Yes, Pregnancies Really Can Be Unplanned

Last week the black women’s magazine Madame Noire posted an article by LaShaun Williams which aske...

Last week the black women’s magazine Madame Noire posted an article by LaShaun Williams which asked the question Are Pregnancies Really Ever 'Unplanned?' In short, her answer was no because there is always some risk of pregnancy when a woman decides to engage in sexual intercourse with a man, even with the use of contraception. Williams argues throughout the article that women should reexamine their sexual behavior so "unplanned" pregnancies do not happen and ideally postpone sex until marriage since "45 percent of abortions occur with non-cohabitating [single] women.”

Although the problem Williams brings up is real, her proposed solution seems to oversimplify a complex matter. Yes personal responsibility is important but how can we discuss its connection to sex without factoring in the social and gender inequalities that impact our sexual behavior? When you think about healthcare in this country, for example, it is privilege, not a right. So if you are a sexually active heterosexual woman who is uninsured, the most accessible option for you would be the condom. But let's say you want to take extra precaution and use hormonal birth control as a backup method just in case the condom tears or breaks. Well that means you would have to make a visit to a health professional, most likely at a free or sliding scale clinic, to get birth control like the pill.

Planned Parenthood is one of the most accessible sexual health providers across the nation where women can get access to inexpensive contraception but it is in jeopardy of becoming defunded. Williams views this recent shift towards conservatism as an opportunity for women to "[curb] their sexual behavior [so] it won't be so safe or easy to get rid of unwanted babies." But we live in a post-sexual revolution culture and if places like Planned Parenthood start to close up shop, giving women less options for affordable and effective contraception, wouldn't that lead to more unplanned pregnancies and abortions?

Education is also closely linked with how we behave in the bedroom. If both parties are uneducated, or miseducated, about sex then the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy is more likely to occur. In a 2009 study of my age group (18-29), the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy revealed that 78% of unmarried men and 45% of unmarried women knew "little or nothing" about the pill while 30% (both genders included) lacked knowledge about condoms. Only 66% of the respondents polled thought that they had all the information they needed to avoid unplanned pregnancy. But instead of advocating for better sexual education, which would reduce the likelihood of these kinds of pregnancies, Williams' solution to women is not to have sex before marriage at all.

For black women, who have lower marriages rates than every other group, the expectation to wait until marriage can be particularly impractical. I'm not saying that women who want to wait until marriage should not but some of us will be waiting forever because marriage may not be in our future. The point is that if a woman decides to have pre-marital sex, she should be educated on the best available options and should readily have access to it.

Besides the obvious points of better healthcare and better education, another more nuanced factor is gender inequality. Our society's sexual double standards and assault on women's self-esteem can influence a woman's ability to successfully navigate sexual encounters. Men can carry condoms, for example, without receiving any blame while women who do the exact same thing are automatically assumed to be sluts. of the Black Eyed Peas proved this very point in the May issue of Elle magazine where he stated that women with condoms were tacky. In a real world situation, a woman can be slut-shamed by her partner for carrying her own condoms and if she feels bad enough, she could be coerced not to use one at all. Another scenario where unprotected sex can happen is if a woman has sex to boost her self-esteem and becomes involved with a partner who engages in risky sexual behavior. When we have a culture where men are taught to be the aggressors and women are taught to be docile and compliant, it is no surprise that women may have a tougher time asserting personal authority and demanding condoms be a prerequisite for intercourse.

Since the matrix of social and gender problems in this country are not going away any time soon, the best we can do is educate ourselves and each other. We need to recognize the importance of opening a dialogue on sex both within our families and our community. I know that statement may be harsh for some of you to hear but with unplanned pregnancy and HIV/AIDS being real problems in the black community, it is necessary.

In a study by Johns Hopkins University last year, researchers found that adolescents are more likely to defer sex if parents talk to them about it and express views about delaying their first sexual intercourse. Yet in many black families this conversation is non-existent. So how can we expect more black women to wait until marriage, delay intercourse or engage in more discriminate sex practices if many parents cannot even have 'the talk' with them when they are young girls? If we truly want future generations to make more responsible choices when it comes to sex, then we must give them the tools to do so.

Andrea is a freelance writer and founder of the blog Soul Sassy. She writes about race, gender and popular culture.

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