It’s unsurprising that Ross Douthat would find a disingenuous way to attack Planned Parenthood, as he’s engaged in fringe- right ideas about the organization, including the notion that most of their services involve abortion (this argument relies on believing women only start using contraception after their first abortion). He probably spent two weeks racking his brains trying to think of a way to argue for defunding an organization that has provided birth control and/or cancer screening to one in four American women. The trend in anti-feminism lately is to try to argue that women should be deprived of basic freedom and health care for their own good, and the conclusion Douthat reaches is that it’s important to take those Pap smears away from young women, because that’s how you get boyfriends. Boys may make passes at girls in glasses, but not girls who know their cervical cancer status.
OK, that’s not exactly his argument, but at least it’s more coherent than the one he actually comes up with, which, outlined, is that research analyzed by an evangelical Christian who wants women to marry incredibly young shows that women in monogamous relationships are happier. And, because when it comes to women controlling their own vaginas, old-fashioned statistical analysis rules like “correlation does not equal causation” should be ignored, Douthat assumes that having boyfriends automatically makes women happier. And that therefore the solution to all of women’s problems is to make sure that they all have boyfriends. This implicates Planned Parenthood, because they offer health care and advice that assumes that not everyone is in a monogamous relationship. So by depriving everyone of that health care-monogamous, non-monogamous, in-between (as many college kids are)-you will magic all those single ladies into be-boyfriended ladies, and no one will be sad again. Insert your own underpants gnome joke here .
There’s so much wrong there, but I’ll stick with my objection to this notion that simply “promoting” monogamy-through force and deprivation, which Douthat glosses over here-cures women of all their ills. This assumes that women who are coupled are happy simply because there’s a penis in the vicinity, and that the quality of the man who it’s attached to has nothing to do with these happiness levels. I offer a counter-theory: Because non-monogamy is an option, people in monogamous relationships are a self-selecting group. I’m happy not because I’m monogamous, but because I’m monogamous with the man I chose to have in my life. I was able to choose that man because of “promiscuity,” i.e., because I got to date around and wasn’t forced, as people in the past were, into marriage on the lottery system of the oops-pregnancy-at-19. Even Douthat has, in the past, admitted that marriages are more stable when people are allowed to choose their partners after growing up and settling into their careers. But now he’s back to characterizing that maturation process as “promiscuity,” at least for the lower income women who depend on Planned Parenthood for contraception.
It’s also strongly likely that Douthat has the happiness/monogamy causation relationship backwards. What if happiness causes monogamy? Douthat appears to think monogamy vs. “promiscuity” is a lifestyle choice made regardless of your options, but that’s not how it plays out in reality. In reality, most people who choose monogamy don’t choose monogamy , they choose a specific person. Or, to get in the nitty-gritty, you go on a date with someone. And then another. And then another, and so on until you’re spending a lot of time together, and then usually declarations of love are made, instigating the magical transformation from “promiscuous” to monogamous. People who are stable and happy to begin with are far more likely to get that second date and to inspire desire in others for love and commitment. On the flip side, people who are suffering from depression struggle more to find partners who are willing to buy in on that level. People tend to choose partners based on who they feel is going to be a value add to their lives.
Even if you don’t get into the details like this and just take a big-picture look at things, Douthat is wrong. He wants very badly for women to settle down into monogamous relationships. Frankly, the best way to achieve this goal is not to actively work for a world where more women are single mothers who barely have time to breathe, much less go on a bunch of dates looking for a man who is into them, into their kids, and wiling to take on the extra burdens. And certainly the cause of happy relationships isn’t helped by increasing the number of people on the market with untreated STDs.
Plus, you know, most monogamous relationships are helped, not hurt, if you get to have sex with your partner. From experience, I can assure you that Planned Parenthood doesn’t turn you away if you want birth control pills that are being used in the context of a monogamous relationship.