My first year of college was the year I started hearing about the birth control pill. Everywhere I went I heard some girl cursing (usually in the bathroom stall next to me), “Shit! I forgot to take my pill.” Wait, there’s a pill that will hold off any little Vagianos grandkids (I am definitely taking my husband’s last name) from entering the world ‘till I’m ready and able (adjective \ a-bel \ : medium sized Tudor home, substantial bank account, great career, possible black Audi R8 in the driveway). Not bad, pretty amazing actually. Sign me up.
I lasted about two weeks. From sudden weight gain (my boobs have literally never been that big) to daily emotional breakdowns I decided the pill was not for me. Coincidentally, this all happened during my ever-so-dramatic feminist revelation and made me wonder…when it comes to reproductive issues, why is our cultural assumption to alter the body always geared towards women? For the men in the room – this isn’t just some feminist rant about the incredible burden women have endured in bearing the responsibility for preventing pregnancy…or the lifelong consequences of our failure to do so. Not all of it at least.
Birth Control Options
Since its creation in 1960, the female birth control pill has revolutionized the sexual and maternal landscape for American women. Today, the pill is the most popular form of birth control for American women under the age of 30, providing reversible contraception for nearly 11 million women. While the pill is a ground-breaking step in women’s reproductive rights, 50 years after its birth we have yet to see its counterpart: a male birth control pill.
I started asking my guy friends if they would take a birth control pill if there was one for men. Most just laughed, but a few said they would definitely take it.
If you think about it, men have only three crappy options for contraception. The first is the old standby: the condom, which, if you’ve ever used one (I hope you have -STDs are real, people) you know it reduces pleasure significantly. As a result of which, many studies illustrate how inconsistently men and boys actually use them. The second is a vasectomy that, while minimally invasive, is still a surgical procedure in an area where, not unreasonably, no man wants a scalpel or sutures. What’s more, it’s not always reversible. And while Option Three is listed on the Planned Parenthood website, I would neither refer to the pull-out method, or coitus interruptus, as an option nor allow it to be utilized as one in my presence, despite its whopping 73% effectiveness (how do they know that by the way?). For any college kid out there, the fact that many people our age rely on Option Three demonstrates the lack of adequate male contraceptive choices.
So what are the repercussions?
What are we saying to men about their role in contraception and reproduction when the only birth control options we offer them are no fun, less fun, and not fun for me? We’re teaching them to be apathetic towards birth control and reiterating a non-existent role in reproductive responsibilities. Or, more simply put, let the girl take care of it.
Taking a step back, I don’t want to generalize that half our population is unconcerned with this issue: I have tons of guy friends who care about contraception and – God forbid – conception. With that said, it’s true that reproduction plagues a woman’s everyday life when she’s incessantly asked, “Are you pregnant, might you be pregnant, do you plan on getting pregnant?”
A longstanding joke in the pharmaceutical industry, “The male pill has been five to ten years away for the last thirty years.” One reason for this delay is that scientifically it is harder to stop 120 million sperm instead of one solitary egg. Another significant reason is because contraception has been historically viewed as being in a woman’s job description, a male birth control pill is not seen as a marketable product. Thus, pharmaceutical companies are not interested in funding research for such a product. While there has been some provisional research for a male birth control pill recently, none are even close to being at a CVS near you any time soon.
There are many benefits for both men and women if a male birth control pill were to be developed. The main, and most important, benefit would be the shared responsibility of contraception and reproduction. Male sexual responsibility, awareness, and understanding of birth control will only increase if a viable option is made available to men. Men, and young boys especially, are only required to think about safe sex right before or as they are having it. Women, on the other hand, have reproduction and contraception engrained upon them at a very young age (sex ed in the U.S. is almost comical).
Equally important, we are giving men more power and authority over their bodies by giving them an adequate and safe contraceptive option.
And probably most important – by giving men better contraceptive options we are going to reduce unwanted pregnancies dramatically.
Picture this conversation, “Shit! I forgot to take my pill.”
“Don’t worry sweets. We’re good. I took mine.”
*In this article I’m speaking to heterosexual audiences who identify with one of the two dominant genders; talking about contraception in terms of pregnancy prevention not STIs; assuming sexual activity (let’s be honest – abstinence just doesn’t work).
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