People are attacking Limbaugh’s Comments the Wrong Way

Rush Limbaugh smeared Sandra Fluke with one of the oldest and most gendered of allegations; he called her sexually promiscuous.

This was deeply offensive to just about everybody, but most of the responses I’ve seen to this comment are about how women use contraception for other things. The claim is, effectively, that Sandra Fluke is not a whore for wanting birth control because women use birth control to prevent things like polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, and other reproductive diseases. But what if Sandra Fluke did want birth control for sex? What if she wasn’t concerned about those diseases and wanted to have sex with more people. Would she be a whore then? Would it be right for her to ask for such contraceptives? This is the questions that I think feminists should be asking.

Put another way, imagine that scientists invented a pill that prevented all of these reproductive diseases, but that the pills did not prevent pregnancy. Imagine also that preventative, medicinal pills were provided to all women free of charge. Would women in this fictional world have any right to ask for contraception on top of the first type of pill? Would women have a right to ask for others to pay for their contraception, solely used to prevent pregnancy?

I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question, but it’s much less inflammatory and puts the issue much more clearly. I for one think that women are at a disadvantage in many situations when asking a partner to use a condom. They also bear the consequences of accidents much more highly (even when both parties are being conscientious). So, subsidizing contraception for women would effectively allow them to have more sex, and to have it with the same flexibility and confidence that men have when they have sex (with a condom for example). The argument here would be that sex is an important value in someone’s life and that society should take steps to make sure women can have it in the same way as men.

I don’t think that is a bad result, but notice that it’s not an argument anyone is making. No one is standing up and saying “Sandra Fluke should have contraception because she’s a college student and wants to have more sex.” There’s a real lesson here about the bounds of argument, and what counts as a legitimate point in debates about women can and can’t do.


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