Sex 101: From Plan B to Pleasure

I have mixed feelings about the decision of Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebelius to overrule the FDA’s recommendation to allow over-the-counter sales of Plan B, without any age restrictions.

On the one hand, the knee-jerk liberal in me says wait a minute–access to contraception in any form should not be restricted.

On the other hand, it makes me a little nervous to think about young kids–say, 12-year-old girls–being able to buy morning-after pills as casually as they might buy cold medicine.

Our society is already sexualizing young girls way more than I think is healthy.  If Plan B were widely available, it might be used as just another reason why girls should open themselves up to sex at a younger age.

Another part of my hesitation comes from knowing full well that Big Pharma is pushing over-the-counter (OTC) sales just to make more profits on the drug.  I don’t think they are really that concerned with the welfare of young women.

Rather than simply making Plan B available OTC, I would like to see a national conversation (let’s call it a national general assembly) on the issue of the hypersexualization of youth, on the one hand, and the with-holding of sex education and contraception, on the other.

It saddens me that students in my gender studies classes are still reporting that sex education in their high schools consisted mainly of scare tactics ranging from “have sex before marriage and you’ll go to hell” (Catholic school) to “have sex and you’ll get disgusting STDs” (public school) to abstinence-only “just say no” programs.

In an age where the answer to any question is readily available on the Web, we owe it to our teenagers to present these issues in much more depth.  We should be discussing sexuality in all its multivalent nuances, from issues of sexualized violence (what happens if you say no and he doesn’t listen?) to the pros and cons of each of the many contraceptive options, to what I see as very often the missing link in contemporary discussions of sexual relations: pleasure.

Sex isn’t just about contraception, it’s not just about STDs, it’s not just about violence, it’s not just about worrying over drawing limits of one kind or another.

It’s about pleasure.

Her pleasure as much as his.  Mutual pleasure.  Mutual desire, mutual satisfaction.

Any sex ed worth its salt needs to be honest with young people, both boys and girls, about why sex makes the world go round.  It shouldn’t just be discussed in terms of threats, warnings and prohibitions.

Sex for pleasure is one of those defining human characteristics that too often gets lost in discussions of Plan B, abortion rights, and HIV-AIDS prevention.  These are all important issues, but let’s not lose sight, along the way, of what it’s all about.

The drug companies have not yet figured out how to package pleasure.  Let’s hope they never will.

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