While male contraceptives are certainly a victory for equality, they change little when it comes to who’s at risk for unplanned pregnancy.
By Kayla Kibbe, Connecticut College
To me, birth control always seemed a little too good to be true.
It is the only genuinely effective quick fix to an inconvenient and otherwise unavoidable fact of life that I have ever encountered. There’s no fad diet or detox—no matter how trendy—that will get you in shape just by sitting on your couch. You can’t make more money by doing less work. You can’t turn lead to gold or water to wine, food will always have calories and I haven’t dabbled too much in witchcraft, but I’m pretty sure no one has nailed down an effective love potion yet.
Basically, your parents were right. Life isn’t fair. And yet, despite all this injustice, there is, by some miraculous act of God or science, a magic little pill that lets you have sex without getting pregnant. Despite years of firsthand experience, I still don’t quite believe it’s real, and every time I get to say, “It’s okay, I’m on the pill,” I get on some weird “I’m cheating the system” power trip.
Remarkably, not everyone sees birth control as a miraculous godsend. In fact, since its inception and even now, the world’s greatest loophole is steeped in controversy.
One of the biggest disputes surrounding contraceptives today is the concern that women bear an inordinate amount of the responsibility for birth control. Things seemed to be looking up last year though, when talk of a promising new hormonal birth control shot for men began circulating. The controversy resumed with new vigor, however, when the studies were shut down due to adverse side effects, including potentially permanent loss of fertility.
Many feminists were outraged by the news, arguing that women face serious side effects from contraceptives as well, and shouldn’t be forced to bear the burden of birth control and its potential consequences alone.
Fast forward a few months, and a new attempt at a male contraceptive is on the horizon. But before you run your feminist victory lap, there’s a chance male birth control isn’t really the feminist victory the media has made it out to be. In fact, it may not even change anything at all. If anything, male contraceptives, rather than easing the burden of contraceptive responsibility on women, may make it more important than ever for women to be conscientious about their birth control plan.
While it is obviously an important step forward for both men and women to have options when it comes to controlling their reproductive health, this development ultimately wouldn’t affect women nearly as much as the feminist community may hope. While access to male contraceptives would give men more options and more control in their sex lives, women would ultimately maintain the same amount of responsibility for their own reproductive health, if not more than ever.
The bottom line is, well, something no one wants to hear. Ultimately, women—the vagina-bearing, uterus-having partners in a sexual relationship—are the ones who become physically burdened by pregnancy. Obviously, no one, male, female or otherwise, wants an unplanned pregnancy. But men—the non-vagina-bearing, non-uterus-having partners in a sexual relationship—will always be comfortably removed from the physical reality of pregnancy. For most men, unwanted pregnancy just doesn’t pose the same real and present threat that it does for women. As Cosmopolitan itself admits, one of the “14 Birth Control Things Guys Will Never Understand” is the state of “ultimately being the one burdened with the ever-present possibility of pregnancy and whatever consequences that may bring.”
While most women can admit to getting a little lazy about the pill from time to time, those same women are still intimately familiar with the risks of this kind of laziness, and are likely to take additional precautionary measures should the occasion arise after, say, an unexpectedly successful round of casual Tinder swiping.
But if a man gets a little lazy about his contraceptive obligations, will the same hold true? Without that constant threat of pregnancy as a physical reality, a man just won’t necessarily feel the same need or desire to take those extra precautions “just in case,” especially in the heat of the moment.
And it doesn’t just stop at laziness. While my power-trip-inducing reassurance, “It’s okay, I’m on the pill,” has never invoked any skepticism from a male partner, I would certainly find myself a lot less willing to take a guy’s word for it that he’s “on the shot.” Men are generally pretty willing to believe a woman who says she’s on the pill. After all, why would a woman lie about that? She’s the one risking pregnancy if she does.
But some men, removed from the physical reality of pregnancy, might just be tempted to slip in a little white lie about their current contraceptive status, especially in the heat of the moment. Granted, everyone—male, female, gay, straight, trans, cis, what have you—is occasionally prone to making some poor choices under those circumstances. Moreover, I’m sure there are cases in which women, for whatever reason, have lied to their partners about birth control. But, generally speaking, women see the risks of unprotected sex from a different vantage point than men—one that allows them to have a more intimate understanding of the consequences and, thus, more incentive to make a responsible decision for themselves and their partners.
Meanwhile, if there’s one thing the recent controversy surrounding “stealthing” has made terrifyingly clear, it’s that some men are willing to take some pretty big risks to keep their dicks unwrapped. If men are willing to risk pregnancy, STIs and sexual assault charges just to get out of a condom, there’s a good chance those same men would be willing to lie about contraceptives to keep from ever having to put one on.
Of course, one disturbing behavior does not define all men, and I’m sure there are many men who are just as conscientious as their female partners when it comes to birth control, if not more so. But at the end of the day, birth control will never be the “shared responsibility” of the feminist ideal. Birth control will always be a personal responsibility, and, male or female, you should never leave your reproductive health in someone else’s hands.