Looking through the comments thread for “Soup Nazi Approach to Sex” it looks like there were two major subtypes of disagreement with my post. Many commenters wanted to know why men should bear responsibility for a pregnancy when women can make unilateral decisions about whether to bring a child to term. They accused me of enforcing a sexist double standard. I’ll try and get to that topic tomorrow.What I want to address today is the way we conceive of responsibility and culpability for both genders. I saw a lot of comments along these lines:
- “For some reason this reminds me a little of conservative arguments about health insurance: “Well, you should have thought of the risks beforehand!” Yes, you should have, but assume that you didn’t. What then?” 
- “This sounds exactly like the “pro-life” response to women who have abortions. Didn’t want a baby? You shouldn’t have had sex. So this argument is ok to use for men, but not women?
…Anyway, I think the question is a lot more complicated than you want it to be, and your answer makes you sound like a pro-lifer, except you are placing the burden of not having sex on men instead of women.” 
- “As has been pointed out before, the pro-life arguments against women’s reproductive rights (why don’t you just keep your legs closed?) are exactly the same ones that some women on this thread are using against the men. Hopefully pointing this out will make it easier to see what is wrong with that argument.
Leah, you have to realize that you are, in fact, making the exact argument pro-lifers make for why abortion should be illegal: if you don’t want the responsibility of a kid (or the burden of a pregnancy) then don’t have sex. The reasons that’s a wrongheaded statement to make to a woman are the same as those why it’s wrong to say to a man.” 
Let’s take this out of the realm of pregnancy for a second (to avoid some of the abortion side-arguments) and reframe the discussion in terms of STIs. Both people in a relationship can take action to lower their risk of contracting a venereal disease (screening partners, using condoms, getting vaccinated), but something can still go wrong. (Especially when a significant proportion of people who think they’re using condoms correctly are wrong).
Someone can contract a disease, even when they and their partner were doing due diligence, because someone has to get hit with the nasty end of the probability stick. So, in that instance, there’s not really any culpability or blame. Not any more so than if you tripped and skinned your knee. However, even though neither partner is at fault, the infection will carry with it a new burden of responsibility.
Best case scenario, the infected partner now has a responsibility to him/herself to go to a doctor and get treated with a short course of antibiotics to clear the problems up completely. Worst case scenario, in the case of HIV/AIDS, the person now has a chronic disease that they will be responsible for managing for the rest of his/her life. Any chronic infection also entails a new responsibility to inform and protect future partners. None of these new responsibilities have anything to do with desert, they exist regardless of the action that brought someone to this point.
If someone wanted to be sexually active but was also unwilling to take even the smallest chance s/he might contract an STI, I wouldn’t jump straight to “No sex for you!” (and I’d probably want to have a longer conversation about estimating risk). The person who would provoke my Soup Nazi response would be someone who said, “If I get an STI, I won’t get treated. It’s not my fault I was infected, so why should my life change?” You can’t opt-out of that responsibility. It has nothing to do with culpability, it’s just playing the hand you’ve been dealt.
Of course, almost no one would make the ‘not-my-fault’ claim to avoid medical treatment and the duty to disclose to new partners. Most of us have no qualms about accepting treatment for disease, so we’re able to see it as just the next logical step, not an unfairly burdensome responsibility. The trouble is, plenty of people who have sex are profoundly uncomfortable with their three options if conception occurs: an abortion, an orphan, a child you have to parent. But these are the only options on the table, and it’s your responsibility to pick one.
You can have sex and hope that you never have the bad luck to need to make the choice, but, when push comes to shove, those are the options in front of you. If you know you aren’t comfortable with any of these three options—you couldn’t handle that responsibility—then you’re back in the “No sex for you!” group, and, given that the range of options are obvious, I do assign culpability for choosing to place yourself in that situation. If you’re a guy and some of those options are intolerable to you, you have a responsibility to not have sex with women who will choose them or women who you don’t know well enough to estimate their choice.
I’m a paternalist when it comes to government, so I’m very interested in making all of these choices less frightening and easier to bear (covering abortion in standard health insurance, better disclosure of adoption options during counseling, a heckuva lot more child care subsidies, maternity and paternity leave, etc). It’s not an individual’s fault that one of the three options is prohibitively difficult due to outside circumstances. But you have to choose based on the options you have, and, if none of them are tenable, “No sex for you!”