The Punishment of Babies

Speaking on the trail on Saturday, not long before he infamously bowled a 37, thus bringing shame on himself and all men everywhere, Barack Obama was asked a question: does he favor comprehensive sex education?

His answer was an emphatic yes, and that, of course, is being immediately denounced.

In response to the question, Obama said,
“Look, I got two daughters — 9 years old and 6 years old. I am going to teach them first about values and morals, but if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby. I don't want them punished with an STD at age 16, so it doesn't make sense to not give them information."

Is that the perfect answer that I'd like to see him give? No, not exactly. I'd like him to also have called out the notion that sex before marriage is ipso facto wrong, and I would have liked him to talk a bit about the young men who would be no less complicit -- and no less responsible -- for any mistakes that may occur.

But that's picking nits, and frankly, ignoring political reality. Neither Obama nor Clinton nor anyone who wants to win political office can say flatly that they think it's okay for teens to have sex, even though most Americans had sex when they were teens. It's supposed to be illicit and evil. Politicians have to at least pay lip-service to that, and that's what Obama did.

But his statement was fantastic, for the way he talked about the possible bad results of teen sex, STDs and unwanted pregnancy.

Obama said he did not want his daughters punished for any mistakes they might make. And that is a shot right at the heart of the conservative frame on women's sexuality. It is the view that women who do not guard their hymens deserve to get pregnant early, and that contraception and abortion are keeping women from getting the punishment they so richly deserve -- a child, preferably a white one.

This is one of the cornerstones of the religious right. Rarely is there an anti-choice troll who does not say, at some point, "You're trying to help girls avoid responsibility for their mistakes," as if invasive surgery is not taking responsibility. No, nothing short of forced parenthood is good enough to keep girls from having sex too early.

And this is why Ben Smith at Politico immediately jumped on the comment, saying, "Anti-abortion leaders will be encouraged to make the 'punished with a baby' part famous." And, let's face it, they probably will, because they can't be up-front about their own views. They'll argue that babies are just a joyful gift from God, and that if we give people advice on how to avoid pregnancy, then they'll have sex without getting that joyful gift or having to undergo an abortion procedure, are awesome!

I've been a father for five-and-a-half years, and I'll say that kids are awesome. And they're also a lot of work, and a huge responsibility. And my perspicacious daughter (pictured above) is a constant joy, but also a constant worry.

I'm barely able to handle it at 34. At 14? I would have been in huge trouble if I'd become a father at 14.

And so, like Barack Obama, I want my daughter to not have sex before she's ready, to do so because she truly wants to, and to know exactly how to avoid having sex lead to pregnancy. I also want her to know how to minimize her risk of contracting an STD, and I want her to know the best methods to avoid those, which will probably (but not necessarily) be condoms.

Most of all, I want my daughter to have the information she needs to make an informed decision about when to become sexually active. I don't want her to fear sex, nor do I want her to view it as some unbelievably important thing.

And I want her not to be punished with a child before she's a grown-up. Raising a child is full of difficult decisions, from the minor (do we sign her up for soccer?) to the major (should we put her through surgery to get her tonsils out?). Those decisions are just too big for a teenager to have to answer, even if she's had sex.

Having a child too soon can be a punishment. Having a child ever can be a punishment to the couple that does not want children. And avoiding that child, through contraception and, sometimes, abortion can be a deep and abiding blessing. We are gifted to live at a time when women and men can chart their own reproductive destinies. We are the most ungrateful, idiotic fools if we do not take advantage of that fact.

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