Most of you have probably heard by now about Missouri’s Republican Senate nominee, Todd Atkin’s statement that victims of "legitimate rape" don't get pregnant because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." This false belief was being used as justification for denying rights to abortion for rape survivors. You may believe that one man’s misguided beliefs don’t affect you, but the shocking prevalence of flat out wrong information and limitations put around people seeking accurate sex information and education about sex deeply affects us all. In 2013, with all the clear science we have now, we need to ask ourselves –why would Todd Atkin’s still hold this false belief or (in the case that he was purposely giving false “facts”) why would he think that the American public would believe this? Because we are sadly and shockingly underinformed when it comes to sex.
Having taught Human Sexuality in Uganda, I saw firsthand the devastating impact on communities that had been given false information about their bodies and their sexual functioning. I worked with people who had been told that HIV is caused by an unmarried girl touching a man. I spoke to men who had been told as boys that a women’s vagina will trap and tear their penis. I talked with the people there who were taught to be afraid of sex and, perhaps more importantly, we talked about how even these terrifying messages didn’t stop the intrinsic and natural sex drive within them. The people I met in Uganda desperately wanted accurate sexual information; they said their lives were changed by it. And they wanted this for their communities to be healthier and happier. They took risks in being leaders in learning and sharing unbiased facts about sexuality.
In America, even in the liberal area I live in, students in my Adult Sex Ed classes consistently tell me that there was so much about their own body and sexual responses that they didn’t know and were relieved to learn. And I know from my therapy practice that the affects of misinformation and lies about sex go deep and can last a lifetime.
If you were upset by Todd Atkin’s statements, I invite you to use that emotion to empower and motivate yourself. Seek out good sex education, for yourself and for the children in your life. Go buy a book about your body and sexuality. Volunteer for a rape crisis center or an informational hotline in your area. Support scientific research projects. And, whatever your political affiliation, support political candidates who will use accurate, scientifically supported facts when making decisions about your sexual health. It is our right to be informed about our own bodies.