In solidarity with Planned Parenthood, I tell my story of how the organization helped empower me to make informed choices about my sexual health.
Sex was not a popular topic of discussion in my household growing up. My mother gave me some version of The Talk when I was about 13-years-old, but the overarching message seemed to be, “Sex isn’t that great so you might as well wait.” As a curious adolescent, her words did little to dissuade me. If sex wasn’t all that, then what was the point of holding out for marriage? Why not get it over with and see what all of the fuss was about?
Like many girls, I became boy-crazy in high school, and my family’s largely conservative and disapproving attitudes only alienated me and made me more secretive about my new obsession. The ironic part was, much as they feared that I would wind up pregnant “or worse,” my sex life as a teenager was pretty much nonexistent, and though not for lack of trying, most guys my age were not interested in giving me the time of day.
It wasn’t until the second half of my senior year in high school that I finally acquired my first boyfriend. He was a sweet, unassuming guy, and took me out on my first real date: dinner at Benihanas and a movie on my birthday.
I remember my girlfriends weighing in on my decision to have sex with him. We’d been together for about six weeks at that point, and I was trying to determine the appropriate length of time to withhold sex and still retain my “good girl” image.
“Do you love him?” my friend Kirsten pressed. I nodded demurely. “I mean, if I loved a guy I’d probably just do it right then. Why wait?”
When I brought the subject up to Joseph, I was surprised to find out that he’d already visited Planned Parenthood, and was all too eager to show off a glove compartment overflowing with multicolored condoms and a whistle-clean STD test. I had never been to a gynecologist or tested for STDs before and, fearing judgment were I found out, I decided not to make an appointment through my mom’s insurance provider, instead following his example and calling Planned Parenthood.
I was nervous on the morning of my appointment. For some reason, I expected to be harassed by angry, pro-life protesters on my way in, then faced with a cramped lobby resembling a welfare office. Instead, I entered into the back of a nondescript building and was presented with a clean, air-conditioned waiting room; A League of Their Own played with subtitles on a television perched in the corner. It was nearly empty save for a young couple about my age, whose heads were bent in concentration as they consulted paperwork. I was given a stack of paperwork to fill out before my appointment.
Everything seemed straight-forward until I got to the employment and income section. I realized that I might be expected to pay for these services and, without a job or any income, feared I wouldn’t be eligible for Planned Parenthood’s services after all.
I shyly approached the receptionist’s window and cleared my throat. “Um, what do I put in this section if I don’t have any income? I’m a student…” I trailed off, ashamed of my lack of resources.
“That’s fine,” the receptionist informed me brightly. “You can just put zero in those fields. Don’t worry about making a donation this time. We understand.”
Not long after, I was ushered into a room and introduced to a friendly, if slightly harried, female gynecologist. She asked me my reasons for coming in and, bracing myself for a lecture on why I was too young to be having sex, I was pleasantly surprised when she responded not with judgment or disapproval, instead patiently listing my options for protecting myself and informing me of some of the risks and side effects of different types of birth control.
“I’m going to prescribe you this low dosage pill,” she concluded, adding that, “We keep discovering that women need less and less hormones to prevent pregnancy, and since you’re new to the pill, we don’t want to overwhelm your system.”
She explained to me that I should get a pap smear once a year, regardless of whether I was sexually active, to screen for cervical cancer and other reproductive abnormalities. She advised me to get tested for STDs every three months, and told me about the dangers of unprotected sex and how many sexually-transmitted diseases can lay dormant.
Perhaps it was her mention of yearly routine exams that made me realize that my reproductive health was going to be a lifetime commitment, and that I was solely responsible for maintaining it. Before then, although I had little experience to speak of, my sexuality had not seemed to belong entirely to me. It seemed almost a matter of public opinion, debated on by my mother, high school friends, politicians, and smooth-talking teenage boys.
This lack of agency only seemed to encourage poor decisions, under the justification that they were hardly my decisions to make. Sitting in that doctor’s office, I got my first taste of adulthood, and I felt a small thrill in the realization that I could own my sexuality, that it could be whatever I wanted it to be, that no one was allowed to make those decisions for me.
From a young age, girls wield a sexual power that is overwhelming and at times difficult to control. It’s made no easier by a society that continues to send mixed messages about what girls become when they attempt to own that power. Without remorse, they call us sluts, teases, and prudes, ridiculing us for choices they have no right to weigh in on.
The tides are changing. Women and their allies are no longer tolerant of legislation that restricts how we manage our sexual health. We are owning our right to be sexual outside of the stringent standards that society attempts to impose. Whether we have sex for the purpose of pleasure, reproduction, or even profit, is no one’s business but our own.
As is the case with any progressive movement, there has been backlash. Those who oppose abortion and other reproductive services have dug their heels in harder, foolishly thinking that they can reverse Supreme Court decisions that have been settled for decades. They are threatened by our empowerment, and so they attempt outrageous actions to reassure themselves that they are still in control. They are not.
You may have heard the phrase “war on women” being thrown around in political debates lately. While it may sound hyperbolic to some, I can assure you that it is not. The threat to defund Planned Parenthood is only one in a series of actions that serve to disempower women. In some states, women are made to travel hours just to receive abortion services. Some are forced to listen to lectures and read literature discouraging their decision, while others must abide by a 24-hour waiting period before receiving care, oftentimes putting their jobs in jeopardy and stretching thin means they do not have. The proposal to defund Planned Parenthood is largely symbolic in that it validates these actions and demonstrates to women that at any time, our government can insert themselves into our sex lives and attempt to determine what is best for us.
That is why it is so important for women and their allies to participate in Planned Parenthood’s Pink Out Day, and demonstrate to the government that we will not fall for their deceptive tactics, that we support a woman’s right to choose, and easy access to reproductive health care services. Pink Out Day takes place tomorrow, on September 29th, and there are a number of ways to support the movement, from wearing pink to participating in rallies, or simply sharing a message of support on social media. You can also sign this petition or donate directly to the organization.
1 in 5 women in America have utilized Planned Parenthood’s services. I am one of those women. Not only did they provide me with contraception at no cost, but they validated that I was capable of making responsible decisions regarding my sexual health. Tomorrow, #IStandWithPP as they have stood beside me, and I encourage others to do the same.
For more information on how you can participate in Pink Out Day, click here.