Political Animal


March 01, 2012 9:24 AM Contraception: That’s Not How It Works, Guys

By Jesse Singal

I am not going to link to the Rush Limbaugh “slut” comment. I have too busy a day ahead to spend the next six hours furiously scrubbing myself in the shower whilst rocking and weeping.

I will, however, attempt a substantive point, since this idea that young women are having so much sex they are going broke and want taxpayers to bail them out seems to be solidifying into an actual, real-life meme (which is a bit astounding given what year it is).

That’s just not how it works! Reading the comments that have been made recently, you get the sense that the people—mostly older guys—puking out these sorts of arguments haven’t quite grasped the basics of circa-20121960s contraceptive technology.

So, to all the people making this argument: Hi! Here’s a quick primer. This debate is mostly about the pill, not condoms. It’s not the case that every time a woman has sex she has to take a pill (though something like that also exists for emergency situations, and I’m aware that this enrages you). Rather, women get a prescription for these things called birth-control pills that are generally taken every day. So it’s a fixed prescription cost, and like many such costs, if insurance doesn’t cover it it can get out of hand really quickly because our medical system is an octopus riding a donkey riding a skateboard into a sadness quarry. But there is no proportional relationship between the amount of sex a woman has and the number of standard birth-control pills she consumes. Why, there are even women who aren’t sexually active who take the pill for medical reasons. Whoa!

I know this is a lot to take in all at once, guys. But there are plenty of online resources available if you have any questions.

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.


  • Steve LaBonne on March 01, 2012 9:25 AM:

    What's ironic is that Rush DOES have to pop a pill every time he has sex.

  • Eeyore on March 01, 2012 9:26 AM:

    Obviously these clowns are confusing women's birth control with Viagra. They to take an expensive pill each time you have sex. So that's what a woman has to do too.... duh!

  • kgb on March 01, 2012 9:29 AM:

    As a woman, I am so disgusted with all the birth control pill talk. And it's mostly men getting all the air time. It's hard to express how angry I am getting about this whole controversy. It makes me feel like a 2nd class citizen, with stupid, uneducated men making decisions for me.

  • walt on March 01, 2012 9:33 AM:

    Four-time loser Rush Limbaugh (married to an aerobics instructor last time around), took a sex holiday to the Dominican Republic where he forgot to dump the Viagra he brought along. Of course, women are sluts. The vast majority won't have sex with him under any circumstances, and then only if he pays for it.

  • Chris on March 01, 2012 9:35 AM:

    "...with stupid, uneducated men paying for me."

    Fixed that for you KGB.

    Having sex is a lifestyle choice, not a mandate. There's no reason for anyone to pay for anyone to get a pill, regardless of Limbaugh's aforementioned idiocy.

  • Gandalf on March 01, 2012 9:38 AM:

    I guess you'd have to ask Rush why his wife isn't pregnant yet. Is it because she takes birth control pills or that you don't have sex or that your impotent?

  • bleh on March 01, 2012 9:42 AM:

    One thing this whole (slightly surreal) episode really does make clear how so much of the anger that drives Republicans ultimately is due to sexual frustration.

    Not getting enough? Impeach the president ('cuz he is)! Invade Iraq! Bomb Iran! Punch hippies ('cuz they are too)!

    Almost makes you feel sorry for them. Almost.

  • guster on March 01, 2012 9:45 AM:

    I'm with Chris.

    Pregnancy, childbirth, parenting--these things are lifestyle *choices,* on par with the decision to treat cancer, say, or drive a car. And nobody thinks the government should mandate payment for cancer treatment or roads!

    Silly girl.

  • Daryl Cobranchi on March 01, 2012 9:48 AM:

    "There's no reason for anyone to pay for anyone to get a pill..."

    Fine. Remember you wrote that if your doctor someday prescribes Lipitor.

  • barbara on March 01, 2012 9:49 AM:

    Don't forget IUD's. There was a recent article (I think in the NYT) about how the IUD is the most effective of all birth control methods. It has an extremely low failure rate. (The highest failure rate is for condoms.) But it costs serious money up front. I think the article quoted $1,000 for insertion, although I believe Planned Parenthood offers it for about half that. Anyway, it's clear why, even at a PP discount, this might be expensive for a low income person. (And don't forget that the great majority of women are low income when they're young.)

  • DAY on March 01, 2012 9:59 AM:

    "our medical system is an octopus riding a donkey riding a skateboard into a sadness quarry"
    Nice turn of phrase, Jesse. Would that quarry be in Scarborough Faire?

    The argument by some above, regarding payment for 'lifestyle medications" is a specious one.
    Like everything in America, money rules. Insurance companies would rather pay for birth control and pregnancy screening than delivery costs, postpartum complications, and life long treatment of "special needs" children.
    Ditto medication vs organ transplant. The list of modern medical procedures is long.

    Yes, driving a car is a "choice" And if I am injured in an accident, can the insurance company CHOOSE not to pay for my treatment?

  • K Wilson on March 01, 2012 9:59 AM:

    I'm an older guy who really does understand how birth control works, and I thought the proper response to Mr. Limbaugh's excretion was contemptuous laughter followed by violent rage, but that's just me.

    OTOH, you should hear what my daughter and her friends said about this. I can't quote it here, and I think it blistered the paint in my kitchen. If the Republicans really want to be the party of only ageing clueless bitter fundamentalist white men (a fairly small minority), they're going about it in the most expeditious way. Birth control ceased to be any sort of moral or political issue for anyone who might conceivably have a need for it about 1975. This is another example of slow political suicide through ever-increasing extremism.

  • caphilldcne on March 01, 2012 10:01 AM:

    I have never read a more casually sexist comment than the one from Chris. Dude, you are a complete tool. Grow up.

  • SYSPROG on March 01, 2012 10:03 AM:

    Ah yes, a 'lifestyle' choice. That's why birth control is used for so many OTHER women's health problems than just the prevention of pregnancy. Which I believe is the reason that Fluke wanted to testify. DO go see Funny or Die on middle aged me making choices...stupid f*cks...

    And Rush and his 'prostitute' comment? If you wanna SEE a whore Rush, I can send you a mirror!

  • just bill on March 01, 2012 10:04 AM:

    hey chris! i've got news for you! there are other ways to get pregnant other than consensual sex!

  • Steve LaBonne on March 01, 2012 10:09 AM:

    SYSPROG and just bill, I know you mean well, but we need to stop with statements that sound as though consensual sex without fear of pregnancy is something for which any apology needs to me made. It's the year 2012, for chrissakes, not 1212. Let's not empower the misogynists.

  • stormskies on March 01, 2012 10:11 AM:

    The only sex Limbaugh has is with his gold plated microphone which then explains his incoherent hysterical grunts that his mindless listeners drool over ...

  • Gene O'Grady on March 01, 2012 10:14 AM:

    This is the old Catholic trick from their pitiful defenses of Humanae Vitae. HV was an attack on married couples (both the process and the result) and the liars want us to believe it was directed at youngsters (mostly the women of course) having irresponsible sex.

    A long time ago now my wife worked for Syntex, the now taken over and much less creative under Roche, which had originally developed the pill (no, it wasn't the individual heroic efforts of the blowhard Carl Djerassi). Her last boss had been at this a long time, and in one of life's little ironies he used to talk about unsuccessful attempts to get OC's approved in certain countries that will remain nameless where the power of the abortionist lobby was strong enough to block the approval.

  • Diane Rodriguez on March 01, 2012 10:22 AM:

    I'm with you KGB. I can't be dismissive or laugh about chucklenuts like Limbaugh. The whole birth control controversy ginned up by men, holy or otherwise, is emblematic of a broader more dangerous message to women about their status. The only solace is that it's primarily the focus of older, white males who are likely impotent or in a permanent dry spell. The psycho- babblers could write a book on this phenomena. Please don't make me burn my bra AGAIN - it would be undignified for a woman my age.

  • schtick on March 01, 2012 10:27 AM:

    The bottom line, that was already brought up, is that these ignorant politicians are not doctors and do not have a clue what in hell this is all about. Nor do they care. They want to take rights away from women, then the people of "color", then certain religions, and finally, everyone that is not in their "club".
    And these same "tools" that cry over "paying" for someone else to have sex because they get bc, are the same ones that pop the viagra pill claiming it's medical. DOH!

  • joanneinDenver on March 01, 2012 10:29 AM:

    Santorum lost the women's and the catholic vote in Michigan. However, he is way ahead in Ohio. Does anyone know what the catholic vote is doing in Ohio?
    Kerry lost Ohio in 2004 because the catholic bishops came out against gay marriage. So as repulsive as this whole issue is to me, a pro-life woman, (like almost all pro-life women and doctors,I believe passionately in birth control.) there must be a political advantage for someone somewhere.

    All reproductive issues have a health component and a taboo and/or religious component through "time and space." There is no end to the kind of control employers could impose. This is also the open door for Sharia law. Who benefits for all of this?

  • Steve LaBonne on March 01, 2012 10:36 AM:

    "Does anyone know what the catholic vote is doing in Ohio?"

    There really is no "Catholic vote", anywhere. Frothy's base in Ohio is the crazed evangelical fundies in Cinncitucky and northwest Ohio.

  • joanneinDenver on March 01, 2012 11:33 AM:

    @Steve LaBonne
    It has been widely reported that Santorum "lost" the catholic vote in MI.

    Cardinal Dolan, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent at a letter February 22, to his "brother bishops" asking them to support the so-called
    "Respect for Rights of Conscience Act," and to share the letter by whatever means with the "faithful of your diocese." I do not attend catholic services, but I would presume that the letter has been read during Sunday services all over the country.

    Within that context, the Santorum rant on contraception may be in concert with the bishops...not that there is anything wrong with that. But, it does speak to the possible existence of a "catholic vote."

  • pol on March 01, 2012 11:36 AM:

    I picked up my daughter's birth control pills at the pharmacy. $50 copay for a one-month's prescription. Searching online, they're $125 per month without a prescription. My, have times changed since I took them!

  • Steve LaBonne on March 01, 2012 11:41 AM:

    "It has been widely reported that Santorum "lost" the catholic vote in MI."

    I'm well aware that ignorant reporters think there is a more or less monolithic "Catholic vote", analogous to the white evangelical vote. But it ain't so. The range of views among Catholics is entirely mainstream.

  • Anonymous on March 01, 2012 11:41 AM:

    Having sex is a lifestyle choice, not a mandate. There's no reason for anyone to pay for anyone to get a pill, regardless of Limbaugh's aforementioned idiocy.

    How about Viagra? Or a visectomy? Both are covered by insurance, and are done for no other reason than screwing, unlike the pill, which does have non-sexual advantages.

    I can play this game, too! Hey Chris, smoking is a lifestyle choice, too, so too bad if you get lung cancer - no insurance coverage for you!

    Hey Chris, the 15th century called - it wants you back.

  • Anonymous on March 01, 2012 12:02 PM:

    And what if a corporation decides, under moral grounds, that it thinks ADD/ADHD is just a behavioral issue or lack of morals or the work of the devil and refuses to cover medication and other treatment? The consequences would be far reaching: kids dropping out of school, people committing crimes, more car crashes, people being fired from work, more divorce. I'm not kidding.

    The Republicans are really not thinking this through.

  • Mitchell Coffey on March 01, 2012 12:07 PM:

    "[O]ur medical system is an octopus riding a donkey riding a skateboard into a sadness quarry."

    There's a Nobel Prize in the kind of writing, Jesse.

  • Barbara on March 01, 2012 12:08 PM:

    Is now the right time to point out that an IUD is very cost effective in comparison to the pill -- for approximately $1000 purchase plus installation it can last between 5-10 years, but the up front cost is high enough to prevent many women from getting one even if they wanted to. And of course, many women use OC for medical reasons unrelated to contraception.

    Jesse, you certainly lucked into a banner day for posting!

  • Mitchell Coffey on March 01, 2012 12:09 PM:

    "There's no reason for anyone to pay for anyone to get a pill ..."

    Sure there is, Chris: we don't like abortions, do we?

  • zandru on March 01, 2012 12:39 PM:

    The Pills are not "Free"

    If you have a medical insurance plan, either you're paying for it directly or you're taking a reduced salary because your employer is paying for it, or some hybrid of the two. Bottom line, you're PAYING EVERY MONTH. Typically hundreds of dollars (me, $500).

    So when you get your contraceptive pills every month WITHOUT A CO-PAY, that doesn't mean "free." It just means you don't have to pay EVEN MORE.

    Back to the elderly celibate bishops and their "religious freedom": Employers have many government mandates as to things they must do, if they want to stay in business. They need to provide Workman's Comp insurance, provide bathrooms for their employees, supply personal protective equipment if the work is in hazardous areas, collect a variety of federal, state and local taxes on their employees' behalf.

    ACA is just another basic mandate for employers, if they elect to add medical insurance to the package of benefits their employees receive. It requires a certain minimum standard of insurance. And the fed's medical organization has ruled that contraception is a "preventive service" that needs to be provided to all, WITHOUT CO-PAY. Just like your PAP smear or "digital" (heh, heh, heh) prostate exam.

  • Mitchell Coffey on March 01, 2012 12:45 PM:

    Me: "There's a Nobel Prize in /the/ that kind of writing, Jesse." ^^

    I can't even get my complements right...

  • Bj Smith on March 01, 2012 12:48 PM:

    Busy women are just now waking up to what nauseating old men, playing doctor, are deciding what women need. I hope the force of it hits them like a ton of bricks & knocks THEM back to the sixties.

  • philonius on March 01, 2012 1:03 PM:

    Aren't insurance companies free to offer coverage for birth control prescriptions if they want to, say, attract more customers? Why are conservatives so anti-capitalist?

  • Maroc on March 01, 2012 1:18 PM:

    Dude, I'm just here to say bravo to this whole post. Including, but by no means limited to, your observations about the likely effects of linking to Rush on one's equanimity.

  • Gretchen on March 01, 2012 2:22 PM:

    @Anonymous: you're right about ADHD. They've made this so broad it covers just about everything, and everybody has something they need covered. I have a kid with ADHD, and have endured the folks who felt that a good spanking would solve everything.
    @zandru: my family health insurance premium is north of $400 a month, so I'm not feeling that the things I get in return are "free".

  • CpinHI on March 01, 2012 2:48 PM:

    And what if a corporation decides, under moral grounds, that it thinks ADD/ADHD is just a behavioral issue or lack of morals or the work of the devil and refuses to cover medication and other treatment?

    I think that Scientologists actually believe something like this. I SINCERELY DOUBT that Republicans would agree that you have no right to your ADHD pills if your boss is a Scientologist. I agree with kgb: as a woman, this is really making me feel like a second-class citizen.

  • Emily B. on March 01, 2012 4:33 PM:

    I'd like to point out that contraception is NOT just a women's issue. There are many, MANY men who have reason to be thankful that their partner's insurance plan covered contraception. (And I bet some of them are Rush Limbaugh listeners, too.)

    Guys, you have a lot at stake here, too.

  • Texas Aggie on March 01, 2012 6:18 PM:

    I think the problem is that the people making the complaints are a product of abstinence sex education, and as such, missed out on the part about how men and women are different anatomically. They, invariably men, seem to think that women use condoms. So either these men aren't sure what a condom is and how it works, or they think women have penises, too. Lack of responsible sex education will do that sort of thing to you.

  • heddache on March 01, 2012 7:25 PM:

    I think most of the men talking about this issue truly have no idea how much they are pissing women off-- the more they talk the more outraged we are getting. Although for the sake of the election I hope the GOP keeps talking about this, won't let it go, and then everyone can watch the galvanization of women voters the likes no one has seen in a generation or two.

    It's beyond misogynistic, patronizing, nauseating, and insulting for a bunch of ignorant men to say that BASIC women's health care shouldn't be covered. That is what this is-- BASIC HEALTH CARE COVERAGE. If there were a male birth control pill would we even be having this conversation?

    My birth control costs me $20 co-pay a month, it would be $80 without any insurance. I am on the Pill because I am in a monogamous, committed sexual relationship and don't want to get pregnant. I'm also on it because when I'm not on it I get intolerably painful cramps when I get my period. I have a sister who was put on it at 14 when she was not sexually active for the same reason. The poor girl couldn't get out of bed she was in so much pain. Do these ignorant men want to have a discussion about PERIODS and CRAMPS and PMS? Or polycystic ovarian syndrome? (Another medical reason women get put on it.) No, I didn't think so.

    The Pill is a medicine I can only get by prescription, I have no idea why it would be treated any differently from any other medication. Boggles the mind.

  • Elle on March 02, 2012 12:15 AM:

    If only men could have babies. So much would be different.

    Isn't it interesting that no one seems to object to the fact that insurance covers the cost of Viagra? Now let's talk about frequency of sexual encounters!

    And while we're on the subject, I bet if there was a test to detect testicular cancer using technology like a mammogram, someone would invent a way to avoid squishing men's balls the way women's breasts are painfully squished.

  • freeholdmom on March 02, 2012 8:26 AM:

    "...our medical system is an octopus riding a donkey riding a skateboard into a sadness quarry." True, that. But try explaining that to a breast surgeon or radiologist, as I did recently. The response was blank stares. And ACA continues to poll poorly. Something here I'm just not getting.