News of a “startling breakthrough” in the male contraceptive pill, one that could possibly work instantly as a nose spray, has caused me to re-assess my thoughts on male-focused family planning.
My beliefs, I felt, were somewhat dinosaur-esque. This was largely because in the height of my carousing and canoodling era – say the mid-Nineties – we young sexually emboldened ladettes came armed with the standard response whenever a male contraceptive pill was mentioned. Scientists could invent it if they liked – we’d laugh, or cackle even, drunk on Smirnoff Ice, LouLou by Cacherel fumes and post-first-wave feminist sexual freedom – but we’d not trust any man with such matters.
Men, you understand, were idiots about anything remotely responsible such as family planning, sexual health or even self-maintenance. And not always soft-hearted, hapless idiots, much of the time, purposefully duplicitous ones.
Men, sorting out their own contraception? Preventing abortions, unwanted babies and lifelong mutual resent? Pfffft, as if? They couldn’t even sort out a round of toast and a clean pair of socks.
Throughout the Eighties and the Nineties, the advertising breaks celebrated male fecklessness with endless jokey commercials in which a diligent woman left her man to do some menial housework task. This resulted with him, in a matter of moments, destroying the kitchen, misplacing the children, skiving off to play golf or simply gazing at a washing-powder box with his tongue lolling from his mouth like a keen, yet ultimately useless, Golden Retriever.
If I were to pull some Gender Studies MA dungarees on for a moment, I’d argue that the belief males cannot be held responsible for either the contents of their scrotum or the fridge or washing basket emerged from centuries of women being denied earning power and authority and instead becoming the clandestine force running the household.
If we were to be stuck with the tedious tasks of scrubbing, broiling and mapping menstrual cycles to avoid another screaming mouth then, by God, we’d make these things appear like insurmountable tasks.
But in 2016, we cannot scoff at the findings of lead researcher Professor John Howl, of Wolverhampton University. Latest research uses a peptide which alters the way human cells work, “switching off” sperm’s ability to swim. This could potentially be used as a pill or a spray rendering men temporarily infertile.
“The results are startling – and almost instant,” Professor Howl said. “When you take healthy sperm and add our compound, within a few minutes the sperm basically cannot move.”
So, on the point of having sex, or at least a few hours beforehand, men could discreetly take care of unwanted pregnancy. Many women could be potentially freed from the risks of DVTs, depression and months of post-pill disrupted cycle.
In a regular, stable relationship, these findings could be revolutionary. Of course, for Tinder-style bang and run hook-ups, I would advise both sexes to steer away from any contraceptive that they cannot touch, peel and roll on with their own hands.
Someone, male or female, you met 50 minutes ago is most probably lying about everything from their hair colour, to their occupation, to their relationship status – so don’t trust them with the pill. But for the marrieds, the co-habiting and those settled into the long-term mutual antagonism we call “love”, the male pill will change the way we live. For once, men can take on the deeply unsexy joy of tangling with a GP receptionist over repeat prescriptions, being weighed, judged and prodded. They can shoulder the unknown long-term risks of taking a drug, as well as that hovering feeling that if an accident happens, the blame is somewhat their own.
Additionally – and perhaps this is many women’s fear – men may become so utterly brilliant with this magical nose-spray that birth rates simply plummet. No more of those seemingly accidental babies that he didn’t want but she did but “ooh look, it’s here now!” Modern man might end up being better at taking the pill than we ever were, because, let’s be honest, on so many occasions we have proved ourselves to be utterly useless.
We have been known to forget, or to take three at once. We thought last month’s dose might still be working. We thought we didn’t need it as we were breastfeeding, or skipped a few days and thought: “never mind; a baby might be quite romantic.”
Masculinity in 2016 has come to terms with bleach cleaner, the spin cycle, nappy changing and earning much less than his partner. Maybe, and this is the disconcerting thing, he’ll be better at policing your womb than you.