05/16/2012 01:58 pm ET Updated Jul 16, 2012

The War on Sex for Pleasure

Sure, the recent barrage of legal attacks on women's reproductive rights signifies a war on women. Women's ability to control their reproductive lives -- and therefore their lives more generally -- has never been subjected to more legal interference than it has in the first months of this year.

But what we are missing is that the latest attacks on reproductive rights are not just missiles launched in the war on women. This is also a war on consenting adults' right to have sex for nothing but sheer pleasure.

Nine out of 10 people have sex before marriage, according to the Guttmacher Institute. A fair number of those people pay a price in the form of unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection. Why? For starters, there is an utter lack of comprehensive sex education in schools; birth control is not uniformly available or affordable; and low-cost reproductive health services are limited. And, right now, many of our elected officials are trying to keep it that way.

This hostility toward reproductive health is certainly bad public policy, but it is also hypocritical. Many Americans have sex with multiple partners over a lifetime. Many view explicit sex acts via pornography. Some even buy sex. Agree with it or not, Americans have sex and like sex as is even tacitly recognized in many U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the matter.

Americans do not know how to talk about sex for pleasure -- and thus the need for family planning services -- without feeling, well, dirty. It is this shame, a shame expressed by people of all political stripes, not just conservatives, that contributes to our unwillingness to adequately fund family planning services, to prevent teen pregnancy by actually talking (and listening) to our young people and, frankly, to the vitriol of the abortion debate.

It is politically palatable to cast birth control coverage and abortion availability as issues of sex equity -- and certainly they are -- but equity is not the only issue at play here. Reproductive health services are important because the act of sex is important. But it is very unlikely that we will soon see elected officials admit en masse that they like having sex with their spouses and (by God!) birth control should therefore be accessible for that very reason.

Sex. There is the word. Yes, it refers to biological status of being a woman. Yes, there is a war on a sex -- on women. The hostility toward women as expressed in the law cannot be overstated at this time. But sex also refers to an activity that so many people enjoy. Sex presents risks, risks that people assume at least in part because it is so darn pleasurable. Women bear the brunt of the consequence of having sex certainly, but sex is not only a women's issue. Let's admit that Americans like sex and are having sex. And then let's move on to a conversation about how we can do it responsibility.