Saturday, February 07, 2015

Love, chemistry, politics

What’s on your mind? Asked the hubby when he recently came home.

Sex, I answered.

I didn’t say this because our work keeps us apart. Or because the older son and his friend may be queuing with other couples when “Fifty Shades of Grey” opens in theaters nationwide just before Valentine’s Day.

But because when the younger son recently took a college entrance exam, his chosen course was Chemistry.

Sex, I thought.

I’m pretty sure Juan wasn’t inspired by Carl Djerassi, the chemist who discovered The Pill and fathered a scientific and social revolution.

His passing away at 91 on Jan. 30 was buried in the local dailies’ inside pages. For the Facebook generation, Djerassi’s name may just be semantic noise.

But his accidental discovery continues to have an impact on us.

In 1951, Djerassi led a research team that was trying to find a cure for arthritis when they stumbled instead on norethindrone. It’s the synthetic molecule that became the building block of the first birth control pill.

Djerassi freed generations of women from the “morning after” shakes (“Am I or am I not?”). He returned to women the control of their bodies, which machismo and moral uptightness locked away from them.

When women could have sex without worrying about and bearing the consequences, the sexual revolution began. According to a Feb. 3 article on The Daily Mail, Djerassi admitted the pill speeded up the “separation of sex-for-babies and sex-for-fun”.

And The Pill spreads the love, too. Instead of squalid futures awaiting a house bursting with squalling babies, couples can plan each pregnancy and prepare for each child’s future.

I wonder, though, if Djerassi’s sexual revolution was not premature. In the country, an unplanned pregnancy can still get a Catholic-schooled coed to drop her studies until she can wear again the school uniform without the tattletale bump.

But reproductive health education is forbidden by religion from crossing the thresholds of schools where vulnerability to love or alcohol predisposes many teen pregnancies.

The state prohibits anyone younger than 18 from watching “Fifty Shades,” the movie revolutionizing those boring articles of men’s clothing (neckties and belts) into gladiator arsenal for the realm of the senses.

But for years, anyone of any age could buy the book. The trilogy even has a Filipino version.

But outside the sexually liberating realm of pop culture, girls are still getting conned by their boyfriends mouthing the world’s oldest cliché: “If you love me…”.

Over the years, birth control pills evolved, reducing the side effects but keeping Djerassi’s simple formula: prevent ovulation, prevent pregnancy.

Though given that power by science, women have yet to muster mastery in the arena of politics—not just the clash between church and state but also the gender wars, where a woman’s assertion of her right to say “yes” or “no” requires men rethinking their sense of entitlement.

Djerassi said inventing the pill for women, not men, was giving the former a fighting chance in the survival of the fittest. “Would you, as a woman, put your entire reproductive risk in the trust that he has remembered his Pill?”

Djerassi, that man of science, believed politics, not science, will decide the reproductive wars. For women’s sake, we hope he is wrong.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s February 8, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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