Men and the pill

Male contraception's not going over well with males.

Published December 1, 2006 2:00PM (EST)

So as reported earlier this week, scientists appear ever closer to developing a contraceptive pill that men could take a couple of hours before intercourse to ensure a sperm-free (and insemination-free) night. Sounds good to those of us who have been juggling the side effects of hormonal birth control, the mood-shattering inconvenience of the diaphragm and the inconsistent availability of the sponge for years.

But according to a truly obnoxious group of guys interviewed in yesterday's New York Daily News, the male pill may not be going over like gangbusters with its intended consumers.

A 25-year-old entertainment executive named "Matt" told the paper, "This Pill sounds way too scary ... I can't imagine anyone I know taking it. I know I wouldn't." And urologist Harry Fisch said, "I don't think a lot of men are going to take this ... I wouldn't do anything with it. Nice try."

And what precisely is the problem with the notion of controlling your own reproduction in a no-mess way? Well, as predicted by Broadsheet's Nona Willis-Aronowitz earlier this week, the fact that there's no mess. Sex with this as-yet-hypothetical pill would be not only sperm-free but completely dry.

As Fisch told the News, "The ejaculate coming forward is a significant part of a man's sexuality ... And, by the way, what happens if there is a breakthrough ejaculation?"

Well, then there would be a chance that the woman would get pregnant, just as if there is a mistake with her pill, or the condom breaks, or the internal barrier slips off.

Then there are the worries about what a pill like this might do to men's fertility: "How would it not affect your sperm count in the next three or four days? ... If you took it for a week or month, how would it keep you from being sterile for a year?" said one of the men. And another, 24-year-old man cracked, "When it gets to the point where I know I'm going to have sex two hours before I actually have it, I will be too old to have babies."

OK. Attention, men who are completely paralyzed at the thought of taking responsibility for their own desires, sexual intentions and reproductive lives: Clear the dating pool, it's time for adult swim.

Yes, taking pills that temporarily change the way your body works can be disconcerting -- welcome to the wonderful world of sexually active heterosexuality, as previously experienced exclusively by women. And be pleased that this proposed pill is one that stops your flow rather than screws with your hormones, alters your moods and puts you at elevated risk for stroke.

The one thing that does comfort me in all this: I think that pieces like this in the News play to the worst caricatures of American masculinity. Yes, I get that the literal dry hump would take some getting used to. But by and large, I believe men are anxious for new ways to take some control of their sex lives and expand their options for birth control beyond latex. The notion that most guys out there would respond to this kind of advance negatively fulfills some caveman attitude about what it means to be a man. I believe that -- when properly tested and approved and all that -- a pill like this will be good for men, good for women, good for all of us. And I'd like to believe that men would agree with that.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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