News & Updates

Sex on Wednesdays | Infamy Does Not Equal Validity

What Goop and Comstock Have in Common

I said last week that we could talk about the mifepristone case when the dust settled and the pundits had declared the likely outcome. SCOTUS watchers seem to agree that the court will overturn the anti-abortion-pill decision without really addressing the issue of whether the drug is safe or officially commenting on the Comstock laws. Based on the questions the Justices asked, the most likely outcome seems to be a majority decision that says the plaintiffs simply didn’t have any standing to bring the case.

If you remember, this case was brought by a group of conservative doctors calling themselves the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine. They argued that mifepristone was dangerous, that the FDA was wrong to approve it over 20 years ago, and that the agency was also wrong to loosen the rules on how it is prescribed during the pandemic. The studies they used to prove this harm were sketchy at best. One was an analysis of anonymous blog posts, and others have since been retracted “for lack of scientific rigor and for misleading presentations of data.” The plaintiffs also argued that new rules allowing mifepristone to be distributed by mail-order prescription violated the Comstock Act of 1873.

Of course to bring the case to court, the doctors have to prove that they are personally harmed by the existence of mifepristone. So they argued that someday someone who took mifepristone might show up in an Emergency Department in need of help, and they might be forced to, gasp, help that person. As anti-abortion physicians, they believe that this hypothetical situation would cause them harm. Further, they believe that the only tenable solution to this hypothetical situation is to make it way harder for everyone to get this medication. (They actually argued that it should be taken off the market entirely, but even the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals scoffed at that one.)

Thankfully, the Justices did not appear to be buying this backward reasoning. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said that the doctors were at best arguing a “conscience injury” and that there was a “significant mismatch” between that injury and the remedy the plaintiffs wanted—eradication of medication abortions. She noted, “… the obvious common-sense remedy would be to provide them with an exemption that they don’t have to participate in this procedure.” Most states have laws requiring exactly that. Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett seemed to agree saying, “I think the difficulty here is that, at least to me, these affidavits do read more like the conscience objection is strictly to actually participating in the abortion to end the life of the embryo or fetus. And I don’t read either… to say that they ever participated in that.”

The news is not all good, however, as Justices Alito and Thomas asked a lot of questions about the Comstock Act. The Biden Administration argued that the law was obsolete because it hasn’t been enforced in a century, but Alito didn’t seem convinced: “This is a prominent provision. It’s not some obscure subsection of a complicated, obscure law. Everybody in this field knew about it.” (Everybody in my field knows about it to because we use it as an example of how prudish America can be, but that infamy does not equal validity.) Some experts expect Alito and Thomas to write a separate opinion championing a Comstock revitalization which could make it easier for future administrations to get rid of abortion, porn, birth control, or all of the above.

Possibly the most interesting thing about the oral arguments, however, was the lawyer chosen to represent the plaintiffs. Erin Hawley works for the Alliance Defense Fund and was part of the team that successful fought Roe. Not coincidentally, she is the wife of MAGA Representative Josh Hawley who is famous for giving the “power fist” in support of the rioters outside the Capitol on January 6th before being caught on tape running away in fear once those same rioters got inside. I suppose they’re quite the GOP power couple at this point.

In an article that I wish I had written, Amanda Marcotte points out Erin’s real role:

So, during Tuesday’s Supreme Court arguments over the legality of the abortion pill, ADF used a favorite Republican trick to conceal misogynist intent: Have a lady say it. Erin Hawley was tapped to play the role of the snarling church lady pretending to “protect” the naughty sex-havers from having a say over their own bodies.

Marcotte refers to Hawley as:

…  the latest in a long line of Republican women who have built successful careers by destroying the lives of other women.

And went on to point out:

Every word of her argument was disingenuous. The actual reason ADF wants to restrict access to abortion pills is for the same reason they oppose contraception and same-sex marriage rights: They are theocrats who want to end secular law and impose a far-right Christian nationalist agenda on all Americans.

As I said, I wish I’d written it.

O-O-Ozempic Babies

The weight-loss wonder-drug may be interfering with birth control while simultaneously improving fertility, leading a lot of people to make o-o-baby announcements on Tik Tok and other social media platforms.

Ozempic is in a new class of drugs called GLP-1 agonists which were developed to help manage blood sugar levels in people with Type-2 diabetes. It quickly became clear that these drugs could help people lose weight. The FDA has specifically approved at least two new drugs—Wegovy and Zepbound—for weight loss in people with a high BMIs even if they don’t have diabetes. The drugs have gotten so popular that there is a nationwide shortage.

While there isn’t a lot of research on these new drugs and pregnancy, experts say the Ozempic baby trend makes sense biologically. For people on oral contraceptive pills, the issue could be delayed gastric emptying which is one of the ways some GLP-1 medications curb appetite. This could interfere with the absorption of the birth control pill and theoretically make them less effective. Test tube studies on tirzepatide — the active ingredient in Mounjaro and Zepbound — have also found that the drug reduces the efficacy of oral contraception. The manufacturers have included a warning to that effect on the label.

Some of the stories of pregnancy, however, have come from women who are using the drugs to lose weight but are not taking birth control because they have had infertility issues in the past. This tracks biologically as well. Fat cells release estrogen and too much estrogen can prevent regular ovulation and menstruation which can make it harder to get pregnant. Obesity can also cause insulin resistance which can lead to higher levels of male hormones like testosterone. Higher levels of male hormones can make it harder to get and stay pregnant. Losing weight can reverse these conditions and make getting pregnant easier.

Similarly, some people take these medications for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal condition in which the ovaries produce too much male sex hormones. PCOS can cause weight gain, irregular periods, excess hair growth, insulin resistance, and fertility issues. If the GLP-1 medication relieves any of these symptoms it may make it easier for someone to get pregnant.

For many of these women, the ability to get pregnant is a welcome surprise, but there’s a catch. GLP-1 medications are not considered safe during pregnancy. In fact, Ozempic’s packaging suggests that anyone who wants to get pregnant discontinue the medication two months before trying.

Anyone taking GLP-1s who might be able to get pregnant should probably talk to their prescribing doctor/and or a gynecologist even if pregnancy seems improbable. If you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s likely not safe to keep taking the medication, and if you’re trying not to get pregnant, you may need to consider contraceptive methods other than the birth control pill.

Goop Gets Sued, Again

Gwyneth Paltrow and her lifestyle brand, Goop, seem to get sued a lot. It started in 2018 when the state of California sued the purveyor of all things expensive and new-agey over claims the company made about jade eggs and vaginal health. Goop settled with the state for $145,000 without admitting fault.

Since then, two lawsuits were filed against the company over an exploding vagina candle. The candle, which sold for a whopping $75, was called Smells Like My Vagina (apparently because that’s what Paltrow herself said when she sniffed the prototype for the first time). In this case she wasn’t being sued for false advertising (most of us will never know whether it does, in fact, smell like her vagina) but rather for selling an unsafe product. A number of consumers said their candle exploded when they used it, in some cases causing fires in their homes.

An initial case was dismissed without making it to court. Another case filed in California asked for $5 million in damages. At the time, Goop called it a nuisance suit and said users might not have followed direction which specifically said not to burn the candle for more than 2 hours at a time. (Do most candles even come with directions? They’ve always seemed self-explanatory to me.) The candle case was filed in 2021 and has had little media mention since. My legal research skills were not up to the task of figuring out the current status of this suit.

Last year, when Gwyneth Paltrow herself was sued for wrongful skiing, we got treated to pretty hilarious courtroom footage of the plaintiff’s attorney trying to prove the actress was very good friends with Taylor Swift. (The lawyer’s reasoning was hard to follow but had something to do with the two famous blondes countersuing their accusers for $1.) Paltrow won that suit and presumably got her dollar.

Now there’s a new lawsuit against Goop for trademark violations. Good Clean Love  (GCL) makes lube and feminine health products and has built a reputation on its all-natural, vagina-friendly offerings. The company was founded in 2003, a good five years before Gwyneth started Goop and began suggesting we steam our vaginas with mugroot (which sounds anything but vadge-friendly to me).

Goop now has a product line called “Good. Clean. Goop.” GCL believes this is a violation of its trademark and will confuse shoppers and retailers. The company is arguing that Goop is deliberately trading on its hard-earned reputation for safe products despite the fact that Goop’s products often contain harmful substances. The lawsuit claims this can simultaneously make Goop look better and GCL look worse. GCL also argues that it can’t compete with Goop’s reach and the inevitable confusion will hurt its future business prospects.

In my opinion, the most evidence in the lawsuit is that Goop had asked for samples of GCL products in the past to possibly sell on its site. This means that the Goop set was aware of the company, its products, and its name when they came up with something awfully similar. This may mean nothing in a court of law, but in the court of public opinion, it’s pretty sketchy.

Even sketchier, the lawsuit claims that the day after GCL sent a cease-and-desist letter to Goop regarding the “confusingly similar” mark, Goop “began to flood the market with announcements” of its products bearing its “Good. Clean. Goop.” mark which seems pretty dirty to me.

Gwyneth’s brand of sexual health has always worried me. The yonni eggs could cause infection, the vaginal sauna could cause burns, and the $15,000 gold vibrator could cause my head to explode. (Buy this one on Amazon and donate the other $14,895.01 to charity.)

Goop is clearly obsessed with vulvas and vaginas and yet when it comes to really talking about sex, its founder gets shy. She’s said she let her kids’ school do the sex educating. In an interview about a Goop-designed vibrator, Paltrow refused to say whether she’d ever used the sex toy or one like it. Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow is entitled to her privacy around sex, but lifestyle guru Gwyneth—who puts herself out there as an expert in, well, everything—doesn’t get afforded that privilege.

Thank you for reading Sex on Wednesday. I’m trying to grow my subscriber list so please share with anyone who has an unhealthy obsession with Goop.

Subscribe to Sex on Wednesday and Pledge your support here.

 

SIGN UP FOR EMAIL UPDATES

Interested in receiving the latest updates from SIECUS? Join our email list today.