Great news out of Israel – that male contraceptive pill that they’ve been promising for the last 40-odd years may be only three years away thanks to breakthrough new research — not to be confused with any of the other breakthrough research that they’ve been reporting for the last 40-odd years. Because, as New Zealand Herald reporter Shelley Bridgeman points out, they promised in 2000 that the male pill would be ready …
.. in five years and 2005 came and went without the sperm-killing drugs hitting the market.
Bridgeman discusses the way in which both taking contraceptives and dealing with pregnancy is undoubtedly a concern and burden shouldered far more by women than men. Although a man might have to pay child support or otherwise take care of a child — wanted or unwanted — the sacrifice to a woman’s body, both through the use of contraceptives (which seem to turn most of us into ax-wielding, sexless psychopaths) and of course through the physical changes in pregnancy itself seem to outweigh any postpartum sacrifice on the part of the unwilling male parent.
The question is whether, in a society that currently views most elements of child-bearing as being a woman’s responsibility, would men take a contraceptive pill, and would women trust them to take the pills regularly and properly? The stereotypical sitcom dad is portrayed as a clueless oaf, his smart and organized wife keeping the family and house from falling into ruin, but these are stereotypes which conveniently place all responsibility on the woman’s shoulders to be smarter, better and more thoughtful — only within a domestic setting, of course. If men believe that no one can rely on them to consistently take a pill every morning or evening, then it’s easy — they shouldn’t have to. Which means they also don’t have to deal with side-effects and it’s certainly not their fault if pregnancy occurs.
It seems obvious that the delay in production of the male contraceptive pill is due mostly to the fact that we know men won’t take it — for any of the reasons listed above, or even because despite the fact that it seems many men want children later in life or not at all, somehow the thought of being infertile (through chemical means) is emasculating, unnatural and wrong.
In essence, it’s not the male pill that needs developing, but rather our cultural attitude regarding the gendered responsibilities of contraception, conception, pregnancy and parenting.