When I was 24, I decided against using hormonal birth control or getting an abortion unless absolutely medically necessary. At that time, I was dating and having sex with a man for about six months. We always used condoms, but that did not completely eliminate the possibility that I could become pregnant if we slipped up. So, I figured I was obligated to tell him about the choices I'd made.
“If I get pregnant, abortion isn’t going to be an option, OK?” I turned what should have been a statement into a question and I don’t know why. Maybe to make it more palatable for him? To make it seem as if he had a choice in the matter when he didn’t really? I also told him that I would not ever take the pill. It was, after all, my body.
He was not particularly happy about my revelations.
“But I’m really not ready for kids,” he responded shrewdly.
I shrugged and told him that I wasn’t either and that meant we should be extra-careful.
My response was not enough to settle his concerns, though. He still felt very troubled, and it even became a point of contention in our relationship. He felt as if I was taking away some hypothetical choice from him, and, of course, taking away the freedom to occasionally have unprotected sex without repercussion.
After we broke up, I realized that he was not alone in feeling that way. When I revealed the same information to another partner, he responded: “You're trying to trap me, huh?”
I was perplexed. I was far from interested in becoming pregnant. And quite frankly, he was flattering himself; he was not my number-one procreation partner pick.
The real issue was, after learning through genetic testing that I was predisposed to pulmonary embolism, I decided against using the pill because it increases the risk of blood clots. I also decided against abortion because I felt that was reasonable for a woman in her mid-twenties who had graduated college, was healthy, and relatively financially stable. But in doing so, I limited my partner’s birth control options, which infuriated him.
“You gonna get the IUD then,” he pressed. “I know they have some copper thing that doesn’t use hormones."
I rolled my eyes. I was absolutely fed up with being expected to carry the responsibility of keeping me not pregnant.
The fact that the responsibility of birth control and reproduction typically lands squarely on the shoulders of women (and the reality that men have limited options in the matter) recently became hot topic of conversation after a trial for a hormone-based male birth control was halted when participants dropped out because of side effects. It worked by reducing sperm count through an injection of testosterone and progestin, which turned off reproduction-related glands. Compared to the pill option for women that boasts a 91% efficacy rate, this male hormonal shot had a 96% rate of successfully stopping pregnancy.
However, like all hormone-based contraceptives, it had its side-effects, like acne, mood swings, muscle pain, pain at the injection site, and depression. Still, many, including myself, simply could not wrap their mind around why women should be able to endure the side effects of the pill and men shouldn't have to deal with it?
“There's a little bit of a different risk-benefit analysis when it comes to men using a contraceptive,” Rob Stein, a science correspondent for NPR explained in an interview on the matter, “When women use a contraceptive, they're balancing the risks of the drug against the risks of getting pregnant. And pregnancy itself carries risks. But these are healthy men — they're not going to suffer any risks if they get somebody else pregnant.”
This analysis is absolutely right.
Men have never had to bear the emotional or physical discomfort and possibly trauma of pregnancy, abortion, or birth control methods like hormonal pills or IUDs, so that creates an understanding gap in their ability to process just what it all entails; the kind of gap that would make it possible for a drug trial to be halted simply because of side effects that women have been dealing with for decades; the kind of gap that persists because, as a society, men are coddled and still not expected to carry their fair share of the burden where responsibility for family planning and reproduction are concerned.
While it's true that the trial was stopped by scientists and not its participants, I’m still left wondering: Where is the male outrage over the decision to bring it to a halt? The same kind of outrage they express when women, like myself, decide against abortion or contraceptive options that they aren't physically or emotionally unable to bear? I’m waiting to see open letters from the likes of the two dudes I was dating, demanding the continuation of the trials — or at least pressure to quickly produce alternative methods that give men more control and options.
Both society and men are, in the words of my very incisive Trinidadian grandmother, “just looking for a jackass to ride.” Women are expected to shoulder not only the lion's share of the responsibility of birth control but also the anger men feel about having limited options in the event that we opt out of taking hormones, having invasive procedures, or possibly having abortions. Well, here’s some big news for fellas and pharmaceutical companies: the woman is not your mule. We're not here to carry all of that weighted responsibility and certainly not here for male emotional woes and fits of immature rage over what us women choose to do with our own bodies.
Men who date women like myself, who are not interested in taking pills or getting abortions, need to strap it up, wrap it up, or get a vasectomy. And men who don’t like those options need to start directing their feelings at the scientists who think men don’t have the figurative balls to deal with the kind of discomfort women have been enduring for decades.
I, for one, can no longer deal with all of these emotional guys trying to pressure me into birth control options I'm not comfortable with. Men need options that will put them in charge of their own procreation. That time will only come when they stand up and demand it, and when they are finally as committed to getting male birth control as they are committed to trying to tell women what to do with their bodies.