Abortion and contraception: a radical lesbian perspective

July 11, 2009


The issue of abortion and contraception seems to be a straightforward one for most feminists. They are considered to be a fundamental right, and access to safe, legal and affordable contraception and abortion on demand is said to be necessary for women’s sexual freedom. I would argue that from a radical lesbian point of view, the reverse is actually true.

Now, I do not deny that access to contraception and abortion is absolutely necessary for women to have any semblance of control over their reproduction, right now… as we are living under male supremacy and women’s Selves and sexualities are fundamentally controlled by male ideas of women’s sexual function. Women’s sexual awareness is tightly controlled by the media, by the porn industry, by father’s, brother’s, husband’s, lover’s, son’s; and our function is clear: we are fuck objects, our function in sex is to be fucked.

Intercourse is central to sexual relations between men and women in our male supremacist society. Most of us do not question its primacy and its place in sexual intimacy… it just is. When men and women get together and have a relationship they are expected to fuck on a regular basis. If they are not fucking on a regular basis, something is considered to be wrong… the relationship is not functioning… sex is not occurring. For a detailed deconstruction of intercourse and the way that men and women are conditioned into coital sexuality read Anticlimax by Sheila Jeffries and Intercourse by Andrea Dworkin.

Anyways, centering abortion and contraception as necessary for women’s sexual freedom and as a fundamental human right presupposes that intercourse is a natural expression of women’s sexuality and that intercourse will continue to occur with the same frequency once women have complete control over their own bodies. Now I would argue that that is one hell of a presupposition.

The reality is that intercourse is the cause of unwanted pregnancy. Given that we know, as women and as radical feminists, the extent to which women are bullied, coerced and downright forced into allowing men access to their bodies… do we really think that intercourse will happen anywhere near as frequently as it does now, once women have actual sexual freedom? I personally doubt it.

While I agree that abortion and contraception are necessary at the moment, because we are living under male supremacy, women do not have any level of sexual freedom and intercourse is an unfortunate reality in many women’s lives… I am also looking forward to a time where abortion and contraception are no longer necessary. A time where women can engage freely, safely and lovingly in relations with other women, or in non-coital relationships with men.

I cannot in good conscience jump on the abortion/contraception is great for women bandwagon. In my opinion it has done as much damage as good. In reality, it gives men another crowbar with which to wedge open women’s legs. Yes, it gives *some* women, *some* level of control but it is a very, very far cry from actual liberation.

What does real freedom look like? Well, I have never had to take any unnecessary hormone pills for one thing. I have had lots of wonderful, messy, lusty, loud, sexually intimate moments with my last partner and I have never had to run to the chemist for a morning after pill, never had to buy condoms… or any of the other weird paraphernalia of heterosexual relations. Lesbianism is a 100% effective, safe and affordable contraceptive.

To summarise: intercourse causes unwanted pregnancy. Intercourse is totally unnecessary for women’s sexual pleasure. Access to abortion and contraception has not delivered either sexual or reproductive freedom for women. Demand for abortion would decrease dramatically once women have control over their physical integrity, and once our sexualities are no longer conditioned and controlled by men.

Basically, I don’t think that either contraception or abortion is the ‘solution’ to women’s reproductive rights even though I fully support women’s right to access free, safe and legal contraception and abortion.


  1. I totaly agree. I fully support women’s right to access free, safe and legal contraception and termination of a pregnancy but I also have some misgivings about the mainstream feminist approach to abortion and reproductive medicine.

    The contraceptive pill is nothing more than a tacit admission that we’re living in a rape culture. It presupposes and reinforces men’s unconditional right to women’s bodies, increasing the sexual availability of women as a sex-class and making contraception the sole responsibility of women. It contributes to the entrenchement of compulsory heterosexuality and of intercourse as “sex”.

    IMHO, to focus solely on abortion and contraceptives is to treat the symptom but not the disease. I fully support women’s reproductive rights but for me, the broader issue is women’s autonomy and right to physical integrity. Great post!

  2. Thanks for this excellent post.

    I do believe Redmegaera said much of the support of the pill is to support a rape culture.

    I know from very bitter experience that if we build a culture where women have to take full responsibility for unwanted pregnancy, it so men can and will use them as a fuck-object.
    Speak to any prostituted women and know that if heterosexual men can get away without taking any responsibility, that is the way that they like it.

    Intercourse is totally unnecessary – unless you want to get pregnant.

    I want a world where both heterosexual men and some lesbians realise there so much more to sex than vaginal penetration. That penetration is for the power and control of the penetrator, and often does little or nothing for the woman being penetrated.
    In other words, can’t people have more imagination.

  3. I cannot in good conscience jump on the abortion/contraception is great for women bandwagon. In my opinion it has done as much damage as good. In reality, it gives men another crowbar with which to wedge open women’s legs. Yes, it gives *some* women, *some* level of control but it is a very, very far cry from actual liberation.

    Absolutely. This is the reason abortion/contraception has been one issue the otherwise misogynist Left has always been able to get behind.

    Great post, allecto (as usual).

  4. Wonderful post allecto!

  5. Great post, Allecto, I totally agree with you.

    Abortion and contraception are far, far from solutions. Usually they are scape goats, more often they are QOL lowering non-choices.

    Putting aside the mythology of sexual need as created by patriarchy and porn for a moment, though how can one?? As a culture we have moved so far away from our natural rhythms, we have lost all respect for fertility, for femininity (and I don’t mean lilac scented feminine hygiene products and hosiery there) for the fluctuations in our desires and appetites.

    We dance around the May-pole in a dizzy frenzy season after season, oblivious to anything other than the pole.

    And it doesn’t just end with abortion and contraception – it continues with pregnancy, birth and beyond – the very same colonisation of women’s choice, knowledge and bodies just keeps on rolling on.

  6. Ha, I expected to cop a lot of flak for this post and instead I have some of my favourite women agreeing with me. 😀

    You have all raised really great points, enrichening the post immeasurable.

    redmegaera, you are totally spot on about treating the symtom rather than the disease. In my opinion, once an unwanted pregnancy occurs, the violation has already happened. Abortion is further trauma in a situation that most women have very little control over.

    Rebecca, so true that penetrative ideas about sexuality show very little imagination.

    Intercourse is totally unnecessary – unless you want to get pregnant.

    You know what, that is exactly what I think too. It saddens me that so many women have been conditioned into believing the intercourse is sex.

    Heart, that is one thing about the left that I never understood properly until I read Robin Morgan’s On the Sexuality of Terrorism and Sheila Jeffries Anticlimax. Why so, so many men, who couldn’t give a shit about women’s freedom, were so outspoken on the issue of abortion and contraception. Now, it makes horrific and chilling sense. Men on the left are just as fanatical about keeping women subordinate and fuckable as men on the right.

    Rain, *hugs* and thanks. 😀

    Feminamist, absolutely. I really feel and am heart-broken by, the lies and misconceptions about our own bodies, that so many women are battered into believing. As a woman who has never put my body into the hands of men, never trusted male medicine and/or male ideas about women’s function or sexuality, I am so concerned by the damage that is being done to women at the hands of men. Men even fooling women into believing that being used and abused as guinea pigs by male reproductive ‘science’ (read: torture), as baby-making machines in hospitals, as fuck-toys and objects in porn and prostitution and (to a greater or lesser extent) in marriage… it really is a horrific world that we are living in… and most women accept it. I find it all so scary.

  7. A good case study with regards to this issue is the prescribing of the injectable contraceptive Implanon to underage girls in remote Aboriginal communities. The story recieved some coverage in press last year but I haven’t heard anything else about it since.




  8. Hey, I’ve not checked in here for awhile. I like this post. I’m so very pro abortion in this current climate. Its required so that women can control their lives should they become pregnant. I imagine in a post-patriarchal world intercourse would still occur, and so the service would still be needed, but it would occur _far less often._

    Far less.

    Faaaaaar less.

  9. Yeah, I remember that redmegaera. Horrific stuff.

    Hmm… quite honestly Celly I really don’t think that abortion is under threat in Australia at all. The majority of people are supportive of abortion rights and if there ever was a threat… there are plenty of groups which would mobilse immediately around the issue. That is true of no other ‘feminist’ issue in Australia. Women and children getting slaughtered by men??? Who cares? Violent men getting custody of children?? Good for them. Women getting raped? Reclaim the Night is a joke in terms of numbers and radicalism at the moment. Abortion rights? Even Get Up has campaigns around the issue and every man and his dog is at the protest.

    Apologies for cynicism.

  10. Thanks for writing this. I hadn’t looked at it that way, but you are totally right about abortion not being the key to women’s sexual and reproductive freedom. I do feel it is important in that it should be available to all women without question, but I can see now that as long as men keep defining women’s sexuall, women haven’t got sexual freedom.

    I would also like to add that coitus is not necessary for men’s sexual pleasure either. We need another sexual revolution, but this time for women.

    • “We need another sexual revolution, but this time for women.”


      What a brilliant way to put it, stating it so clearly that the past 40+ years of sexual revolution has been for men.

  11. Only just discovered your post on subject of what I term compulsory heterosexual intercourse.

    Agree with you 100% and because male penetration of female body is central to men’s control and oppression of women this is why this particular ‘sexual act’ is one which causes immense dissent.

    First wave feminists were correct in believing birth control for women would not give them control over their bodies but would in fact enable men to sexually coerce and sexually control women without any accountability.

    Women’s real sexual liberation and sexual autonomy will never happen until such time as men as a group accept that ‘intercourse’ is in fact a reproductive act not a ‘sexual one.’ Given the majority of heterosexual women do not have sexual satisfaction via penis in vagina alone, this fact is so dangerous to men’s power it has to be qualified by claims such women are not ‘doing it properly’ or women should choose different positions etc. – anything other than being given the right to say ‘no I don’t want your penis penetrating my body.’

    Another fact is that heterosexual intercourse is far more risky for heterosexual women than heterosexual men. STD’s and HIV/Aids are predominantly transmitted from male to female via penis in vagina not the reverse. Likewise cervical cancer is predominantly a risk heterosexual women have to accept if they wish to engage in penetrative sex with men.

    But these facts have to remain hidden or else STD’s and HIV/Aids are promoted as diseases which occur in equal numbers to heterosexual males and females.

    I’ve written about compulsory heterosexual intercourse and of course immediately been bombared with claims ‘but many women enjoy intercourse.’ As though I was demanding an end to male sexual domination over women! In fact I was stating women’s right to not engage in penis in vagina activity just because it privileges male sexual pleasure. But there any criticism of male sexuality is deemed ‘man-hating.’

    Likewise rape is never rape unless and if it is defined from male perspective because all women supposedly want/need and desire the puny penis being rammed into their vaginas.

    Until such time as society in general accepts and promotes real women’s sexual autonomy – meaning women like men should have the same rights and privileges concerning control and ownership of their sexualities and bodies we will continue to have claims ‘but intercourse is the only real sex act and regular intercourse is essential for heterosexual men’s health!’

  12. So true Jennifer. And yes I have had comments (mostly from men) talking about how much women love intercourse. *YAWN*

    I am so over the malestream. I want out. After reading Wildfire I’m ready to seriously think about living in a womyn only community.

  13. What a wonderful post, Allecto! Thank you. Your perspective, and so well articulated, is much needed, especially as we (re)think about addressing the attacks on contraception and abortion rights.

    I made a deal with a member of my local NOW chapter that I would only help out with abortion rights activism IF she and others there would support me in Health At Every Size activism, because frankly, as a lesbian, and feminist, I am sick of working with women’s groups focused on abortion and begging men to give us our rights. While lesbians can get pregnant through rape, and many self-described lesbians sometimes have sex with men (and not just in their past), abortion is still a lesbian issue, but not to the extreme that it is for women who are sleeping with men on a regular basis.

    My view is that if I’m going to work on protecting abortion rights, it’s going to be to focus on promoting voluntary vasectomy, and women’s right to require it of any male they will consider sleeping with.

    First, as long as abortion rights is a discussion about what goes on with or in *women’s* bodies, men will have no vested interest in taking it seriously. I’m sick of this being a discussion about what is “allowed” for our bodies. What about men’s bodies? Why aren’t we having a discussion about what is acceptable to them? When this becomes a conversation about what should be done about men’s bodies, they will start taking it seriously, and not be so happy and cavalier about it.

    Second, we are still raising girls (and adult women) to be far too wimpy, apologetic doormats who think they have no right to require a man to have a vasectomy or either move on to a man who does, or to a female lover.

    Far too many women and teen girls think, “I have no right to ask or tell him what to do with his body.”

    Yet these women and girls think nothing of these same men and boys expecting them to handle not only the contraception, but the fear and risk all day, every day, of every menstruating month of their lives, that they might be pregnant, and the risk that they might feel to afraid or guilty to abort, and then be stuck with an unintended child and the financial, time, and emotional responsibilities of raising that child.

    Why should any girl or woman have to live with the fear all day every day for ~40 years that she might be pregnant?

    What do all those years of stress do to a girl or woman’s health, and to her earning power?

    Living with the *fear* of pregnancy is yet another form of oppression and colonization, another way of keeping women under male control and intimidation. It’s a form of physical and psychological mind-control, a way of wearing down the female who is the target of a man’s wish to control.


    As a feminist who cares about genuine sexual rights and freedom, I am sick to death of drawing the line to protect choice at *women’s bodies.*

    We never require MEN to step up to the plate and stop imposing their dangerous fluids on women, permanently, if they are straight, bi, or identify as gay but still sleep with women sometimes.

    We need to teach all girls and women, “You have a right to ask and require of any male you wish to sleep with that he have a vasectomy first, from his 18th birthday, onward. He has a right to not get one, and then you have the right and self-responsibility to move on, either to a woman, or to a man who has a vasectomy.”

    Thanks again, Allecto!

  14. A vasectomy still wouldn’t protect us against STDs. I’m with yous on all other counts, though.

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