Male Birth Control and Why It Isn't a Thing

Sofía Stiletano

Women are fertile only a few days a month whereas men produce sperm all year round. So why is it that the use of birth control isn't at the top of men’s priority list? How does this impact women’s lives? To open up the conversation, artil invited two men, who wish to remain anonymous, to reflect upon these issues. 

Disclaimer: This article has been written with a focus on heteronormative relationships.

According to artil’s research, men don’t make use of contraceptive methods mainly because of a lack of information and patriarchal beliefs that lead to selfish behaviours. Latex or polyurethane condoms and vasectomies are the most commonly available contraceptives for men. Whereas women have more alternatives to choose from: caps or diaphragms, oral hormonal pills, subdermal implants, injectables, cervical caps, contraceptive sponges, hormone patches, vaginal rings, IUDs and tubal ligation. What’s more, all these options can lead to serious health problems

At present, research to develop new male contraceptive methods exists. RISUG, a male birth control shot has been patented in India, China, and the United States; Different injections studies, birth control pills, non-hormonal pill studies, and even a study involving a hormonal gel, have been developed around the world. Moreover, a woman in Germany won a prize for designing a device that warms up men's testicles which is said to temporarily stop sperm circulation. 

However, after side effects were reported in many of these products it was determined that more data is needed before concluding that these methods are completely safe for men. This is understandable. Nonetheless, contraceptive methods for women present similar, if not identical, reported side effects and they have been approved, mass-produced and sold for decades.

When artil asked a 28-year-old electrical engineer if he would try a hormonal contraceptive method he voiced that because they don’t exist he never thought about it, but after seeing how they affect women’s health he wouldn’t. “Subconsciously there is always the fear of infertility or impotence. Even with vasectomies, grown men who have children and know that they don’t want to have any more kids won’t get one. They see it as a form of castration. Virility is important; a penis is like a trophy that shouldn’t be harmed.” 
One of the core dilemmas of toxic masculinity is that children are raised and socialised with different expectations and responsibilities. So because most societies still favour men over women, a lack of gender-equal sex education, financial barriers, lack of healthy spousal communication, religious prohibition, and a host of other reasons, women are undermined and often see themselves forced into unprotected and unwanted sex practices.

Men often use different excuses to convince (or force) women to have condomless sex. They will accuse their partner of seeing someone else for wanting to use it, argue that “everyone does it”, promise to “finish outside”, or resort to stealthing to name a few. 

Why do men refuse to wear condoms? A 23 year-old-medicine student believes that “the main problem is the lack of information. Since sex is still a taboo (topic), most people don’t have access to sex education. Also, guys don’t talk about personal stuff with other men, and honestly, a lot of people associate using a condom with a sensitivity reduction. Sex is very much penis centred, you know?”. 

We live in a hypersexualized and under-informed society. Most likely, young, inexperienced girls will reach their first sexual encounter knowing how to “turn on” their male counterparts while knowing nothing about taking care of themselves — except maybe that the use of a condom can prevent a pregnancy. So, the possibility that they could even become victims of sexual violence and even develop a mental health disorder is real. 
The unmet need for contraception, due to lack of access or making uninformed decisions affects millions of girls and women around the world. Resulting in unplanned pregnancies can prompt health issues and see a negative impact on women's careers since responsibilities for parenting and domestic tasks disfavour them. Would men pay more attention to contraception if they could get pregnant? Our medical student interviewee thinks: “They would use it all day long”.

Our interviewees also expressed to us that they are glad that birth control options exist and provide a simple way to prevent pregnancies so that they can be in control of their parental desires. They claimed that if they had the option they would embrace it. Nonetheless, they know very little about the inconveniences women go through regarding contraception management — from the medical and insurance bureaucracy to its cost, to the hormonal imbalances side effects, or even to have to plan a schedule around it every month.

Technological advances to develop new male contraceptive options exist but this isn’t enough. Before the world can see this issue high up on people’s priority lists, our culture has to change. Women shouldn’t feel the need to constantly establish boundaries; sexual and parental responsibilities need to be shared and aggressions towards women expressed through sex have to come to an end. Comprehensive sex education is not only about enhancing safe sexual behaviours but also about promoting gender equality in relationships by tackling the physical, psychological, and cultural issues preventing it. 

If you are unsatisfied with the birth control methods available to you, regardless of your gender, advocate for your rights. Contraception can be a shared responsibility. 

Sofía Stiletano

"The beauty of writing is that it can silently create a ripple effect. This is why I choose this medium to contribute to defend individual rights; by raising my voice to create awareness about the importance of representation and being kind and considered towards others and oneself. So that all of us can rise cooperatively and find a space in society that makes us happy, especially in this times of dehumanization and disconnection from the organic world."
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