What Would You Choose: Making Rent or Having Sex?

I’ve been noticing a nasty strain of classism going around when it comes to discussions of sex, contraception, and reproduction. It goes something like this: if you can’t afford contraception, you shouldn’t be having sex, because you’d be an unfit parent due to your lack of money.

Statements like this ignore the fact that money is not the only factor that determines whether you are a good parent (and in fact, there’s not really a good way to chart a correlation; rich people can be bad parents, poor people can be good parents, and vice versa and everything in between). Statements like this totally miss the fact – demonstrated by scientific research – that when given access to free birth control, impoverished women take advantage of it, and drastically reduce their number of unplanned pregnancies. Statements like this also miss the fact that having to pay for birth control can make a significant dent in your budget, especially if you are already working with a low income or you must shop around for a birth control option that works for you. This type of rhetoric also tends to place the responsibility for obtaining birth control, and the blame for unplanned pregnancies, on women, instead of taking men’s actions and choices into account too.

Basically, I wonder if the people making the “just close your legs” argument have ever had to choose between paying rent and having sex that month. My guess is that they haven’t been in that position.

What would you choose? Having a roof over your head, or having access to an intimate and joyful activity? It’s not that far off an estimate, given the cost of some IUDs. Or maybe, for those women who can find cheaper birth control options that work for them, it would be more on the scale of paying your phone bill for that month, or having sex. Obviously, there are ways to sexually and sensually connect with someone that don’t involve penis-in-vagina intercourse… but if you want to go for it, and everybody’s consenting, what would you do if you followed the above “logic” about not even taking the risk of having sex if you’re “too poor” to be a parent?

From another perspective – that of pro-life folks – the “just don’t have sex” argument can be made, but as this Patheos blogger points out, it is deeply flawed. Telling people not to have sex if they can’t afford the consequences doesn’t work; we live in the real world, not in an ideal world. And so adopting strategies that work in the real world – access to birth control, not a hardline abstinence-only propaganda campaign – is really our only chance at ameliorating the situation. (let’s not forget: abstinence-only sex ed doesn’t work!)

And, of course, let’s not forget that this is a public health issue: every dollar invested in helping women avoid unplanned pregnancies avoids spending five times that amount in Medicaid expenditures (Guttmacher Institute). So if you really care about the health of society, rather than making morally-superior-sounding arguments about sex, you’d support everyone’s access to birth control. And you’d stop making uninformed claims about what people with drastically different life experiences than you should do with their money or their bodies.

Everyone deserves access to a healthy sexuality. Why should someone’s income be the determinant how or when or with whom they choose to have sex?

About Jeana

Jeana

Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.