5 Important Sex Ed Lessons for Republican Lawmakers

Written by Tara Culp-Ressler

This past week, Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) sparked considerable controversy when he suggested that offering insurance coverage for birth control is rooted in the assumption that women need the government to help them control their sex drives. Huckabee is hardly the first lawmaker to make an illogical comment about reproductive health that seems to belie the way that women’s reproductive systems actually work. Gaffes of this nature have become a serious problem for the GOP party, particularly as it attempts to attract more female voters.

Republicans have held some training sessions to help teach lawmakers how to better talk to women, but the issue may have deeper roots than a lack of PR savvy. Some lawmakers simply need to go back to health class. Here are five important lessons about reproductive health that GOP politicians should commit to memory:

1. Birth control pills aren’t directly correlated to how much sex a woman is having.

Republican lawmakers often refer to birth control as if it has a direct relationship with sex — as in, the women who have sex more frequently need to take pills more frequently, and the woman who aren’t having a lot of sex don’t need to worry as much about paying for birth control. Rush Limbaugh is a big proponent of this assumption about reproductive health. “She’s having so much sex, she can’t afford her birth control,” the conservative radio host said in reference to Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who was maligned for testifying in favor of Obamacare’s birth control coverage.

In fact, women who rely on oral contraceptives need to take a pill once every day, regardless of the frequency of their sexual activity. There’s no extra charge for the women who have more sex — they’re just, quite literally, getting more bang for their buck.

The type of pill that Limbaugh is referencing could eventually become a reality, however. Researchers may be getting closer to developing an oral contraceptive that women could take before each instance of sexual intercourse. The medically accurate term is “pericoital birth control,” although Cosmopolitan favors “edible condoms.” Ironically, this method would actually make the most sense for the women who are having sex fairly infrequently.

2. More than half of the women who use birth control need it for medical reasons.

Republicans typically make comments about birth control coverage solely in the context of the government paying for women’s sex lives. Obviously, many sexually active women are using the pill to prevent pregnancy. But there are also several unrelated medical reasons that a woman may need oral contraceptives. Sandra Fluke is another good example to illustrate this. Her testimony in favor of birth control wasn’t about how much sex she was having; it was actually about a lesbian friend who uses the pill to treat ovarian cysts.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 58 percent of women on the pill are using it at least partly for medical reasons. Some of those women are also using the pill for pregnancy prevention, but about 1.5 million American women need birth control solely for medical reasons.

The reasons for needing the pill can range from regulating painful menstrual cycles, to preventing cramps, to controlling acne, to treating endometriosis.

3. There’s a difference between preventing fertilization (ie, contraception) and ending a pregnancy (ie, abortion).

Particularly in the context of the controversy over Obamacare’s birth control provision, conservatives frequently conflate birth control with abortion. Dozens of legal challenges against the health reform law are based on the scientifically inaccurate claim that Plan B, or the “morning after pill,” is a type of abortion-inducing drug. But that’s not what’s actually going on inside a woman’s body.

Obviously, birth control is a preventative health service because it doesn’t end an existing pregnancy. Contraceptive methods prevent sperm from coming into contact with, and ultimately fertilizing, a woman’s egg. Oral birth control pills accomplish this by using hormones to manipulate two biological functions in the female reproductive system. The pill prevents ovulation, the process by which an egg leaves the ovaries, and thickens cervical mucus, which helps slow sperm and block them from meeting an egg. It’s important to remember that ovulation is a process that can take up to 48 hours, and sperm can live in the female body for several days — so fertilization doesn’t happen immediately after sexual intercourse. That’s why it’s possible to prevent pregnancy even after sex has occurred, using emergency contraception.

The so-called “morning after pill” functions in the same way that the birth control pill does, by attempting to prevent ovulation and thicken cervical mucus. There is no scientific evidence that Plan B disrupts what’s called “implantation,” when a fertilized egg implants in the uterine lining — a disruption that many conservatives would consider to be abortion. The abortion pill, on the other hand, does destroy an implanted embryo. That’s the difference.

4. The biology of pregnancy is the same for both consensual and nonconsensual sex.

Former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s (R) infamous comments about “legitimate rape” sparked a larger conversation about sexual assault, pregnancy and abortion access. Of course, Akin’s assertion that women who are raped don’t often become pregnant is scientifically incorrect. The female body is not able to distinguish between sperm that results from consensual sexual intercourse and sperm that results from a sexual assault. The national rape-related pregnancy rate is about five percent, and an estimated 32,000 women become pregnant from rape every year.

And more broadly, it’s perhaps important for lawmakers to understand that there are some realities about pregnancy and abortion that hold true no matter what type of sexual experience was involved. Some women who become pregnant from rape want to carry the pregnancy to term, just like some women who conceive from consensual sex. But other women who conceive as a result of sexual assault can’t imagine continuing that pregnancy — because of the emotional implications of the paternity, because of their individual financial situation, because they are already parenting, because it’s dangerous for their body to attempt to support a fetus, or because they simply don’t want to be pregnant. These are the same circumstances facing the women who end other types of unintended pregnancies.

Ultimately, ranking women’s experiences against each other to decide who “deserves” abortion access — as if women who have not been raped don’t have a good enough reason to need reproductive health care — hasn’t been a very effective policy.

5. Talking about sex doesn’t encourage people to have more sex.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the lawmakers who make inaccurate statements about sexual and reproductive health are the same ones who consistently oppose efforts to implement comprehensive sex ed. Indeed, the GOP’s official party platform continues to enshrine abstinence-only education as the best approach for America’s youth.

One of the primary reasons that conservatives oppose comprehensive sex ed is because they believe it’s inappropriate to expose kids to explicit content about human sexuality. If health classes give teenagers step-by-step instructions for becoming sexually active, that will just end up encouraging them to have more sex, right?

Wrong. There’s actually a large body of research that proves teaching kids about sex actually encourages them to delay the first instance of sexual activity. According to one review of comprehensive sex ed programs conducted by a researcher from National Campaign to End Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, these type of programs result in teens delaying sex, having sex less frequently and with fewer partners, and using contraception more consistently. The ongoing resistance to Obamacare’s birth control coverage often seems to be rooted in the same discomfort with giving young women the resources they need to be sexually healthy. But there’s no evidence that state-backed efforts to improve reproductive health result in a rash of sexual promiscuity.


This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Animesh R.
Animesh R.4 years ago

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Barbara DeFratis
Barbara DeFratis4 years ago

So True Robert H. and Joseph G, So True. In addition, to all the email I have received to sign one petition after another; from the DCCC ( Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) to stop the Republicans From CUTTING Social Security and other programs.

Joseph Glackin
Joseph Glackin4 years ago


When you get through reading those, ask, and I'll suggest some more.

BTW, that "$750M cut" bs was knocked by Lyin' Ryan, then used to calculate HIS budget.

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm4 years ago

Well, Paul its not for the lack of trying,. They simply didnt have enouhg votes to pull it off….

Paul B.
Paul B4 years ago

Barbara, "Further proof of that was how many senior citizens voted Republicans into office where they do nothing but cut Social Security and Medicare."

When and where did Republicans cut Medicare or SS payments, that you said is ALL THEY DO?!?!... I believe that you are referring to the ACA, a DEM program. where they took $750 Million from Medicare to help cover costs of this new program. I don't recall any specific time when Reps cut those payments... can you provide some details???

You may dislike Reps, but at least have a valid reason.

Barbara DeFratis
Barbara DeFratis4 years ago

"Why is the GOP still beating on this? I'm sorry but they look so stupid - they really should just shut the hell up. If they don't understand the basic fundamental principles of basic biology they have no business commenting on something they don't understand. If they can't open their mouths without vomiting moronic invented distorted info all over women and their bodies then someone needs shut em down.

Rush Limbaugh is an extremely unattractive ignorant fat pig who needs to shut the hell up too." Amy L.
That is because too many Republicans Are That Stupid. The proof of that was the State of the Union Address--where Boehner was making on face after another face after another face..... I could not take it anymore and started yelling at the tv--OH, WHAT SHAME AND EMBARASSMENT HE BROUGHT TO THE STATE OF OHIO AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Further proof of that was how many senior citizens voted Republicans into office where they do nothing but cut Social Security and Medicare.

Amy L.
Amy L4 years ago

Why is the GOP still beating on this? I'm sorry but they look so stupid - they really should just shut the hell up. If they don't understand the basic fundamental principles of basic biology they have no business commenting on something they don't understand. If they can't open their mouths without vomiting moronic invented distorted info all over women and their bodies then someone needs shut em down.

Rush Limbaugh is an extremely unattractive ignorant fat pig who needs to shut the hell up too.

Patt Tashjian
Patt Tashjian4 years ago

Huckabee is another example of why abortion should remain legal!

Karen Chestney
Karen Chestney4 years ago

Yes, It certainly does seem the GOP needs to re-take Sex-Ed classes. Repubs don't understand how birth control works & that's because they don't understand how the female body works. ...and.... it sees they also don'r understand just how babies are made either.!!! ...BUT the biggest thing the GOP does not understand is this....Men..It's none of your business.!!! We are not talking about the Male body...We are talking about the Female body...and that, my friend is NONE of your concern. It is up to the Female....only.!....so Shut (TF) up.!