When I was 17, I was horny. I was not a Democrat or a Republican. I wasn’t caught up in social climes or busy trying to push an agenda on anyone, or busy delving into the annals of the Women’s Rights Movement, or screaming about the horrors of abstinence-only sex ed.
I just wanted to get laid by my boyfriend.
Believe it or not, my high school boyfriend and I waited a year and a half before we finally decided to go for it (which, in teenage years is roughly a millenium, I believe) and, it may be shocking to many of you out there, but we absolutely used protection. Every single time. AND we agreed to never have sex if either of us was drunk. And then, a few months in, I considered putting myself on birth control, which was a huge inner struggle for me because, you know, only “skanks” and “sluts” get on birth control… I didn’t want to be known as a slut, but I also didn’t want to get pregnant and wind up “barefoot and in a trailer”, of which a friend had warned me when I told her we could always try “pulling out.”
Knowing that my mom would chain me to the confines of my room if I expressed my intentions of getting protected to her, I talked to other girls at my school (in the bathroom. Duh.) and learned that the South Carolina (where I lived at the time) Department of Health would provide me with thorough education about birth control, a safe, full gynecological exam, and free birth control.
With absolute terror, I attended the mandatory educational session (with aforementioned boyfriend in tow, who totally deserves credit for holding my hand in a room filled with teenage girls trying to get birth control. Dang. I must’ve been hot shit in the sack… hunh…) The girls in the small classroom and I looked at each other; I recognized one of my sisters’ friends and my immediately thought, “Oh no! What is SHE doing here!? She seemed so nice!” I felt so dirty and ashamed of us. I wasn’t “poor” or “slutty” or “trashy”; I came from a nice family in the suburbs! How did I end up here?! I didn’t tell anybody but my very closest friends, and I cried a lot about how shady the whole thing felt and how guilty I felt for doing this supposedly terrible thing; I wanted my mom to be with me to guide me through this, yet I didn’t dare tell her because I knew she’d be disgusted and embarrassed by me.
Anyway, for the next year-and-change, I kept going back to SCDHEC for checkups and prescription refills. Every time I went, the staff was careful and kind, gentle and comforting, but frank about what I needed and should be considering. I can’t believe I’m praising the South Carolina government, but this program is among one of their best efforts. I was having sex before I put myself on birth control, and I have no doubt that I would’ve continued even if I’d never heard about this program. It was going to happen; I had raging hormones, a boyfriend, and a free schedule. However, where my parents and society’s expectations of a “decent young lady” failed me, the Health Department supported and gave me the resources I needed to continue having healthy sex and a happy life.
When my mom was lecturing me about the inherent evils of sex before marriage after she found out about my foray into doin’ it, I told her I was getting birth control from the government. She gasped, “They can’t do that!!!” and I may’ve laughed at her.
At the time, I actually took for granted what was being given to me for free. In fact, I felt like it was a punishment for being so disgustingly wanton and perverted, instead of looking at it as an incredible gift given by a forward-thinking, post-feminist society. For years I felt ashamed and embarrassed that I’d chosen to sneak around and get birth control from the government, like some trashy loose woman.. or a hooker! (::gaaaaasp!!:::)
Now as an adult, I know, first of all, that prostitutes pay for their own OB/GYNs because they get tested more often than the Department of Health will regulate and, also, they have more money than I did working part-time at the Chick-Fil-A double drive-thru, and secondly, just how much the government saved my ass back then. They knew I was going to start having sex; it’s what hyper-hormonal teenage bodies are intended to do, people. It’s science.
The fact that SCDHEC was right there with information and easily-accessible public birth control information and medicines is both amazing and wonderful to me. I haven’t needed their help in over a decade, but I am so, so very grateful that it was there for me when I needed it, so that that terrified teenage girl with all the social stigmas weighing on her wouldn’t have been strapped to a life of motherhood she would have felt only guilty of. They gave me comfort and someone to talk to about real, pertinent issues that were going on with me and my immediate needs; their female doctors were gentle and informative about my body and what I was going to experience; they gave me a chance to have a happy young adulthood and the freedom to do it on my own. The idea that I ever took that for granted embarrasses me, but I felt like I should find a place to discuss it publicly.
I’m not interested in political parties. I’m not interested in talking about who is lobbying for what and how specific politicians are somehow more amoral than others and how the idiots barking on television about those politicians are fueled by Satan/the Nazi party/Illuminati/Communism. I just want to talk about people who, like me, need information and help and cannot get it from anywhere else except public services. I was given that gift and I believe in an America where everyone else deserves that, too. I would happily give a few extra tax dollars to help a 17 year old girl safely learn about sex and her body with the right tools and information at hand, because others did it for me. It’s just that simple, really.