Classism and Sexual Health

Written and researched by Tomei Kuehl
Accompanying artworks selected in partnership with Talia Cardin, Youth-facilitator to the Youth Sexual Health Program Board


“Classism is the belief that a person’s social or economic station in society determines their value .”

 –  Definition provided by Merriam-Webster

Classism is a symptom of a capitalist society in which different socio and economic classes are created and valued based on those with the most wealth and capital.

During World War I, the United States government fear of sexually transmitted diseases was high because of the impact on soldiers and the war effort (i.e., soldiers would become ill and could not defeat the enemy), which resulted in the government’s involvement in disease prevention programs. Messaging for soldiers was created  that presented abstinence outside of marriage as a vehicle to upward mobility and a sign of patriotism (SIECUS). Further, soldiers were tested for STDs and praised for being venereal disease free or court martialed if found newly infected (Huber & Firmin, 2014).

The Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark decision in Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion inspired the passage of the Hyde Amendment in Congress. The Hyde Amendment blocks federal funds from being used for abortion outside of exceptions for rape, incest, or if the woman’s life is in danger due to the pregnancy, resulting in drastically limited coverage of abortion under Medicaid, Indian Health Service, Medicare, the Children’s’ Health Insurance Program, the military’s TRICARE program, federal prisons, the Peace Corps, and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (Salganicoff, A., Sobel, L., & Ramaswamy, A., 2021).

The 1990’s saw the development of new contraceptive methods to enhance reproductive freedom. The Food and Drug Administration approved Norplant as a contraceptive method and quickly judges and legislators attempted to mandate its use by some women. Judges leveraged their power and gave women convicted of child abuse or drug use during pregnancy the “choice” to either use Norplant or go to jail (ACLU). Several bills were introduced, though not passed, that would have offered financial incentives to women on welfare to induce them to use Norplant. Low-income women are harmed by the manipulation of their reproductive health rights within systems of power, like the courts and legislative bodies, because of classist beliefs about which bodies are valued.


Explore Other Isms Impacting Sexual Health

This post is part of a month-log blog series exploring the impacts that systems of oppression have on sexual health and sex education. Learn more about other Isms and their influence on experiences with sexual health through the button below.

Explore Other Isms