Since its conception, the Pill has become a powerful symbol in the campaign for women’s rights. Stanford professor and so-called “father” of the Pill, Carl Djerassi, claims that if it weren’t for oral contraception for women, there might never have been the sexual revolution of the ’60s and ’70s. Women would never have been able to enter and alter the workplace to such an extent and organize their lives in a logical way with the added stress of a screaming Baby Bjorn strapped to their torsos.
But amid all of this freedom — all of this talk surrounding the reclamation of female bodies and the reconfiguration of lives separate from biological need — comes a dangerous rhetoric about responsibility and accountability when it comes to unwanted pregnancy. For better or worse, the female body has been perceived throughout history as the site of conception, birth and child rearing. As soon as women were allowed to control their own contraceptive methods, men everywhere began shedding their latex shackles in unison, victoriously calling out, “Oh, but I thought you were on the Pill.”
It’s a good day for the patriarchy when such a “breakthrough” in bioscience and social politics turns into a means of subjugation, making people slaves to a daily pill and subject to hormonal manipulation in the name of women’s rights. You know institutionalized sexism is real when pharmaceutical companies engineer and administer innumerable variations of the same bullshit in an effort to stamp out pregnancy at the site of conception.
In Djerassi’s charming account of how the Pill allows us to put ourselves into “another person’s position” — a woman’s — it’s impossible for him to truly understand all the adverse effects that come with such a seemingly positive innovation. Beyond the Pill, the ever-booming contraceptive industry now offers enough oral and intrauterine options to make you vomit (not just from the hormones). Not only are the options bleak, but the pressure to use some form or another of contraception is at an all-time high with recent government subsidies and the prevalence of abortion-clinic deserts across the country.
I hope I’m not alone in saying that almost every birth control method available to me, if not invasive or undesirable, is laughably absurd. A plastic ring that slips out during long runs or intercourse? At least NuvaRing doubles as a cock ring. Nor am I entirely convinced of the appeal of a piece of copper shoved through your cervix, promising up to 10 years of hellishly bloody periods. There doesn’t seem to be a single contraceptive option at this point in modern medicine that doesn’t turn the female body into a warzone of estrogen, androgens, blood clots and risks of toxic shock, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and heart disease.
Meanwhile, men have been sporting condoms since they were sporting loin cloths and powdered wigs, complaining all the while. “I got a girl — I ain’t never got no fuckin’ condoms. If she caught me, then that bitch would be pissed off.” No kidding, A$AP Ferg, but it’s this mentality that gets women stuck with unwanted and often irremediable pregnancies in the first place. It takes two to make a baby, shocking as it is. But all the attention on plugging up, spaying and sterilizing the female body has stopped an area of research that could have revolutionized the birth control game decades ago and minimized the need for and debate over abortions in the United States.
A quick search of “male birth control” will show a whopping five options available to the penis-holding crowd: the condom (still the only way to prevent STIs), vasectomy, withdrawal, outercourse (LOL) and abstinence (no thanks). Note that the pull-out method is too unreliable, and abstinence is just a joke. The drastic difference between the permanency of a full-blown vasectomy and the highly erratic, sporadic use of condoms has sadly been the case for most of modern history. If only there were a long-lasting but not permanent middle ground.
Enter Vasalgel: a nonhormonal, polymer contraceptive gel for men made to be injected into the vas deferens of the penis — similar to a vasectomy but happily reversible. The Parsemus Foundation, founders of Vasalgel, modeled its product after a similar gel already going 15 years strong in India. The lack of invested interest in Vasalgel from the medical industry speaks volumes; that the product’s expected 2017 release date is so far off isn’t at all surprising, considering the current market for women’s birth control.
While Vasalgel has gotten a lot of media attention as of late for its paradigm-shifting potential in how we think about and approach pregnancy prevention at the sperm source, the future of male birth control still looks bleak. With that said, the prospect of shifting our discourse on contraception from female to male bodies is an enticing one. The promise of an affordable, reversible, no-fuss, no-condom contraception for men makes me horny just thinking about it. 2017 is a long way away, frustratingly, but we should start to think immediately about changing the current rhetoric to “protect” or “defend” women’s bodies against unwanted pregnancy and instead begin to see it as a mutual effort in the name of free fornication for all.