As you’ve probably heard, a male contraceptive pill (or shot, or implant) is just around the corner; human trials are underway, and some scientists estimate that a reversible, long-term, not-rubber male contraceptive will be available by prescription in the U.S. in as little as five years. (Good Men Project columnist Ted Cox recently wrote about the latest developments in the field.)
Until now, guys have had two birth control options—condoms (which, among other drawbacks, have as much as a 16 percent failure rate) and vasectomies (which are usually permanent)—so the arrival of the man pill, which will give men more control over their baby batter, should be welcomed by everyone.
But a recent study raises old questions about male contraception: Will guys be interested in taking a contraceptive pill? and Will women trust men to take it? (The assumed answer to both of these questions—no—is part of the reason the man pill took so long to develop.)
Among the study’s findings:
- 50 percent of those (134 women and 50 men) surveyed said they would use male pill when it’s available; 31 percent said they weren’t sure, and 19 percent said they definitely wouldn’t.
- 52 percent of the women surveyed said they would be worried that their partners would forget to take it, while 17 percent of men surveyed thought that men would forget.
- 16 percent of the men surveyed felt that taking a man pill might make them feel less masculine.
Some bloggers/columnists have interpreted these findings to mean that if the pill were available today, “men wouldn’t be running to pick it up.” I’m not sure what Christine Estima was expecting, but it looks to me like 81 percent of guys are either waiting for someone to say “run,” or would consider it.
My guess is that some of the remaining 19 percent would come along eventually, once they were sure that they wouldn’t develop hot dog fingers or Barry Balls. No matter how revolutionary a product promises to be, it will have its first-adopters and those that want to wait for the first adopters to tell them it’s safe—both physically and socially.
Of course, as this study indicates, there are some gendered cultural hang-ups over birth control; since most research and development has been aimed at women, and therefore, generally, women have taken charge of couples’ contraception choices, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are some guys out there who think of contraception as a “girl thing.” Dr. Susan Walker, the study’s author (whom we contacted by email), points out, “Those who were concerned that pill taking was an activity associated with women, and therefore might make them feel less masculine, were not necessarily against taking it.”
That doesn’t mean this is a rational way of thinking about it—guys should recognize that taking responsibility for their baby-making powers is a good thing—but the best way to counter these attitudes is to make practical male contraception available. “It remains to be seen whether concerns about [being “feminized”] will persist if the practice of taking a male pill becomes widespread,” Walker points out. “Versions of masculinity change quite rapidly in society so it may become an accepted practice of masculinity as time goes by.”
The question of whether women trust guys (or whether they should trust guys) to take the pill on schedule is a secondary—and less relevant—point. In any loving, committed relationship, an otherwise trustworthy partner might be forgetful when it comes to daily pill-taking; it’s the responsibility of both partners to take whatever steps they deem necessary to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
That might mean they both take their own birth control pills, or that one person takes the pills and the other person does the reminding. An available male contraceptive pill will mean that couples will have more options—and with a practical solution available to men, it will likely lead to more dialog between partners around contraception. That’s good for everyone.