What this tells us is, this Willendorf effect, it’s also classist and racist. It’s present when the government reminds women with every new anti-choice bill that the contents of her uterus are not her own, or when an ob-gyn says, “While it’s safe to have sex during pregnancy, sometimes you never know. Better safe than sorry, right?” She’s denied basic privacy and bodily autonomy under the guise of “be a good mother.” We don’t trust her to make her own decisions. She’s cute, remember? When we tell women that sexual pleasure — excuse me.
When we tell women that sex isn’t worth the risk during pregnancy, what we’re telling her is that her sexual pleasure doesn’t matter. So what we are telling her is that she in fact doesn’t matter, even though the needs of her fetus are not at odds with her own needs.
So medical providers, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have the opportunity to educate about the safety of sex during pregnancy. So what do the experts say? ACOG actually has no public official statement about the safety of sex during pregnancy. Guidance from the Mayo Clinic is generally positive but presented with a caveat: “Although most women can safely have sex throughout pregnancy, sometimes it’s best to be cautious.” Some women don’t want to have sex during pregnancy, and that’s OK. Some women do want to have sex during pregnancy, and that’s OK, too. What needs to stop is society telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies.
Pregnant women are not faceless, identity-less vessels of reproduction who can’t stand on their own two feet. But the truth is, the real secret is, we tell all women that their sexual pleasure doesn’t matter. We refuse to even acknowledge that women who have sex with women or women who don’t want children even exist.
“Oh, it’s just a phase …she just needs the right man to come along.”
Every time a woman has sex simply because it feels good, it is revolutionary. She is revolutionary. She is pushing back against society’s insistence that she exist simply for men’s pleasure or for reproduction. A woman who prioritizes her sexual needs is scary, because a woman who prioritizes her sexual needs prioritizes herself.
That is a woman demanding that she be treated as an equal. That is a woman who insists that you make room for her at the table of power, and that is the most terrifying of all because we can’t make room for her without some of us giving up the extra space we hold.
I have one last secret for you. I am the mother of two boys and we could use your help. Even though my boys hear me say regularly that it’s important for men to recognize women as equals and they see their father modeling this, we need what happens in the world to reinforce what happens in our home. This is not a men’s problem or a women’s problem. This is everyone’s problem, and we all play a role in dismantling systems of inequality. For starters, we have got to stop telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies.
This includes not treating pregnant women like community property. If you don’t know her, don’t even ask to touch her belly. You wouldn’t anybody else. Don’t tell her what she can and cannot eat. Don’t ask her private details about her medical decisions. This also includes understanding that even if you are personally against abortion, you can still fight for a woman’s right to choose. When it comes to women’s equality, the two need not oppose one another. If you’re somebody who has sex with women, prioritize her pleasure. If you don’t know how, ask. If you have children —
have conversations about sex as early as possible, because kids don’t look up s-e-x in the dictionary anymore. They look it up on the internet. And when you’re having those conversations about sex, don’t center them on reproduction only. People have sex for many reasons, some because they want a baby, but most of us have sex because it feels good. Admit it.
And regardless of whether you have children or not, support comprehensive sex education that doesn’t shame our teenagers. Nothing positive comes from shaming teens for their sexual desires, behaviors, other than positive STD and pregnancy tests.
Every single day, we are all given the opportunity to disrupt patterns of inequality. I think we can all agree that it’s worth the trouble to do so.