Side effect of the pill: All loss of restraint or responsibility (Updated)

***UPDATE:  Although I scooped Stephen Colbert on this one (take that, Stephen Colbert!!!), he does my joke better.  Of course, I loosened it for him:

 “If we give your daughters and granddaughters access to birth control, they will instantly turn into wanton harlots with insatiable sexual appetites. Because you know women — they’re always on the edge of nymphomaniacal orgiastic abandon. …They’ll pick up the prescription, pop a pill, then bone the pharmacist, the stock boy, and everybody in line for the bus. Why? Because the birth control was paid for by the government.”

You’re welcome!


Come on, laugh with me, because this is too preposterous to cry over.  To have an oh, so reasonable discussion about the move to have health care reform cover birth control for women, Fox News invited Family PAC Vice President Sandy Rios to balance (remember, they’re fair and balanced!) arguments by former Women’s Media Center president Jehmu Greene that the facts support greater access to birth control.

Predictably, Rios offered something much more diverting than facts:

Why in the world would you encourage your daughters, and your granddaughters, and whoever else comes behind you to have unrestricted, unlimited sex anytime, anywhere…?

Having a baby is not the worst thing. I think having multiple sex partners without any kind of restraint or responsibility is much more damning, why would you support that?

It’s funny, the way I remember it, a lot of discussion and decision-making went into my first sexual relationship and our commitments regarding pregnancy and family planning.  But now I realize that in pursuing birth control, I was actually hankering after “unrestricted, unlimited sex anytime, anywhere,” with anyone!  Because that is what birth control does, really.

19 thoughts on “Side effect of the pill: All loss of restraint or responsibility (Updated)

  1. I wonder if it has crossed their consciousness that plenty of married women use birth control, and not necessarily to have “unrestricted, unlimited sex anytime, anywhere.” Mrs. Duggar aside, many women like to have control over how many children they have and how far apart they space them. Perhaps they’re just thinking about how they would have behaved if they had had free birth control.

  2. There is some ridiculous stuff in there. But there also seems to me to be a grain of truth to this extent: From the perspective of an individual actor, unwanted pregnancy represents a major cost (in the sense economists use) of sexual activity, and perhaps especially of “unrestricted, unlimited” sexual activity. Anything that lowers this cost (and two things that have been studied in this connection are birth control and legalised abortion) for the individual will generate incentives leading to an increase in sexual activity, including the “unrestricted, unlimited” kind. It’s been observed in the social science literature that sexual behaviour responds to economic incentives in pretty much this way, like other kinds of behaviour. So while it’s obviously not the only relevant policy consideration, there is a rational basis for characterising greater access to birth control as being, in a sense, an encouragement to increased sexual licence.

  3. Sex is sin, and babies are the punishment for engaging in this sin. Contraceptives allow people to commit sin and escape the punishment. Therefore providing contraceptives encourages sinful, socially destructive behavior.

    [This is the argument I heard from an evangelical pastor at a ministerial association meeting I once attended. She was against teaching sex education in school because, “It’s the same as teaching our kids to steal and get away with it.” It may seem primitive and silly, but this is the way people really think.]

  4. You know what kills me? If this were a commenter on a forum or a blog, she’d be considered a troll. *shrug*

  5. Lol, babies are a punishment. Those of us who’ve had babies know the punishment comes later when they grow into teenagers.

    I’m really just offended by the idea that birth control turns all women into whores because we can no longer be kept in line by the “punishment” of pregnancy.

  6. Brynhild made me laugh out loud!

    Merry, indeed, it’s offensive on so many levels. I’d go so far as to say that interpreting the connotation to be that we’re whores is an understatement. The idea seems to be that really ANY contraception for sexual activities makes a woman into someone, not merely whorish, but seemingly so indiscriminate and out of her mind that she makes absolutely no choices whatsoever about when and where and with whom to have sex.

    Jeez, at least if I was described as a whore, it would indicate I have SOME agency. Instead, birth control makes me apparently a sort of pansexual force of nature with no control over any actions. (The ‘anywhere’ thing is especially ticking me off. WTH? Do a lot of women on the pill screw in restaurant lines, at the grocery store, on the field during soccer games, because of the pill??)

  7. To be fair, according to this theory the men are deserving of punishment also, but it is harder to catch them because they can just walk away and get lost in the crowd. There was a guy I saw on Judge Judy once who was being sued for non-payment of child support. He said, “I don’t understand how a guy can make one mistake and have to pay for it for 18 years!”

  8. O woe is me. I feel I certainly missed out on something. Mind you, I had an early version of the pill, so maybe it hadn’t yet acquired these effects. I did occasionally hear stories from friends though….

  9. MInd you, if you replace “sin” with “activity”, and “punishment” with “cost” in that minister’s theory from PR’s anecdote – which of course is not what Sandy Rios was saying – the basic concept works out something along the lines of what actually does happen in real life, as I mentioned in #2.

    Not to downplay the silliness of some of the things Rios in fact said, but I think a lot of words are being put in her mouth in this thread (mostly under the guise of “reading between the lines”).

  10. I disagree, Nemo. I can’t speak for others, but for my part, I was — rather cheerfully, given how insulting Rios’ words are — pointing out the quite direct implications of her extreme statements. Unless you’re saying all interpretation is ‘reading between the lines,’ but I’d disagree with that too. I’m just dis-agreein’ all over the place!

  11. Profbigk, you may well be right about the act of interpretation. But what kind of exegesis is really called for here, and what kind is taking place?

    Look at these interpretations from the thread:
    -Birth control turns all women into whores
    -Birth control causes all women to lose control over their actions
    (… and variations on this theme).

    I assume everyone agrees, obviously, that that’s not *exactly* what Rios said. Nor is it a paraphrase (in the usual sense) of what she said. Nor is it a logically necessary implication of what she said (if anyone disagrees, I’d like to see the syllogism). What kind of “interpretation” is it?

    As mentioned above, generally speaking increased access to birth control lowers the cost of sexual activity (by how much is a different discussion), including – perhaps especially – all the gradations of irresponsible sexual activity. Anything that lowers the perceived costs of something generates incentives that encourage that activity (by how much is, likewise, a different discussion) … such that having the kind of risky, irresponsible, undiscriminating sexual behavior to which Rios refers is one thing that is incentivized as a result (at one end of the spectrum).

    Do Rios’ statements logically imply that the incentive will result in changes to the behavior of everyone subjected to it, or that where changes result they will necessarily be dramatic? Do they require the premise that the absence of that additional incentive is the only thing standing between the average person and sexual libertinism? Do they necessarily assume that there aren’t other already existing incentives/disincentives affecting sexual behavior?

    I think the answer to all these questions is “no”. It just seemed to me that the farther the thread went on, the more it got to be like a game of Chinese whispers vis-à-vis Rios’ actual statements.

    Perhaps the reading of Rios’ statements that strikes me most at odds with her actual words is that birth control would deprive women of agency. Since Rios seems to be trying to apply a form of rational choice theory to this situation, isn’t it kind of the opposite (i.e. Rios’ argument depends on the assumption that women *will* be exercising agency)?

  12. Well, I disagree that my (half-joking, of course) interpretation of what she said was not implied by what she said. It was very clearly implied by what she said, despite the fact that her strong implication is not neatly mapped onto a syllogism. But if I had to map the argument, I’d point out:

    1. She does not support covering birth control.

    2. In asking why one would support coverage of the cost of birth control, she asks, “Why in the world would you encourage your daughters, and your granddaughters, and whoever else comes behind you to have unrestricted, unlimited sex anytime, anywhere … I think having multiple sex partners without any kind of restraint or responsibility is much more damning, why would you support that?”

    3. In asking the questions, she implies her assumption: if you support covering the cost of birth control, then you both encourage, and support having, multiple sex partners with no restraint or responsibility, for everyone including yourself, apparently (since ‘support’ is unqualified).

    Of course her sole association of any coverage of birth control with some sort of utterly undiscriminating and completely irresponsible sexual behavior is compatible with more rational, reasonable statements – which she herself certainly does not provide – that these behavioral changes could be possible without being universal. But whatever charitable readers can do to hold up logically nonconflicting statements that are less extreme and more delimited in their implications, the fact is that what she said was broad, and the implications were extreme.

    Man, this explanation is really killing the funny.

    It’s the inevitability that she attaches to the encouragement or having of zero restraint that yields my suggestion that women are deprived of agency on her view. I do not consider being “without any kind of restraint or responsibility” to be a picture of agency.

  13. #1 and #2 are both true, of course. I don’t think #3 is right, at least not in the sense of conscious encouragement and support as a state of mind). I think Rios is asserting that increased access to birth control will encourage irresponsible sexual activity (which, so far as it goes, is not an irrational assertion; it’s predicted by rational choice theory and has actually been observed), and that coverage will provide financial support to that alteration of incentives. One doesn’t have to specifically favor that outcome (or even predict or be aware of the mechanism that could bring it about) in order to encourage and provide support for it unintentionally and indirectly, which is what I think she’s pointing out. Laws and policies have been seen time and again to have consequences on social behaviour that were wholly unintended by their supporters (and sometimes not predicted by anyone). I think this tends to happen when people don’t focus on overall incentive changes.

    As for the inevitability, I think it’s probably true that the *encouragement* is inevitable, and that tinkering with incentives in that way, when you apply it across a broad population, invariably does produce some behavioural changes including some at the far end of the spectrum she’s talking about. I’m not seeing into the future of course, just saying that if that didn’t occur it would really go against a lot of what we think we understand about rational choice theory and specifically its application to human sexual behaviour. For one thing, it just seems implausible that in a big country there wouldn’t be a non-trivial number of people whose incentive balance (*without* this additional element) tips only somewhat in favor of avoiding irresponsible sexual activity.

    Re agency, I think we might just have a different picture of it. While someone or something without agency acts without responsibility (though not without restraint, surely), I daresay agents can choose to act in the most seriously irresponsible (even depraved) ways, and it always happens that some do. Agency doesn’t imply continence to me.

    I did think some of the umbrage at Rios’ comments was unwarranted, but in trying to lessen it I didn’t mean to kill the funny. Sorry about that part.

  14. Me, Xena again, with another btw. Have any of these debaters mentioned pushing condom use as a backup? Every healthcare facility in the province of Ontario sets out buckets of free condoms, just like American businesses set out dishes of candy for their clients. Wanton sexual activity is fine, imo, as long as people treat each other with a reasonable amount of courtesy and people protect themselves from diseases.

  15. Nemo, no need to apologize! We can disagree on the merits of the arguments, sometimes the best ways to lessen umbrage.

    Xena, which of ‘these debaters’ do you mean? If you’re referring to Rios and her fellow Family-PAC lobbyists, I’m certain they include condoms in their opposition to freely available contraception, as they’ve said so on their website in the past. (If you’re looking for your previous comment, I removed it as a violation of comments policies.)

  16. ARRGHH!! Me, Xena again, trying really hard to keep laughing O_o I skipped the last paragraph of that woman’s rant the first time. Jeez Louise, I shouln’ta read that. The bit about Maoism was funny. I love how the American right always throws in their little McCarthyist rants to play on less educated Americans’ ideas of freedom. But the woman doesn’t know the difference between monthly birth control and the morning after pill? Either she’s really naive, and not qualified to speak on the subject, or she’s lying. Please tell me that even the most backwater rednecky biblethumping kids aren’t fool enough to take that woman’s flawed studies seriously…

  17. Really? My apologies, profbigk. I’m a little baffled about how quoting Clifford Geertz on Platonic Dualism, my Metaphysics and Epistemology of Witchcraft prof, and several other feminist Witch Trial scholars in the style of Monty Python violates this site’s policies, but I’ll take it if I’ve offended you. I thought I was being funny.

    Email me if you’d like. My email address is the same as before, but I’ll take a few extra minutes and leave it in a message in “Contact”, if you’d like.

  18. Ok, I think I fixed the glitch with wordpress. My email address should be visible, profbigk. This isn’t a challenge. I’m sure you have a very good reason for deleting me. I’m just inviting you to chew me out, or enlighten me further, if that will help.

    If not, I’ll check out your next post. No harm done, I hope :-)

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