Posted on November 11, 2019 at 2:25 PM
Last month, I was honored to be
named one of the BBC 100
Women of 2019, which is a list they compile each year of inspiring and
influential women. The list includes women from around the world of all ages
(from teenagers to nonagenarians) and various professions. People from around
the world will be familiar with the names of some of the women, such as
Alexandria of Ocasio-Cortez, Megan Rapinoe, and Greta Thunberg, while other
women will be new to the world stage.
This year’s theme was the female future and some of
the 100 Women were invited to London or Delhi to answer the question, “What
would the future look like if it were driven by women?” In my talk, I claimed
that a future driven by women would engender more male contraceptive options.
Currently, women are responsible for the vast majority of contraception and
have over a dozen contraceptive options, whereas men have only 2 options –
condoms and vasectomy – and under 10% of women worldwide rely on male methods.
The introduction of “the pill,” which was the first long-acting, reversible
contraceptive and the first hormonal contraceptive, was a significant milestone
in women’s rights since it allowed women to effectively control their
reproduction without their partners’ knowledge or involvement. It is important
for women to have a variety of contraceptive methods available so they can
control their fertility yet being the main ones responsible for contraception
also comes with a variety of disadvantages, including physical, emotional,
social, financial, and time-related burdens. Additionally, the lack of male contraceptive
options inhibits men’s reproductive autonomy.
The goal of my talk was to
enumerate the factors that have led to our current contraceptive arrangement so
that we can figure out how to move towards a future with more male
contraceptive options. I discussed three factors that have led to the disparity
in contraceptive options for women and men. First, we tend to overlook men’s
reproduction. When people think of reproduction they typically think of
pregnant people and that generally means women. The conflation of women and
reproduction reinforces the alignment of contraceptive responsibility with
femininity. Second, there is not sufficient funding to bring male
contraceptives to market. Pharmaceutical companies aren’t interested in male
contraceptives because they assume that men aren’t interested in contraception and
that women won’t trust men. Third, side
effects common in new male contraceptives, which are similar to the side
effects in female hormonal methods (e.g. weight gain, diminished libido, etc.),
are considered emasculating and therefore unacceptable.
In order to have a future with new
male contraceptives, we need to change gender norms. I discussed three areas
where we are moving towards more gender equality, but need to continue to head
down this path in order for new male contraceptives to become reality. First,
we need to continue to make more progress on unpaid household labor: although
women still do more household work like taking care of children, doing laundry,
and cooking dinner, men today are doing much more than they did even a few
decades ago. Taking the male pill is a natural extension of men’s increased
household and childcare involvement. Second, we have to change gendered
perceptions about contraception. Contraception is typically thought of as “women’s
work,” but we need to reframe it as something that men can and should
participate in too. Third, we also need to do a better job teaching about sex
in general and specifically regarding LGBTQ rights and consent. Shared
contraceptive responsibility fits in with a more comprehensive approach to sex
education that values inclusivity and benefits all types of couples, not just
those in the heteronormative paradigm. Shared contraceptive responsibility
reinforces consent by conceptualizing sex is a joint endeavor that both parties
need to contribute to and be responsible for.
I am hopeful for future with more
male contraceptive options because I think it will decrease unmet contraceptive
need worldwide, unburden women from bearing most of the responsibility for
contraception, increase men’s reproductive autonomy by giving them more options
and, overall, it will advance gender equality.
For more on this topic, see my
recent article in BBC Health News, “Are We Ready for Men to Take
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