The male birth control pill is not a feminist issue

Paul Raven @ 29-04-2008

Contraceptive pill blister packGeorge Dvorsky has a lengthy post discussing the development of the Male Birth Control Pill … or rather the lack of development, which he puts down to a number of factors including male reticence and reluctance from the big pharmacological companies. And militant feminists, too:

“For those men who truly don’t want to have children—something that is completely within their rights—the MBCP will help them achieve that level of control.

And again, female claims that this will allow men to forever shirk their paternal responsibilities and live in perpetual adolescence are not just gross generalizations, but sexist statements of the highest order.”

Now, I’m pretty positive Dvorsky is overstating the case here so as to provoke some discussion; it wouldn’t be the first time (e.g. “meat-eaters are bad people“), and I can’t think of any women I know who’d argue the line described above.

But the issue of complete control over the functions of one’s own body that Dvorsky raises – his central theme as a transhumanist – is an interesting one, because it has wider implications. Moving towards equality, across lines of gender or otherwise, may come with costs as well as gains at an individual level.

What do we want to gain, and what are we prepared to give up for it? [image by Beppie K]

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36 Responses to “The male birth control pill is not a feminist issue”

  1. Jonathan M says:

    Hyperbole aside, I think that his position is actually quite embedded in our culture.

    I used to be involved with the childfree movement and while lots of media types were perfectly happy with the idea of women choosing not to have children, the idea of men choosing not to have children always seemed to make them uneasy, largely because it’s seen as the position of the manchild who does want to stay a perpetual adolescent.

    So I think he’s correct.

    The problem is that whereas feminist thought has done a good job deconstructing the idea of what it means to be female, effectively making it clear that you can be a woman without being a mother, no such thinking exists for men.

  2. Rasmaestro says:

    While I agree on the ideals and goals of Dvorsky’s argument – the levelling of birth power, one might say – I cannot help but feel that these differing priorities and perceptions of responsibility that men and women have on this issue may actually be a part of our very nature – a part of the way we exist and multiply succesfully.
    The ‘looseness’ of the male psychology on these responsibilities may be an evolutionary trait that ensures some kind of birth turnover, regardless of social standing or welfare.

    Seen from afar, in a macro-sociological perspective, think about what this technology might do to birth figures all across the developed world. As a father (and initially an unwilling one) I know guys who have not exactly been crazy about parenthood (before and after). Usually they have been persuaded after lengthy negotiations…and many end up having kids well into their 30s. Which is generally not a great idea, considering risks and social factors.

    So, although the humanistic goals of emancipation and freedom are clearly compelling, I am not sure we are able to administrate the technology in a way that is doing humanity as a whole a favour. There are sometimes dichotomies between the greater good and the greater good 😉

  3. JB Dryden says:

    Recently I attended a lecture given by Tristan Taormino (a well-known, sex-positive educator), and someone asked a question similar to the thoughts that Jonathan raised: where can someone (a guy) go to talk to someone if he feels discriminated against? I thought it a bit strange, but there’s a sense now in society that men have been in their “position of power” for so long that they’re comfortable or that they need to hand it off to someone else or that we’re oppressing people left and right. Some of us actually care about the world around us and the general consensus by both extreme left-wingers and radical Feminists (those who love to preach without practice) is that none of us have any ability to make our own decisions because all we want is sex and more sex. It just bugs me that a lot of people over-generalize and think that sex for us is a prerogative not a bonus.

  4. Varjags says:

    Guten tag! Yeah I agree whit this all-We have to lot children in Europa,north America and east Asia :)!

  5. Sue Lange says:

    Feminists in general are not against a male pill. In general the feminist stance is that birth control is a responsibility of both parties. Perhaps some women somewhere came up with an argument against a male Pill, but that doesn’t mean the feminist movement is against it.

  6. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    Goodness. Why do some (fortunately not all) men feel obligated to slam feminists every time they want to make a point, even when the feminists are unlikely to disagree with them? Men certainly have the right to not have children, so long as they also take on the responsibility of making sure their sex partners don’t get pregnant. (And they’re certainly not obligated to go along with a sex partner who does want a child.) A male pill would certainly make that easier, especially when combined with a condom (important in these safe sex days).
    Of course, men who do father children have obligations, regardless of whether they intended to have kids or not. And, also of course, only a pregnant woman has the right to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term or have an abortion: It’s her body that has to deal with the decision.
    But no one has the right to criticize anyone, male or female, who decides not to have children and does what is necessary to avoid it. In this overcrowded world, not having children is a positive choice. We’re not running out of people anytime soon.

  7. Matt says:

    “And, also of course, only a pregnant woman has the right to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term or have an abortion: It’s her body that has to deal with the decision.” I think this is ‘the argument’, in the sense that men don’t physically have to deal with pregnancy – the hypothetical that gets thrown up is that a man might tell a woman she doesn’t have to worry about contraception because he’s on it – but if he lies, he can merely run, whereas the decision to be on the pill or not is much more, uh, embodied, for a woman. If you bring up the counter-argument that men are also impacted by pregnancy, try to realise that you’re pulling lines that are right up there with ‘male rape!!’ in terms of irrelevancy.

    In any case, I find it difficult to believe that Scary Feminists could control Pharma decisionmaking and funding. If there’s money in it and it was possible/trivial, then companies would be all over it.

  8. PolishKnight says:

    Nancy Jane Moore says: “men who do father children have obligations, regardless of whether they intended to have kids or not.”

    This kind of statement, just thrown out there, is precisely what makes men suspicious that maybe feminists aren’t secretly throwing a monkey wrench in the works.

    Our society expects men to be responsible for procreation responsibilities of the sex act the moment it’s completed. It’s almost as if babies pop out of men’s penises. On the other hand, women can avoid responsibility via abortion, legal infant abandonment, and adoption. For men, responsibilities for children are primarily about financially supporting their children irregardless of whether they have custody. For women, it means cashing checks from men or the state for their personal decisions.

    A male birth control pill would really muck that sweet deal up.

    The most holy principle of all is: “And, also of course, only a pregnant woman has the right to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term or have an abortion”

    Great! So I guess the state shouldn’t provide national healthcare or fund abortion choices for women since, being her body, is naturally her financial responsibility. Otherwise, it would be about her doing what she wants without responsibility and others paying the bills. Oh, wait…

  9. fitz says:

    I think the male birth control pill is a great idea. For one since no form of birth control is 100% effective, if both male and female partners were on their own pills (each with a success rate in the high 90s percent wise) it would make the chances of an unplanned pregnancy almost zero. Also good because if one partner or the other missed a few days by accident it wouldn’t automatically mean they were screwed since the other one would still be on the pill. It could level the playing field as far as girlfriends who stop taking the pill in order to trap boyfriends into an 18 year commitment or just trap a rich guy into supporting a lavish lifestyle for herself.

  10. Jeremy says:

    #8: “Our society expects men to be responsible for procreation responsibilities of the sex act the moment it’s completed. It’s almost as if babies pop out of men’s penises. On the other hand, women can avoid responsibility via abortion, legal infant abandonment, and adoption. For men, responsibilities for children are primarily about financially supporting their children irregardless of whether they have custody. For women, it means cashing checks from men or the state for their personal decisions.”

    That implies that nature is/should be fair. As we all know, life isn’t fair, as hard as we as a society might try. This is something that is unequal, there you go.

    These are the hazards of doing the dirty, along with various and sundry bugs and things, and it’ll never change. The reason a woman has the right to carry a pregnancy to term is that carrying or aborting both have risks and there’s not much men can do. I think having a sit-down and making one’s case is something that should be allowed/required (I’d certainly hope whoever I knocked up would at least give me a chance to make my case), but the ultimate decision is hers.

  11. Factory says:

    Well Jeremy, if you want to “man up” and take punishment for men where it’s freedom for women, be my guest. I don’t, it’s not right, and I want equal rights with women. This is the flipside of “equal pay for equal work”. Now they can pay their own bills, do so…please.

  12. Paul Raven says:

    I’m not sure I see your point there, Factory. Paying one’s own way in life is a slightly different thing to carrying a child to term – and while there are undoubtedly some women who have used their children as a meal ticket, I’m willing to bet that there are many more who have had motherhood forced on them by social circumstance, religious dogma and countless other pressures. I fail to see where men are being “punished” in the equation; do you mean financially?

  13. PolishKnight says:

    Welcome to the Jungle! We got fun and games!

    Jeremy writes: “That implies that nature is/should be fair. As we all know, life isn’t fair, as hard as we as a society might try. This is something that is unequal, there you go.”

    PK responds: Er, Jeremy, you are aware that the “might=right” argument favors men, not women, don’t you? Men can walk away from a pregnancy, women can’t. Women only appear to have an advantage because the state intervens with welfare and paternity suits. It’s like proclaiming that nature makes handicapped people able to get great parking. The notion of women’s equality via special victim entitlements is a product of chivalrous patronage.

    There are lots of things we CAN get away with physically but moral people don’t do. A large man can beat up a small strange woman walking down the street late at night, but most men don’t do so thankfully. Most such beasts that do are produced by unwed mothers exercising their right to do as they please. Advise your women friends to think of that the next time they’re walking home late at night alone…

  14. PolishKnight says:

    Do you hear the violins?

    Paul Raven says: “I’m willing to bet that there are many more who have had motherhood forced on them by social circumstance, religious dogma and countless other pressures.”

    PK: Imagine for a moment if a man said he didn’t want to pay his taxes or “child” support due to religious dogma, social circumstances or countless other pressures. Men are simply told to “man up” and accept responsibility for their actions or the byproducts of their actions. No ifs, ands, or buts. Women in our modern culture are like amoral children drowning animals for fun in the backyard and the parents excusing them saying: “Well, they’re victims of a boogyman up the street” or “They’re under a lot of pressure.”

    Women are equal to men except they aren’t. Why do we have a society forcing us to recognize them as equals? Could you imagine all the stuff we could have accomplished by now if we weren’t holding their hands?

  15. Paul Raven says:

    PolishKnight, I’m sure you see yourself as a crusader for embattled masculinity, and myself as an emasculated worm under the thumb of a repressive feminist regime. But given the choice between that or sharing in your barely-disguised misogyny, somehow I find myself able to live with it.

    If it were the case that women had, up till recently, been on a parity with men as far as human rights of all types were concerned, there might be a case to make for this horrendous imbalance you seem to perceive. The history of women having anything other than second-class rights (at best) is no longer than a blink of an eye on the scale of human history. In your arguments I can hear every statement of the most radical feminists not only confirmed but validated, and it makes me ashamed to be of the same gender as you – think of me what you will for that.

    You are a relic of a bygone age; I only wish there were some way I could offer you a ticket to return to it permanently.

  16. Ian says:

    “Women are equal to men except they aren’t. Why do we have a society forcing us to recognize them as equals? Could you imagine all the stuff we could have accomplished by now if we weren’t holding their hands?”

    Get your coat, dude.

  17. Jonathan M says:

    Polish Knight is in effect suggesting a much cheaper alternative to taking the male pill : Be a colossal misogynist and then no women will want to sleep with you.

    No pregnancies. No Fuss.

  18. Jeremy Eades says:

    I don’t see what society can do. Should a man have the right to force a woman to abort? I don’t think So. Should a man have the right to force a woman to carry a fetus to term? I don’t think so. Life isn’t fair. Man up and deal with it is about the only advice I can give you.

    Paul’s right, maybe a very few women do it for personal gain. But don’t forget, it’s not like they’remaking money from having kids. Child support is meant for the child, not to mention as a way of compensating for a lost time taking care of the child.

    #17: Jonathan, you might be on to something.

  19. PolishKnight says:

    Paul and Jonathan, if you can live with insecure cravings for acceptance from women and terror at being labeled as misogynist (as Jonathan M said outright about not getting laid if you stand up for yourself), then that’s your personal choice. I personally have seen that women treat submissive nice guys like total trash.

    In regards to history, Paul, look up terms such as “chivalry” and women’s personal preferences for oppressor Wally Cleaver types who pay the bills
    rather than modern nice guys who bake quiche. FYI, men in the past didn’t all have learjets or corporate spending accounts. Most worked long hours in the fun coal mines, factories or fields to support their families.

    It looks like I popped your bubbles. You remind me of the albino monk in The DaVinci code who whipped himself for pleasure. “Bad White Male!” [whip] “Stop causing global warming and oppressing women!” [whip] If only leftism was as reasonable and scientific as the Vatican…

  20. PolishKnight says:

    Jeremy says: “I don’t see what society can do.”

    “We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of options!” Millions of women are having children out of wedlock and having children with so-called deadbeats precisely because the system punishes and drives away responsible men and gives irresponsible mothers a prize.

    Millions of children are raised in squalid and stressful conditions by unwed mothers with society caring only about getting men to pay for the tab. Unless the women abort or abandon the children at a firestation, of course (which is a step UP for them showing how little society expects of mothers nowadays. Can’t we get wolves to take this task over?)

    If Jonathan wants to flatter these tramps into the sack, he’s welcome to them. Just don’t forget to bring money!

  21. Paul Raven says:

    You’ve popped my bubbles? Well, OK, if you say so – I didn’t think I was the one living in a bubble (or a leftist for that matter), but I guess a big tough manly man like you must know better than a craven New Ager like myself, right?

    I’d be the first to agree that society doesn’t necessarily deal with unwanted pregnancies in the best possible way, but it’s a long and tenuous logical leap to claim that we should instead take the Spartan approach to cleansing society of those considered surplus to requirements. You paraphrase Jeremy as saying “we’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of options”; by the same token I might paraphrase you as saying “we’ve tried a few things, but they’ve not worked, so let’s switch back to mammoth hunting”. Your indictment of society’s efforts to deal with unwanted pregnancies fails to take into account the motivations behind it; yes, the system can be gamed, as can (and are) any system from unemployment benefit to corporate tax schedules. So blame the system, not its victims and abusers – who, by the logic of your “might is right / nature take the hindmost” argument, cannot be held entirely culpable of taking the path of least resistance when it is offered to them.

    As an additional point, while you’re very quick to attack the ‘millions’ of women who take advantage of men, I haven’t heard much concrete defence of the uncounted men who take advantage of women – financially, psychologically and physically. You want true equality, or so you say; so apply your own logic to the other side of the equation.

  22. PolishKnight says:

    If you claim that children are a moment away from dying in unwed mother households, doesn’t that prove my point that so-called equality for women is an illusion? It was Jeremy who argued for a right=might paradigm that women can exploit children. It’s funny that you embrace both of these philosophies rather than me even as you smugly denounce them.

    My concrete (or more like “bedrock” in this context) defense of the “mammoth hunter” men who supposedly took advantage of women for eons is that you and the women think this should continue indefinitely. If women throw themselves at mammoth hunters and DEMAND that they get dragged by their hair into the cave and produce children for us, what am we supposed to do? Say no?

    FYI: I never said I wanted true equality here. Ever. I’ve been bashing the notion. Do try to keep up!

  23. Paul Raven says:

    “If women throw themselves at mammoth hunters and DEMAND that they get dragged by their hair into the cave and produce children for us, what am we supposed to do? Say no?”

    The old “women ask to be raped” defence? I’ve never actually heard or seen it used before now, and I’d hoped I never would.

    I’m done arguing with you, I’m afraid; we will just have to accept that our positions on this matter cannot be reconciled.

  24. Jeremy says:

    “FYI: I never said I wanted true equality here. Ever. I’ve been bashing the notion. Do try to keep up!”

    Well, I think that’s pretty obvious…

    You’ve gone from berating women as golddiggers and tramps to accusing men who attempt a modicum of respect for women of effeminate quiche-baking behavior (I don’t even know what quiche is!).

    As for my might=right argument, I’ll thank you to not put words in my mouth. I simply observed that when a woman becomes pregnant, it’s her body that suffers, therefore she is the one who gets to decide what happens.

    And for multiple reasons (guys don’t wanna be a father, someone might forget to take the pill, etc) a male birth control pill would be very useful.

  25. PolishKnight says:

    Paul Raven claims: “The old “women ask to be raped” defence?”

    PK responds: I never said such a thing. I said that women desired and demanded traditionalist men, hence, such men are not oppressing them by giving them what they want.

    I understand why you feel a need to resort to such sophistry. Your precious faith and bubble has been popped so you need to cover your ears. Run away!

  26. PolishKnight says:

    Jeremy, I never went from point A to point B. I’ve been at point Z all along. Sheesh! Give me some credit for being a radical!

    Paul just compared not giving into single mothers’ demands to Spartans leaving children to die on a mountaintop. Guving a modicum of respect to such women is like Don Quixote defending the town whore.

    You said, and I quote: “Life isn’t fair. Man up and deal with it is about the only advice I can give you.” Men using their bodies to walk off and let her starve or subjugate them is a way of handling it “man” style, eh? “Woman up!” Ooga ooga!

    Finally, a male pill is useful just as a car alarm or bars on our windows is useful. If you argue that we are to regard women as moral retards, then ultimately that’s what men have to think when using such tools. Did you tell your woman friends to walk home safe at night? Those unwed mothers have been busy with their bodies!

  27. Sumana Harihareswara says:

    So, in summary: PolishKnight = giant troll. Male birth control pill: obviously very useful, although its prospect seems to make straw women pop up like anything in the arguments of fearful men. Power, choice, and trust interact with each other massively; if you don’t trust your partner, then you’ll try to gain power in dictating that your fertility decisions hold, instead of negotiating the choice jointly.

    Further reading:

    Hugo Schwyzer on men’s responsibility:

    http://hugoschwyzer.net/category/men-and-masculinity/mens-movement/

    Discussion on Frances Kissling’s thought experiment on viable artificial wombs:

    http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2004/12/07/frances-kissling-on-the-fetus-value/

  28. PolishKnight says:

    Hello Sumana. No, I’m not a troll but rather the opposite: My viewpoints are based upon reality and practicality rather than the modern religion of pseudo-equality and female entitlements.

    The notion of an artificial womb is quite amusing. Men do not yearn to be single parents and the whole paradigm of single parenthood only works through forced support from another person. I was amused by Hugo’s emotive outpouring of lecturing men to be responsible one moment and crying for state handouts for women (and the children in their “care”) at another.

    Hey, at one time people could get away with believing witches were flying around on broomsticks too. Enjoy it while it lasts…

  29. Zoky says:

    Hurry with the male pill!! It’s time for men to be able to decide whether whtey want kids too.

  30. Cakie says:

    I resent how he portrays women as baby hungry in this article. The male pill has been in development for years and they are being ever so careful about how it will effect men to take hormones. Did they do this when they developed the female contraceptives? NO! They just expect us to take it. Who cares if women expereiance horrible side effect from the pill they should just deal with it, but men would never be expected to deal with side effects. Let me list some of the possible side effects of the female pill: Mood swings, Low sex drive, hair loss, weight gain, skin discoloration,Migranes, STROKE, HEART ATTACK, DVT, PULMONARY EMBOLISM, BREAST CANCER! Would men agree to take a medication that had all of those risks? No, never and they would not be expected to. so why do we allow women to take these risks? I am a woman who cannot wait for the male birth control pill, then I can quit dealing with all the side effects of the female pill and let him deal with taking hormones!

  31. 9nchnathan says:

    WOW.. get off subject much? This idea is great! I want to choose when I have a child. I sure as hell dont want one anytime soon. Some women do trap men, some men start franchises by having dozens of kids. Humans will always have probles. This is for US responsible people that have more neural activity and wish to stay above the lower levels of parasitic breeders.

  32. club70miles says:

    I agree with Cakie. Bottom line: we are the one have to go through all the pain of giving birth to a child. The choice of taking Birth control
    pill has been given to women for either protecting or “benefit” themselves. I like the quote “It’s like proclaiming that nature makes handicapped
    people able to get great parking.” from PolishKnight. If men don’t want to pay child support and be responsible of their actions, at leaset they
    better bear with the side effects. Things can’t be all up to their convinience.

  33. Julia says:

    If men really like the idea of having their hormones all jacked up by the pill, feel free to take it. I, as a woman, have decided to stop taking the pill because it affected my mood, my energy level and my libido (which is a common, although perhaps not very well-known, side effect of oral contracepties). It also made me terribly nauseous. I am married and my husband has restarted to wear a condom, but, even if I were single, if a man wanted to have sex with me (or if, conversely, I wanted to have sex with a man), he would have to wear a condom. No more nausea, drowsiness and lack of sex drive for me, thank you! 🙂 PS: I don’t know if I am making a “feminist” of a “masculist” statement here… help! 😉

  34. Julia says:

    PPS: I can assure you (personal experience elsewhere) that PolishKnight *is* a giant, aggressive troll, and he seems to write on almost every forum/discussion board/blog even remotely related to these topics.

  35. Julia says:

    Also, I don’t understand what is so wrong with condoms. Nowadays they are so thin and finely engineered that they can even increase sexual pleasure (they can be ribbed, studded, super-lubrified, ultra-thin, etc.)! Also, condoms have no hormone-related side effects. Besides, no-one can lie about wearing a condom! Why all this emphasis on taking a pill?

  36. Truth Seeker says:

    Julia says: “Also, I don’t understand what is so wrong with condoms. Nowadays they are so thin and finely engineered that they can even increase sexual pleasure (they can be ribbed, studded, super-lubrified, ultra-thin, etc.)! Also, condoms have no hormone-related side effects. Besides, no-one can lie about wearing a condom! Why all this emphasis on taking a pill?”

    You make some good points regarding the improvement with condoms. However, I still have to disagree. You are not a man so you have no idea how a condom feels for a man regardless of how thin it is. Also, this is not just about the pill. There are other male birth control options in development including implants & shots that have nothing to do with hormones. Frankly, I think it’s sad you make your husband wear a condom with all the alternatives you have. That’s right, as a woman you have way more options for birth control. Why don’t you give him a break and try the female condom sometimes? I have no intention of using condoms with my wife and when the time comes for us to stop having children, we’ll opt for a more permanent solution. You asked why all the emphasis on a pill for men? The answer should be obvious. Men want more options without losing sensation and alternatives to vasectomies. Now I would ask why you or any other woman would have a problem with that?