Biology 101 for politicians and pundits: The class they missed in freshman biology

It is not just Rick Santorum, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly who missed freshman biology it is also a vast number of state legislators who fall into that category. What has caused this severe knowledge deficit about human biology, or to put it more quaintly—why don’t many males understand how women’s bodies function? For that matter, why don’t they have basic knowledge about their own genitourinary systems?

I am not sure if any politicians of the far right even bothered to register for Biology 101 but their woeful ignorance on human biology and reproductive health is appalling.

Most young men know about condoms and if TSA did a random search of men’s wallets at airport security it is a safe bet to predict that many males carry this “protection” in their personal belongings. But other than knowing that the discharge following a male orgasm/ejaculation is filled with semen and these sperm cells are capable of joining with a female ovum (reproductive cell) and if that fertilized cell is implanted in the uterus it will result in a pregnancy, they know little else.

Now why do so many young and not-so-young males carry condoms? Or conversely why do some males travel with Viagra or other male enhancement drugs? But I digress because Rush Limbaugh’s Viagra use is not the subject of this essay.

A review of men’s body parts is needed because from comments coming from Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Rick Santorum it is clear that these people failed biology 101.

There has been an ongoing interest in erectile dysfunction [ED] since former Senator Bob Dole contracted with the Pfizer Drug Company to be its spokesperson for ED. According to the New York Times he was paid a cool million dollars to go public with his biological problem so we must assume that he is not alone. As a matter of fact, ED is quite common for males as they push into middle age.

What some men do not seem to understand is that even though male enhancement drugs must be used each time he wishes to have an erection; women’s hormonal treatments that regulate the menstrual cycle and thereby prevent ovulation are taken on a daily basis throughout the cycle. So Rush Limbaugh’s assumption that women must take the “pill” each time they have sexual intercourse is a pathetically false assumption.

Pundits and politicians are beating the drums about impingement of religious freedom because the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires that insurance coverage provide preventive services that include reproductive health care for women.

So far no objections have been raised for insurance coverage of male erection enhancement drugs or any other medical service offered to men but Senator Roy Blunt (Missouri) introduced an amendment to be tied to the Transportation Bill that would allow any company CEO to dictate which services are to be provided for their employees. The amendment failed, but only by four votes.

Had it passed, this legislation would open the loophole for a CEO who is an adherent of the Jehovah Witness faith to opt out of certain medical treatments such as blood transfusions for their employees because an article of faith for that group prohibits blood transfusions or even the donation of blood.

A Roman Catholic CEO could (and probably would) prohibit insurance coverage for any hormonal or other device that may be used to prevent contraception even though it was prescribed for another health problem. It is an unknown whether they would use the Blunt Amendment to cease to cover male erectile dysfunction drugs. My guess is that they would continue to cover ED drugs for reasons known only to them. Perhaps it is their interest to be sure that “every sperm is sacred” even though sexually active males produce millions of sperm cells each day.

The religious organizations that have specific moral objections to medical treatments and or food ingestion are extensive. Did Senator Blunt also mean to include the Mormon prohibition of tobacco, alcohol and caffeine? Would a Mormon CEO, on the basis of a moral objection, refuse coverage for lung or throat cancer? Since most lung and throat cancers are attributed to smoking tobacco it is certainly within the realm of possibility.

Surely his aides researched various religious mandates and prohibitions for their followers when he wrote his broad amendment that expands these mandates to all employers: “respecting rights of conscience with regard to specific items or services . . .” But again I digress so let’s return to the much needed male anatomy/physiology lesson.

Male anatomy is complex and there are several excellent resources on Google that provide text and animation information. I suggest that legislators, congress people and senators review this section carefully before signing on to Senator Blunt’s next attempt to write health insurance exclusion law.

Female anatomy is also complex and several excellent resources appear on Google.

It is very important for Rush Limbaugh, in particular, to pay attention to this basic difference between male and female reproductive functioning. While sexually active males (presumably Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul) produce millions of sperm cells each day, women only produce one ovum cell per month. Hormonal measures (the pill) regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle so that no ova are produced in a particular monthly or lunar cycle. An important point is that if a woman is taking a hormonal method to control her monthly cycles, a particular pill must be taken daily in the cycle. These hormones mimic what the body normally does and following the last pill in the packet a woman will then have her regular menses.

Rush Limbaugh will need a male enhancement drug such as Viagra each time he chooses to have sexual intercourse; women need to take their hormonal pill daily regardless of whether they engage in sexual contact.

In the 1960s when hormonal pills first came on the market, doctors were very hopeful that finally they had a solution for their Catholic patients who were undergoing multiple pregnancies that compromised their health. The Roman Catholic Church refused to sanctify the pill unless it was needed to regulate a woman’s monthly cycles. (Note: A large number of these women developed bleeding disorders from multiple pregnancies that can only be treated by hormonal or surgical methods.) At that point, a very large number of Catholic women and their doctors colluded and the pill was prescribed to regulate cycles but not prevent pregnancy. The result was the same but consciences were absolved.

The contraceptive effect of Hormonal Replacement Therapy (HRT) is only one of the actions of these drugs. These drugs are frequently prescribed for hormonal imbalance which can have devastating effects on a woman’s health.

Some of the serious health problems include osteoporosis (bone loss), endometriosis (uterine lining migrating to ovaries or throughout the abdomen), ovarian cysts and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMS has a wide variety of symptoms, some of which debilitate girls and women several days a month. The Mayo Clinic estimates that 3 of every 4 menstruating women experience some form of premenstrual syndrome. If these symptoms are ignored in the initial stages, then they can grow worse as time goes by and can be life threatening.

It is estimated that 99% of women, including Roman Catholic women, use some form of hormonal or mechanical contraception during their sexually active years. Although Rick Santorum continues to preach that “contraception is evil,” I hope that Karen Santorum insists that Rick sleep in the guest room; with eight pregnancies that include a baby with severe and life threatening problems and the fetal death of a preterm baby, another pregnancy could jeopardize her life. Her choices are abstinence or a medically approved method of contraception. She doesn’t have any other options. Rick may advocate the church approved rhythm method but Karen carries all the risks.

We need to pay careful attention to the positions on women’s health held by the potential nominees for the Republican presidential race. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum stand in lockstep with the Blunt amendment. Ron Paul will not make a public statement on the Blunt Amendment but he has extremely rigid views on women’s reproductive health that I would trust no more than I trust Virginia’s latest mandated ultrasound law (Dildo Act).

In one way or another all these contenders stand for regulation in the bedroom but no oversight in the boardroom.

Women cannot and will not trust legislation about their reproductive health to people who fail to comprehend basic biology. Once again right-wing politicians, with little scientific data and a highly skewed perspective, are pushing their views and agenda on all women.

But remember, guys, perhaps next time they may come for your Viagra.

Sara S. DeHart, MSN, Ph.D. is Associate Professor Emeritus University of MN, School of Nursing. She also served as a Visiting Scholar University of WA. She currently resides in the Northwest and writes about various issues including public health and public policy. See Substituting deception for sound public health policy. In Jerry “Politex” Barrett (2004) Big Bush Lies, Riverwood Books (117–128). She may be contacted at

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2 Responses to Biology 101 for politicians and pundits: The class they missed in freshman biology

  1. Sandra Robertson

    This is a very informative article. I wish it were required reading for all politicians involved in the health care debate!

  2. Rand Clifford

    An essential article by a talented writer. I think most people would be shocked about how little most people know about, well, themselves.

    Thank you, Sara DeHart.

    This is an excellent website.