In a publicly issued release, the Parsemus Foundation declared that male birth control will be widely available by 2017.
Parsemus is an organization that currently possesses US property rights for Vasalgel, the trade name for “reversible inhibition of sperm under guidanc” (RISUG). RISUG is a procedure involving the injection of a synthetic polymer into the male vas deferens. This polymer prevents sperm from penetrating the female ovum, thus nullifying the opportunity for pregnancy. It is cited as quick, painless, and reversible.
Although no major media outlets have followed up with Parsemus — with the public release mostly circulating among smaller online news outlets — the simple mention of male birth control forces us to re-examine a number of questions, most notably whether men will be obligated or even willing to undergo the procedure.
Because the most effective options for contraceptives, beyond surgical procedures, were products exclusive to women, men have been able to discard much of the birth control burden. Even if a man wanted to assume a larger responsibility, options were relatively limited, with the most effective procedure (vasectomies) being quite invasive.
But assuming Vasalgel or an alternative does become readily accessible in the near future, promising all the effectiveness of a vasectomy without its invasiveness, the contraceptive unavailability argument will become moot. Should a couple wish to have intercourse without the intent to conceive, there will be a means for the male to take responsibility for pregnancy prevention.
Because most contraceptives are women-exclusive products, men can discard the birth control burden.
Supposing that the effectiveness of the contraceptive and its inconvenience to the user is equal for men and women — who is then responsible for assuming the contraceptive burden?
In examining the impact of an unplanned pregnancy, it is rational to suppose that this would disrupt the woman’s life more than the man’s. Even ignoring the physical inconvenience of carrying a child to term, a pregnancy can threaten the health of the mother herself. Also, women often find themselves in the financially disadvantageous position of being removed from, or unable to enter, the workforce. Men are able to avoid these consequences.
There is also the risk that a woman’s partner might leave her before she carries a child to term. Despite laws requiring that absent partners pay child support, there are many scenarios where the pregnant woman cannot determine who the father is, or is unable to contact him, leaving her financially despondent.
The logical conclusion is that responsibility should fall on the man. If a man wants to be participatory and, quite frankly, considerate, he should be willing to accept male birth control should his partner reject female birth control. Men should take proactive measures to avoid putting women at risk.
As facts about the health implications of Vasalgel-like procedures become more publicly known, the idea that they might not be as dangerous or disruptive as female hormonal contraceptives would place even more responsibility on men. If men wish to engage in a responsible relationship, they must be willing to accept the true responsibilities of a male role and avoid putting their partners at risk as much as possible.