Let’s take a look at some of the highlights from President Obama’s State of the Union address related to sexual and reproductive health. These include:
- Noting the importance of the United States having its lowest unplanned and teen pregnancy rates ever.
- Calling on Congress to end the wage gap, raise minimum wage, and institute paid sick leave.
- Stressing the need for paid maternity (and paternity!) leave
- Underscoring the need for women to have access to comprehensive healthcare including contraception.
- Comparing the US’ current policies on these issues to an episode of Mad Men.
All of these highlights, save the pop culture reference, focus on increasing women’s autonomy over their bodies and their SRH. For example, most minimum wage workers are women. Therefore, increasing minimum wage empowers more women to care for themselves and their families and access the healthcare and education they desire, two factors which positively impact SRH.
Though many accurately call the speech feminist, it also was decidedly if not explicitly sex-positive. Sex-positivity takes a non-judgmental view of human sexuality and acknowledges the many broad and diverse expressions of it. Though rarely stated and often ignored, families start with sex. Therefore policies that promote family planning and ease around caring for one’s family—for example, by allowing a parent to take a day off from work to care for a sick child—also create space for people to make the sexual decisions that feel right to them. These policies also make sense from an economic standpoint. STIs and unplanned pregnancies can be costly, particularly if the STIs go untreated and lead to later fertility issues. This power over their sexual lives, in turn has a noted and positive impact on the economy: healthcare costs decrease and the the economic burden on the average taxpayer decreases.
The inclusion of LGBT individuals is another manifestation of this sex-positive view and one that has been written about extensively. As Janet Mock told Time, “The President’s acknowledgment helps shatter the cloak of invisibility that has plagued trans people and forced many to suffer in silence” (source). Given the disproportionately high rates of mental health issues, homelessness, and suicidality among transgender individuals, the impact of this recognition may run deeper than can be easily quantified. As the Time piece points out, every word of the speech is vetted and these words were included, making them among the most important.
Something that has gotten remarkably less press, is that Obama also noted that these rights need to extend to fathers too. It is about equal rights and true quality treatment of everyone, caring for those who need our help the most, and standing together.
This is the last SOTU where the President will be the center of attention. By this time next year, the 2016 primaries will be well underway and though it will still be important, as a nation we will have begun looking forward to what’s coming next. It is also the most tense SOTU yet with POTUS facing an opposing Congress. Therefore it is particularly powerful that Obama took the time to highlight not only his successes but also took the time to highlight and honor the essential role that women play to this nation’s success. As he put it:
“I believe that when women succeed, America succeeds.”
Other Sexual Health News this Week
California focused on prevention this week first by eliminating restrictions put on the sale of hypodermic needles and syringes (Auburn Journal) and by ensuring sex between inmates is safe if not legal. (NPR)
Revitalizing Condom-Centered HIV Prevention Strategies (Current HIV/AIDS Reports)
KY Bill Targets Transgender School-Bathroom Use (The Courier Journal)
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