Life in post-Roe America | psychology today

Here we go again

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The pain of realizing that people like me, those of us who have the ability to become pregnant and give birth, are no longer full citizens of the United States is deep and acute. Others like Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote about this denial of full citizenship rights more powerfully than I could. As a feminist scholar who has spent decades studying gender inequality, I realize that a court ruling has delayed the changes toward gender equality that generations have fought for.

In my research, I have often studied intimacy between sexual partners, and how this has changed between the 20th and 21st centuries. We have gone from alarm at the growing number of women having premarital sexual experience to bewilderment at the declining sexual activity of teenage girls today. But through it all, the right of women and people who could become pregnant to control their own fertility has allowed the right to sexual pleasure for all to be taken for granted. No one beyond those bound by literalist religious theology expects to have to wait until marriage to explore their own sexual desires, and surely no one expects to revert to abstinence upon divorce. One of the too seldom recognized consequences of Roe v. Wade has been women’s full access to sexual pleasure rights without the fear of an unwanted pregnancy that they are forced to carry to term. Thus, overthrowing Roe is an attack on bodily autonomy in all its forms, including an attack on the right to sexual pleasure.

My own research, co-authored with Rachel Allison, suggests that the expectation of recreational sex has gone far beyond a mere expectation of adulthood; the hookup came to define the “college experience” among young people privileged enough to attend four-year residential colleges. Even among students on predominantly working-class urban campuses where many students live with their families, young people still believe that “connecting” defines the college experience, and they are disappointed that they cannot afford to live in a dormitory away from their parents. police. Research by Lisa Wade suggests that the culture of casual sex is so strong that even those who would rather have deep relationships feel compelled to pretend they don’t want to mix feelings with sexual activity while in college.

It is only since the legalization of birth control for single women in the 1960s – and then the nationwide availability of abortion soon after, in 1973, with the Roe v. Wade decision – that sexual culture in America has been able to change to allow for recreational sex. . Only when heterosexual women were completely sure that sexual activity would not result in an unwanted child could they be free to enjoy, and even seek, sexual pleasure outside the confines of relationships. And change came quickly: In the 1950s, most women were virgins until marriage, or otherwise had sex with only one partner before the wedding night: their fiancé. At the turn of this century, few wives were virgins because most young women had explored their own sexual desires as they emerged into adulthood. By the time they choose a partner, most of us, whether straight or not, cisgender or not, have years of experience in dating and sexual activity. Recreational sex is a normal part of young adulthood, useful for understanding one’s own sexual desires, likes and dislikes. The rising age of marriage, and with it falling divorce rates, is undoubtedly linked to the fact that young people can have a good sex life without getting involved with the wrong person too soon, just to have a sexual partner available.

But this is all old news; old news that is newly relevant in a post-Roe world where safe and legal abortions will once again become beyond the reach of many American women. One caveat is important here: Abortion won’t be out of reach for Americans who know how to scour the Internet for pills that cause medical abortions, even if the pills themselves aren’t legal in their state. Abortion will also not be prohibited for people who can afford to travel to a state that provides comprehensive health care for women. But for minors whose parents disapprove of their sexual activity and oppose abortion, and for those who cannot afford to go elsewhere, the cost of sexual activity can be a disrupted or even damaged life. for ever. Indeed new research just published by Hutchens (2022) in the journal that I edit, Gender & Society, suggests that there are religiously motivated women across the country who volunteer at “pregnancy crisis” centers that disguise themselves as places to help women with unwanted pregnancies, but are actually seeking to help them. persuade to carry unwanted fetuses to term. Hutchens’ research shows that these women can be effective because they do not overtly proselytize but instead offer empathy while deterring women from seeking the health care they desire. In years to come, such delays could be even more detrimental if women who were cheated waste valuable time that had to be spent driving out of state to terminate their unwanted pregnancies.

So what will be the cultural ramifications of depriving women, and others who may become pregnant, of the right to fully control their fertility? Will men step in to assure their sexual partners that birth control is everyone’s business, and will they take responsibility for birth control, from condom use to vasectomy? More research in Gender & Society suggests that men will not step in and save the day. Dalessandro and his colleague’s research shows that men are reluctant to take responsibility for contraception, assuming that it is the responsibility of women. They find that college students assume that their sexual partners are STI-free, responsible for contraception, and will pursue abortion services if necessary. They therefore leave the fertility of women to the women themselves. If women and others at risk of becoming pregnant cannot control when and if they want to have children, our attitude towards sex is bound to change. How much fun is an unplanned pregnancy that cannot be terminated?

Given that women’s right to bodily autonomy is no longer guaranteed by our Constitution, it seems entirely plausible that interest in casual recreational sex is also declining, at least heterosexual ones. The freedom to seek pleasure, for pleasure in itself, rests on the presumption that a mistaken pregnancy can be terminated and not result in a life changed forever, an education rather than an aborted fetus, too many mouths to feed with too little income, or too many sleepless nights to continue to progress in the chosen career. Women have always had to struggle to reconcile work and motherhood, but this can only be successful when motherhood is freely chosen. The right to bodily autonomy does not guarantee this free choice for all, but it is a necessary prerequisite. When the state imposes parenthood on those who do not want it due to unwanted pregnancy by denying comprehensive health care, the survival of a sexual culture that values ​​pleasure is unlikely. Perhaps that is the goal of conservative Christian judges in the first place: to make sure that women fear heterosexual sex itself. When men aren’t afraid of sex but women are, the power of patriarchy has increased because women have one more reason to fear men themselves. But pleasure for men who have sex with women also decreases, as enthusiastic sexual partners disappear due to fear of pregnancy.

Sociological research has long shown that culture reflects the opportunities and limitations we face in our daily lives. When those who can become pregnant lose the right to control their fertility, everyone loses a culture that celebrates pleasure. We lost the right and expectation to have anxiety-free heterosexual sex simply for fun the day Roe V. Wade was overthrown. This is one more loss for future generations and another way the lives of future generations have been curtailed by the Supreme Court of the United States of America.


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