This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.
A question was raised recently on the Denialism science blog, and it has all sorts of interesting implications about sexual trust between men and women.
The question: Why don’t they make a birth control pill for men?
My knee-jerk response to this question has always pretty much been, "Because the pharmaceutical industry are a bunch of sexist pigs." But this post -- and the fascinating discussion that follows -- is making me realize that the question is actually a tad more complicated than that.
For starters, it turns out that there are genuine biological reasons why a pill for men is trickier than a pill for women. What with our reproductive systems being different and all.
But that doesn't seem to be the main obstacle. The main obstacle to a male pill seems to be that there simply might not be a big enough market for it.
Which, in all fairness, I can understand.
Because this isn't simply a question of sexist men dumping the responsibility for birth control onto women. It's a question of whether women would be willing to place the responsibility for birth control into the hands of men.
Or, as Mark Hoofnagle put it in his Denialism post: "Men are liars."
A bit harsh, but I can see his point.
(And yes, women are liars too. I'll get to that in a moment.)
If I were in a trusting, long-term relationship with a man, I might be willing to let him take care of the birth control. But if I were just dating and screwing around, the way I used to in my younger days, there'd be no way I'd trust some guy I'd just met at a party or a nightclub or an orgy, who told me, "Don't worry, baby, I'm on the pill." That's way too big a gamble to leave in the hands of someone I barely know.
Besides, I'd want to use condoms anyway -- since the pill doesn't protect against AIDS or other STIs.
But for exactly this same reason, I think Mark at Denialism may be mistaken. I think there might be a real market for a male contraceptive pill.
And it comes back to my earlier parenthetical remark:
Women are liars, too.
If I were a single guy, dating and screwing around, I wouldn't want to leave the contraception question in the hands of some woman I'd just met, either. I mean, think about it. If, as a woman, I wouldn't trust some strange guy who told me, "Don't worry, baby, I'm on the pill" -- then why on earth should men trust some strange woman to tell them the same thing? The consequences for men of an unwanted pregnancy aren't as intense as they are for women... but they're not negligible. (Can you say, "child support"?)
And I think that might point to the real market for the male pill. (Or patch, or injection, or however the drug winds up getting delivered.)
Mark thinks that, even if pharmaceutical researchers could make it effective, male hormonal contraception will always be a niche market, mainly limited to men in committed long-term relationships with women who trust them enough to leave the contraception in their hands. But while I can see his point, I think he may be overlooking another key market: the market of single men who want control of their own damn reproduction, just as much as women do. I think the biggest market for the male pill might well be single men who want the moral equivalent of a temporary vasectomy: a way to guarantee that they won't get stuck with offspring they didn't expect or want.
In other words -- single men who would want the pill for the exact same reasons single women want it.
The reality is that both women and men have sex with people they don't entirely trust. They have sex with people they trust enough: people they trust not to beat them up, not to steal their car, not to paint their living room hot pink while they sleep. But both women and men have sex with people who they don't trust enough to let them handle the responsibility, and make the decisions, about pregnancy and children. I think plenty of men would be happy to take a pill to ensure that their decisions about pregnancy and children weren’t being made by the hot number they met on Craig's List three weeks ago.
If I were a single man, I'd sure as hell want that.