I grew up in Schenectady, a small city in upstate New York. Sex education was an embarrassing night with my younger brother in the school cafeteria with a black and white filmstrip from the 50s. There was no discussion afterwards, just an awkward silence because the room was filled with people you were going to see in the morning. In high school, we were barred from learning about condoms. The thinking was, if you teach them about condoms, they would run out and have sex. Yeah, right.
I was also struggling with the fact that I was starting to learn that I was gay. Trust me, they didn't show a filmstrip for that.
My first experience with Planned Parenthood was not one you would have expected. Coming from uptight Schenectady, equipped with only knowledge obtained from that filmstrip from the 50s, I was unfamiliar with what my body was going through after my first sexual experiences. The summer after my Sophomore year I paid a visit to the Planned Parenthood clinic. It was my first sexually active summer and I just knew, thanks to the guilt I was raised with, that this feeling in my penis was only one thing -- VD (as we called it then). The caring person at Planned Parenthood performed the necessary swab test, and a few days later had me come in for the results -- negative -- and more important -- education, so I would know how to prevent this panic moment from happening again.
Planned Parenthood had been my first and only choice precisely because of their reputation, because nowhere else came to mind that I trusted enough to go to, because the free clinic in Hempstead just didn't seem like the place I wanted to spend a day.
I had two other experiences with Planned Parenthood in college. The first one was a pregnancy test. Not mine, of course, but the woman I was having sex with. Her body did not have regular menstrual cycles and we could never figure out when she was ovulating. Given the fact that we were only 19, we, of course, figured that pregnancy would never happen to us.
Then her period was late -- much later than it ever was before.
It was Planned Parenthood on Long Island that told us she was not pregnant and told her she should be on the pill, not only because she was sexually active, but also because it would regulate her periods. Health care. Sensitive and informative health care. No abortion. And all was presented in a caring, supportive environment that did not chastise us for having sex.
During my Junior year, the next experience was a similar one. I was a Resident Assistant, the University's first line of defense for the students living on campus. Whenever one of my residents had a problem, they came to me for help. Part therapist, part social director, it was my favorite year of school. One student, who was sexually active with her boyfriend, came to me with a question. What should she do if she needed an abortion? She was using a diaphragm but it didn't work one time and her period was a few days late.
My Catholic upbringing and my new found beliefs were at war with each other. One side of my head said this was wrong. The other side knew it was the right thing to do, for if it were myself, I knew I was not ready yet to raise a child. Off I went again to Planned Parenthood and found out options for her and information for me. One day about a week later, she and the boyfriend went into New York City to terminate the pregnancy.
It was at that moment when I realized, as a man, I had no right to govern over women's bodies, that I would never, ever truly know what making a decision like this would be like. I felt it was not my place to make this decision for the women in my life, but instead be supportive no matter what direction they decided to take.
Years have gone by since that Q-tip in a very private place, but I still trust Planned Parenthood for my health care. Right now I drop by my local office for blood pressure screenings. Given the fact that it costs me a $45 co-payment at my doctor for the very same test, and only a donation at my local Planned Parenthood, it is an easy choice to make. And it is the smart choice to make. For like millions of Americans, without this affordable option for health care, it could cost me not only MUCH more money down the line, it could cost me my life.
If only the Tea Party would actually read the site, Planned Parenthood is much more than abortions. It is truly about PLANNING PARENTHOOD. It teaches us to become responsible, sexually active adults. It educates us to have healthy, fulfilling relationships that produce healthy children that grow up to be adults. Planned Parenthood is designed to help us grow and keep us safe. This branding it has gotten over the years has more to do with the people giving it than the organization.
I think the problem Planned Parenthood has it that it teaches us to feel happy about our bodies, and to enjoy them for pleasure, not just as baby making machines. I think as society offers more options for adults -- marriage, living together, civil unions, or just opting to remain single -- we need to expand our notions of what being sexually active means.
As a gay man, I know what it to be demonized for having sex strictly for pleasure and not producing children. But, unlike many people in Congress, I think my heterosexual brothers and sisters are entitled to the very same freedom I have. Having this freedom comes great responsibility, and great responsibility can only happen with education.
And that's what Planned Parenthood is here to do -- to teach us to become better versions of ourselves.