As part of the brilliant UK Telegraph #TakeBackBirthControl campaign the editors asked men on the streets of London what they thought about contraception; the majority said there should be more equality of responsibility and more options for men. The male birth control pill, along with other male-centric possibilities like Vasalgel, is forever on the horizon and always not quite here, yet. We’ve had the female birth control pill for 55 years, as well as multiple delivery systems such as the shot, the patch, the ring, the IUS and the implant. So many options for the one half of the human race that is only able to get pregnant for approximately 7 days per menstrual cycle.
In theory, according to the Telegraph survey, it seems that many men are interested in the idea of having an injection of polymer in their scrotum to block sperm. In theory, I suppose this procedure seems no more intrusive or uncomfortable than having a piece of plastic and copper inserted into your uterus. For some women, the idea of Vasalgel can ignite birth control-based revenge fantasies. The Telegraph discovered that 35% of women feel they are expected to “put up” with side effects of contraceptives, as such a male Pill or procedure like this is seen as an opportunity to redress the balance.
A writer for the Telegraph campaign noted that many men feel that they don’t have the “right” to discuss contraception openly. I would argue that men have a duty, rather than a right, to talk about pregnancy prevention. As men are the other half of the human race that is fertile every single day, the burden should be, at the very least, equally distributed between both men and women.
So, if men and women are equally enthusiastic for a shift in the contraceptive conversation, is there a way we could start the process without having to wait for the pharmaceutical industry to provide a profitable product? To my mind, the tech industry is better suited to act as a catalyst for progress and it is already ushering in this change.
In my book, “Sweetening the Pill,” I discussed how Fertility Awareness Based Methods might set this new equality-minded way of approaching contraception in motion. Teaching couples, rather than just women alone, to understand the female fertility cycle and practice pregnancy prevention without pharmaceutical intervention is an important step towards shared responsibility.
How many more men would see the current imbalanced approach as inherently unfair and even sexist if they knew that a woman is unable to get pregnant for the majority of her cycle?
Fertility Awareness Based Methods, when taught to couples, also hold the potential for changing how we communicate about sex. Just as women come to believe, wrongly, that they are fertile every day; men often believe that they must be constantly interested in and available for sex. The establishment of a “fertile window” when PIV sex can be taken off the table opens up a reexamination of the assumptions, expectations, and social pressures that surround our sex lives. The woman might have felt she had to sacrifice her health, be that mental, physical, or sexual, by using hormonal contraceptives, in order to maintain a no-strings sex fantasy within a committed relationship.
To quote clinical herbalist and fertility awareness practitioner Katja Swift, “Through history we’ve always blamed women for getting pregnant even though it’s men that are fertile every single day. This cooperation liberates women from that, but it also liberates men in letting them know that they too can decide to be unavailable for sex. They can have less sex and be just as masculine, despite what they’ve been taught. We don’t just need women’s liberation, we need a people’s liberation.”
A little bit about Holly and her awesome work!
Holly Grigg-Spall is a writer and women's health advocate. Her book Sweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control has been featured in Elle, the Sunday Times Style (UK), Marie Claire, New York magazine, the Guardian, and on CBC and the BBC, amongst others. The book was optioned by Ricki Lake and is the inspiration for a forthcoming feature documentary. She also currently writes frequently for LadyClever.com.