Examining the option of male birth control
Recent events are causing me to question whether we are living in the 21st century or the Middle Ages. From Michigan’s newly instated “rape insurance” policy to the “backlog of 11,000 untested rape kits” in Detroit as reported by MSNBC, the historical pattern in which women pay the price for events outside of their control continues.
The central issue here is the fact that women are being disregarded as autonomous, thinking beings. Men dominate a disproportionate amount of the dialogue and decisions made surrounding sexuality and women. As a result, women continue to have their bodies, and by extension their lives, affected by the men who pass legislation regulating them.
The continued debate over women’s access to birth control, from its ease of availability to insurance policies, accomplishes little. It is incredibly sad that women have to consider things like having Plan B available in the aisles a success.
It is time we redefine the debate.
To provide a quick recap on sexual education, pregnancy occurs when a sperm cell fertilizes the egg released from the ovary’s follicle. Since humans are mammals, we produce sexually, not asexually. This means that despite the commonly held belief that women are solely responsible for pregnancy, men play a significant role.
Society’s stances on pregnancy are two prime examples of the overall culture surrounding women.
Either it is a woman’s obligation to bear a child, as in the case of the brain-dead woman in Texas, or it is her burden to not get pregnant in the first place (which is hard considering the ongoing battle against access to birth control).
We need more straightforward thinking- we need to look within our collective self to examine the overall picture and redefine ourselves as an equitable society.
It does not make sense to only look at one half of the equation: a men’s version of birth control has the potential to prevent an unlimited number of pregnancies in a month, as opposed to the single
pregnancy in nine months which women’s birth control prevents.
Condoms, which seem to be the standard for men’s birth control, do not really factor as a consistent method of contraception, because as The Atlantic reports, “only 60 percent of teenagers claim to use condoms…From there, condom usage declines as people grow older.” US News &
World estimates 60 percent of the British middle-aged population “do not use a condom during a first-time sexual encounter.”
Though understandably less popular, vasectomies are a more foolproof option. The Cleveland Clinic reports, “a total of about 50 million men have had a vasectomy—a number that corresponds to roughly 5 percent of all married couples of reproductive age.”
There is a need for more effective methods of contraception which will not compromise reproductive ability. Two longer-lasting solutions in the works sound promising.
The first is an oral contraceptive being developed in Australia which, according to the New York
Daily News, “blocks two proteins found on the smooth muscle cells which are essential for sperm to travel through the animal’s reproductive organs.” The absence or blockage of the proteins rendered the mice infertile without compromising their sexual activity or overall health.
The second is most easily described as the male-version of an intrauterine device (IUD), which is currently in late phase III trials in India. The procedure, known as reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance (RISUG), takes about 15 minutes and is effective upwards of 10 years. A polymer gel is injected into the vas deferentia, the tubes that carry sperm from the testes to the penis. The gel does not block off the vas deferens; rather, it lines the walls and allows sperm to flow freely while shredding the sperm and rendering them ineffective.
Unfortunately, neither one of these methods is being developed in the US. As the researchers of the oral contraceptive acknowledged in their study, there needs to become a market developed for this.
The Huffington Post reports the researchers observed that, “A lack of ejaculate has the potential to be disconcerting.” In addition, men tend to feel that it is not their responsibility to help prevent pregnancy. However, it takes two to tango—men play a part, and therefore carry responsibility, in conception.
The issue of birth control goes beyond reproductive rights—it’s the broader issue of lack of respect for women. Rather than limiting the position of women in society to child-bearing, think of them as they are: daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, friends, and loved ones. Relationships equate partnerships, and partnerships mean accepting equal responsibility.