“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day,” as Nina Simone sings in her classic “I’m Feelin’ Good.”
For 2021, one of my “new dawn” mantras is male birth control.
That’s right. Up to this point, the onus for not producing a child has been on the gender whose belly starts to swell after sperm meets egg. Of late, I’ve been thinking that this responsibility is clearly misplaced. Now of course, females should never fully abdicate this responsibility, because we are the ones that have been gifted with a uterus. So, with regard to consensual encounters, one could argue that it is ultimately the female’s duty to make sure that if she doesn't want her belly to start swelling, she must do something to prevent her egg from running into one of those little super-swimmers during said encounter.
But consider this: If a woman has sex with 100 men in the course of one year, she can only produce one child in that year’s time (two if on the rare occasion she has twins). If a man has sex with 100 women over a one-year period, he could conceivably impregnant all 100 women, thus, producing 100 children in that year’s time. So, the onus for birth control here is clearly on the wrong sex. Men should be the ones taking the pill, or getting a shot or an implant, or at the very least, using a condom.
And guys, I don’t want to hear one word about the “raincoat in the shower” analogy or the miniscule loss of pleasure argument. Grow up and take some responsibility for your erections.
Why is it that some form of male birth control is not readily available or in use right now?
In researching the answer to this question, I came across a 2019 article in Healthline.com that reports research is being conducted on this very subject. Dr. Stephanie Page, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and Dr. Tomer Singer, director of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, are both quoted about research on a male birth control pill, a shot, or a topical gel. This research has in fact been going on for several decades.
Just as with female birth control pills, messing with male hormones also produces side effects. In women, these effects can range from headaches to weight gain to mood swings to blood clots or more serious issues. So far, with a male birth control pill, scientists report that the main side effects have been decreased libido and some erectile dysfunction. And of course, we can’t have that, can we, guys? Women can suffer not getting pregnant, just as they suffer giving birth, while men do their thing with nary a care in the world. Maybe they even bail on the girl. After all, this article notes that in the United States, almost half of all pregnancies are unplanned.
Breakthroughs on versions of the male pill that do not cause side effects are in the works, as is a topical gel that reduces sperm production without all the side effects. An important physiological point here is that women ovulate (produce an egg) once a month. But men produce gazillions of little swimmers all the time. So controlling them is a bit more tricky.
“We think that it will be a decade, and that really does have to do with the fact that we have more work to do. The trials that will need to be done by their very nature will take some time,” Dr. Page says in the article.
In a June 2020 article from New Zealand’s Newshub, associate professor and director of the Public Health Program at Pittsburgh University Dr Martha Terry brings up the one sticking point about male birth control that doesn’t involve negative side effects or lack of interest in male contraceptives: if a male forgets to take his pill, or is a few days late getting a shot renewed, He is not the one left with child.
"Women will never be off the hook because women pay the real cost of having children," Dr. Terry noted.
In the meantime, real men who want to share in the contraceptive responsibility can always ask their partner about her birth control method, or at the very least put on that proverbial raincoat. Yes, they interfere with spontaneity and on rare occasions break. But if used correctly, condoms are 98 percent effective against pregnancy, according to Planned Parenthood. They also have the added benefit of protecting against most sexually transmitted diseases.
Before you dismiss me: this subject is important. And yes, some of the more religious folks out there will tell you that we should tell our young people “Just don’t have sex.” In a perfect world, sure. But this is the real world. Where kids have sex because their parents don’t talk to them about it and they are curious about those feelings. Where many girls don’t even know that when you start menstruating, you can get pregnant. Where the average age for a young male to start watching porn on the internet is 11 years old. That’s right: Eleven. Where sites like the evil Pornhub are among the top 10 websites worldwide. So the trite, “just don’t have sex” doesn’t really work. We need to be realistic.
And realistic is talking to our children about how their bodies work. About sex and, importantly, consent to sex. About preventing pregnancy, preventing STDs, and about preventing sexual assault. About planning when you want to get pregnant. And about not getting pregnant until you are ready — emotionally, physically, and financially, to be responsible for bringing another human being into the world - whether you are male or female.
Remember: females don’t get pregnant by themselves. A male has to be in the vicinity. So, he needs to start taking some responsibility for preventing that swollen belly too.
Jayne Flores is the director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and a long-time journalist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.