Worlds We’re Not Having Sex In

Worlds We’re Not Having Sex In September 29, 2011

There was a lot of backlash to my Soup Nazi Approach to Sexuality post and the responsibility vs. culpability follow-up. So now it’s time to address the gender-related objections and questions. The gist of the comments was that I was unfairly/arbitrarily letting the woman have all the power in the choice of whether to have an orphan, an abortion, or raise a child (the three options for dealing with a pregnancy).

I was accused both of being anti-feminist and perpetuating sexism by treating women and men differently and of being a radical feminist who was punishing men unfairly. In a different world, I might be on board with the suggestion some commenters batted around: that sex partners should sign a contract prior to sex laying out their agreed-upon obligation in the event of conception. If nothing else, it would impose a waiting period on hookups, which I tend to favor. (I’d love to see the alt-world where parties made sure they had a notary public on hand as well as a designated driver).

But, since that’s not the world we live in, we have to kludge together a least-bad solution that can handle the situation on the ground. That doesn’t mean we can’t try and change the way people approach sexual relationships – my original post was about trying to get people to rethink the way they approach sex – but, in the meantime, I believe a strong expectation of responsibility from men is necessary. Now let’s talk about why.

Pregnancy involves a woman’s body 

That’s the simplest explanation of why men don’t get to exercise unilateral reproductive choices. This doesn’t cut men off from the option of raising children, they’re able to adopt a child or pay a surrogate, so it’s reasonable to judge that their desire to have a child can’t trump a woman’s desire to not go through pregnancy. For the men who feel they cannot countenance abortion and need a woman to go through with a pregnancy to save their soul, I cannot emphasize enough that people who think abortion is tantamount to murder have a duty to abstain from all sex that is not intended to be procreative.

That’s pretty much the crux of why I feel men don’t get a unilateral choice, or, really, any influence beyond advice when it comes to choosing to bring a pregnancy to term. The other reasons below outline why I don’t think their limited options give them an out on responsibility.

Many women are profoundly uncomfortable with abortion

It’s a lot easier to put the burden of child-rearing solely on the woman who chooses to carry an unplanned pregnancy to term if that’s not the only option she’s got on the table. However, rightly or wrongly (and please don’t debate it in the comment thread), many women are unwilling to have an abortion. Now, I have a Soup Nazi guideline for those women – if you’re not interested in procreative sex, no sex for you! But I know it’s not everyone is going to follow it, or a woman may think she’s ok with abortion in the abstract but feel repulsed when push comes to shove.

If abortion is off the table for her, then any other solution has to take into account the well-being of the child-to-be. A man may claim he’s being punished (or, in the words of one commenter, ‘enslaved’) when he is ordered to pay child support, but, if he doesn’t help out, the person who is being punished the most unjustly is the child. The man can still make a strong pitch for putting the child up for adoption (and, if his only involvement will be financial, the mother should strongly consider it), but if the baby is being raised, basic compassion demands he make sure it is provided for.

And if you’re asking why his involvement is necessary, consider…

The Two-Income Trap

The normalization of women in the workforce means that a lot of commodities are priced for two-income households. You can get a decent précis of the problem from this Mother Jones interview with one of the book’s co-authors.

You can object to these constraints and wish reform, but I strongly advise against using the livelihood of a child to heighten the contradictions and draw attention. If you want to make it easier for men to walk away from a child, might I suggest you try to address the…

Lack of a Social Net

If I could ask one thing of the pro-life movement, I’d ask them to throw their support behind TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and other similar programs. These welfare programs are specifically intended to support women with children who are living in poverty and to help those women get the jobs they need to take care of their families. The House GOP slated it for cancellation.

I know some of my libertarian friends want to avoid letting government supplant private charity (and some of those friends do try and pick up the slack through work at crisis pregnancy centers), but the question of whether the absence of government is sufficient to reinvigorate private charity is practically moot when you consider the other limiting factors. A tight job market means workers have to be mobile and are frequently separated from their natural support structures – their families. This effect, compounded over time, means family support is often limited to the nuclear family, not the extended tribe.

And, for a final concern…

Institutional Sexism

This last is complex enough to deserve its own post, so please forgive me just gesturing at in, since I’ve already racked up a bit of a word count. The essential problem is that, because of the toxic prevailing sexual culture, women’s choices and their perception of their choices are constrained by the culture they exist in. The headings above were, for the most part, addressed to the good of the child. This last one is slipped in as a reminder that, to reshape culture, we need a strong countervailing force, and expecting sex to have consequences for men seems like a good place to start.

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  • "A man may claim he’s being punished (or, in the words of one commenter, ‘enslaved’) when he is ordered to pay child support, but, if he doesn’t help out, the person who is being punished the most unjustly is the child."This. This is probably the most important line of the whole post, and it deserves quoting for emphasis. :)It seems unfair to men that women get to make the sole choice of whether to carry a pregnancy to term. And, to be honest, it is unfair. But that unfairness doesn't come from the legal system – it comes from biology. Blind, thoughtless Mother Nature set things up so that women bear 100% of the risks and the burden of pregnancy. Therefore, it's only right that they have 100% of the power in deciding whether to carry that pregnancy to term. The only alternatives are either that men exercise control over women's bodies – a horrifying thought – or that men can choose to legally abandon a child that was brought into the world through no fault of its own, depriving that child of a parent – which is little better. Sorry, guys; blame evolution if you don't like it.

  • Suppose current law allowed men to give pregnant women abortifacients in cases when the woman wants to continue with the pregnancy and the man does not.I wonder if you would be posting that this is just "the world we live in" and any woman who can't tolerate the risk of that happening to her should abstain from sex. If you wouldn't, then that says something about how you're addressing the situation now.

  • Leah,I'm going to pick a nit. The Church says that sex must be "open to life," not "for procreation only." You don't contracept (what with the reality of risk homeostasis, its failure rate, and the attendant false sense of security), but you can enjoy sex during periods of natural infertility with no intention of procreation — as long as you have decided that should it happen, you will accept the gift of life that God has given you. IOW, you don't *have* to be trying for children, but you must accept any children God gives you.As for TANF, I strongly suspect that if the government did not put so many regulatory barriers in the way of almoners and charitable activity, the need for a government safety net would be far less. In fact, prior to Henry VIII and Bloody Queen Bess' stripping the Church of her property, the Church WAS the safety net throughout England, and an excellent one at that — far better than the government safety net that followed.

  • Joe

    Adam Lee or Leah. Are you suggesting that some rights and obligations are rooted in Nature? That a child has a right to it's parents and to be nurtured and cared for by them? What I take you for saying sounds very pro-life. Im a bit confused because many Atheists commenting here seem to claim that rights and obligations are just made up by society.

  • Joe

    Arkanabar I think the solution is to both support TANF and remove any barriers to charitable giving. Its also important to remember that the reason the Church was the safety net in those days was because there was no separation of Church and state. The state at that time was the secular arm of the Church. As a Catholic I find Libertarianism rather spooky.

  • Are you suggesting that some rights and obligations are rooted in Nature? I don't know what the word "Nature" means in the sense you're using it. I believe that there are such things as rights and obligations, yes, and that they're rooted in human happiness.Im a bit confused because many Atheists commenting here seem to claim that rights and obligations are just made up by society.Well, congratulations! You've now learned that atheists don't all hold the same views about everything.

  • When I look at the first three points pretending to be pro-choice, Leah didn't answer the question, only push it out to adoption. If the child was put up for adoption it would not end up as a victim of the two income trap. The need for child support would therefore seem to be a consequence of the womans choice after birth and not of the child's existence.Now in truth pressuring the mother to abandon the child violates her natural bond with that child and is therefore illicit. But a pro-choicer can't make that argument consistently. As a matter of fact a father can have that very same bond to an unborn child. Whether you consider it a real child or not it is just obvious that expectant parents grieve a lot more about miscarriages than they would about the (prospective) mother not getting pregnant for a few months. The parental bond quite obviously can exist between the father and the nasciturus. And death clearly violates it more than adoption. So being pro-choice includes a decision that the male parental bond can be sacrificed for other interests and then nothing but sexism could make the female parental bond inviolable. Also I have another Gedankenexperiment:Suppose a married couple had agreed to have children. Then the woman becomes pregnant, changes her mind and has an abortion. Suppose her husband divorces her and goes on to adopt a child. Should the ex-wife be obliged to support the adopted child financially? More money is clearly good for the child and the mother already agreed to parental duties. I think the answer is fairly obviously no. But that is because I know abortion is at least as much about avoiding parenthood as about avoiding pregnancy and that pretty much undermines the argument of this post.And suppose a reliable lie detector gets invented. Would you then support tying a womans right to decide on abortion to her proving she does so because of the pregnancy rather than the motherhood? Or does the father get to walk out unilaterally unless the lie detector shows the mother actually is uncomfortable with abortion? The social safety net, while a no-brainer to my European sensibilities, is pretty much a red herring. Welfare becomes relevant if the father can't pay, nobody proposes it for cases where he just doesn't want to.On the last point I'm actually more sympathetic. Obviously child support already exists and doesn't create sufficient consequences of sex for men to stop the "toxic prevailing sexual culture". But if it really was all about female freedom I would expect pro-choicers to see the middle ground in this area. For example, pressuring a woman to have an abortion could be a felony. Probably the (expectant) mother would need a veto on prosecuting it because imprisoning her parents and (ex-)boyfriend doesn't necessarily add to her freedom. But that kind of pressure is more the rule than the exception and if it really was about her body she could only profit from a weapon to fight back with. In truth, however, our society depends on legal abortion mainly to uphold the "toxic prevailing sexual culture".

  • Anonymous

    I guess you could say that men and women are "Uneually Yoked" biologicaly!!! Sorry couldn't resist

  • Patrick

    You still addressing the actual question only tangentially.We already permit women to make decisions about whether or not the biological father will provide child support. An easy example is a woman seeking in vitro fertilization- its presumed that she knows what she's doing, that she won't be going after the sperm donor for support, and that if she weren't financially capable she wouldn't be making this choice.The question is why we don't view similarly a decision not to abort. We could quite easily use many of the same principles already in the law, and many of the same principles you've outlined, and create a legal regime where a decision not to abort implicitly includes a decision to financially support the child without contribution from the father.There's really no in-a-vacuum justice based reason not to do that. Norms of fairness or "taking responsibility" aren't going to do the task, because the availability of a veto point on child birth puts a massively disproportionate amount of the decision making entirely in the hands of the woman.Saying that men should "take responsibility" is a non sequitor if there's no responsibility to be shirked. And after all, the alternative legal schema I've outlined is exactly what we use for analogous non-pregnancy related circumstances.On the other hand, I do think the current system can be justified by means of a straight up utilitarian logic. The current system gets us through the day. It undoubtedly reduces child poverty. It accommodates for the fact that an abortion isn't actually as easy to get as it should be. It provides a one size fits all solution to power disparity with regards to gender. It serves goals of increasing female autonomy, albeit by directly reducing male autonomy to compensate. It provides a one size fits all rule for all forms of religious beliefs regarding child birth. And the "no sex for you" aspect gives it a shallow veneer of respectability in that the man's agency isn't totally zero, so even if his responsibility is disproportionate to his agency, its just enough that it doesn't overly bother people.I view it a lot like affirmative action. Its socially and temporally contingent. Its not based on any high and mighty principles. Its a brute force solution to a complex problem. And its got a lot of problems of its own- for example, like most of our family law it is explicitly designed to preserve social hierarchy (a child of a poor father has the right to a few grand a year, a child of a rich father has the right to orders of magnitude more- our family law is filled with the implicit assumption that one has the right to remain in the same social strata as one's spouse or parent).But it gets us through the day, I suppose.

  • – B ..

    Thank-you Leah, for clearing up on gender asymmetry."many women are unwilling to have an abortion. Now, I have a Soup Nazi guideline for those women – if you’re not interested in procreative sex, no sex for you!" (Leah)I'm almost onboard here. I still think your framing needs to pull in Arkanabar on "intention" (not "for procreation only") and Gilbert on adoption.Unwilling to parent? contracept? gamble? abort? adopt? Then keep your bits away from their bits.

  • @PatrickActually Leah's second point is an answer to precisely that question: The expecting mother might see abortion as a moral problem even if it isn't and other people don't get to force her conscience. Now I would take that answer a lot more serious if Leah next came out in favor of conscience clauses for doctors and pharmacists. But in itself and ignoring the conflict with other liberal orthodoxy it is an eminently reasonable answer.

  • "the Church WAS the safety net throughout England"Yeah… Churches have a great reputation for looking after children.I am starting an insurance scheme so that any man wishing to have sex but no parental responsibilities can pay a small fee monthly and the scheme will pay out a sum to the mother and child should a pregnancy occur and the woman wish to keep the child. Women are also welcome to join and they can give the child to the father should she want to go through with the pregnancy and the man wishes to be a father but the woman does not want to be a mother. A separate abortion insurance fund will be available to both sexes too.As Patrick points out this will require a change in law so that there is a fixed fee for child maintenance rather than one related to the income of the father (which is unbelievably unfair.)Some say this will encourage unprotected sex but I think the risk of disease will keep most people practising safe sex.

  • Patrick

    Gilbert- That's really not relevant unless you believe that the government ought to compel other people to financially support you in the exercise of your ethical views.Which, if you believe in conscience clauses for pharmacists, you apparently DO believe, I guess.

  • Emily

    To back up Leah here – it's not actually THAT ridiculous to ask people to not have sex with other people whose reproductive ideology they disagree with. Your bits will not rot. You will not suffer psychological or physical scarring. Geez. Also, I'd like to note that decisions about abortion are not just ideological, but have a lot to do with access. It is not easy for many women to get abortions even if they want them thanks to lack of money, sick days, access to providers within the state or geographic region, specific legal measures designed to make it harder, etc. It's a much more limited choice than, say, a man choosing to sign a piece of paper to give up his claim on a child would be, and it has actual physical costs and consequences, so it shouldn't be discussed as though those are the same.

  • @Patrick I have what I think is a good answer to your last comment. But for now I'm holding my pace because it would derail this thread into a discussion of something completely different. So, if you don't mind, I'll just wait until the main discussion is over and then tell you why I think you're wrong on this point. Anyway my reply would be quite different from what I would expect Leah's to be.

  • Hibernia86

    @Leah,I understand that we need to take a woman's ability to get pregnant into account, but I think it is wrong to say that once a man has sex he no longer has a say in whether he has kids. We need to balance that out. Either the abortion should be the legal default if there is a disagreement among the two parents or the man should have the opportunity to opt out just as the woman does and if you don't want the woman having a child alone, you can take that up with her. We can debate exactly how to factor the woman's pregnancy responsibilities into the final equation, but I don't think a 9 month responsibility that you can chose to avoid makes up for forcing an 18 year (or in an emotional sense, lifetime) responsibility on someone else without their permission. To answer some of your specific points:"Pregnancy involves a woman's body"Yes it does, but a child involves a man's body. The man has to provide emotional and financial support to a child he might not be prepared for. He might have to drop out of school and get stuck in a dead end minimum wage job track. To say "It's not beneath your skin so it doesn't matter" is in no sense accurate. The whole "It's in my body so it doesn't matter to others what I do" is a lot like the Libertarian "It's my property so it doesn't matter to others how much I pollute." But when the oil flows down the river and kills the next man's crops, we feel it is right to complain. Similarly, if a woman is using her pregnancy to force a man to reproduce before he is ready, then this is a situation that needs to be modified. "Many women are profoundly uncomfortable with abortion"And many men are profoundly uncomfortable with having a child before they are ready to care for it. First trimester abortions are quick and, especially if the man is helping to pay for it, affordable. Raising a child for 18 years is exhausting and expensive. Given that fact, I think it is wrong to just dismiss that life changing event as if it were nothing. He should have some influence over the situation if you are expecting him to take responsibility for it. "The Two-Income Trap" and "Lack of a Social Net"I actually don't want there to be lots of single parents raising kids, so that is why I am pushing the idea that the mother should get an abortion unless both parents are ready to have kids."Institutional sexism"I do have a big problem with this part. I count myself as a Liberal, but it disturbs me how some Liberals push the "fight sexism with sexism" plan. If you think you have identified sexism against women, then work to end it. Don't try to come up with some handicap to put on men to "even it out". The idea of "We'll both be miserable together" doesn't work. We need to raise women up to men's level, not drag men down.

  • orgostrich

    @Hibernia86"Abortion should be the legal default""the mother should get an abortion unless both parents are ready to have kids"If a woman doesn't want an abortion, but is forced to have one by law, what do you think that would look like? Strapping her down and forcing a pill down her throat? Throwing her in jail until she agrees to (in her mind) "kill her baby"?I'm still not sure what I think about the man getting an opportunity to "opt out" of parental rights and responsibilities, but trying to force women to have abortions is very very wrong. Also, no one is dismissing the idea that the outcome of the pregnancy (whether an abortion or a baby) matters to the man. Of course it does. However, that interest does not give him the right to control what she can and cannot do with her body, not even a little bit. One of the problems with this whole situation is that there can be no compromise. You can't half-abort. Giving the man any influence in the abortion decision (which is separate from anything decisions that get made after the baby is born) is the same as giving him full control over her uterus, and that is unacceptable.

  • Hibernia86

    First, keep in mind that that is just one possible legal setup. We could debate on exactly how it would work.I think people should have freedom to do what they want…until they start hurting other people. Again to reference the Libertarian who says "No one is dismissing the idea that the pollution from a factory matters to the community. However, that interest does not give them the right to control what the factory owner can and cannot do with their own property, not even a little bit." No one but the most extreme Conservative would agree with that. Similarly, I think it is wrong for someone to avoid a quick, fast, affordable first trimester abortion and continue with a pregnancy that either A) forces their partner to reproduce against their will or B) giving birth to a child who doesn't have the support of a two family household. The abortion is by far the best option.It should be noted that the fetus is not part the woman's body, but rather its own organism, which, before it gains consciousness, has no rights. Removing a fetus leaves the woman's body the way it was, sans the extra organism. I don't believe anarchy exists below the skin. If there was a massive spread of a deadly disease, it is within the rights of the Government to make everyone take a vaccine, even if someone starts complaining about their bodily autonomy. Stopping the spread of a deadly disease is more important than your decision over whether you feel like taking the vaccination or not. We should be focusing on the rights of people, not the rights of blood and guts or bodies. This is especially true in regard to the fetus which isn't part of the woman's body at all.Also, it is wrong to say that the man would get full control over her uterus from this setup. If the woman wanted to abort and the man didn't, the abortion would take place regardless of the man's wishes because abortion is the default.Pro-choice philosophy formed in opposition to pro-life philosophy. It needed a way to justify abortion even at the latest stages of pregnancy. If it had formed without the pro-life philosophy to battle against, I think it would be more amenable to valuing people's reproductive rights over blood and guts.

  • dbp

    This was written last week, to be posted after Emily's comment. I couldn't get it to go through, but I saved a copy of it, and now I think it will work. So here it is:Patrick: "That's really not relevant unless you believe that the government ought to compel other people to financially support you in the exercise of your ethical views."This is precisely what Leah is advocating when she talks about women "profoundly uncomfortable with abortion." If you turned your statement on her, it undermines the whole point of the post. So I think Gilbert's point is valid.Emily: Those of us who were proposing the option for men to revoke their rights and responsibilities included in that the provision that they would still be liable for the costs to offset your concerns.My own opinion is that there's a bit of a lopsided valuation going on here. Yes, asking a woman to carry a child to term involves a certain amount of real bodily risk and (most definitely) affects the woman's life significantly both during and for some time after a pregnancy. However, I think people underestimate how big an impact on a man's life child support payments can be; and given the duration involved, the effects are, generally, a lot longer lasting than the physical effects of a normal pregnancy.Also, the effects on men are not merely economic; there can be psychological and social repercussions from his fatherhood, and even the merely economic ones can lead to bankruptcy and even incarceration on the one hand, and depression and related effects on the other.Therefore, if you're going to ask men to undergo such burdens to support a woman who chooses to carry a child to term against the will of the father, I don't think it's so entirely unreasonable to also ask healthy mothers with healthy pregnancies to carry a child to term to comply with the father's request, assuming he is then to assume all responsibility for the child with little or no monetary support from the mother.That, or giving the father a more symmetrical option to revoke his own interest and duty toward the child, seem to me the only logically consistent positions. The latter results in a lot more abortion, but if you think that's a bad thing, then maybe you should start rethinking your support for abortion at a more fundamental level.

  • Gilbert

    I said I would have a potentially side-tracking reply to Patrick after the main discussion is over. It seems like it is so here it goes:

    Patrick says my partial agreement with Leah doesn’t make sense “unless you believe that the government ought to compel other people to financially support you in the exercise of your ethical views“. Assuming the “you” to be generic this is true as far as it goes. For my view to make sense I must indeed believe the government should at least sometimes compel some people to financially contribute to the costs of some people exercising some of their moral views. And I do indeed believe that.

    This belief is, however, not at all unusual. While a lot of people might deny it in that abstract form almost everyone supports practical examples. Usually such examples come in the form of taxation or regulation (And yes, that counts, or else, contrary to Patrick’s assertion, conscience clauses for pharmacists wouldn’t either.). I’ll name some of these examples:

    Right now a bunch of disorientated youth are exercising their moral views by camping out in various cities in protest of capitalism. Not only do they get to use public streets and parks for that purpose they also get protected by the police. All of this is payed for by taxes collected in part from the very people they are protesting against. In some cases these taxes even pay for cleaning up the mess the hippies are leaving, though that might be pushing it legitimacy-wise. And if anyone refuses to contribute to this through the tax system the government will send men with guns(TM) to compel their payment. We call this state of affairs the freedom of assembly and most people, including me, support it. In fact I was very grateful for it about a month ago, when the counter-protesters at the March for Life in Berlin made it very clear they wouldn’t let us proclaim our moral views if the tax-payed police wasn’t enforcing our right to do so.

    In some American counties the only schools the local tax payers would want to pay for in a pure democracy would be explicitly Christian. They wouldn’t be setting it up that way just to forcibly indoctrinate the heathen kids but because to them a Christian school is just better value as can be seen from many people actually paying for private Christian schools. Still there is a minority who feel morally obliged to bring their kids up differently and just to support them in the exercise of their ethical views the majority gets forced to finance secular schools. Most people are OK with this and for rural areas where school choice is not an option I happen to agree.

    Work safety rules get mandated for purely moral reasons. Yet their alway existing opponents have to co-finance them through higher prices.

    Some business owners would prefer to hire straight or celibate workers in preference over gay ones. That would be the utility-maximizing use of their own money. But in many places that would now count as illegal discrimination so the employers get forced to directly pay for someone exercising their wrong view of ethics. Increasingly many people think that’s fair and depending on the precise situation I sometimes agree.

    Some Americans think exceedingly complicated and expensive appellate procedures are necessary to justify the death penalty. Those who disagree still get to share the bill for the procedures other people think morally obligatory. (I don’t know what I would think about this if I wasn’t opposed to the death penalty even with such procedures.)

    So except for some radical libertarians basically everyone believes the government should at least sometimes compel some people to financially contribute to the costs of some people exercising some of their moral views.

    The reason basically everyone believes that is because it’s true. That’s because conscience is no less integral to a human being than the body is. Therefore forcing someones conscience is no less a violation than hurting them physically. Governments should protect their citizens from both.

    (Sidenote: I think it’s obvious how a discussion of my examples could escalate into a discussion of basically everything and how that could have been terminal to a discussion of the original issue. Sadly that discussion didn’t happen anyway, but if it had y’all would now see how smart and wise I was in deferring this comment.)

  • Patrick

    With a sufficiently broad field of vision, I can see how you would make that point. But focus in a little bit- to what degree do you believe that its appropriate to require an employer to continue to retain an employee who refuses to do a portion of their job?

    In the legal realm, we have long had issues about attorneys employed to represent clients whom they feel they can no longer represent for personal ethical reasons. The solution we arrived at was that you can resign, no questions asked. But the key word here is “resign.” You can’t continue to bill the client while not representing them.

    This isn’t just some generalized question about discrimination. Its a question about whether pharmacies should be forced to retain pharmacists who do not distribute medicine, whether the military should be forced to retain soldiers who will not fire a gun, whether law firms should be forced to retain attorneys who will not speak in court. And if it weren’t for the double standard we all too easily accept about discrimination by religious groups, it would be about forcing churches to continue to employ clergy who have changed faiths and will not preach (but we all know you’d write in an escape clause for yourselves, you little culture warriors you…).

    At best, I can see a rule requiring some form of “reasonable accommodation,” perhaps in the form of requiring the employer to offer available alternative employment that does not conflict with the employees beliefs, but that’s it.