Sex Ed in Higher Ed

College instructor teaching human sexuality rants about the dumbing down of America, the lost art of manners, grammar and (the perfect combination of both) the thank you note. Also includes random rants about life, pet peeves, and sometimes raves about favorite things.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Handmaid's Tale

About a week or so ago, Liberal Banana posted about the CDC's new recommendations for doctors treating women - all "women" - from their first period to their gasping-ovary-pushing-out-its-final-withered-little-egg last. It was so offensive to me for so many reasons, I couldn't post about it until now.

I will try to inhale and exhale slowly and calmly so I may continue to type. If this post turns into this: jigf[o wjotpkwr klpeklq40892eramf jl;akpe2 o94, know that I stopped typing and just started repeatedly banging my head against the keyboard.

Very selfish reason #1: As a doctoral student in the field of health education/public health, I thought that eventually, once I became Dr. Teacher Lady, I would work for a while at the CDC in some capacity. My advisors are well connected; a few of my professors have worked there. It's sort of a rite of passage - before you go off in the world to torment your very own doctoral students. Now? Not so much. I am so much more than my uterus, thank you very much.

Reason #2: This is the most backasswards recommendation I have seen in a long, long time. Here's why: So, the CDC's recommendations are for all physicians treating menstruating women to address them as "pre-pregnant." Don't clean out the litterbox (which has led some women to embrace these new treatment guidelines and all I can say is, "Hello!? Emph-ASS-is on the wrong Sy-LAB-bull.") Take your folic acid supplements. Quit smoking. (It's really bad for a fetus, you know?) Manage your chronic illnesses (aka Diabetes). Don't drink.

Now, why on earth are all women with an ovum popping out to say hello every month to be treated as "pre-pregnant?" Because the United States of America is the leader of the free world, all right. We lead the free world in unplanned pregnancies and teen pregnancies (compared to all other "developed" nations.) And, even more alarmingly, while the rates of unplanned pregnancies have decreased 20% among women living two times above the federal poverty line, rates of unplanned pregnancies have increased 29% among women living below the federal poverty line. As a friend of my mother's says, "The rich get richer and the poor get kids."

So, instead of doing things that would reduce the rates of unplanned pregnancy in the U.S., like mandating comprehensive sex education in all public schools (aside - We, the U.S. have five times (that's right - five times!) the teen pregnancy rate of countries like Finland, where comprehensive sex ed is part of the curriculum starting in kindergarten. We have three times the teen pregnancy rate of countries like France, where comprehensive sex ed is part of the curriculum starting in eighth grade. Also? Studies show that rates of sexual activity among teens in developed countries are about the same - 47-49% of high school seniors are engaging in sex - (G'head! Make yourself a little table. Play around with the YRBS! It's fun in a nerdy sort of way) it's not like the U.S. leads the world in teens doin' the nasty. We just lead the world in denying that fact), requiring insurance companies to cover birth control (especially if they cover Viagra!), and making emergency contraception available over the counter, we do this! Ladies: You are officially "pre-pregnant."

Am I the only one who sees the lunacy of this argument? "We're helpless to lower the rate of unplanned pregnancies in the U.S., so instead we'll just treat all women like they're potentially pregnant." I plan to write my dissertation on teen pregnancy and emergency contraception. Let's just say I've done a little research on the subject. I won't post the bibliography for my literature review here, but if you're interested, I'm happy to e-mail it to you. But I digress.

The point is, I feel like the CDC is acting like the proverbial dumb blonde of bad joke fame, faced with a technical task of any sort. "Oh. My. God. Like, um, what? I totally don't get it. Um, help?" We know there are strategies that work to lower the rates of unplanned pregnancies among teens and all women. And this is the best we can come up with? I'm sorry, what year is it? And what country is this again?

And also: We know that lung cancer is the number one of all cancer killers among women. Lung cancer kills more women than breast cancer. More women than cervical cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, and on and on and on. And lemme tell ya - if you've ever seen someone die of lung cancer (which, sadly, I have), you know that it's enough to make you think Jack Kavorkian was on to something. Anyway. Let's pretend I smoke. (I do not.) I would hope that my physician would encourage, cajole, and push me to quit smoking for me. And not because my physician is worried about how my smoking might affect the fetus that does not yet exist. (Or in my case, will likely never exist.) Let's worry about the people who are already here, eh?

The CDC's recent pronouncement inspired me to finally read The Handmaid's Tale. (Ironically, I saw it sitting in an empty cubicle in the advising center on Thursday. I finished it late Friday night. It's a very quick read.) If you haven't read it yet, please do so. It's terrifying on so many levels, which is also part of its genius. Margaret Atwood wrote it in 1985 and personally? I think that woman is either psychic or hiding a crystal ball somewhere, because damn. She saw the future and she was afraid. Rightly so.


Blogger Mrs. T said...

I am so glad you read this great book! My book group read it right after Bush was made president the first time (notice how I didn't say "elected"...). It was scary then, but even more so now that we are at war. And this new bit about treating women as though they are perpetually "pre-pregnant" is mind blowing. What about infertile women? Do we just let them go to pot? Or women who reach menopause early?
On a different topic that is near and dear to my heart- the teen pregnancy? I hate it. I can't stand the idea that a 16 year old can't legally be her OWN guardian, but can be a parent? It makes no sense. My mother taught at an alternative H.S. for pregant teens- and OH, the stories. I tell my own students that unplanned pregnancy is "VERY PREVENTABLE" every chance I get.
The sick thing about the government getting their hands in this is that I am not convinced that they actually give a damn about these unborn babies. I think it's all about money and they think that by placing all of these warnings, they will prevent some of the costly birth defects and complications they are having to pay for now. People have been so crazy litigious, now it's the feds' turn to get all crazy- can't you see it? "Your child qualifies for special ed. services. We're just going to have to ask you a few questions, ma'am. Did you knowingly eat Funions and drink Mountain Dew while you were with child? Did you not realize that you could have chosen a snack fortified with folic acid?"
Obviously, this whole subject is one that gets me all in a rant.

May 29, 2006 9:20 AM  
Blogger Sue said...

That is a wonderful...and It was required reading for my women's literature class and it freaked me out.

I agree with you on all points you have presented today.

In fact, I would LOVE to volunteer to teach a couple classes in our local school. They give out one of those "baby think it over" dolls to each student for a day. Yes, a DAY!

Personally, I think a week is the minimum that each student should be required to care for that obnoxious, crying pseudo-infant. Give them a week of sleep deprivation along with being required to do all their normal activities, such as homework.

I also think, and this is what I would love to teach, that they should follow up with two sections...Child Support 101 and What It Really Costs To Raise A Child 101.

These two classes should involve kids picking their desired jobs, drawing a number of children out of a hat and determining child support based on the expected REALISTIC wages of said employment.

Then, taking into consideration the actual costs of maintaining a household and raising the children, the students should have to "survive" and build a "life" out of it throughout the school year/semester.

I think this would be such a valuable bit of their education.

Though my kids get this lesson at home, they still cringe everytime I talk about it and say I'd be first in line to volunteer to teach it.

May 30, 2006 11:17 AM  
Blogger liberalbanana said...

I'm adding The Handmaid's Tale to my reading list - and luckily they have it at my library because I've been spending way too much money on Amazon lately! (Although I have a feeling this is one I'll want to own.)

It's great to read your perspective on this because I know you're well-versed in these subjects. (And hey, the thought of you banging your head on the keyboard made me giggle.) You already know my thoughts on this issue so let me just repeat: we should all be as healthy as possible for OUR OWN PERSONAL HEALTH. We should educate people on how to be healthy and if they want to get preggers, good for them. Don't assume we all want to pop out babies, CDC!

May 30, 2006 11:30 AM  
Blogger Art Nerd Lauren said...

And even if we do want to, someday, eventually pop out the babies, we still resent being thought of as pre-pregnant. Hell, all boys should be considered pre-balding or pre-beerbelly-having or pre-erectile-ly disfunctional. grrrrr.

Incidentally, I've tried to comment multiple times, but each time I started a sentence, but ended up all homina homina wha wha whaaaa?

May 30, 2006 12:39 PM  
Blogger ColoradoCastaway said...

I guess I'm just not what most would consider a normal male. I have to wholeheartedly agree with all of you on this subject. What a shame that I'll never be invited to join the Good Ol Boys Club. Someone ought to be shot for even suggesting this course of action. you know it had to be a man or some warped ass conservative christian woman.

May 30, 2006 12:46 PM  
Blogger Fraulein N said...

That "suggestion" by the CDC makes me soooooo angry. I can't blame you for not being able to post about it until now. I don't know how I managed to get anything out on the subject, except that when I heard about it I was so pissed I had to say something about it immediately. If ever anything could make me breathe fire, that would be it.

It's asinine for all the reasons you laid out, it's presumptuous as hell, and it's insulting. To women and men. To people who don't want children. To people who can't have children.

It frightens me. It makes me wonder what time and place I'm living in, and it definitely makes me think of The Handmaid's Tale, which is just wrong. Nothing that happens in real life should remind you of that book. I can't help thinking that the world Atwood depicted in that book didn't become that way overnight; it started out with smaller measures, like this bullshit the CDC is spouting.

And I don't even think it's about money, at least not entirely. I think it's just another part of the current trend toward legislating "morality" in America. Fuck that shit.

May 30, 2006 1:34 PM  
Blogger Teacher lady said...

Yeah, heaven forbid (no pun intended) we teach sex in schools - we'll just treat all women like they're "pre-incubators" instead.

May 30, 2006 1:37 PM  
Blogger Kristy said...

My first take on the CDC's announcement was anger as well, although from a completely different perspective. I found the recommendation to be particularly disturbing because, from my perspective, following the recommendation only serves to indoctrinate (pardon the pun) our youth into a medicalized vision of well-woman care. Well. Woman. Care. There's *nothing* in that scope that requires a medical specialist. Period.

I enjoyed reading your take on it as well, though. From whatever perspective you take, this recommendation is disheartening and shows, as reason #45,869, how our country is headed in the wrong direction. Fundamentally, both your point and my point would be well-served if this country followed a midwifery-model of care instead.

May 30, 2006 4:07 PM  
Blogger Jess Riley said...

I read The Handmaid's Tale for the first time last summer and it scared the snot out of me.

The next few years will be interesting indeed.

May 31, 2006 12:28 PM  
Blogger Susie said...

This explains a lot. My 63-year-old mother, who recently became a grandmother (with the birth of my son) was told at her last doctor's appointment that she needed to take a folic acid supplement. Having been trying to have a baby for the last seven years, I knew exactly what folic acid was for. I just couldn't figure out why my mom's doctor was so adamant that she needed to take it...

June 09, 2006 3:32 PM  

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