The Wednesday Weigh-In: Male birth control edition

It’s no secret that dudes love to talk about hormonal birth control. But until now, their more direct involvement, namely, being able to take it themselves to effectively prevent against unwanted pregnancy, has been somewhat limited, as there are no options for male hormonal birth control out there just yet.

Well to all my sistas tired of being the only ones to shoulder the burden of taking hormonal birth control, Christmas may have come early this year. The LA Times is reporting that a method of birth control targeted for men is showing some strong potential:

“A birth control gel for men sharply lowered sperm counts with few side effects, researchers reported Tuesday. The gel, containing testosterone and a synthetic progestin called Nestorone, will require substantially more testing, but it has the potential to become the first effective chemical birth control agent for males.”

I think most people would consider it a positive thing to have more options on the table when it comes to contraceptives, especially when those options involve more possibilities for men AND women. Feminists have long been making the case that we need better birth control. Plus it doesn’t seem fair (for women OR men) that women are the only ones with a hormonal birth control option, especially when you consider that it’s not exactly cheap.

Thus, today’s weigh-in centers on gel, sperm count, and ‘having it all’:

For those of you who are sexually active, who bears the primary responsibility for contraceptive use? How would access to a male hormonal contraceptive affect your life? Are you psyched, freaked out, or ambivalent that researchers are looking into male methods of contraceptives?

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/nick/ Nick

    I’m a little freaked out that playing with the human endocrine system (of men or women) is still considered a safe and viable option for birth control. I personally am a huge fan of non-hormonal male contraceptives like RISUG.

    • http://feministing.com/members/decius/ Dan

      Evidence-based science: Male hormonal birth control isn’t considered safe, it’s considered experimental. If enough experimental evidence indicates that it is safe, then it will be considered safe.

  • http://feministing.com/members/erissian/ erissian

    Who bears responsibility for birth control? Any participant that doesn’t want to procreate. Totally looking forward to this, but I won’t be giving up my condoms anytime soon.

  • http://feministing.com/members/samll/ Sam Lindsay-Levine

    I’m male and monogamously married; my wife is the one using contraception because she is unsure whether she wants children some day, and therefore a vasectomy for me is not currently a viable option. Her neurochemistry is a little sensitive so a lot of hormonal birth control options are not very good for her. If I could take it instead, and move the side effects to the person whose biochemistry could more easily handle them, I certainly would. I’m very enthused about the prospect of long-term reversible male contraception reaching the market.

    I was somehow under the impression that the current top two contenders were a) ultrasound and b) a gel injected into the vas deferens, and that hormonal methods are further behind, although I follow the scientific and technical progress only casually.

    • http://feministing.com/members/dantsen/ Daniel

      Yeah. If RISUG-style injections can be workable, that seems a) cheaper and simpler, and b) much safer. It’s great that the world has oral contraceptive, but the side effects should not be something people have to accept. Women or men taking hormones as a contraceptive still sounds like a flawed solution.

      I mean if the vas deferens can just be stopped, in the way women’s reproductive systems can’t without messing up the menstrual cycle, then that’s the right way to do it. No fuss or complications or worries.

      • http://feministing.com/members/stivee/ Erin

        “Women or men taking hormones as a contraceptive still sounds like a flawed solution.”

        Plenty of women take it to correct hormonal imbalances, so I wouldn’t be too worried. A woman and her doctor go through a lot of trial and error before finding the one that works. Of course, there are women who don’t do well on it, but there are also women like me who need it. <–I'm just addressing that one concern of yours, not arguing or anything. And I think giving couples another option for birth control is pretty cool.

  • http://feministing.com/members/tetesagehen/ Tae Phoenix

    I’m delighted that this is becoming more medically and socially possible.

    We live in a world where men still have more access to power than women do. As a result, some women still see marriage to a man as the primary mode through which they can gain access to (and protection from) that power.

    While MRA’s make a much bigger deal out of this issue than it needs to be, I have known men who have been the victims of intentional “oops” pregnancies. This was in relationships where the established and communicated intention was that things would be casual / short-term and / or that the guy had been quite clear that he wasn’t ready for children. It’s a despicable, if not entirely incomprehensible, move on the part of some women who are truly desperate to secure traditional access to power at all costs.

    In addition to putting a stop to these true (and hopefully rare) cases of pregnancy coercion, the true political benefit of this option for guys is that we’ll have yet another weapon with which to tell the MRA’s to shut the hell up about “sperm stealing” and just take a damn pill already. Of course, it probably won’t work due to the whole “they don’t understand logic” problem.

    • http://feministing.com/members/lamech/ Lamech

      Umm… reproductive coercion is a thing. Like 10% of men and women have been victims. I reeaally hope you don’t tell women who are victims or it or worried about it to “shut the hell up” and “just take a damn pill already”. Secondly, a much better term for “intentional ‘oops’ pregnancies” is rape. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_by_deception if you don’t believe me. Nor can you really make too big a deal out of rape.

      • http://feministing.com/members/aenaithia/ Meghan

        I think she meant women getting pregnant when their male partners had made it clear that they did not want children. Reproductive coercion is definitely a real thing, but you and the OP seem to be meaning different things by the phrase.

      • unequivocal

        Umm… reproductive coercion is a thing.

        As Tae Phoenix acknowledges; I believe the word Tae uses to describe it is “despicable.” The point here is that while it is a thing, it is a pretty small thing, and MRAs could easily avoid it if male hormonal birth control was readily available.

        Although it is interesting to view this in the context of victim-blaming. If reproductive coercion is rape (and I think it is), it really shouldn’t be up to the men to take steps to protect themselves from it (at least if we assume that victims never bear any responsibility for their own personal safety and well being).

    • http://feministing.com/members/onlynow/ onlynow

      “While MRA’s make a much bigger deal out of this issue than it needs to be, I have known men who have been the victims of intentional “oops” pregnancies. ”

      How is someone intentionally violating one’s reproductive autonomy NOT a big deal? And why shouldn’t everyone be upset about it, MRA or not?

      • unequivocal

        I don’t think Tae’s point was that this isn’t a big deal, but rather that the actual frequency of the occurrence is low enough that MRAs’ focus on the point is out of line with reality.

        I think that we could all agree, for example, that kidnappings are a very big deal, while still acknowledging that it would be ridiculous to claim that the entirety of our school system and city infrastructure should be based around an attempt to avoid the possibility of kidnappings occurring. The vanishingly rare nature of the event means that (while it is absolutely hugely important when it occurs) it does not warrant being a part of the general discourse surrounding city planning or educational reform.

        Again, that’s not to say that it doesn’t matter, just that it isn’t common enough to be a major concern.

  • http://feministing.com/members/jkhm/ Jenny

    I think this is amazing, I am in a long term relationship, and if the chance was given I know he’d also take a form of contraceptive.
    The only problem with a male contraceptive (I don’t know how this would be taken) but say it was like the pill…
    A woman has a one night stand with a man, and because she’s on, for example, the pill, they agree to have unprotected sex ([redacted] but easily done), no unwanted pregnancy.
    Same scenario, would you really trust the guy if he said he was on the pill? And then you should always use condoms anyway and everything but it’s the whole issue of trust.
    There isn’t the same amount of responsibility that a man has, HE’S not the one getting pregnant, it wouldn’t be his body that’s being affected.

    I don’t know, but it could lead on to all kinds of weird situations in terms of perhaps abusive relationships, he doesn’t take it, she’s pregnant, due to his control she doesn’t have an abortion.. she is more in his control that way? (I am NO expert of abusive relationships but this may seem a plausible, but extreme situation perhaps?)

    I think it’s great, and like Sam Lindsey-Levine said, in his situation it’d be perfect. In mine and a lot of other people’s situation it would be great. But I think there is a case to be made about women being in charge of their own bodies.
    This isn’t to say I don’t hate the fact that women are in sole responsibility for contraception.

    • http://feministing.com/members/robbieloveslife/ Robert

      “Same scenario, would you really trust the guy if he said he was on the pill? And then you should always use condoms anyway and everything but it’s the whole issue of trust.
      There isn’t the same amount of responsibility that a man has, HE’S not the one getting pregnant, it wouldn’t be his body that’s being affected.”

      It’s not in a man’s best interests to have kids with a woman he only wants for sex. The responsibility for the man is child support for 18 years, that’s a HUGE responsibility. In fact, some women have kids just for that reason, this is especially common in poor areas. I don’t make that much money but I got a nice car and travel the world because I don’t have responsibilities. My male superiors who have kids, who also make more money, can’t afford to do anything. Everything they make goes to feeding their kids and to help pay for day care. I know so many men that have told me if they didn’t have kids they would have never stayed with the mother. A lot of the MRA [redacted] tend to be married guys that hate their wives.

      • http://feministing.com/members/jkhm/ Jenny

        Firstly I am so ‘for’ male contraception it is a GREAT step forward to undoing the responsibility women bear in regards to responsibility for contraception, I am just discussing what problems could possibly arise.
        I’m from the UK, so I don’t know what the situation is like in America, but I’d imagine it’s quite similar, where a vast population of fathers aren’t paying their child support.
        The idea of women having children for money is a huge myth to demonize the working class, and particularly working class women. The costs of raising a child in the UK from 0-18 years old, is roughly £210,000/$330,000 (and we don’t have health care costs to worry about).
        In addition to this there is the simple fact that men can’t get pregnant, and if it really is a ‘one night stand’, it is unlikely that the man and woman involved would keep in contact. A lot of men HATE condoms – I know this from my own and other people’s experiences that there are some who will do a lot not to wear one.
        And if a situation like this did arise, a woman wouldn’t think to take emergency contraception if he said that he was taking contraception.

        • http://feministing.com/members/andejoh/ John

          That would be very foolish for a short term relationship (one night stand). The chance of STDs alone should cause both partners to demand condom use.

    • http://feministing.com/members/onlynow/ onlynow

      The thing is, Jenny, that men can’t necessarily trust women in that situation either. The ideal would be if both parties have their own contraception and are therefore able to manage their own reproductive risks.

      • http://feministing.com/members/jkhm/ Jenny

        Yeah I know and I accept you argument and that’s fair enough, it’s just that some (not all) men HATE condoms and will do anything not to wear them, so this situation could arise.

  • http://feministing.com/members/dancingyeti/ JT

    It may sound like nitpicking, but the question at the end of this post, “For those of you who are sexually active, who bears the primary responsibility for contraceptive use?” ignores the existence of sexually active people who have no need for contraceptive use (e.g., egg-producing people who partner with other egg producers; sperm-producing people who partner with other sperm producers; people who produce neither sperm nor eggs). I can’t tell you how many times my (cis female) partner has had to painstaking explain to medical providers that yes, she is sexually active; yes, her partner is male; and no, she doesn’t use or need birth control.

    A more inclusive wording could be something like, “for those of you for whom contraception is relevant…” or “for those of you who engage in sexual activity in which pregnancy is a possible result.”

  • anyadnight

    Maybe I’m failing a feminist litmus test here, but I bear the full responsibility for BC in my relationship and frequently have. Although, my current partner insisted on paying 50% of my BC costs (there are none now), so I guess that counts as being responsible for BC, he also would help me remember to take it.

    How would male BC affect my relationship? Well, we don’t have a lot of cash on hand so I doubt my partner would volunteer to spend what we do have on a new form of BC when I’ve got a highly effective form right now (hormonal IUD) that I already paid for and will hopefully last another 2 years. :/

    I’d like to have more male accountability, but I’m not going to leave it up to someone else. The whole “I’m on the pill” thing will unfortunately be used by men to have unprotected sex. I’d like to believe a guy wouldn’t say this because it isn’t in his interest to get a woman with whom his primary interest is sex pregnant as Robert suggests, but the truth is men have attempted to convince women to have unprotected sex with them in the past, why wouldn’t other men do that to women in a post male pill world?

    That said, I’m excited. Men, as much as women, deserve the opportunity to control their own bodies. Also, if a year ago when I got my IUD there was a chance that my partner could afford to use a male pill I’d have loved that. An IUD was financially my best option, but it was extremely painful for at least month and still causes some discomfort.

    Finally, I second JT’s wording.

  • http://feministing.com/members/cassius/ Brüno

    On the article, its always good to have more options on the table.

    “I don’t think Tae’s point was that this isn’t a big deal, but rather that the actual frequency of the occurrence is low enough that MRAs’ focus on the point is out of line with reality.”

    Only because something is not frequent, does not mean its not a big deal. I dont know what it is like where you live, but here girls dont end up pregnant left and right with unwanted pregnancies and yet abortion is kind of a big deal. So I dont see a correlation between how frequent an event is and “how big of a deal” it is. Would you accept as an argument for rendering abortion clinics illegal, that only 0.005% of women end up with unwanted pregnancies?