I've been thinking about Emily's piece on The War on Women, and how some issues have become perennial flashpoints. I think in the end, it all boils down to how "cheap" (easy to obtain) sex is in our culture, and how many social conservatives have a deep unease with this notion. Most conservative social issues boil down to varying strategies to make sex more expensive, especially for women.
If one thinks in purely economic terms, sex used to be enormously expensive for women. From the dawn of humankind, all the way up until the 1960's, if a woman chose to have sex, or even if the element of choice was not there in having sex, there was the huge risk of pregnancy. And it was this risk of pregnancy which constrained a lot of the choices that women could make. Women had to marry earlier, and could not work as steadily, as a pregnancy could never be predicted. This made women a lot more reluctant to have sex outside marriage, and the economic protections that it could afford in case of pregnancy. Families were of course much larger, and all but the poorest women were stay at home moms. Sex was expensive for both men and women. To have sex without social stigma, one had to get married first. Once married, there was very little opportunity for a couple to plan the number of children they wanted to have.
All this changed radically with the when the birth control pill was approved for use in 1960. For the first time, pregnancy could be planned for, and predicted, even if the woman was having sex. A woman could put off or delay pregnancy in order to pursue an education and career, and then marry after. After Roe v. Wade, when abortions became legal nationwide, there was even more freedom for women to control their reproductive choices. It turns out that many women, when given a choice, enjoyed having sex without having to get married, becoming a prostitute, or getting pregnant. Sex out of wedlock flourished for people of both sexes, while at the same time the age of marriage increased, and more women worked outside the home in actual careers, rather than just low-paying, low-status jobs.
However many social conservatives are deeply uneasy with the changes in society that resulted from The Pill, and other forms of available, reliable, reversible birth control. As it became more acceptable for women to work and support themselves, many also chose to raise families on their own, without the presence of a man. So-called "hook-up" culture flourished on college campuses. Men started to be outnumbered by women at universities and graduate schools. Many social conservatives seem to openly pine for the good old days(for some reason fixed in the popular mind as the 1950s), when sex was much more expensive for both sexes, and thus people's choices, especially women's, were much more constricted. Many seem to want to turn back the clock, and ensure that women must pay a huge penalty for having sex outside of marriage.
The abortion controversy has always had its flare-ups, and right now, it seems to be at another height. Social conservatives seek to ban all abortions, everywhere, even in the case of "legitimate" or "forcible " rape or incest. As Emily has pointed out in her post, conservatives are on the march to ensure women have absolutely no choice in the matter. Many conservatives believe that once the uncertainty of unexpected pregnancy re-emerges, women will be forced to marry earlier, and choose men more for the ability to provide, rather than on romantic attraction. Women would no longer be able to pursue work outside the home, and thus would rely solely on their mates for economic sustenance. Because of this reliance, the divorce rate goes down. Thus all social ills are solved!
For another example of this way of thinking amongst many social conservatives, being anti-contraceptive is no longer considered a fringe political position. 98% of reproductive age women have used some form of contraception in their lifetime. Personhood amendments, where life is said to begin at fertilization, is now a plank at the GOP convention. Theses amendments if enacted, would potentially ban many of the most popular forms of contraception, even though the Pill and Plan B have been shown not to interfere with the implantation of the fertilized egg. Despite the fact that Plan B has been shown to be effective and harmless, the Obama administration bowed to pressure from conservatives, and overruled an FDA recommendation that it should be available over the counter.
The controversy over Gardasil is yet another example. Imagine in the future there was a way to prevent your child from ever getting cancer. The only catch was, you had to make sure your child was properly vaccinated against cancer by a certain age. A no-brainer, right? You would do everything possible to make sure your child had the longest, healthiest life possible. Well, that future is now. Gardisil is a series of shots which prevent women from getting cervical cancer. But because cervical cancer tends to be caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted disease, conservatives caused an uproar over states mandating that children be vaccinated against cancer, the same way the state mandates being vaccinated over chicken pox or the measles.
Conservative groups, including the influential Family Research Council (FRC), have voiced concerns that immunising young girls against the virus that most regularly causes cervical cancer, Human Papilloma- virus, may lead to sexual promiscuity. "We would oppose any measures to legally require vaccination or to coerce parents into authorising it," wrote the FRC in a recent letter to the US government. "Our primary concern is with the message that would be delivered to nine- to 12-year-olds with the administration of the vaccines. Care must be taken not to communicate that such an intervention makes all sex 'safe'."Apparently ensuring that your child doesn't get cancer can't compete with the horror that your child may grow up, eventually have sex, and not worry that she will get cancer. All sex must have a penalty, and the larger and more dire, the better.
Is it better for sex to be expensive? Should individual choices, potential and technology be constrained if creates a more "idyllic" society than the one we have now? How far should we go to engineer this type of society, and what percentage of the population should be inconvenienced to ensure this society can come into being?