Tuesday 22 January 2019

'If contraception fails, the responsibility ultimately lands on us women'

Woman taking the morning-after pill.
Woman taking the morning-after pill.

Tanya Sweeney

Ever watch those videos online of men being rigged up to machines that simulate the pain of childbirth?

As the subjects are strapped up to the machine that dispense fake contractions, these 'hilarious' videos show men run the entire emotional gamut from apprehension and shock to incredulity, straight through to 'I'll gladly take waterboarding over this'. Childbirth, the conclusion goes, is something the female body is designed for, and men simply can't hack it. And thank god they don't have to or no babies would be born around here. Ha ha ha.

And presumably, a story that broke earlier this month was supposed to elicit the same reaction. A sort of knowing smirk. A 'boys will be boys' shrug. The trial for the 'extremely effective' male contraceptive injection was ditched, because a small percentage of men experienced side effects like mood swings, muscle pain and depression. "That's what we women have had to deal with for 40 years!" came the predictable reaction. The men can't hack it. Ha ha ha again.

Read more: 7 reasons why your vagina might not be in full health

But here's where we have a problem. You know the way your boyfriend or husband is asked to do the dishes, and then does such a cack-handed job, on purpose, in the hopes that he won't be asked again? He's banking on his spouse concluding that it's much easier to stop nagging him and just do the damned dishes herself. Experts call this 'learned helplessness', and what a clever little trick it is too. Too many people buy into the 'men are incompetent at housework, so it's easier for women to do it' theory, but that's an argument for a different day.

Last month, there was news of a 'big breakthrough' in the male contraceptive pill, too, one that could possibly work instantly as a nose spray. This is the sort of idea mooted every few years, and the public's reaction is always much the same: 'Yes, but could you trust a man to take the pill every day?'

I've tried to envisage some of the men I know sorting repeat prescriptions, figuring out their hormones, dealing with mood swings or weight gain. Gotta say, it's a hard image to call to mind. But the ditching of the male contraceptive trial leaves us in a funny place. It's much the same as with the dishes; the whole responsibility is pushed right back into the realm of the woman while men faff about theatrically and go, 'Well, I thought THIS was how you were supposed to do it.'

There has been much talk about how the advent of the pill in the Sixties liberated women and shunted forward the feminist movement - but let's be fair, it's liberated quite a few men, too. Of the 20 nor more birth-control options currently available, upwards of 16 of them are for women, and just three of them are for men. Men have condoms, vasectomy, and the pull-out method (aka, fingers crossed). It's always baffled me that science and the medical community haven't been quicker in developing and providing more contraception methods for men.

Historically, and in the main, contraception is a 'female job', like sending the Christmas cards and buying the presents for the mother-in-law. This means that all that comes with it - hormone havoc, side effects, weight gain - are 'female problems'.

Women are seen as the responsible ones, while man can barely use the washing machine, let alone take charge of their own balls.

Women = diligent and responsible.

Men = enthusiastic enough in a very harmless way, but ultimately incapable.

Of the men I've slept with, the vast majority are, cough, less than diligent with condoms, going so far as to 'Whuh?' at the mere mention of them, as if woken from a slumber. This does everyone a massive disservice; has done for years.

Firstly, when contraception fails, this becomes primarily the woman's problem. If an accident happens, the blame lands, for better or worse, on the woman. The solution, should one be needed, is a decision that rests ultimately with the woman. Except, the idea that men should be able to opt out of fatherhood entirely has been mooted in the past.

In the US, a legal battle between Matt Dubay and Lauren Wells has become one of the most high-profile cases on men's reproductive rights. The couple had broken up by the time Wells had discovered she was pregnant. Wells wanted to keep the child, while Dubay didn't want to become a father. Refusing to pay child support, Dubay put forward an intriguing legal argument: when a child is unplanned, men should have an equivalent right to a woman's right to abortion. In other words, women can (well, in theory) choose if they want to opt out of the legal and financial responsibilities that come with parenthood - through abortion - and therefore, so should men.

In other words, if a woman decides to have the child, the man involved should have the ability to opt out of the legal obligations of fatherhood. The court ruled against him, in case you're wondering.

Mel Feit, director of the National Center for Men at the time, said: "Women now have control of their lives after an unplanned conception, but men are routinely forced to give up control, forced to be financially responsible for choices only women are permitted to make, forced to relinquish reproductive choice."

It's an interesting point, and certainly an issue that could be cleared up with the advent of the male contraceptive pill. In the meantime, the rules remain pretty much the same, whether you're man or woman.

Don't want to be a parent? Don't want to get an STI? Cover your own ass, and don't expect or assume that someone will do it for you, no matter how sweet and harmonious things seem between the sheets.

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