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  • Dr. Lady Doctor

What's in a name? How "Family Planning" became a euphemism

Throughout my career in reproductive health, the term "family planning" has been at times confusing, at times controversial and sometimes a lightening rod. Depending on the source, it might be synonymous with birth control (or contraception when discussed globally - birth control harkens back to forced sterilization and involuntary programs) or include abortion (as a means to plan your family, albeit after conception) or discussed more broadly to include trying to get pregnant via natural means or assisted reproductive technologies like IVF (because shouldn't family planning also include the times you are trying to get pregnant?).

This great article posted by mic highlights another way family planning is used as a euphemism - this time even more broadly to mean sex. In the drugstore, you will find condoms, lubricant and even sex toys in the aisle labeled "family planning". As pointed out by the primary source of the article (who happens to be a anthropologist focused on sex and sexuality in the UK), labeling these items as family planning is exclusionary to gay men who are by definition having non-procreative sex. I agree and would add this is why young people or anyone having heterosexual sex who have no thoughts of having families in the near future find this term irrelevant at best and often off-putting.

While some of the drugstores in the UK and US surveyed also had separate "sexual well-being" or "sexual health" sections, invariably condoms and lube were found in the "family planning" section (and on a side note - pregnancy tests and ovulation kits were often found only in the "feminine health" aisle.

I agree with the bottom line of the article - let's get rid of the "family planning" label in drug stores and include all of these items in a "sexual well-being" section. The more we can say the word sex (without the embarrassment or offense noted as concerns by one drug retailer in the story) the more likely we are to move toward a society that actually supports sexual well-being - in and out of the drug store.

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