Contraception Shouldn’t Be Women’s Work

I’ve been taking birth control pills for 23 solid years. Every single day.

It doesn’t matter how many drinks I’ve had or how tired I am. I almost never forget to take my pill before I fall into bed. I have driven to the pharmacy in the middle of the night to refill my prescription. I have paid out of pocket. I have switched brands unexpectedly because of availability or cost. I have had mood swings and weight changes. I have worriedly read the list of side effects inserted in each box. And I have wondered what I would be like without my daily dose of hormones.

Mine is not a unique situation. We women bear the vast majority of the responsibility for preventing unwanted pregnancies. We load our bodies with hormones. We shove foreign objects into our uteri. We inject implants under our skin.

It’s easy to forget there’s anyone else involved in causing a pregnancy.

Female contraceptives freed women to pursue education and careers. They gave us more control over our bodies. They let sex be about fun instead of babies. In the fight for gender equity, they were — and continue to be — a win worth celebrating.

But we also can’t forget they’re not the end destination.

True gender equity can’t happen until men take equal responsibility — mental and physical — for contraception. First, that means getting past the social norms that tell us women are responsible for pregnancy prevention.

Recent University of California research by Katrina Kimport found clinicians broadly devalued male contraceptive methods during consultations. Sometimes they didn’t bring up male contraceptives at all. Sometimes they focused on the negative aspects of male body-based options. And sometimes they said these negative features were just too difficult to overcome.

Even an article from the American Sexual Health Association said “it’s not a walk in the park to develop effective, safe, and reversible contraception options that guys will actually use.” Somehow it’s apparently easier for women to stomach the physical discomfort, financial burden and mental responsibility of contraception.

The article went on to say that “such research is expensive, complex, filled with more ethical and technical challenges than you might think, all with a less than certain return on investment of time and resources.” Again, this leaves me wondering just how much less expensive, complex and ethically challenging research into women’s contraceptives must have been for us to find ourselves with so many options for women and so few for men.

Currently there are only two contraceptive methods available to men: condoms and vasectomy. The former has lower efficacy than many female contraceptive options, and the latter is difficult to reverse.

In her research, “Talking about male body-based contraceptives: The counseling visit and the feminization of contraception,” Kimport put blame for the lack of resources dedicated to research into male contraceptives on “social beliefs that contraceptive responsibility is inconsistent with masculinity.”

Social norms are slow to change. But there are actions men in heterosexual relationships can take to push back against the idea that contraception is “women’s work” and to ease the burden on their partners.

  • Attend contraception consultations, and ask explicitly about male-contraceptive options.
  • If existing male contraceptives truly aren’t a viable option for you, do everything you can to take the mental and financial burden off your partner. Contribute financially to the cost of her contraceptives. Go to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription.
  • Acknowledge the physical and emotional impact of contraceptives on your partner. If she is experiencing physical or emotional side effects, contribute in other parts of your life to help balance the reproductive work she’s doing.

The emergence of easily accessible female contraceptives changed the gender landscape in the United States. A shift toward shared responsibility for pregnancy prevention is the next step. It’s time.

Image Credit: Tassii/Getty Images

49 comments

Ganaisha Calvin
Ganaisha Calvin9 days ago

a professor of mine once said "a man's responsibility stops at the end of his penis"

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Jennifer H
Jennifer H11 days ago

Agree with Chad and other comments about further studies into men's birth control. However, I find the male attitude the biggest obstacle. They want their cake yet eat it too. They aren't up for responsibility and will always believe it to be "women's work" that is to be controlled by men. The majority of men still refuse to use condoms and it will always be safer and smarter for the woman to look out for herself. She is the only one she can depend on.

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson15 days ago

Men have it every way. They make the laws. The hold women accountable for everything while accepting responsibility for nothing. I would like to make suggestions as to the particulars of how this should change but, to be honest, we need to treat women as people and encourage and embrace women's leadership.

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson18 days ago

Thank you.

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Caitlin L
Caitlin L21 days ago

of course

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Virgene L
Virgene L28 days ago

It is truly past time for men to do their part. The GOP with their abortion and contraceptive bans want to keep women subservient, and not have any enjoyment. They do not take their responsibility seriously.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O28 days ago

th

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O28 days ago

Men often like to drink and there is no guarantee they would get the instructions right

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O28 days ago

Women have serial relationships and can't depend one every man to be reliable

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O28 days ago

Why is this female article author taking her pill at night? When she is exhausted, after drinking and craving sleep? Most of us will have accidentally mis-set an alarm at that time. Why not take your pill first thing in the morning? That's the only way I would recommend.

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