Happy World Contraception Day

Ooops, I’m late. (Pun intended.)

In case you didn’t know, Monday, September 26, was “World Contraception Day,” so designated by a coalition of ten NGOs. (h/t Teresa Tomeo) Guess they didn’t know that over at Grey’s Anatomy either. (Back to Grey’s in a second.)

As I’ve noted before, the Alan Guttmacher Institute (research arm of Planned Parenthood), claims that 46% of the women having abortions have not used a contraceptive during the month in which they became pregnant. In other words, 54% of the women seeking abortions used contraception the month they got pregnant.

I’m willing to accept that the fault might lie more with user error than the method, but the point is that just about every woman in the U.S. knows about contraception and has access to it. In fact, the challenge for many of us is to get through our ob-gyn visits without being pressured to use contraception. Plus, there are plenty of free clinics or you can skip a couple of fancy coffees and buy a few condoms or some contraceptive sponges at your neighborhood drug store. Access is not the problem. Personal responsibility is.

Which brings me back to Grey’s Anatomy. Kathryn Lopez drew attention to the intentionality behind the abortion story line in the last episode. Yes, that abortion was meant to happen. Character Cristina Yang (played by Sandra Oh), a surgeon with a great future before her, gets pregnant and decides to have an abortion. The start of the procedure is shown as the episode finishes. Her dutiful husband, also a surgeon, holds her hand.

First, neither of these characters are “dumb teenagers” or “disadvantaged.” They are highly educated doctors with access to the best scientific and medical information available. They have no religious affiliation, so they can’t be “duped” by their religious beliefs. Nothing about their life before marriage had anything to do with an abstinence only curriculum. And…they are married.

If they didn’t want children, they’d have the knowledge and the means (with no religious or moral scruples to hinder them) to avoid the conception of a new life.

Plus, Cristina is no stranger to pregnancy. She was pregnant in the first season and avoided an abortion since the pregnancy was ectopic and, therefore, removed. Maybe the show’s creator Shonda Rhimes forgot to write in the abstinence education and wine cooler part of surgical residency.

In all fairness, I think Rhimes has done an interesting job examining abortion and other bioethical issues in her other show, Private Practice. Yes, last season closed with an abortion, but there were a lot of other provocative and good messages in at least the past two seasons (notwithstanding the doctors’ sexual mores which appear to have nothing to do with “safe sex”). Grey’s Anatomy also had a very good episode on teenage pregnancy and adoption.

If things like “World Contraception Day” are going to be effective, then the surrounding culture has to support it. This means that people have to use contraception effectively and need to assume responsibility for their sexual behavior. If people in developing countries know what causes babies, what’s our excuse?

Maybe contraception is inherently flawed. It promotes a false sense of security, whether for the man or the woman.

A couple has a little too much to drink. Or he decides that it’s really not his problem anyway. Or she decides that she really does want a baby. Or that she really wants to get married and this is a way to force the matter. Or a gazillion other reasons.

The point is that contraception makes it seem like you don’t have to worry about long term consequences when in fact you do…all of the time, all of the month, not just on the days when you remember to take a pill or the occasional time that you remember to use a device or condom.

If contraception really worked, we wouldn’t have 54% of women seeking abortions as a result of pregnancies conceived while they were using contraception. And we wouldn’t have story lines like the recent Grey’s Anatomy episode.

Shonda Rhimes and the Alan Guttmacher Institute have done nothing to hide their beliefs in favor of contraception and abortion. But their own work belies the ineffectiveness of a culture that relies on contraception to govern sex.

Our sex drives are strong and real, sometimes unbearably strong even when wine coolers and ulterior motives are not part of the picture. Maybe contraception is not enough. Maybe we need to become more realistic about sex and all its implications.

Maybe, just maybe, sex with no strings attached creates problems regardless of contraception. Maybe sex demands ultimate vulnerability of both partners even if they are using contraception. Maybe that’s not possible with contraception.

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