A Prick to the Prick
It is a general problem in this country and the world the extent to which contraception is a “woman’s issue.” This is the product of a lot of things, including but not limited to the unavoidable that women can get pregnant and men cannot, and so they are closer to the center of the repercussions of pregnancy. There is also a substantial amount of social bias perpetuating this assignment of responsibility, together with and independent of the logistical repercussions. But it doesn’t end there. Another big factor is that women have far more tools at their disposal to avoid pregnancy than men.
I’ve had various unintended paternity scares over the years. Not for lack of protection, but due to the protection I thought we had either malfunctioning – likely user error on my part – or not being properly utilized on her end. The result being that I was left with some combination of condoms and/or at the mercy of the precautions she took, or didn’t take. (Leaving withdrawal and/or spermicide outside of the conversation.)
The truth for me is, I hate condoms. Not out of some abstract opposition to the manliness of passing off my sperm. I hate them because they diminish my enjoyment to almost null, I don’t feel protected with them (the two earliest “scares” involved condom malfunction), and – at the risk of TMI – they can negate my ability to perform at all no matter where I am when it goes on.
Which, for a guy who wants to be careful about such things, and who doesn’t want to rely on the efforts of someone else, something of a problem. I wore the condoms. I didn’t (usually) whine about it. Truthfully, I didn’t even know how much I hated them until I thought that I would not have to wear them again.
Even so, I would have given my left arm for a Male Pill. I would have loved there to be something that would have allowed me to take more control over my reproduction in a way socially acceptable and palatable to me. Science appears to be getting closer to there. The response, so often, tends to be similar to that of Jessica Valenti:
But the options men do have, they’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 men’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.
It is a shame that more men do not use what is available. I wish I could say that she is wrong insofar that this would get us even in the ballpark of parity in contraception usage.
But the dismissiveness here is maddening. The truth is that men don’t have a lot of options, and having more options will increase usage. Further, it will provide more and better arguments in favor of men taking more control over there reproduction. The more men who do it, the more of a social expectation there will be.
The dismissiveness that often follows around discussions of a “male pill” mostly serves, in my view, in letting men off the hook. Rather than the common assumption that men who don’t want to wear condoms simply don’t want to be responsible for contraception, these developments are a great way to delineate between those who would demur for specific reasons and those who want to evade responsibility. The more options out there, the fewer excuses men have.
This is not unrelated to scoffs (which Valenti alludes to) of attempts to make condoms more pleasurable, less restrictive, and so on. Whether it’s that condoms suck or there is a lack of choice, the more reasons and excuses we knock down the better. While condoms will always have the advantage of STD protection, protection only works if you actually use it. The more ways we get people to use it, the better.
With a sample set of one, at least, Valenti’s quasi-dismissal of this innovation on the basis of a prick to the prick represents a profound misunderstanding of where the objections to condoms lie, seeming to attribute it to questions of manhood rather than the very real logistical issues they represent. I would honestly prefer a jab to the penis over taking the pill, and I’d rather tinker with my hormones once a day with a pill than put on a rubber. The only thing better would be if I could put copper in my crotch.
Valenti herself does express at least some excitement, but the attitudes she contributes to counterproductively sends a message that we shouldn’t bother because men will be men.
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