Are you sexually active, female, and not using birth control? If so, the CDC says you need to skip that glass of wine before bed or your weekend celebratory pint of lager. According to a report released this week, there is no safe amount of alcohol for a woman who could possibly become pregnant.
At first glance, this looks like prudent advice. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders cause serious lifelong problems, and scientists don’t know what amount of alcohol is safe in pregnancy. But the truth is, this kind of extremism only serves to shame woman for being adult human beings.
Women are smart and good at caring for their bodies. Extreme messages like that from the CDC won’t actually change behaviors. Instead, it will just lead to women feeling guilty and lying to their healthcare providers.
Heterosexual sex is already a completely uneven proposition. Women shoulder the bulk of the effects — from UTIs all the way to unplanned pregnancy and beyond. Women are more likely to contract STIs, and sexually active women face societal stigma for having sex that men do not.
Saying women cannot both drink alcohol and have sex creates an even more unequal situation. Men continue to be able to face fewer consequences while women are treated as lesser entities, unable to make good decisions for themselves and their bodies.
Instead, the CDC — and doctors — should give women a message about alcohol moderation and understanding their cycles. The effects of drinking during pregnancy cannot be overlooked, but the solution to this problem does not lie in further shaming women for participating in two facets of modern life: consuming alcohol and having sex.
Research into the effects of alcohol in pregnancy is necessarily problematic. Scientists cannot ethically expose women and their fetuses to alcohol. This means there is a lot that is unknown. In some countries, doctors recommend moderate alcohol during pregnancy, and in others — like the US — even one sip of wine is considered to be too much.
Because of this uncertainty, it’s unfair and irresponsible to advocate teetotaling even for women who are not pregnant. Being on birth control cannot be a prerequisite for enjoying a cocktail. It only serves to remove women’s bodily autonomy and infantilizes an entire gender.