A few months ago, I had the unenviable experience of being retweeted by Ben Shapiro, the conservative commentator who famously shared with the world his inability to get his wife wet. I had tweeted something relatively innocuous (and true) about how abortion restrictions were simply a means of controlling the self-determination of marginalized people, and he quote-tweeted me, calling me a baby murderer or something of the like—you know the drill.
Thousands of his followers chimed in with all sorts of names, accusing me of being all different kinds of depraved. But the most common response I got was some version of “slut.” They said I was the “town bicycle” and a “cum dumpster” and told me to keep my legs shut. One person even suggested I use protection the next time a man “empties his clip” into me. A lot of other replies were just graphic descriptions of men having sex with me.
I am a slut. I love sex, and I have as much of it as I want because it feels good and it’s hot. I take and send nude pictures, videos, and audio messages to men on my roster all the time, and the pandemic hasn’t stopped me—I think I’ve probably broken a record with the amount of FaceTime and phone sex I’ve had. I have as many orgasms as possible, and I love the adrenaline rush of having a hot guy tell me (or show me!) that I turn him on. As I type this, I have sexts from four men waiting for a reply. It’s fantastic and exciting, and I wouldn’t change who I am for a second.
When I shared the responses I received from Shapiro’s army of sentient dry handjobs, some friends of mine chimed in with responses like, “yeah because being a whore is amazing actually” and “what’s wrong with being a cum dumpster??” Bless them for that. But I also noticed a significant number of folks in the reproductive and repro-adjacent spaces respond with disgust that, essentially, amounted to, “How dare they call you a slut!”
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The experience made me stop and wonder: When was the last time I heard an open, honest, and pleasure-centric conversation about sex happen out loud in the repro space? When was the last time I saw a quippy tweet from one of the mainstream abortion organizations about how sexual freedom is central to reproductive freedom? When was the last time I saw a conference or heard a talk on combating the slut-shaming anti-abortion activists so often use to prove their point?
“Perpetuating conservative, white-supremacist culture around sex and purity do nothing but make it harder for people to talk about sex and abortion, which make it harder for people to access care,” said Jordyn Close, board chair of Women Have Options-Ohio and a We Testify abortion storyteller. “There is nothing wrong with sex! People deserve to have sex and pleasure in their life without being shamed for their choices. Everyone loves someone who’s had an abortion, and that includes people that just want to fuck for pleasure and not become a parent. There doesn’t have to be any other qualifiers.”
Organizations and advocates such as Advocates for Youth, Scarleteen, and Shout Your Abortion all model the unapologetic discourse about sex and intimacy that’s so badly needed, but by and large, the repro movement remains pretty sex-phobic, as far as I’m concerned.
Sex positivity is reproductive justice
This culture of purity—no matter how insidious, whether it’s subtle or blatant—is rooted in white supremacy. These confines perpetuated by conservatives and progressives alike most adversely affect marginalized people.
“Anti-abortion narratives rely on misogynoir and anti-Black racism to work,” said Monica Simpson, the executive director of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. “Treating sex like a shameful or taboo topic is what happens when you live in a system informed by centuries of misogyny, racism, and systemic oppression.”
Simpson added that it’s impossible to have conversations about the liberation of Black women and racial justice without talking about their sexual liberation and pleasure because the topics are inextricably linked.
“If we’re having conversations about abortion, then we need to be having conversations about sex,” Simpson said. “And if we’re having conversations about sex, then we need to be talking about why we still live in a world where Black women are shamed for their sexuality, where Black mothers are dying because of a lack of care, where young Black girls are being pepper-sprayed and assaulted by police who treat them like adults.”
Representation is critical too. Simpson pointed out that depictions of Black women, trans people, and other members of marginalized communities being proudly and joyfully sexual are few and far between. As a disabled woman, this hit home for me. Part of the reason I’ve learned to embrace pleasure and sex so openly is that it feels like the most radical thing to do in a body that is constantly in pain. More than that, it feels like a giant middle finger to anyone who ever has made me feel less than—less desirable, less sexual, less worthy of pleasure—because I live in a disabled body.
And to go a step further, it’s impossible to have a conversation about sex positivity in the reproductive justice movement, or to be a part of the reproductive justice movement, without acknowledging and supporting the rights of sex workers, too.
The kids are alright
Brittany McBride has seen firsthand the resistance people have to talking openly and honestly about sex and pleasure. McBride, the associate director of sexuality education at Advocates for Youth, works with educators to make sure young people have access to comprehensive sex education. She said she regularly gets pushback when it comes to being inclusive of pleasure in sex ed curriculums.
“People love to throw out these buzzwords like ‘comprehensive’ and not really understand what that means, and instead think that it’s like an à la carte: ‘I’m going to pick and choose what then works for me,’” McBride said. “And that is inaccurate. In order for it to be complete and actually meet the needs of everyone, we have to talk about pleasure. We have to talk about the positives associated with sex. If there weren’t any, people would not be having sex.”
Young people, McBride said, no longer prescribe to outdated notions about sex and purity—they’re ready to have honest conversations about pleasure, autonomy, and consent in which older generations are often hesitant to engage.
“Who are the people who are on these school boards?” she said. “Who are the people who get to make these incredibly important decisions around what’s taught in the classroom? It’s the generation of people who are absolutely uncomfortable, and the thought of their mom having sex—let alone an abortion—probably would make them pass out.”
The solution? Quite simply: Let young people lead.
Moms can be sluts too
Conservatives know how to weaponize sex, which I saw firsthand when the best “insult” Shapiro’s followers could come up with was to call me a slut. They know how to use the moralization of sex to make their point: to demonize abortion and reproductive autonomy writ large. McBride agreed.
“They are on top of it,” she said. “They are doing a fantastic job. We have to do better to not share their thoughts and their arguments, and instead do a really good job of marketing ourselves better and have a better understanding of what our work is and being able to communicate it.”
A recent New York Times survey found that the majority of people having abortions in the United States are already mothers. People in the repro space latched onto this statistic, feverishly retweeting and sharing it while implying (and a few times saying outright) that, “See it’s not sluts having abortions, it’s moms!” I too saw this after my kerfuffle with Shapiro—many replies to me stressed that most people who have abortions already have kids (Rewire News Group even published a special edition about it), and most do it because they want to be better parents or pursue the careers they want.
As a friend told me, who said moms can’t be sluts? In fact, whenever the men I date ask me what I’m looking for long term, my answer is always the same: I want a monogamous relationship with a family, and I never want to give up being a slut. I simply want to be a slut with one person for the rest of my life.
We need to think long and hard (that’s what she said) about how we respond to anti-abortion rhetoric about sex and promiscuity and sluts and whores. Because right now we sound a lot like Tina Fey’s character in Mean Girls when she says, “You have to stop calling each other sluts and whores.” Why? What’s so bad about being a slut or a whore?
When we cling to the notion that “moms have abortions too” is some sort of moral high ground, when we use this fact as a retort to anti-abortion arguments about who has abortions to prove that no, “it’s not just sluts” who have them, we do not further reproductive justice. Instead, we capitulate to the fundamentally conservative belief that moralizes abortion and sex; that delineates good abortions and bad abortions—sex for pleasure (bad) and sex for procreation (good)—and, inevitably, that there are good people and bad people who engage in both.
Because what is a slut, really? Someone who enjoys sex and pleasure and has as much of it as they want? Someone who shares their body in a way that feels good and exciting for them? What could be more fundamental to reproductive justice than celebrating that liberation?