Does contraceptive insurance make you a slut? Let’s ask Rush Limbaugh.

Science, technology, and life.
March 5 2012 8:41 AM

Pills for Sluts?

Six questions for Rush Limbaugh about sex, promiscuity, and contraception.

Rush Limbaugh
Rush Limbaugh in May 2007, a year after his Viagra incident.

Photograph by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images.

For three days last week, Rush Limbaugh ridiculed Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who had argued that health insurers should be required to cover contraception. Then, on Saturday, under pressure from his advertisers, Limbaugh apologized. The apology addressed Limbaugh’s personal language about Fluke, whom he had called a “slut” (and from whom he had jokingly demanded “videos of all this sex posted online so we can see what we are getting for our money”). But it didn’t recant or rebut any of the ideas Limbaugh put forward during his rants against Fluke. And those ideas are worth examining, because, whether you love or hate Limbaugh, his impromptu monologues are a useful indicator of what many conservative Americans think. Let’s look at the questions he raised.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

1. What’s the problem with contraceptive insurance: socialism or promiscuity? In his apology, Limbaugh said his objection was to socialism, not sex:

It is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. … If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone's bedroom.

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But that doesn’t square with what Limbaugh said during his Flukefest. “I will buy all of the women at Georgetown University as much aspirin to put between their knees as they want,” he joked Thursday. Later that day, Limbaugh repeated: “I'd buy all these women aspirins, put 'em between their knees, like Andrea Mitchell does.” On Friday, he reminded his listeners: “I offered to pay for aspirins.”

Limbaugh was jesting, but the undercurrent seemed real. Does he object to paying for pills, or just for pills that facilitate sex?

2. How much sex is too much? Fluke said birth control could cost a student more than $3,000 during law school. From this, Limbaugh somehow inferred that “she and her coed classmates are having sex nearly three times a day for three years straight, apparently.” In truth, Limbaugh has no idea how often Fluke has sex. But I can tell you exactly how many times Limbaugh used the phrase “so much sex” during his three days of attacking Fluke. The number is 23, and it rises above 30 if you include related phrases such as "sex-crazed coeds,” “sex-addict frequency,” “having sex so often,” “having sex so damn much,” “repeated, never-ending, as-often-as-she-wants-it sex,” and “sex anytime, as many times and as often as they want, with as many partners as they want.” If frequency reflects obsession, Limbaugh is obsessed with sexual frequency. Which raises the question: How much sex, in his view, is too much?

3. Is contraception a sex enabler? Limbaugh accused Fluke of asking the public “to pay for the things that make it possible for her to have sex.” He called this “thousands of dollars in taxpayer dollars to satisfy the sexual habits of female law students,” and he rejected the idea of subsidizing such “personal sexual desires and habits.” Referring to a woman who sought contraception, Limbaugh scoffed, “Here's a woman exercising no self-control. “

Is that what contraception is? Or is it, as many users and proponents see it, a way of taking responsibility for sex? Isn’t it possible to have sex without contraception? Don’t people do this every day, even when they don’t want to cause a pregnancy? Wouldn’t it be better if they took precautions? When people use birth control, are they doing so to indulge their desires, or to exercise a kind of self-control? Is there a moral difference between birth-control pills and, say, Viagra—the drug Limbaugh apparently took on a trip to the Dominican Republic a few years ago?

4. What consequences should a woman face for having sex? Twice on Thursday, Limbaugh criticized the idea of a “woman [who] wants unlimited, no-responsibility, no-consequences sex.” On Friday, he faulted people who want “sex without consequence” and “behavior that people want to engage in with no consequences.” What exactly did he mean? Does he think pregnancy is the proper consequence of sex? Does he think it’s wrong to block that consequence? Rick Santorum thinks so. Does Limbaugh agree?

5. Is pregnancy prevention a legitimate medical need? Twice, Limbaugh mocked the notion that women need birth control to avoid a “killer disease.” His tone was jocular, but he was essentially repeating an argument made by Catholic bishops: that pregnancy isn’t a disease, and therefore, contraception isn’t health care and shouldn’t be covered by universal health insurance. “This is a matter of personal choice.  It's an elective activity,” Limbaugh protested. “They want to create a welfare entitlement program where we provide birth control pills, because pregnancy's an illness.” He also compared contraception to Botox, joking that “Botox-filled” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi had probably told Fluke: "Have you heard what Botox costs? I can relate!"  Does Limbaugh think contraception is as frivolous as Botox? If not, how seriously does he regard it?

6. What responsibility should men bear? “Where are the guys here? Do they not have a role?” Limbaugh asked. “There are men involved, and that would mean there's some responsibility on the part of the men. Do they not have condoms? … What about these deadbeat boyfriends? … Where's their responsibility?”

These excellent questions were lost in the outrage over Limbaugh’s “slut” remark. Let’s give him credit for raising them, and let’s press him for answers. If he doesn’t want the government paying for birth control, what steps would he take to enforce male responsibility? A DNA database would make babies traceable to their fathers. Would Limbaugh support that? If not, how would he hold deadbeat boyfriends accountable?

You raised good questions, Rush. You’re on the air three hours a day. Let’s hear your answers.

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