What’s Your Pleasure?

Madeleine Bunting’s recent Guardian article, The Price of Pleasure, rightly draws attention to contraception’s failure to break the link between sex and reproduction. But is it really true that such a link is “wishfully ignored”? We are, after all, talking about a society that continues to put contraceptive services under the umbrella of Family Planning, labels heterosexual people who haven’t had potentially reproductive sex as “virgins” and also describes the kind of sex that can make babies as “going all the way” and the varieties that don’t as, at best, foreplay or, at worst, oddities or even perversions.

If anything, it seems to be our capacity to liberate ourselves from the link between sex and reproduction that is being ignored. The reproductive capabilities of women’s bodies are so bound up with sex as we know it that it is hardly surprising that so many people find it easier to ruthlessly take risks than to challenge the idea that this link is inevitable.

The promise of sex totally free of reproductive consequences is not a “myth.” There are obviously plenty of ways to have sex that do not involve a pregnancy risk (regardless of the gender of the people you happen to do it with) so surely such freedom is only out of reach if we believe in the absolute inevitability and necessity of coitus during heterosexual encounters? I’m not disputing that society should continue to do everything it can to make sure this act can be enjoyed with as few unwanted or negative consequences as possible. I just think it’s important that such progress doesn’t become the last word in sexual liberation and “better sex.”

Considering why so many abortions should be necessary – while obviously still unequivocally supporting the right to have one – is a step in the right direction but a sexual culture that overtly promotes pleasure need not do so at the expense of responsibility. I’d say the next vital step is for society to stop dismissing heterosexual sex that is not potentially pro-creative and start taking it seriously as a valid form of sexual expression.

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