In our culture, women are expected to manage contraception, including many methods that can carry significant risks. In my opinion, that’s a form of discrimination.
Luckily, science is finally catching up to the 21st century by studying contraception for men that could be available as early as 2017. It's about time!
A product with the hard-to-grok name of Vasalgel is the method that's under development in the US, according to the Parsemus Foundation. Vasalgel is a polymer technology that's injected into the vas deferens (hence the "vas" part of the name). It acts as a filter that allows everything in ejaculate except sperm to pass through. Sperm stay on the other side of the polymer and are reabsorbed into the body.
The Parsemus Foundation has completed successful preliminary studies of Vasalgel on rabbits and baboons and plans to start human trials this year.
As a feminist, I think any person should have some level of control over their reproduction. The more options we have for birth control, the lower the rate of unplanned pregnancy will drop.
Elaine Lissner, director of the Parsemus Foundation, tells SFR in a phone interview she's seen an outpouring of support for Vasalgel from men and women.
"My basic perspective is that this is a win-win for everyone," Lissner says. "Men get to have some control over their fertility, and women get to get off of the horrible stuff they have to deal with now. The two biggest groups of men interested are ones who want to have control over their reproductive future… and men in long-term relationships whose partners are having problems with the method they're on."
From hormone fluctuation, to depression, acne, weight fluctuation and just general hassle, women shouldn't have to bear that burden (and pay for it) on their own.
If both partners in a heterosexual pairing have a reliable contraception method, the failure of one is less likely to result in an unplanned pregnancy, which has other implications for things like poverty and abortion.
Research has shown that access to birth control reduces the number of abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an organization dedicated to advancing sexual and reproductive health through research, policy analysis and education. "Policymakers seeking to reduce the incidence of abortion would do well to address its root cause—unintended pregnancy—by facilitating widespread access to modern contraceptives and by promoting their effective use," its website states.
Which brings us to another interesting point, how will policymakers react to contraception laws once men use it?
Will it be regulated and lobbied against as heavily as it is now? Will basic insurance plans cover it? Or do politicians only care about regulating women's bodies when it comes to reproductive freedom?
When I asked Lissner if she's received any pushback from political or religious fundamentalists, she said she hasn't.
"We haven't seen any pushback yet, and I think it's because we're so small," she says. "If we are successful, we'll probably get some. But we did get contacted by some fundamentalist Christians who support this."
I have a sneaking suspicion that restricting access to birth control has deep, nasty roots in misogyny, classism and racism, and maybe, just maybe, male contraceptives will offer an opportunity to move closer to equality on at least one of those fronts.
Hunter Riley is a Santa Fe native living and working in Albuquerque. She is the store manager of Self Serve Sexuality Resource Center.