DO you know how hard it is to get a man to wear a condom? Itâ€™s so difficult that the Gates Foundation launched a contest last year for people to create a â€œnext-generationâ€ condom to increase pleasure in the hopes that men would actually use it. Planned Parenthood even provides people with a script of thing to say when your partner refuses to wear one.
So youâ€™ll have to excuse my trepidation when Iâ€™m told that the next revolution in male birth control doesnâ€™t involve something guys have to wear, but something theyâ€™ll happily inject … and not in their arms.
Instead of the much-maligned condom, men will be able â€“ by 2017, apparently â€“ to ask their healthcare providers to inject something called Vasalgel directly into their vas deferens to quarantine the little swimmers in their testicle(s). And, unlike vasectomies, a Vasalgel sperm-blocker might be easily undone at any time, with just a teeny-tiny second injection. While itâ€™s unclear what kind of dent this scientific breakthrough might make in a manâ€™s wallet, it is a one-time shot, it is reportedly very reliable and itâ€™s possibly reversible â€“ all the makings of a near-perfect contraceptive.
As Susan Cohen, acting vice president for public policy at the Guttmacher Institute, told me over email: â€œnew contraceptive methods, including for men, are needed and much welcomed.â€
â€œThe more options the better.â€
Except for one thing: the Great Male Birth-Control Miracle will only work if men are willing to spread their legs for the doctorâ€™s needle.
I mean, donâ€™t confuse my hesitance with a lack of enthusiasm: itâ€™s absolutely vital that men have more contraceptive choices â€“ to take more control over their reproductive futures, and because the responsibility has fallen disproportionately on womenâ€™s shoulders (and nether-regions) for too long. Iâ€™m just not sure whether a man who refuses to roll a latex sheath over his penis is going to put his legs in the stirrups and let a doctor pierce his scrotum.
Elaine Lissner, executive director of the Parsemus Foundation â€“ the organization behind Vasalgel â€“ says that whether men will use the contraceptive is beside the point. â€œNot all men will use it, but not all women use birth control either,â€ she told me on Monday. â€œThe point is to have something for everybody – right now men
donâ€™t have a lot of options.â€ But the options men do have, theyâ€™re not necessarily using.
After all, condom use across the United States is on the decline despite ease of use and a near total lack of pointy-things aimed at menâ€™s sensitive bits. A report from the Centers for Disease Control showed that there was a 4% decline in condom utilization between 2006 and 2010, and among teenagers condom use decreased almost by 50%. In both cases, the decline of condom use was correlated with large increases in the use hormonal and other (IUD, etc) methods of birth control. And while condom use has improved in the west and China, it has declined in Africa and India, and the most used form of birth control in developing countries is still female sterilization.
In general, women have increased their use of birth control while men have decreased theirs.
â€œThere will always be the Neanderthals, there will always be guys who say â€˜donâ€™t touch my junkâ€™, there will never be 100% of men who want it,â€ Lissner says. But she points out that Vasalgel could be a boon to menâ€™s reproductive and financial futures. â€œA big motivator for one group of men are those who are worried about an â€˜oopsâ€™ and being on the hook for 40% of their salary for 18 years,â€ she tells me.
That said, it seems unlikely that a new form of male birth control will herald some sort of birth control equity in the way the advent of the pill did for women. Even the term â€œmale birth controlâ€ reveals that the world considers contraception a decidedly feminine endeavor: weâ€™re the ones who get pregnant and, overwhelmingly, have to deal with the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy. Abortion is all on us, and parenting often is, too. (While the rate of single fathers is on the rise, they still make up less than a quarter of single parents, according to a Pew Research analysis of US Census data last year.)
But the cultural hurdle isnâ€™t just that women are expected to be responsible for contraception and children; itâ€™s that weâ€™re still made responsible for sexuality itself. Sex is largely considered something that men take from women and as the â€œgatekeepersâ€ of sex; women are still derided as â€œtaintedâ€ by sex in a way that men are not; and â€“ most bafflingly â€“ women are still considered responsible for menâ€™s sexual responses or poor (even criminal) behavior. Consider the ways in which too many people expect young female students to cover their bodies so as to not â€œenticeâ€ or â€œdistractâ€ male students, or how some blame rape victims for what they were wearing, how they acted, or how much they had to drink (for starters). – The Independent