Are men too incompetent to use the male pill?

If you believe in nasty stereotypes, it would appear so

Topics: Broadsheet, Birth Control, Health,

The Broadsheet staff has a running joke that some days, it feels like this entire blog should be renamed “Are You Fucking Kidding Me?” Today is one of those days. Over at Gawker, Ravi Somaiya has written a conveniently bullet-pointed “reminder” of why a male contraceptive pill is “an appalling notion.” Here’s the still more bullety version:

  • Men think with their dicks, so they’ll lie about being on the pill if it’s a choice between that and forgoing sex.
  • Because everyone knows that, no one would believe them even if men were completely honest — which, by the way, “women probably wouldn’t want, because they’d be too sissy.”
  • Even if men got all sissified and started telling the truth, they couldn’t be trusted to take a pill every day. Remembering is hard!
  • STI rates would go up because evidently, no one would use condoms anymore.
  • “Finally, if all that were overcome, imagine the column inches and hours of talk radio and TV that would be dedicated to real-life male pill stories.” (Um, what? Yes, the arrival of a male contraceptive pill will likely cause a fair bit of media buzz, just as the prospect of one has numerous times already. But “real-life male pill stories”? Like what — “I started taking this pill and then my girlfriend didn’t get pregnant”? “My wife used to be on the pill, but now I am”? “I use condoms for casual sex, but when I’m in a long-term monogamous relationship, the pill makes more sense to me”? Somehow, I am not overly concerned that tales like that will dominate the headlines.)

In short, are you fucking kidding me, Ravi Somaiya?

At the risk of destroying my reputation as a man-hating straw feminist, I have to say, my greatest objection to Somaiya’s arguments is that they’re so astoundingly insulting to men. And yes, I get that this is both tongue-in-cheek and a blatant page-view grab I’m only encouraging — to some extent, he is fucking kidding me — but it bears examination anyway, because it wouldn’t work on any level if the damaging stereotypes it’s based on weren’t all too familiar: Guys are A) habitual liars who B) are too stupid/cavalier about their health to take a pill every day — men who already rely on daily medications must really be screwed, poor things — and above all, C) as my father told my sister when she was leaving for college, “a raised prick has no conscience.” Hur hur, boys will be boys!

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Yeah, no. As someone who loves a lot of smart, honest, responsible men, I’m not buying it. And even if I didn’t think more of men in general, I would still expect more of them. Because points A and C, especially, really amount to “boys will be sociopaths.” This hoary old falsehood — I’d call it an “appalling notion,” even — that a hard-on temporarily short-circuits the brain, so all men can graduate from merely aroused to sexually incontinent without warning, is a pillar of rape culture. If she was dressed provocatively, if she kissed him, if she was willing to go this far but no farther, it’s at least partly her fault she got raped, because you can’t just expect a man to stop once he’s got an erection, duh! Except actually, you can. Actually, many men throughout history have managed to stop themselves from having sex when they really, really wanted to. (Otherwise, we wouldn’t still be debating the existence of “blue balls,” would we?) Not having his partner’s consent, obviously, is a most excellent reason for a man to boldly disobey his own penis. But so is not wanting to cause a pregnancy or pick up a sexually transmitted infection — in fact, I’m no sexpert, but I’m pretty sure that already, even without a male pill on the market, some man, somewhere, at least once, has decided not to have sex because he had no contraception handy and was so concerned for his own health and/or future, let alone his potential partner’s, that he chose neither to lie nor ignore the dilemma, thereby proving that such conscious action is not a biological impossibility.

Sure, plenty of people have also decided to throw caution to the wind and go forth unprotected — including women . Women, it turns out, are also capable of lying about whether they’ve taken their birth control as prescribed, or forgetting to do so, or making an honest mistake. This reality, among other reasons, is why god gave us condoms. And why at least some of us have developed the good sense not to have sex with lying jerks. And why people are still fighting to ensure that emergency contraception is readily available. And still, despite those failsafes, half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. It’s almost as though science has yet to develop a perfect method of birth control, or a perfect human being to use it — so having as many options as possible might just be a good thing. You think?

That’s the other bizarre thing about Somaiya’s argument, however tongue-in-cheek it may be: It’s like he thinks that a male pill hitting the market will render all other forms of contraception obsolete. It’s my understanding that the new pill would be an addition to, not a replacement for, the existing smorgasbord of options (of which I count 20 at Planned Parenthood’s website right now). So people concerned about STIs or suspicious that their male partners are lying could still opt to use condoms. Women worried that their male partners won’t remember to take a pill every day could still take the original version. Anyone looking to avoid pregnancy would still have at least 18 other options of varying effectiveness to choose from. But for people who want it — from players who want an extra bit of insurance against unwanted fatherhood to men whose girlfriends or wives can’t tolerate hormonal birth control to anyone who just thinks it’s about time — it would be one more. Not a perfect option any more than the others are, but one more — and one of only a few that doesn’t put the burden of pregnancy prevention chiefly on the woman. Personally, I have enough faith in men — and in consenting adults to make their own decisions — to think that would be terrific.


Kate Harding is the co-author of "Lessons From the Fatosphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce With Your Body" and has been a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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