A Conversation About Sex
Blinding rays of sun peeked through the trees as cars filled up the parking lot. Women gathered their cups of coffee and greeted each other, ascending the stairs to their weekly group therapy session. As they talked with each other before the start of the session, they shared stories of their week, some smiling and others becoming serious. Each woman entered the group therapy room knowing the choices they made led them to be here, and now it was up to them to help each other. The women represented a variety of cultures and socioeconomic statuses with one common factor: they were in therapy.
As each chose a seat, they greeted me and asked about the day’s topic: sex. The women glanced about nervously, unsure if they were comfortable discussing sex with their peers, the same peers they shared their experiences of addiction, abuse, and sorrow. The topic made them shift in their seats as a hush fell over the room. We were breaking a taboo as women by broaching and being open and honest about sex, discussing what it means to them and how sex, whether consensual or nonconsensual, has shaped their lives.
To begin the conversation, I began the session with a game of truth: each person had to tell a funny story about herself. This relaxed the suddenly tense atmosphere and enabled the women to feel more comfortable opening up. They talked about molestations, rapes, and consensual acts of sex. They discussed their experiences with a growing confidence of not being judged. Then they turned to me and began to ask questions about their reproductive systems. Many lacked a comprehensive understanding of how their reproductive system worked. The lack of knowledge was in part to a lack of education, some hadn’t finished high school, while others had finished high school, even some college but grew up in conservative households where talking about their body was unthinkable. We discussed concerns and questions, ending the session with referrals to health clinics which would answer any further questions.
As I think about the conversation at a gathering of colleagues, I remind myself of the stakes at hand: the current administration’s threat to reduce access to healthcare. For me, the therapy session was a glaring example of how women are at a disadvantage if they lack access to healthcare. Access to healthcare represents access to education, social, and financial freedom. As I listened to both sides of the debate in our discussion, I was expressly interested in the argument for reducing or eliminating healthcare. The crux of the issue lies in negative rights versus positive rights, with the fundamental disagreement of who is responsible for providing healthcare.
Those who believed it is not the government’s job to provide healthcare cited the refrain “it's not society’s job to pay for another person’s health problems.” If a person wants to have health insurance, they should pay for it on their own. Although they agreed healthcare is a fundamental human right, they thought the government should not impede or furnish access to healthcare they should stay out of the healthcare business altogether.I pondered this juxtaposition between noninterference and assisting others. Is it possible to draw a line and declare what the government can do and yet expect those in disadvantaged situations to thrive despite a lack of access to healthcare and education?
I recounted the group therapy session because in the tale lies a fundamental truth: basic human needs include healthcare and education. It is only within the context of these rights that we find the path to the fundamental right of freedom. If a person is unable to exercise either of these rights, then freedom is unattainable. Access to health and education, including sex education, clears the path because through proper health and education a person can secure the necessary minimum level of well-being.
A conversation concerning sex is about more than sex. It is about the fundamental right to well-being. As a society, it is our duty to provide access to knowledge gained through conversations with doctors, nurses, therapists, and other healthcare professionals. These conversations ensure the well-being of those who may be marginalized because of socio-economic disadvantages. Should a society fail in its duty to help sustain the welfare of those who are in need, the society will ultimately falter financially, politically, and morally.