Like, whether it’s appropriate to use the t-word in a first paragraph of a blog post. I might offend some sensibilities -- maybe all those social conservatives who don’t want to deal with human reproductive matters unless it involves limiting women’s reproductive choices.
I was in Aisle 19 of the CVS Pharmacy in the Countrywood shopping center the other day, and it got my mind running over the personal and the political around sex, birth control and what's being called a GOP-led War on Women.
As the sign hanging above the aisle indicated, this is where a customer would find goods related to “Feminine Care” and “Family Planning.”
So, in Aisle 19 there were tampons for sale, as well as anti-fungal ointments to treat vaginal itching. I know, Eww!
I couldn’t imagine any men entering Aisle 19. For one thing, they’d have to pass through its gauntlet of feminine mystery. On one side, there are shelves holding the aforementioned tampons and creams; on the other side, maxi pads.
Of course, this is the aisle where men would find products pertaining to their role in procreation and transmitting STDs. I’m talking condoms, including varieties like Trojans Ultra Thin Lubricated Condoms.
“Over 25 percent thinner than standard condoms.”
“Designed for a more natural feeling.”
You hear all the time about how men don’t like using condoms. This apparent antipathy to prophylactics is a real concern for sex workers around the world, trying to protect themselves from HIV and other diseases. The female condom was developed as an alternative. Apparently, the American porn industry is in an uproar over a new Los Angeles city ordinance that requires male actors to wear condoms. Industry officials in America’s porn capital say audiences – the majority of whom are men – find prophylactics a turnoff.
OK, I'm meandering but I can’t help but see a connection between the setup of Aisle 19 and attitudes and institutions that keep men at a remove from the day-to-day mess and mechanics of sex.
Actually, most men I know don't deliberately remove themselves from these matters. They see themselves as partners in birth control and family planning. They make it to ultrasound appointments for their pregnant partners, and help out in labor and delivery rooms. They would probably venture into Aisle 19 and buy those Trojans themselves if that’s the contraception they and their partners agreed upon. And, they wouldn't hesitate to pick up a pack of feminine hygiene products for their girlfriends or wives.
Still, family planning a women’s problem, not withstanding the good intentions of such evolved men. With regard to Aisle 19, CVS probably made a marketing decision in displaying male condoms products next to "feminine care." After all, women make the majority of condom purchases.
Right now, there are Republican-led efforts at the federal level and in multiple states to limit access to contraception and abortion. You have older male religious leaders in a mostly male-only Congressional hearing dismissing a woman’s choice to use contraception as almost a frivolous life-style choice – like choosing to get a tummy tuck or Botox injections. You have Rush Limbaugh calling a woman a slut for wanting to use birth control. You have new laws, such as the one in Texas, that requires a woman seeking an abortion to first undergo a transvaginal ultrasound.
In a lot of ways our national consciousness and public policies on sex, birth control and women's rights are at risk of falling back a century.
Back in 1916, Margaret Sanger opened her first birth control clinic. Sanger’s own mother went through 18 pregnancies in 22 years. Sanger articulated a pretty basic but powerful idea: A woman’s potential to lead a healthy life and enjoy equal status in society depends on her ability to determine when to bear children.
Sanger’s idea established birth control as a fundamental component of preventative health care for females of child-bearing age. Over the past century and around the world, we have seen the strong link between a nation’s economic development and the growing status of its women, which is largely dependent on their ability to choose when to get pregnant and how many children they will have.
It seemed that Sanger’s basic idea had become a given in developed societies -- but not anymore. Conservative politicians and religious leaders are trying to tell the public that contraception isn’t a necessary part of women’s health care.
Scary that such early 20th century thinking is gaining any momentum in 2012.
What else will you find it Aisle 19? Home pregnancy tests. They are on the shelf to the right of condoms, which in turn are to the right of maxi pads.
The left-to-right placement of these products creates something of a narrative about the cycle of human reproduction, the cycle of life. From menstruation to the possibility sex, for which a woman needs to take protective measures. Otherwise, she'll end up needing to buy one of those test kits, which will deliver news that will either make her very happy or leave her terrified and in despair.
It's a cycle to which all women are well acquainted. It also makes Aisle 19. and its counterparts in pharmacies, grocery stores and big-box stores all around the world, a regular shopping destination.