Contraception has been, and still remains, a massive stumbling block to equality.
in the 1980’s I thought about the gendered nature of contraception and as a result had a vasectomy. It was quite unusual for young single men ( I was 24 ) to decide to take such an irreversible step. The average age of having a vasectomy is in your late 30’s . My rationale was simply that the burden of contraception was placed unfairly on women and it was a simple step to take to start to even out the uneven power balances in my relationships. I also joined a group discussion the politics of contraception called Vas- Vasectomies against Sexism. The Group put out some materials including a poster posing a woman thinking about contraceptive choices “Why Should Women Always be responsible for Contraception?– I’m sick of messy creams, and gels, painful IUDs and dangerous pills. Besides, We’re the ones who have to deal with unwanted pregnancies- Wake Up to Yourself Contraception is a Political issue- Free Safe Vasectomy on Demand.” Vasectomy has declined in popularity in the last 20 years , and now about 12,000 are performed every year.
Couples have 13 methods of contraception to choose from. 11 of them depend on action by the women and most of them have health implications . The choices are the female condom, tubal ligation, cervical cap, diaphragm, implant, injectable, IUD, patch, pill, ring, and sponge. In contrast, men only have 2 options—male condom and vasectomy— “The disparity between the number and types of female and male contraceptives is problematic because firstly, it forces women to assume most of the financial, health-related, and other burdens of contraception, and, secondly, it diminishes men’s reproductive autonomy by ceding major responsibility for contraception to women. “(Source Engelstein American Medical Association Journal of Ethics)
There has been much talk about male contraceptive pill and whether men would be willing to use it. One study of 9000 men found that 55% of men were willing or very willing to use a new method of contraception, with favourable responses ranging from 28% in Indonesia to 71% in Spain. (Source Heineman K Human Reproduction(2092) 2005. in a different study 59% of mne wanted new contraceptive choices because they desired autonomous control over their fertility. In a Telegraph Survey 2016 of 84,000 in 2016 52% of men said they would take a daily birth control pill if they could, but another reported 29% feared long term repecussions, and 24% felt women should take responsibility for contraception . in a larger survey.
I would be sceptical about men’s willingness to use a male pill contraception. as this report from the Independent in 2016b make crystal clear
“The finding that the latest version of the injected male contraceptive now very effective is fantastic news. In a trial of 320 men, researchers found that, over a one-year period, it was 96 per cent effective in preventing pregnancy. A spokesperson for the World Health Organisation said: “The study found it is possible to have a hormonal contraceptive for men that reduces the risk of unplanned pregnancies in the partners of men who use it.” But the trial of the drug was halted – because just 20 of the men (out of 320, don’t forget) found the side effects of the injection intolerable and it was decided that more research needed to be done to try and counteract them. Those side effects included depression, muscle pain, mood swings, acne and changes to the libido. These are the same side effects experienced by women who take the pill .( Anna Rhodes October 31st Independent 2016 )
To demonstrate the inequity of contraceptive choice I was involved in discussing a spoof male contraceptive which had the same effect on men as the IUD had on some women.. The idea was not ours. I think it was originally produced by a feminist Rights group in Australia. The text is below :
The Penasol- The Intra Penile Device (IPD)
In the Summer 87 edition of the Mens’ Anti Sexist Newsletter the back page featured a description of the Penasol, described as the latest breakthrough in Men’s Contraception which was revealed at the Europeaa Womens Medical Conference.
The IPD is a fictional male contraceptive with side effects not unlike the Coil for women.
The “research” describes a parasol pushed into the head of the penis and down into the scrotum by means of a plunger. Ocasionally the scrotum is perforated, but this is disregarded since it is known that the make has few nerve endings in this s area of his body. Of 1500 students studied only 4 died of scrotal infection, 56 experienced nausea, 40 swelling of the tissues and 20 became important. Common complaints included cramping, bleeding and abdominal pain. These symptoms were likely to disappear within a year.
“The Penasol had proved to be 100% effective in preventing production of sperm and eminently satisfactory to the female since it does not interfere with her sexual gratification…. The description was accompanied by appropriate graphics. ”
At the start of 2020 a new contraceptive gel for men called NES/T has been undergoing tests but is still not on the market.
It is time for men to start taking a large part of the physical and emotional costs that are involved in effective contraceptive choices. Contraception is one element of the culture of power and control which is rarely discussed, and yet it must be addressed as we work to progress to a society of equality and respect.