I grew up in Toronto, speaking freely about sex. The fluency with which my friends and family members talked about sex taught me to feel no shame when addressing my, or a woman's, body. I remember asking my mom where babies come from as a five-year-old. She told me, "babies are made when a man puts his penis inside a woman's vagina." I remember thinking that was very gross but I also distinctly remember her response to my wrinkled nose as she told me "someday you'll think it's fun." She was right.
I was taught that sex should be celebrated. So, when I found myself in a committed relationship, I talked with my now wife, Kati Bicknell, about what we should use as birth control. I asked her to go on the pill, and her reaction surprised me. She said she experienced the pill for ten years and hated it, and asked if I would like to try out the Fertility Awareness Method -- a science-based method of contraception based on tracking fertility signs. When I confused Fertility Awareness with the rhythm method, she told me I had a lot to learn, and handed me a 400 page text book on a woman's reproductive system. "Read this" she said.
I read Taking Charge of Your Fertility cover to cover. When I finished, we discussed the miracle of reproduction. From the finely orchestrated interplay of hormones to basal body temperature, if it had to do with fertility, we discussed it. I was inspired by my newfound knowledge of fertility awareness and natural birth control methods, so we tried it. After a few months I was in love with the method and relished in the intimacy it brought to our relationship and the freedom it offered Kati. It dawned on me that more women don't use this approach because they don't know about it.
With this thought in mind, Kati and I set out to create a company that empowers women with the tools and knowledge to understand their bodies and take charge of their fertility -- whether to avoid pregnancy, achieve conception, or simply tune in to their bodies. We were thrilled with the idea, and the strategy for our startup began to fall into place. But, when we decided to move our company from Canada to the United States, our science-based startup took a sensitive turn.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that talking about sex, sexuality and reproduction is harder in America than in Canada. Our two countries share the longest international border in the world -- why wouldn't we also share the same beliefs to speak freely about our bodies? In Canada, my conversations with my female roommates would entail in-depth analyses of which menstrual cup brand was more effective. But when starting these conversations in the United States I found much more reluctance among both women and men.
After much consideration (and many awkward moments), I realized that there is a major difference between American and Canadian cultures when it comes to a discussion about sex and reproduction. In Canada these topics are considered personal, in America these topics are considered moral and political. In other words, it's less safe for women (or men) to openly address these subjects in the U.S. because various groups, including politicians and the church, still claim ownership over a woman's body in this country.
Sadly, by addressing their reproductive health decisions openly, American women still run social, civil, and human rights risks that Canadian women no longer need to worry about. Additionally, in the U.S., if a woman speaks out about her body, she risks being pinned with moral connotations. Why? Because the subject of a woman's body is still claimed by both church and state.
In Canada, (and many countries in Europe) these questions were settled a long time ago. A woman is free to make choices that affect her body, and civil society is for the most part secular. There is no need to shy away from a conversation or tip-toe around a subject because there aren't people waiting in the wings to judge your decisions against a religion you may or may not subscribe to. What's more is that there aren't people waiting to declare a woman's body as real estate to be regulated by legislation.
According to a study conducted by analyst firm, Gallup, when asked about the prominence of religion in their lives, 83 per cent of Americans answered that it was "very important" to them. When Canadians were asked the same question, the numbers dropped 20 per cent. The salience of religion in America sets the frame for the conversation -- a frame within which many women are rightfully afraid to speak out about these topics. Even if Americans aren't required to pledge "One nation under God" every morning, we still buy lunch with dollars that read "In God we Trust." This ideology leaks into everyday conversations. Everything from gender roles to the definition of life itself is under such scrutiny that citizens risk social blowback when they speak openly about birth control, fertility and reproduction.
I didn't move to America to pass judgment without solution, and I'm proudly in the process of becoming an American citizen, so I will make it my -- and my company's -- mission to pry open this discussion. You have your period today? Great! Let's talk about it. How were your cramps? You're trying to get pregnant? Fantastic! Let's share information about how to make that journey easier.
It's that simple. We talk to each other all day long and these subjects are among the most interesting and human, and have the potential to bring us closer together. We're all sick of talking about the weather, why not resurface a subject that is universal? By having frank conversations about reproduction and sex, we create a world where these subjects are no longer taboo. Canadians are boasting about their bodies, there's no reason for Americans to blush over them.
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