becca. I can see from the responses that it’s a subject we’ll be debating for a while. While I agree with a lot of what you say, I’m also with Jane and Alison on this one.

    It does worry me to think that a pill like that is so readily available and without an increase in education to our children, it may become something that makes them relax even more about sex. As a mother of teenagers myself, I talk to them about things like this and hope they’ll be responsible but I also know that many parents don’t talk to their children and rely heavily on the schools to teach them such things.

    We’ve got to move with the times and embrace the science that’s now available to us and the MAP is one of those things. As Jane said, responsible people can make mistakes and have accidents and they deserve to have an option to rectify it. I think the key to this is how it’s handled. I’m not fully in tune with the rules surrounding it and how it will be available but I think the pharmacists need to be educated too so they can talk to young people who may be looking for it.

    People need to be given a choice but it has to go hand in hand with education.

    Maria x

  6. A good read again… I personally don’t think the MAP being easier to get hold of will make children have more sex.

    If all they were bothered about was not getting pregnant then they would use a condom in the first place.

    The fact a child has to go to a doctor to ask for a pill that they will no doubt feel ashamed to ask for will in my opinion stop a good percentage of kids getting hold of the MAP. This in turn will lead to more teenage pregnancies.

    Children having sex isn’t a new thing and I know from some work i have done that it is the minority of kids that actually do have sex.

    Those kids need education but also need MAP if they get themselves into trouble, what they dont need is people telling them ‘tough, your having a baby, deal with it!’.

  7. MAP is not an early abortion, as it works by preventing pregnancy, not ending it. It prevents the ovary from releasing an egg and by changing the lining of the womb to prevent an egg from implanting. This is why it’s 72 hours, within 72 hours it is unlikely that the egg has been fertilised and implanted. If you take it after that has happened it will not work.
    So, if you are already pregnant it will not end the pregnancy. If you are to consider it an early abortion because it prevents pregnancy then you’d have to consider condoms, the pill, the coil, etc the same.

    Personally I think that the availability of MAP should be completely apart from discussion on casual sex. The decision of how widely it is available should be purely made on a medical basis, not a moral one.

    So far as the morality is concerned, people did have sex outside of commited relationships before it was widely considered morally acceptable, but for these people giving in to their natural urges was more damaging, physically as well as emotionally and socially.

    MAP has been available over the counter in England for a little while, and it certainly hasn’t affected the amount of sex I have and who with. It’s the same for my friends, I do not know anyone that has had sex without a condom because they can just take a pill the next day. The side effects of it are off putting enough to prevent anyone from using it casually as an excuse to have more sex. It makes you feel very sick (but you mustn’t be sick) and mucks up your cycle. Anyone that purposefully uses it as a method of contraceptive once is not likely to do it again unless they are a real glutton for punishment.

    Sex is enjoyable and if you are relaxed about it and confident in your body it can be done for enjoyment outside of a commited relationship. My mother is catholic, and would always tell me how she only ever had sex with my father, but when I got older I decided that wasn’t for me. I wanted to have sex and enjoy it without being married at the age of 20. Some of the most exciting sexual experiences I have had have been outside of a relationship. There was definitely mutual respect there, and it is wonderful to have your body appreciated by someone in that way.

    At the same time I know people that have waited, some are pushing 30 and haven’t had sex because they haven’t met someone they feel like taking that step with, yet! One is a very handsome chap, he could certainly find a willing female, but has chosen to be more picky. It’s great that he can make his choice and I mine, and neither of us feel bad about it (although he does want to find a girl! Just the right girl!).

    I am now 28 and in a commited relationship, and I think the sex I have within this relationship is better because of the sex I had before it. I know my body, I know *what buttons* need to be pressed, and that’s because of the, err, collective wisdom (not all at once!) and various approaches I have experienced in the past.

  8. After reading all these comments I realise I was wrong and that the MAP is not an early abortion pill so I apologise for any comments relating to that. Mea culpa.

  9. I completely agree that there is a worryingly common early sexualisation of children. Like you said, music videos and clothes for young girls are the most prevalent, and I do worry that a casual attitude to sex is part and parcel of this.

    Also excellent point about needing to teach children respect for their bodies and for each other.

  10. In reply to both you and Jane, I am not aiming my concerns at sensible, mature people who are making informed decisions in committed relationships and being ‘caught out’. My concerns are more to do with a general attitude towards sex and a decided shift from it being something to be kept as special and private to, more or less, a casual recreational activity without any regard for the emotional pressures and effects that sex brings. I’m really sorry that you and Jane had such awful, sickeningly-worried experiences and agree that in such cases an easily-available option is better; my argument still stands though that with the currently abysmal sex education standards and promotion of casual sex, there should be some restrictions in place to make it slightly more difficult and requiring slightly more thought and commitment.

  11. I think you make a really good point about it being your job to talk to your daughter about the emotional aspects of sex education – I have NO idea how I’ll bring the subjects up with Emily and Daniel but I know that it may be one of the single most important lessons I can give them. But unfortunately many people do not have such a responsible parent or parent figure, or else there is so much embarrassment around the issue that the best intentioned parents don’t tackle it. In those cases it’s down to peer education and the tv, neither of which are the most reliable and if there is a general attitude of sex not mattering or not being a big deal, those kids are growing up skewed.

  12. Thanks Maria. I agree that the most important thing is how this is handled, and that sex education needs to be improved. I am all for people making their own choices, I just want them to be informed, mature choices.

  13. Hi Brian, thanks for commenting. I totally agree, no-one should tell anyone in trouble “tough, deal with it.” There should be support at all stages of any thing as emotive as unwanted pregnancy or even juvenile sex in general.

    My point is that there is an increasing lack of respect for sex and the commitment that should go alongside it, among children and adults and that this sort of development underlines that. Unfortunately, children are more receptive than most adults to messages about what is acceptable and appropriate and what is not and a cultural shift towards casual sex being the norm can only be harmful.

  14. Hi Rosie; I’ve amended the post to correct that. It’s not the understanding I’d had of the MAP but after reading your comment and others’ and checking I’ve removed that section. I apologise to you and anyone else reading BEFORE the correction for putting that in and if I’ve caused offence or upset because of that I apologise unreservedly.

    I just want to pick up on one sentence in your comment: “giving into their natural urges was more damaging, physically as well as emotionally and socially.” I agree with that to an extent as I think you mean a combination of lacking medical care and social ostracism, neither of which are desirable. But I do still think that there are great psychological risks to promiscuous sex, particularly in younger people, that are going unaddressed and buried deep. I’m glad you are happy and that you feel you’ve benefitted from your sexual experience, but I know for a fact that many others do not feel the same, and as sex becomes less and less valued those problems will increase.

    And finally (phew) I do hope you know that I do not condemn anyone for their choices. As I’ve said in other comments, I want people’s choices to be informed and not taken lightly (I know that doesn’t apply to you here, I’m generalising again); but even if this isn’t the case, and people regret their choices, I cannot condemn anybody, i can only feel sorry for them.

  15. I’ve edited the post and I should not have put it in in the first place without checking. Sorry Nettie.

  16. Becca, you quoted ‘My concerns are more to do with a general attitude towards sex and a decided shift from it being something to be kept as special and private to’…

    I think keeping it all private and taboo is half the problem with sex in this country.

    For me it should be something you talk about openly, nothing to be shy about and certainly nothing to be ashamed of if you not in a relationship.

    I won’t have any issues telling my children about sex, it is just the same as telling them about what happened to dinosaurs, i.e. its a fact of life.

    If a parent shows any worry or embarrassment about talking about it then what does that portray to the child?

  17. Ah now, I never mentioned “taboo”! “Private” is very different to “ashamed”; I think it’s great and very desirable to talk more openly about sex to try and prevent problems; that’s very different to reserving the actual experience as something intimate between yourself and a partner.

  18. I have to say, great comment Rosiebunny! You said a lot of things I didn’t manage to articulate.

    The crux of the matter is, that I think we’re discussing two different issues here. One is women’s health, the other is morality. I really don’t think we should discuss them both simultaneously as it only leads to confusion and disagreement.

    I don’t believe that young people are any more promiscuous now than they were 20 or 30 years ago (the girls in my school got up to all sorts!) but I do believe they’re better informed. In my day in school we were told virtually nothing beyond the mechanics of the act, and many girls got caught out. But these days no teen is an island, thanks to the Internet and social media, so a lot more information is available.

    As regards my attitude towards sex, I agree with Rosiebunny as well. So long as it’s between consenting adults, anything goes – I don’t judge. I do, however, feel very strongly about a Nanny state telling us what we can do, how and when.

    As we used to chant when I was in college, “Get your rosaries off our ovaries!”, though you could easily substitute “legislation” for “rosaries”.

    Right, I’ll shut up now. 🙂

  19. but why do people keep it private? I always have found that a strange thing.
    sex is far from just an act for creation. to most people it is an activity, and yes that activity can be special with a partner, but it can also be something completely different too. neither is better or worse.

  20. There was a free love time during the 70s when sex was no big deal, blah blah blah, but it was innocent compared to today’s “hooking up” gigs. That part doesn’t concern me as much as what is going on with the really young children who are having sex, and I am talking pre-adolescent kids. Yes, Abercrombie and Fitch sell thongs to these ages, grooming them as sexual objects before their time. Yet, with a bit of initial mumbling, it seems nothing much has changed. I suppose our mothers were aghast at our faded jeans, especially when they were ripped, when they had worn bobby socks or white gloves. The generations collide through neglect and naivety: While the future generation is busy shocking the current one, the current one is shuffles around making the future generation’s world as bleak as possible.

    Pre-adolescence is too young to be having sex.. Kids at age 11 or so practice putting condoms on bananas in sex education classes. Today’s cartoons on TV–Family Guy is downright smutty. Sitcoms started showing disrespect toward elders during the 80s. It’s taken an even sharper turn downward since then..

    The media has tried to constantly outdo itself over time, which has resulted in more risque programming and a degradation of the fabric that once held our morals in place. No more Mr.and Mrs. Cleaver. MTV started out as a music video channel but is now filled with so much underage sexual smut that is currently under investigation.

    Add to this the normal teenage hormones that begin running amok–they’re like the catalyst that drives this locomotive, boxcars of garbage intended to demoralize our children (and the boxcars on the way back bring loads of cash to the designers, manufacturers, and stores).

    Maybe the health departments and schools, being vacuous, immoral entities, think it’s easier to teach the youngsters how to put a condom on a banana or pop a MAP, but I think it’s down to the media, designers, manufacturers, and stores to get it straight that kids should not dress like someone who usually stands on a street corner for illicit purposes–this includes the ghetto pimp style for boys.

    This will take more than just a few letters of complaint to accomplish. It’ll take all mothers and others standing together against the whole of this machine to protect future generations. We must never buy it, never watch it, and boycott every ad that runs under its auspices. It’s about picking up the boulder and looking at all of the worms hiding underneath and knowing that these creeps are the ones running the show. Nothing is going to change until we scrape these slime balls off the rock.

    The problem is bigger than we are, Becca. Now go to bed. Oy! 🙂

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