ONCE AGAIN, the Republicans are shamelessly trying to control and disenfranchise women and poor people – this time by attempting to make it impossible for Medicaid to pay for services received from Planned Parenthood.
Let me make one thing clear: there is no line-item in the federal budget that goes into Planned Parenthood. Instead, most federal dollars go through PP via Medicaid reimbursements. And many Republicans in Congress want to block millions of people who rely on Medicaid from being able to receive care.
I shudder to think what my teen years would have been like if had not be able to rely on Medicaid for services from Planned Parenthood.
I lost my virginity at 14, and by 15 had ‘fessed up to my mom that my boyfriend and I were having sex. She wasn’t mean about it (thank God), she just was like, “Well then we need to get you on birth control.” I remember the conversation clearly. We were in the car on a cloudy day, driving on Fir Road between Carterville and Carthage.
So the following week, we went to Planned Parenthood, I had my first pap smear, and got on the pill. The women working there made me feel comfortable and unafraid. I can’t speak for what Planned Parenthood in Joplin is like now – this was almost 10 years ago – but I continued to go back once a year for my exams. At 17, I got on the Depo Provera shot so I was going to PP every 12 weeks until I turned 19 and lost Medicaid. In all that time, I never had a bad experience at PP.
Not only am I grateful that I had Planned Parenthood as an option because I received free care, I’m grateful because the staff was so nonjudgmental. It didn’t take long for me to learn that not everyone was going to be nice about me being sexually active.
One time, at the age of 16, my mom and I went to Freeman Urgent Care because I had a sore throat. When the doctor asked me if I was taking any medications, I told her the birth control pill.
She smacked her pen down on the clipboard, looked me square in the face, and yelled, in a shocked tone of voice, “YOU ARE HAVING SEX?!”
I said, “Yes. I just have one partner…”
She interrupted me.
“YOU ARE NOT OLD ENOUGH TO BE HAVING SEX. YOU ARE NOT READY MENTALLY, EMOTIONALLY, OR PHYSICALLY.”
Then she left the room.
My face was so hot. It had to be bright red. My mom was sitting right there too. I know she had to be embarrassed too. The doctor was probably making her feel like a bad mom.
At the time, I was pretty angry with the doctor. “Who was she to judge? I’m old enough. I’m smart enough. I’m ready.” You know, the types of things that teenagers think. But I also was confused. The Planned Parenthood people had never made a big deal about it? What was this lady’s problem?
I’m not going to lie, in my early 20s, I did start to feel a little bit weird about how young I was when I lost my virginity. Was there something wrong with me? Had that experience affected me in some way?
(From here on out, I’m not going to use the phrase “losing my virginity” again. I didn’t “lose” anything. If anything, I GAINED the wonderful world of having sex.)
Now that I’m older and have given it more thought, I have decided, “No. Having sex for the first time did not mess me up.” I think that doctor giving me shit about it was probably the only bad thing about it. First of all, it was with my long-term boyfriend. We had discussed in depth whether we were ready or not. I was excited. I really, really wanted to have sex. I was ready. We then dated for three years and had a very close, loving relationship. And you know what? If I had had sex with my boyfriend and then he never spoke to me again, what was done was done. I wasn’t a virgin anymore whether it was a good situation or not. I’m lucky it was a good one, but not everyone has the same story as me. I’m also lucky I didn’t get pregnant. Very lucky. While I may have felt ready to have sex mentally and emotionally and I had a good partner, it’s true that I was not ready to have a baby. But thanks to my cool mom being real and getting me on the pill, I didn’t have to worry about that. (Other than the nightmares of forgetting to take the pill at the same time each day.) Yeah, the eventual breakup was hard, but that’s part of life. And like I said, the only thing that ever made me feel bad or question myself about being sexually active was society. I don’t think that men are ever made to feel this way.
When I was 20, I had another bad experience with a doctor. I went to the Economic Security Women’s Clinic for my birth control one time. I had aged out of Medicaid so I couldn’t afford Planned Parenthood anymore and started looking at other places.
I remember sitting in the room, waiting for the doctor, staring at this chart:
I started mentally tallying up the number of people I’d slept with. It was definitely in the neighborhood of 10. That means I’ve actually had sex with over 1,000 people? Gross.
Then the doctor came in. I had a bad vibe about her from the get go. She asked me my major and when I said, “English,” she said, “So, what? You’re going to be an English teacher? That’s about the only thing you can do with that degree.”
All through college, hundreds of people told me that, and it was annoying every single time. (And they all turned out to be wrong lol.)
So, I already didn’t like this lady.
Then, I kid you not, while she had the speculum IN MY VAGINA, she asked me how many people I’d slept with.
First of all, why would that matter? If I, in fact, had an STD, she’d be able to figure that out by doing the Pap Smear. The whole reason why I was there. I didn’t realize part of the science involved an interrogation.
But I said, “Four.”
Then she said, “Do you see this chart on the wall? That means you have actually been with 15 people. Me? The only man I’ve ever slept with is my husband. It’s the best way. Something you need to think about.”
Why was she telling me this??
My first thought was, “Okay? Cool? Good for you?”
I did not care about her stupid internalized mysogeny.
Nevertheless, she made me feel violated and judged, and I did not go back.
Both of those doctors made me feel like absolute shit because I felt like they were judging me for being sexually active. I can’t speak for men, but I can imagine that most never have to deal with a male doctor, or any doctor for that matter, doing this.
Furthermore, both doctors seemed to have this backwards point of view that teenagers do not have sex. The first one acted downright shocked when I told her I was on birth control. The second one seemed to be of this mindset that it’s realistic for all women to only have sex with their husband for her entire life. I don’t even know if I want to get married. I have never known the answer to that question. I’ve never felt like I wanted to “save myself” for one guy.
And you know what? Thank God for Planned Parenthood during all those years. If I didn’t have birth control, who knows? I could have easily ended up a teen mom. My mom may have not been able to afford to pay for it from somewhere else. Maybe I would have had an abortion. How many more judgmental doctors would I have had to dealt with?
We have to be realistic about birth control and sex. Teenagers will have sex. The Bible Belt doesn’t like it, but it’s true. People who cannot afford to have children will have sex. People who cannot afford birth control will have sex. People who don’t want children will have sex. Everybody’s having sex all the time, regardless of the consequences. That’s reality. If we want to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions, we have to make sure that people have access to affordable birth control.
We need Planned Parenthood.