Women have long lamented the unequal burden they shoulder in the area of contraception. Today researchers are reportedly close to perfecting a male contraceptive that is free of side effects, easy to take, and reversible. But do women really want a male birth control pill?
Power is the reward which comes with responsibility. For example, during the Cold War Americans complained about the money and manpower spent protecting a reputedly ungrateful world from communism. Yet these sacrifices also helped give the United States great geopolitical power, with its attendant perks and privileges.
Similarly, while women legitimately complain that biology has condemned them to bear the burden of contraception, this burden also gives women control over one of the most important parts of any human being's life reproduction. The male birth control pill will shift much of that control from women to men. Is the following conversation far away?
Woman #1: "My [husband, boyfriend, significant other] is selfish. He’s on the pill and won't get off. I've asked him to stop taking it but he always says he's not ready. He just won't grow up. I don't know what to do."
Woman #2: "That's what the pill has given men a right to be perpetual adolescents. It's given them veto power over women who want to have children."
Despite the stigma that will develop against men who take the pill, the pill will be a success. While most women are responsible and want to have children with a willing, committed partner, studies show that lack of reproductive control can be a major problem for men today. For example, the National Scruples and Lies Survey 2004 polled 5,000 women in the United Kingdom for That's Life! magazine. According to that survey, 42% of women claim they would lie about contraception in order to get pregnant, regardless of the wishes of their partners. Jo Checkley, the editor of That's Life!, is correct when she says "to deliberately get pregnant when your partner doesn't want a baby is playing Russian roulette with other people's lives.”
According to research conducted by Joyce Abma of the National Center for Health Statistics and Linda Piccinino of Cornell University, over a million American births each year result from pregnancies which men did not intend.
The male pill will fill a genuine economic need. Child support levels are rising, generally comprising 1525% of take-home pay for one child, in addition to add-ons for child care, health care, and other costs. There is also a trend towards extending child support obligations beyond the age of 18, and child support enforcement is increasingly wide-ranging and effective.
Moreover, most men realize that it's difficult to remain a part of their children's lives once the relationship with the children's mother has broken down, particularly if the children were born outside of marriage. The pill will help ensure that men only have children in the context that's best for men a stable marriage.
The advent of the female birth control pill greatly aided women's struggle for autonomy and fulfillment. The male birth control pill will also create great changes, but these changes will not be to some women's liking. Be careful what you ask for you might get it.
This column was first published in Newsday (4/11/05).
April 22, 2005