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Manufactured outrage: birth control and the creation of moral panic

birth control

Photo: Jessenia Martinez

We human beings are interesting creatures. We view the world through various social lenses, and use that information to make interpretations about everything that surrounds us. During times of desperation or uncertainty, however, those social lenses are distorted by fear and a desire to quickly identify a source of such distress, aided by those who stand to gain from the propagation of such fear. Welcome to the world of moral panic.

Moral panics have long been a heavily researched topic for both sociologists and psychologists, most notably in the work of Stanley Cohen (who is credited with coining the term “moral panic”), and more recently, in the work of Erich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda. Simply put, a moral panic is a sense of outrage amongst a group of people that is directed towards a source that, upon further examination, does not merit such outrage. Typically, such moral panics are accompanied by calls for changes in public policy to “curtail” such sources (which Cohen labeled “folk devils”), as well as by a nostalgic longing for the “good ole days,” when such folk devils were supposedly non-existent.

In spite of the sheer lunacy of some moral panics, as Goode and Ben-Yehuda insightfully note, such moral panics nevertheless tend to “leave an informal, and often an institutional, legacy.” Comic books were once said to be actively poisoning impressionable young minds, and hence, some were edited en masse after a public outcry. The growing popularity of hip hop music in the 1980s led to similar unjustified concerns, and eventually led to the advent of parental advisory labels on any music that was deemed “explicit.” After the tragic shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, much national discourse was devoted towards debating whether violent video games were largely to blame (as if computer programs can actually produce deep-rooted psychopathology).

And now we find ourselves in the midst of perhaps the most asinine moral panic yet: the availability of birth control. The manufactured outrage exhibited by some towards birth control is exceptionally transparent. Yet, many of us still find ourselves fighting a completely unnecessary battle against groups who fancy themselves as victims in a “war against religion.” The real victims, of course, are women. In spite of the fact that many states have long required that birth control be covered in insurance plans, and in spite of the fact that many women use birth control for issues unrelated to pregnancy prevention (such as debilitating pain during menstrual cycles), those responsible for turning these women into folk devils have accused such women of wanting birth control simply to engage in “wildly deviant sexual promiscuity.” There have been accompanying calls to completely remove birth control from the spectrum of insurance coverage altogether. And tragically, women who use birth control have been disparaged and slut-shamed to a despicable degree in recent popular discourse.

We cannot allow this level of misogyny to continue. But, perhaps our greater responsibility lies with understanding our human tendency to disparage the innocent during those times when we hastily seek out blame.

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. The prerequisite to judge is an inherent trait in all humans. But if truth be known, what a person does while on birth control is no business of anyone else’s. As long as the Person using the birth control is not harming anyone and they obviously are controlling their role in over population, then other people need to stop judging others because they themselves probably have more in their own lives that could be judged.

  2. The sad part is that Viagra is covered for insurance but when it comes to birth control, most insurance won’t cover it. Society still have a sense to put women as second class citizens. What people are not seeing is that the human population has increased and our economy that is created now, doesn’t hold the new future population.

  3. Its not society as a whole that thinks like that, its “Religious” men tha have that view of women. I am married and have 2 daughters and i do NOT aree with anything the Church and its Followers have to say when it comes to women and their rights.

  4. I have no problem with the availability of birth control. It is their right as Americans to be able to choose to use it. What I do have a problem with is making religious institutions, whether Catholic, Protestant or Jewish, pay for something they believe is morally wrong.

  5. For moral panic to be an issue, there must be a moral consensus. The federal government has no claim in this argument. This is yet another tool in their toolbox to separate and politicize. The outrage is the mandate, not the user. Limbaugh and Bill Mahr have no legislative power. While both have practiced specific instances of misogyny on different occasions, neither one has legislative authority over anyone. Personally, I choose not to watch/listen, let alone repeat what either of them say. My issue is a mandate that I pay for the services of another under the force of government. It is biased, unequal, and unconstitutional. This is where my outrage lies. Not with my mother, wife, or daughter.

  6. Did i forget to mention I’m an Atheist?

  7. fuck out of hear morally wrong, thats ridiculous. they don’t want abortions & no birth control, but they can pay 4 viagra..stop the bullsh*t already!!

  8. Does that affect your views on religious freedom?

  9. B.S.! and viagra is usually covered by insurance. smh

  10. Viagra has nothing to do with birth control!
    Let’s compare apples to apples!

  11. Why is viagra covered and not bc? Does viagra have a different use other than helping men get hard? Because birth control has other uses other than preventing pregnancy.

  12. When MEN stop trying to tell WOMEN what to do with our reproductive organs…maybe then I will compare apples to apples…smh

  13. The sad thing is that there is a legion of ignorant people out there that, emphatically think that they know what their talking about when it comes to womens rights issues. Women have the right to do whatever they please in the scope of their health.

  14. People act like only they pay taxes….? Really? Well news flash we all pay taxes… and by all I mean men and WOMEN so, women are already paying for that service anyways… so gtfoh with bs that, I don’t want mandat telling me what to pay for or not… but what about all those tax breaks for corporation and the fact that I the tax payer have payed for stadiums that I don’t even have the luxury in going to? “Corporate welfare” is wrong and needs to be address.

  15. Hilary says:

    Regarding Viagra, it is commonly used for pulmonary hypertension, not just erectile dysfunction. There are even women who use it for pulmonary hypertension.

  16. If u new what you were talking about, you would know that Viagra is only covered when there is a disfunction, and birth control is not a disfunction! And stadiums create lots of revenue for cities! Again compare apples to apples!!

  17. Hayley Flores says:

    Birth control helps prevent a malfunction if the man is able to function (thanks to his covered Viagra) when his location reaches her destination. And, women DO use it other than preventing pregnancy. So go do some research so you know what’s up.


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