Your sex life is destroying America. That’s according to Iowa Republican Steve King, who took to the floor of the House last summer to explain that sex for pleasure—instead of for creating babies—would make Americans extinct. A year later, his colleague Mike Kelly called a press conference to sound the alarm that affordable birth control was a plot to destroy the nation. “I know in your mind you can think of times when America was attacked. One is December 7. That’s Pearl Harbor day. The other is September 11.… I want you to remember August 1, 2012”—the day a mandate went into effect requiring health insurers to provide free contraception coverage. “That is a date that will live in infamy,” the representative from Pennsylvania declaimed on the steps of Congress, his face reddening as he rallied fellow patriots to join his fight. “The question is, if not us, who? If not now, when? It is our turn.” King and Kelly weren’t alone. From the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes and the Great Plains, heartland Republicans pushed nearly a thousand laws to restrict access to contraception and abortion. The Tennessee senate took up the dangers of “gateway sexual activity,” while the Texas GOP officially declared that pornography was rending the “fabric of society.” In one orgy of delirium, Republicans revealed that sexual freedom itself was on their chopping block.
Welcome to the war on your sex life.
If you’re reading this magazine, it’s a safe bet you take it for granted that you can have sex with just about anyone you desire, and in just about any manner you desire. You likely believe you should be allowed to read what you want and have children when you choose. But it wasn’t so long ago when the opposite was true, when the sex life you enjoy today was risky, dangerous and, in many situations, completely illegal. When Willard Mitt Romney entered high school, in 1961, birth control was illegal in some states, abortion was illegal except in rare cases, sodomy—often including oral sex—was a crime in every state and young single women had to lie to get the pill.
Is America going back to those days? That depends on what happens in November.
IT'S THE SEX, STUPID
The average American woman will have sex at least 1,880 times during her fertile years. Ninety-nine percent of women who have ever had sex have used birth control. Considering those figures, making contraception universally accessible makes sense. So in January 2012, the Obama administration ruled that under health care reform, all FDA-approved forms of birth control and sterilization—including condoms, the pill and the morning-after pill—must be provided by health insurers free of extra charge as part of the basic health care package.
The thought of that much sex drove Republican politicians into a self-righteous froth. Rick Santorum, who was already on record calling contraception “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be,” whipped the religious right into a frenzy and surged in the GOP presidential polls. With Santorum in hot pursuit, Romney shamelessly plunged into the anti-birth-control hysteria. The faltering front-runner, whose great-grandfather had self-exiled to Mexico to escape arrest for polygamy, charged that the birth control mandate amounted to the “most serious assault” on “religious liberty” in generations. In a few deft pirouettes to the far right, Romney stole Santorum’s momentum and rode the Republican sex panic to victory.
On Capitol Hill, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives staged hearings about the birth control regulation that featured an all-male panel of celibates and religious authorities. Republicans in the Senate voted in favor of giving employers the right to eliminate birth control from their employees’ insurance plan based on a vague “moral objection.” Copycat anticontraception bills proliferated in Republican-ruled statehouses across the nation. One New Hampshire lawmaker recommended that married couples practice abstinence until they are ready for children. Arizona’s bill included a show-me-your-birth-control-papers-please provision, which would have allowed your girlfriend’s boss to fire her for having sex outside of marriage.
If a President Romney and his Republican comrades get their way, contraception will be less accessible, more expensive and, for some women, completely out of reach. Romney has vowed that he will abolish the contraception mandate. (That is, if he can’t repeal health care reform.) Five million women get their birth control through Title X, the federal family-planning program that Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, have promised to eliminate. Romney says he’ll get rid of funding for Planned Parenthood, and he plans to reinstate a George W. Bush executive order that gave anyone working in a pharmacy the right to claim that birth control violates their conscience, allowing the worker to refuse to fill a prescription or even ring up a condom sale in the supermarket checkout line. Under a President Romney, your sex life gets a lot more complicated.
If for nothing else, we have Obamacare to thank for pulling back the curtain to reveal the sex police standing at the levers of the GOP machine. By the end of the Republicans’ birth control bender, it had become clear that casual sex itself was their target. It might sound outlandish, but the path they are on could lead to eliminating access to some forms of birth control. If they succeed, our ability to control when and if we have children—a constitutionally protected right—goes with it. But to ban birth control, Romney first has to fulfill his other promise: to outlaw abortion.