Planned Parenthood: Why I'm Not Ashamed
I was insanely nervous the first time I walked into a Planned Parenthood. I did my best to keep my head down and avoid all eye contact with anyone in the waiting room. There’s a sign on the wall that reads in big block letters, “We Care.” I walked up to the front counter, and when the lady asked me what I needed I said, “I just have some questions.” She hesitated.
“So, do you need to make an appointment?” she asked me.
She handed me the paperwork. When I gave it back to her, she called me over. Taking in my visible youth, she wanted to clarify that the paperwork was correct and if I wanted to see someone for sterilization counseling. I checked the box because I only saw the word “counseling.”
“Yeah, I just have some questions,” I said without specifying.
I didn’t have it in me to tell her that I needed to talk to somebody about sex.
When you’re a girl and you’ve grown up inside a Catholic community, where sex and all of its ramifications are a painfully taboo subject, your "first time" can feel altogether surreal, frightening, and most notably shameful. I grew up in Kern County, a conservative county, and attended Catholic school from kindergarten through senior year of high school. My first sex education “class” was a slide show of what sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) looked like on human genitalia, concluding the lesson with the notion that abstinence was the only defense mechanism that guaranteed 100% protection against both pregnancy and STDs. The slide show affiliated institutions like Planned Parenthood with lines like “the place where they killed innocent babies” or “the place that takes our money to kill innocent babies.”
As a girl in this community, it was difficult growing up. There were days when faculty members would separate girls from the boys to lecture us on our skirt lengths and how exposed skin implies promiscuity. They told us it was our duties as females to maintain abstinence for both sexes. The administration badgered us constantly; regulating our bodies with rhetoric such as how our bodies are sacred and we should treat them as pure temples which welcome God’s grace. Did any of us understand what those words meant? While these metaphorical references sounded inspiring, they were neither informative sexual education nor practically effective in protecting us.
This kind of language and environment is dangerous. Aside from implying that our bodies do not belong to us, this attitude denies young girls the rightful knowledge to manage and understand our bodies at a time when they’re changing rapidly. It dismisses vital information that could benefit the community’s youth.
Statistical analyses done in Kern County have shown rising number of people contracting STDs since 2011. In a 2016 County Health Ranking National Data Report, Kern County, amongst fifty-seven counties in California, ranks first in cases of Chlamydia and second in teen birth rate. There was a sense of ignorance and carelessness amongst my peers. A few students had gotten pregnant and STD outbreaks were quite frequent.
Although people would gossip and chuckle, no one wanted to talk about sex. The reaction to the rising sexual activity in this band of horny adolescents was to crack down with more preaching about abstinence. The hyperaware attitude towards our bodies’ intensified. I remember feeling as if I was always under a microscope — individual dress inspections before entering dances, female students being publicly called out about their skirt lengths, feeling as though I shouldn’t look too feminine for boys’ sake.
“Don’t let boys…you know. Leave a little to the imagination,” one of my principals once told a gymnasium full of confused teenage girls. "Don’t let them do what? Leave what to the imagination?" we wondered. It’s frustrating to not understand why the female body deserved such scrutiny. At a time when we’re already so vulnerable and insecure, the shaming and ambiguity towards sex impose the idea that our self-worth is determined by our chastity. We had no idea how our bodies functioned or why we felt that way.
It wasn’t until I visited a Planned Parenthood that the frightening aura surrounding my sexuality disappeared. Being in a woman’s body no longer gave me constant anxiety about keeping it “holy.” I stopped feeling like I was falling out of grace by discovering sex. There was a sense of openness and honesty — a language founded on concrete terms and methods instead of abstract concepts — that felt comforting to hear. Given factual education, my body was no longer a metaphorical house for the Holy Spirit or whatever. Sex was no longer an ominous, catastrophic curse. I was given the power to claim my body as my own.
I have a hard time seeing Planned Parenthood as anything other than a place of education. I think a lot about the statistics on STDs and teen pregnancies in my community, and it saddens me to remember the accompanying disdain towards Planned Parenthood—especially considering the STD Testing & Treatment and Contraception services it provides. Due to the stigma on Planned Parenthood and female chastity being the only endorsed contraception, seeking answers to questions was difficult for young girls in my community. If the Catholic community can't bring themselves to talk about women's bodies openly, it is necessary to encourage girls to seek out reliable scientific sources to learn about their sexuality and bodies.
As I was leaving Planned Parenthood, I noticed the women in the facility and saw the “We Care” sign. There’s something to be said about the services Planned Parenthood provides women and why they provide them. I can only see that, at its core, Planned Parenthood has come to be a symbol of support and empowerment. Coming from a place that denied me the right to my body, this is all I ask for.