The contraception conversation

When I was 16, my mother found my contraceptive pills in my top drawer.

She brought them and held them out in front of me, like something dead and dirty, accusing:

“What are these, and where did you get them?”

“They’re my pills,” I said. “I didn’t want to get pregnant.”

“Are you having sex?” she demanded, her face angry.

“No, no,” I denied, lying to her face. “I just want them…just in case…you know…” My voice drifted away into nothing.

That was how the brief conversation went, all those years ago, but I remember it clearly.

pill

Pressure from all sides…

What I didn’t tell my mother was the fact that those pills were like gold to me. Three months earlier, I’d started having sex. We’d used condoms that time, but then my boyfriend had asked me to go on the Pill.

Of course, it was the woman’s job to get contraceptives and sort all that out. It still is mostly, here, nearly thirty years later from back then.

But I did what I had to do. The sexual health clinic was nearly two hours away by bus, and I didn’t have a car. I was 16. I arrived way too early for my appointment, and walked around the block near the clinic about three or four times before I summoned up the nerve to go inside.

I felt like a criminal. All I wanted was to not get pregnant. You wouldn’t think it would be so difficult to avoid that. Yet it was, for me. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I’d been taught to think of sex that way.

The people in the clinic were friendly, and put me on a low dose pill, but it was really expensive. I wasn’t earning much at that point, and it used up all the money I had just to get three months’ supply. But what else was I supposed to do?

I remember wondering if my boyfriend, who had a lot more money than me, would chip in for some of the cost, then threw that idea right out. Guys didn’t pay for this sort of stuff. Sex was free for them.

My mother held my pills in her hand. “I’m throwing these out. You shouldn’t be having sex yet. You’re too young.”

And she took them away.

I looked in the bins to see if I could find them, and even went through the garbage cans outside, but no luck. They were gone. And I started bleeding a couple of days later, because I’d stopped in the middle of taking them.

The next day, I rang the sexual health clinic again the moment my parents were out of the house. They couldn’t get me in until the following week, and I asked if I could pay for just one month of pills, not three. I couldn’t. They were sorry about that.

I said I’d see what I could do and made the appointment anyway.

That was the only thing I ever stole money from anyone for: I took the money I needed from my mother’s purse.

I don’t think she missed it.

Next time I got hold of my pills, I made sure Mum wouldn’t find them – I hid them in my secret hiding spot that even she didn’t know about, under the bottom of my wardrobe at the back. If she found them, she never said anything.

From then on, whenever I needed more money for more pills, I just stole it from my mother.

I think that was the point at which I began to grow up: when I stopped trusting my parents. When I realised they would steal my things and they weren’t on my side.

I stopped trusting them when they stopped trusting me.

Sluts and whores

Looking back, there is so much wrong with my experience that I don’t know where to begin.

The fact that contraception was, and still commonly is, solely a woman’s responsibility.
The fact that I had to deal with all this alone, even though I was hardly still a woman.
The fact that my boyfriend was absent from the conversation and from responsibility.
The fact that my mother felt she had control both over my body and my property.
The fact that my mother judged me, and felt she had the right to judge.
The fact that caring for my body was seen as a shameful thing by my mother, as was sex.
The fact that, even at 16, my mother had still never talked about sex with me, even though I desperately needed her support and help.

Most of all, looking back, I’m amazed that my mother was angry that I took care and responsibility for my own body.

If I had a daughter do that, and go get pills all by herself, no matter what age, I’d be proud of her actions and initiative. I’d be glad she was keeping herself safe from pregnancy.

I’d be sorry I didn’t get a chance to help her first, but glad she respected her body enough to care for it and plan ahead.

But maybe I don’t see sex as something we should be ashamed of.

For my mother, women who had sex before marriage were sluts and whores. I don’t know whether she was silly enough to believe that taking my pills away would stop me having sex, but if she was, she was wrong. All it did was make me steal from her, lie to her, and not trust her.

prudewhore

The contraception conversation

Contraception – and sex generally – is the conversation we desperately need to have with our children.

And it’s the one conversation we’re not having.

When we judge our kids, this is what happens.
When we judge our kids, this is what happens.

Over and over, I hear parents say that they want to talk to their kids about sex, but “just not yet”.

If not now, then when?
When they steal from you for their contraception?
When they get pregnant, or get someone else pregnant?
Or maybe when they get an STI?

“Tomorrow” is too late.
We need to talk today.

It is our responsibility to keep our children safe, until they’re able to do that for themselves. That’s what parenting is.

Our kids need to be able to trust us, and in order to earn that, we need to start the conversation by trusting them.

We need to talk.

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So why the emphasis on “purity” anyway?

We all know that the churches of the Bible belt have been placing a massive emphasis on “purity” and virginity lately. Especially for women.

Actually, purity isn't a commandment at all. The nearest the Commandments get to talking about purity is Commandment No. 7, which says no adultery.
Actually, purity isn’t a commandment at all. The nearest the Commandments get to talking about purity is Commandment No. 7, which says no adultery.

Teens are taking “purity pledges” and being “re-virginized” (whatever THAT means!) and promising to “wait” until they get married.

But have you ever stopped to ask – why?

Why the emphasis on this one aspect of human behaviour?

Good works

Think about it for a moment. How is a “good person” or a “valued member of society” usually defined?

Think of the people in history you’d consider to be heroes. They might be Jesus, if you’re a Christian – but I bet his sex life was never a big issue for you (do you even know how many sex partners he had? is it even mentioned in the Bible?)

Or you might think of Nelson Mandela. Or you might be thinking of Martin Luther King Jr. Or Marie Curie, if you’re a scientist. Or Fred Hollows, who restored eyesight for countless people in the world.

What about Mozart and Beethoven, and the beautiful music they gifted the world? Or Van Gogh, for his stunning artwork?

The Starry Night, by Vincent Van Gogh.
The Starry Night, by Vincent Van Gogh.

Or modern composers like Eric Whitacre, and the gorgeous pieces he’s currently writing for us to enjoy?

Other heroes you might consider could include people like your family doctor. Or a favourite teacher. Or the physiotherapist who helped you to walk again after you had a terrible brain injury.

They’re all heroes. Every one of them. All doing good works. All worthy of admiration.

If you believe in Heaven, every one of them deserves a place, wouldn’t you think?

I sure would.

Were they virgins when they married? If they married? And does God even care?

Of all these people, do you know for certain if any of them were virgins when they married? Did it matter? Did it make a difference to them being good people?

Did it affect their being valuable people, of worth to the world and those they loved and that loved them?

I’ll answer the question for you: not one bit.

Their sexual status when they married didn’t affect their contributions as unique individuals. And neither does your sexual status affect your contribution as a unique individual.

Don’t think so little of God!

If you think the Divine is so petty as to care about your virginity, well then, you’ve got one really petty little God you’re worshipping.

If you think God will judge you based on whether you’ve had sex or not, you’re really underestimating God. Plus, you’re really overestimating your own self-importance. The Divine has better things to worry about.

So why do the Churches care?

Firstly, don’t get Church and God muddled up. They’re NOT one and the same. Churches are made up of people. People with all their human frailties and mistakes and bigotries and confusions.

Churches have been telling people what to do and what to think for a long, long time. And a lot of the time, they simply represented what society thought.

When society got it wrong, so too did the Churches.

For example, when society didn’t know better and thought the sun revolved around the earth, the Churches defended this belief to the death. Literally. Galileo was tried by the Inquisition for his challenge to this theory, his books were banned, and he spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Other scientists that challenged the same belief (such as Giordano Bruno) were burned at the stake by the Church.

Giordano Bruno, burned at the stake by the Church in 1600.
Giordano Bruno, burned at the stake by the Church in 1600.

This all happened a long time ago, but what I’m pointing out is that the churches are fallible. They make mistakes, because they’re controlled and made up of people. They reflect common beliefs of society at the time. And sometimes not so common!

Better believe it - this is what some creationists are teaching their kids: that dinosaurs existed with humans, and we *rode* them!
Better believe it – this is what some creationists are teaching their kids: that dinosaurs existed with humans, and we *rode* them!

What’s more, the Churches, due to their generally conservative nature, tend to lag behind society, and are slow to change and update as society changes.

Society has changed, but the Church is still playing catchup

This is what we have now. Reliable contraception is relatively new (the pill was first approved in 1960, very recently in historical terms) and was a massive change to how women could control their fertility.

ThePill

With that huge change, the status of women changed quickly. Women were suddenly no longer tied to house and children. We could choose to work and pursue careers, knowing that pregnancy wasn’t lying in wait for us unexpectedly.

Reliable laws supporting safe termination followed swiftly in 1973 with Roe v Wade, enabling women who did find themselves unexpectedly pregnant to end it with a safe termination. Terminations are very common – I’ve had one, as have about half of my friends. These days they’re safe and supported by public health insurance in most western countries – the days of backyard coathangers are thankfully over.

But all these changes, including other further advances such as the morning after pill (1997), are very new. Too new for the Churches to cope with. They’re still more than a century behind, back in the Victorian era, advocating abstinence until marriage.

But what’s wrong with abstinence?

Quite a lot, actually. But let’s start with numbers.

The average age of menarche (first period) for girls in the US is 12.5 years of age. Boys hit puberty on average at age 13.

The average age for first marriage in the United States is 28.9 years for men and 26.9 years for women.

So if they’re going to be abstinent, women are going to, on average, have to be abstinent for 14.4 years. Men are going to have to remain abstinent for 15.9 years.

Are you beginning to see a problem? I sure am! Can you imagine, as an adult, going without sex for about 15 years? It’s just not practical or reasonable to expect young people, at the height of their fertility, to not have sex for that long.

Furthermore, the same communities that are preaching the abstinence mantras are typically

a) not providing young people with full sex education, so they are more at risk of pregnancy, STIs and dangerous / abusive relationships should sex occur
b) not providing young people with access to contraception or teaching them how to use contraception properly
c) dumping guilt on young people when the inevitable does occur and they do have sex.

In other words, they’re preaching a virtually unachievable mode of behaviour for all but the most asexual of young people, then blaming those same young people when they cannot meet unrealistic expectations.

So why purity?

Purity has, and always will be until it finally suffers a permanent demise as a concept, been about control. It’s a way of making people feel: dirty, cheap, worthless, not good enough, not able enough. It’s a way of judging people and labelling people and keeping people (women) in their place that is hurtful and can be very cruel.

Decidly unChristian!

Yes, the pretty white dresses and “purity rings” are all very nice, but they’re a veil over a brutal attempt to control women.

A purity ball. Actually, I find the whole father-daughter emphasis a little incestuous and creepy.
A purity ball. Actually, I find the whole father-daughter emphasis a little incestuous and creepy.

What to do?

Don’t buy the lie. Don’t buy into the purity lie.

Instead, focus on being a good person. Do good works. Let your actions speak for who you are and what you believe is important and right. If you choose to wait until you find someone you love for sex, that’s only your business: no-one else’s.

It’s not the church’s. Or your minister’s. Or your parents. Or your friends.

Ignore the purity rings. And the purity balls. And the purity pledges. Be a good person because that’s who you choose to be, not to fit into someone else’s rules and regulations and guidelines and boundaries.

Have sex when you choose to. With who you want to. With as many or as few people as you choose.

Do it safely. Feel no guilt, because sex can be a beautiful, fun, pleasurable gift when you do it right.

But the only purity that you should ever concern yourself with is the purity of your food and drink. Because that’s the only purity that matters.

Oxygen mask

In the safety guidelines on every airline, flight attendants tell us in the event of an emergency to attend to our own oxygen mask before helping others.

oxygen-mask

But in everyday life, how often do we give to others before giving to ourselves?

I’ve had a friend staying with me for a couple of days. She’s a mum and wife, just like me. Two young kids. And we’ve been spending a couple of days fossicking through little shops, having a lovely time.

But one of the most interesting conversations was one we had about buying for ourselves.

She admitted that she rarely buys for herself. When she goes shopping, she’ll spend money on her partner and her children, but not on herself.

I used to be the same. And my mother is the same. She’ll buy beautiful gifts for everyone in the family, but somehow feels guilty if she buys anything really nice for herself. She’ll buy clothes and lovely items for the grandkids, but never for herself. Cosmetics for me – I’m swimming in them already, but I always receive more – but nothing for herself.

And I remember how, when I was a kid, she’d always serve everyone before herself, and if any part of the meat or meal was burned or broken or damaged, she’d give that portion to herself. She got the poorer portion; we got the best bits.

Heal yourself first

We women in particular have been raised to do this.

We’re taught that we’re somehow not as worthy to receive stuff as good. If we pick out the best serving on the plate for ourselves we get frowned upon, but should a male do it nobody says anything.

Carry the whole thing further, and you can see how this relates to women being socialised to taking up less physical space, and the pressure on women to be small, petite, skinny, and the eating disorders so many suffer as a result.

I think there’s a lot of healing to be done, and it begins with cherishing ourselves as Goddess. Honouring the bodies we possess, accepting that we have value. That we have worth. That we deserve the best portion equally. That we deserve a fair share.

That we need to attend to our own oxygen mask first.

I’m not suggesting for one moment that healing can be found in buying ourselves stuff – quite the opposite – but that we need to see ourselves as worthy. And that we need to let go the guilt and say, yes, sometimes it’s okay to buy that expensive dress if we want it. Or have that serving of dessert.

Fix your own oxygen mask first. Take care of yourself first. If you don’t, who will?

Men: Why women like flowers on Valentine’s Day

Flowers are useless. They don’t do anything.

Flowers are expensive. You can pay fifty bucks or more – perfectly good dollars that could be spent on something useful, like a dinner or a movie or some chocolates or some wine – for a bunch of flowers that will wilt and die in a few days.

Flowers are pointless. They don’t have any purpose. They just sit there looking pretty until they keel over in a wilted mess, and you pour the browned, icky water they were standing in down the drain.

Most guys don’t get it: why do women love flowers on Valentine’s Day?

I’ll tell you why: because you spent money that could have been spent on useful, important stuff on some flowers for the woman you love. And that tells her that you love her more than all of that “useful stuff”. She’s more important that any of it.

When you buy a woman flowers, you’re saying a lot of things.

You’re saying you love her more than the chocolates you could have bought.

Or the dinner.

Or the movie.

Or the wine.

And you’re not a money-grubbing cheapass that didn’t buy her anything, and couldn’t even be bothered springing her a few flowers.

Don't be this guy.
Don’t be this guy.

You were willing to buy something beautiful for her that doesn’t last, simply because it’s beautiful and she might enjoy it.

You were willing to take a leap of faith for her. You’re not a money-loving guy. You love her more than your money. Enough to spring for a few lousy roses. You’re not cheap.

roses

You were willing to buy something beautiful that she might appreciate, and think screw the money! because she meant more to you than those few dollars.

No excuses!

I spent my whole life making excuses for lousy guys who didn’t buy me flowers.

Oh, they had plenty of excuses: “I’d rather buy you some chocolates” or
“I’d rather take you to a movie” or
“I’d rather we went out to dinner” or
“I just don’t buy into that Valentine’s Day stuff – it’s too commercial for me. It’s just the shops making a fast buck.”

And I was weak. I’d nod my head, and agree, because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings, and come across as grasping and greedy and shallow – as someone who might be swayed by something as unimportant as a bunch of flowers.

Most women would do the same. They’ll say nothing, or they’ll make excuses for you. Because they love you and don’t want to hurt you.

But inside they’re disappointed, wondering if you really don’t think they’re worth even a few bucks for some flowers. They’re wondering why. Would you have bothered if they were prettier? Younger? Thinner? That’s what went on in my head, year after year, when I never got any flowers given to me on Valentine’s Day.

But you know what? The little things matter.

That guy who makes excuses for no flowers today will be making excuses for no attention tomorrow. He’ll be ignoring your needs in a whole stack of ways. If he can’t be bothered with flowers do you really think he’ll be that supportive when you really need him?

Give us the flowers we deserve!

Very few women will be forthright and admit that we love flowers. We’ll deny it with blank faces. You can tell the women whose partners are ignoring them, because they’re the women who are embarrassed to look at the flower displays when Valentine’s Day is near. They’re ashamed at how forgotten they are.

Being forgotten and ignored hurts.

Women will even agree with you when you say it’s a waste of money to spend your hard earned cash on something that will die so quickly.

But inside, the little girl in all of us wants flowers.

My father used to buy me daffodils when I was a little girl. No reason – he just did. And even now, as a grown woman, I still love daffodils, and love that bright colour yellow. When I moved into my house one of the first things I did was plant hundreds of daffodil bulbs. They make me smile every spring. They mean happiness to me.

My favourite flowers - daffodils :)
My favourite flowers – daffodils 🙂

Buy your girl flowers. Show her that she’s important enough to waste a few dollars that of course you could spend on something much more useful.

Show her that she’s more important to you than all the useful things in the world. That’s what love is about, after all.

Marriage is about children. So let’s ban gay marriage. Right?

Here’s the proposal, and you’ve heard it before: gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry, because marriage is about children, and having families. Gay couples can’t have children together, so they shouldn’t be allowed to marry.

If a society allows gay marriages to happen, it’s saying that marriage is more about sex than having a family.

Right?

I’m going to pour cold water on that one right now.

Case 1: My grandmother, a widow, got married again in her seventies (my grandfather died when he was 49 from cancer). According to the logic above (let’s call it “Santorum logic“), that marriage shouldn’t have been allowed, right? Because there was no way on earth my grandma was capable of having kids with her new husband, who was rocking along in his mid 80s.

Case 2: Then there’s a friend of mine, who is in a wheelchair, and can’t have kids, thanks to a car accident when he was in his early 20s. He’s getting married next year, to the woman he got engaged to before the accident. She’s been with him through all his therapy, and if that ain’t true love, I don’t know what is. But they’ll never have children.

So, according to Santorum Logic, they should also be shoved in the “NO MARRIAGE FOR YOU” box. Right?

Cases 3 and 4: My husband had two great aunts, both of whom got married then found they could neither of them ever have children with their husbands. I’m sure they really wanted to, but couldn’t. Some people just can’t have children. If you’re religious, you can call it an “Act of God”. And it’s cruel.

Does that mean that their loving, lifelong marriages with their husbands were something less than a “real” marriage because children didn’t happen? Or maybe, according to the Santorum Logic that “having kids is what marriage is for“, their husbands should have dumped them by the side of the road, Bible-style, and married again?

Of course, we don’t know that the problem was with the women. Fertility problems are actually pretty even between the genders. But hey, this is a patriarchal society, so let’s go right ahead and assume that the blame should be laid on women.

Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s clarify what “Biblical Marriage” (that often bandied-about term) actually is. Here’s a handy graphic:

biblical-marriages

Doesn’t sound that lovely to me!

I’ve just outlined four cases below that I know of, with real people that are friends or relatives of mine, where their marriages were NOT anything to do with children, and where to have children wasn’t an option.

Yet so many anti gay marriage people would never say a word against their marriages.

So let’s call this anti gay marriage hocus what it actually is: bigotry.

It’s bigotry. Hatecrime. Based on suspicion and fear.

I don’t believe any person should have the right to control or prevent the happiness of another. This is a human rights issue, loud and clear. It’s that simple.

So to end my post, here’s a lovely photo of some happy senior newlyweds, in honour of my grandma who I loved:

Great smile!
Great smile!

And some happy disabled newlyweds, in honour of my friend, who I care for:

Congratulations :)
Congratulations 🙂

And some happy gay newlyweds, in hope that all my gay friends will one day have equal rights everywhere:

Love the kilts!
Love the kilts!

Love in all its forms: New Zealand legalises same sex marriage

The whole “gay marriage” issue is in the news at the moment.

New Zealand citizens celebrated our first same sex marriages this week. A few people fell over in horror – mostly conservative religious folk. Most people probably didn’t care much, as it wasn’t sports-related news about our rugby team the All Blacks. And a few of us – hopefully more than a few – celebrated this huge benchmark in equality.

I’m not particularly in favour of monogamous marriage. I think there are big problems with the institution. We’re force-fed the monogamous ideal – the belief that we should search all our lives for That One Special Person To Make Our Lives Complete – from the moment we’re old enough to open a fairy story. The idea that something else – anything else could exist – isn’t even considered.

But that aside, I do believe strongly that all people should have the right to live their lives with the person, or people, they love. We all deserve the same legal rights. If I, as a woman, can marry a man, then I also deserve the right to marry a woman if I choose. And a man should be able to marry a man.

brides

So this is a step forward. It’s about equality. Fairness. Recognising that love, in all it’s consensual forms, is sacred and valid and worthy.

I’m guessing it won’t be an easy road ahead for same sex couples. Legal recognition is just one part of the battle. But it’s a big one.

Open-mindedness and Paganism

I like to think that the Pagan community is more open-minded, loving and welcoming than just about any other community on earth.

If I had my way in describing who we are and what we’re about, it would be “a group of friendly people who want everyone to be able to be exactly who they are, and practice exactly as they wish, as long as they don’t infringe on anyone else’s rights.”

I’d like to think we’re especially welcoming to people of all sexualities, and of all races. I’d like to think that we support same-sex marriage, and freedom of speech, and equal rights for all people. And that we’re true advocates of democracy.

I’d like to think that we really do believe that all people are equal, and of equal value.

Above all, I’d like to think that Paganism is about honouring our world, and recognising that we’re just a small, rather stupid part of something incredibly complex and wonderful. And that what we can see with our open eyes is only a tiny part of what exists in this beautiful Universe.

I guess, saying everything above that I’ve just said, I’m coming across as one of those whacked-out Hippies!

Our magical world

But the world really is magical. I’m not talking Harry Potter-style, EXPECTO PATRONUM! type magic – although that would be pretty cool if it did exist.

I’m talking about the magic that we feel in some of the simplest, most natural acts humans can participate in:

Swimming naked in the sea, and feeling the cold water all around our body.

Feeling the spring grass between our toes.

The intense shock and taste and texture of fresh, ripe mango.

The intense closeness with another person when we make love.

Circle magic

The magic of being in Circle is another level of experience.

Raising and directing energy with our minds, our voices and our bodies can be an exhiliarating experience – a working of trust and honesty and openness between members of a group that nothing else can replicate.

Seeing the results of our work within Circle is liberating, intoxicating – and sometimes scary! The “be careful what you wish for” rule is a wise one to follow! At first you’re skeptical – how can this stuff possibly work? But working with a powerful group soon dismisses the skepticism.

When we join a Circle, or become a member of a Coven, we are asked to do so “with open mind and open heart”. The only way to work closely together with others is in honesty and truth.

I believe this is why the only successful, long-term Pagans are those who have come to accept who they are, their flaws and strengths, warts and all. And when you see yourself as you truly are, it makes it easier to accept others in all their shades, shapes and colours.

Instead of pre-defining roles for others to play that fit with society’s well-defined goals of monogamy, patriarchy and consumerism, we see others simply as – people. All with weaknesses. All with strengths. All with beauty and frailty.

And with our open mind comes a love for others, and an acceptance, that is a gift within itself. Because sometimes the best friends come in the most unexpected packages. And sometimes love appears where you don’t expect to find it.

Happy Beltane, everyone 🙂

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