Thursday, April 27, 2017

Re-run from "Boxing Day" 2009: Abortion (and Combatting VD)



            If you've ever argued with a significant other over whether toilet seat lids belong up or down, or whether toilet paper should be mounted to deliver the sheets "over" or "under" — if you've ever gotten into a nasty little spat over bathroom trivia, then you have the concept, "What you're arguing about? That's not what you're arguing about." More exactly, what you're arguing about is only one of the things you're arguing about.
            When Americans argue about abortion, we're also arguing about, among other issues, the oppression of women and young people, the difficulty of seeing special value in human life absent a God to assign that value, the place of religion in politics, the meaningless futility of life in a universe purged of the Sacred, the value of play and pleasure, and population issues centering on the policy of "pronatalism": encouraging the birth and rearing of children.
            But if the crucial point is to reduce the number of abortions in the US to as close to zero as possible, then we need to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, which means, as a practical matter, that we in America have to get serious about birth control.
            If we are to reduce unwanted pregnancies, fertile girls and women must have easy access to birth control — and ditto for boys and men. Fertile humans must be encouraged to use birth control and insist that their partners use birth control and, while both are at it, take reasonable precautions to reduce the risk of venereal disease (VD, a k a STDs [Sexually Transmitted Diseases]).
            Reduce the risk to zero? That's impossible. But anything worth doing is worth taking a risk to do, and most post-pubescent people find sex eminently worth doing. Sex is less risky that SCUBA diving and requires less training. But even as one needs to trust a dive partner, one needs to trust — and protect — a sexual partner; and even as only the profoundly stupid dive drunk or take other dumb risks, even so Americans need to be indoctrinated that only the profoundly stupid take unnecessary risks with sex.
            When I reached puberty back in the 1950s, my father gave me a box of condoms and the fatherly advice, "Until you know what to do with it, keep it in your pants." The advice was good since my parents and their friends had made sure my friends and I would "know what to do with it": no sex education in school, but we got a short-course at home and from medical folks the parents pooled their money to bring in for a lecture and discussion.
            Sex education in schools can spend a day or two making sure boys and girls know that conception is probable when sperm meets egg, and learn the various ways to prevent that meeting. And they can take a couple weeks on STDs and preventing catching VD or spreading it.
            More important, though, is getting people to actually use birth control and "safe-enough" sex. We're getting down to the nitty-gritty here: making contraception and disease prevention materials readily available, and indoctrinating Americans — starting with adolescents — to use them.
            Feminist women should continue pressing the argument for contraception (and "contragestion") for girls. I'm male, so I'll argue for indoctrinating American males to use condoms any time we engage in copulation and aren't actively trying to make a baby. (Gays included: unprotected anal intercourse can spread HIV and syphilis.)
            Part of the indoctrination can be religious, and I have no objection to condom packages coming with large cautionary labels such as "WARNING: SEX OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE MAY LEAD TO DAMNATION." Other parts of the indoctrination, though, must include the macho and arguably sexist appeal that real men don't allow women to control men's reproduction and, until they want children, real men "Wrap that Willy!" The indoctrination should include the definitely "age-ist" idea that virile young men — as opposed to weakening old men — can use condoms without losing their erections.
            If the overriding issue is minimizing abortion, and reducing VD an important goal for public health, then — given that couples will couple — then development of a "male pill" would be good, and there's much to be said for encouraging vasectomies, but, for the foreseeable future, condom-use will be crucial. So, for the foreseeable future, condoms should be as available for purchase as candy bars, and maybe more so: fornication may damn you to hell, but it doesn't encourage obesity or tooth decay. If reducing unwanted pregnancies is crucial, and reducing VD very important, we should use advertising, marketing, and carefully-crafted propaganda to push contraception.

            Let's get serious: a large-scale public campaign encouraging guys to "Wrap That Willy!" would violate taboos, but it would be deeply moral.

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