Tonic Talk #2: Male Birth Control

In which E and I discuss the very real prospect of male birth control known as Vasalgel. 

Brace yourselves.

Brace yourselves.

E: So maybe we should establish logistics first of like what Vasalgel is?

J: My understanding is that it’s a gel that’s injected into a man’s vas deferens and is effective until the man has a second injection to flush it out. So basically, it’s a non-invasive vasectomy, which involves actually cutting the vas deferens.

E: Aside from the fact that vas deferens (“vast deference”) sounds like the name of an indie band from Brooklyn, I am focused on what you are saying. And yes, that is my understanding also. And we know it works because they used it on a bunch of baboons?

J: Indeed. Bonobos would be all over this as their main method of communication appears to be sexual in nature.

E: So there is so much to unpack here. I don’t even know where to begin…like how to conceive of a world in which it isn’t only on us to prevent pregnancy?

J: It’s such a revolutionary thing. It really is.

E: First, do we believe this will work? I think medical evidence says yes, and I think baboons probably know us better than we know ourselves, so we can trust that it will be effective. The more important question, I think, is do we trust men to take it?

J: Oh I think so. It will certainly be an adjustment, but I would think that men would be thrilled with the idea of having more control in the reproduction department. It’s kind of a male sexual revolution actually, in a different way than the pill was for women certainly, but it would give men a greater degree of independence in that arena than they’ve had. It will be a generational shift though, I suspect.

E: And with FAR fewer strings attached than those that come with our birth control. Like, since this is non-hormonal, I think it’s a much easier decision for guys to take it (assuming it’s affordable).

J: So. Few. Strings. I mean, really.

E: I’m anti-pill anyways and refuse to put that in my body. Sorry not sorry. But it would be great to not have to navigate the complicated world that is pill alternatives.

J: Sidebar: Where do you stand on IUDs? I don’t know if we have ever discussed this and I’d be curious about your opinion.

E: Is that the thing you put in for like 5 years?

J: There are 3, 5, and 10 year ones. My understanding is they have way less side effects than the pill. But, still, it is so much more invasive than this new male birth control…

E: So I have had adverse reactions to the hormones in the past so my body probably wouldn’t do well with the IUD. Health stuff notwithstanding, I’ve spoken with several girls who just got IUDs and had a difficult time with the procedure. They found it very painful, and it just sort of disturbed them. I’ve spoken with others who had a better time with it, but I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable subjecting my body to something like that.

Plus, like it’s a slim margin, but it’s not out of bounds that I could want a kid in 3, 5, or 10 years.

J: You can get them taken out whenever. But, I totally agree. Based on what I’ve read and the women I’ve spoken to about it, the reactions to the procedure are varied, but everyone seems to agree that it is pretty freaky. It probably depends on the person. That’s really the big issue here, I think. Your health and how you choose to protect yourself should be entirely in your hands and the more options the better. Male birth control gives us all more variety and choice.

In that vein, I do wonder how this will affect the debate over contraception coverage under insurance plans, particularly those provided by people’s employers. Will companies (cough cough Hobby Lobby and the like) refuse to cover male birth control? They already cover vasectomies…just not lady care. Will men’s bodies be subjected to the same scrutiny as women’s? Will their health decisions become a part of the conversation in a way they haven’t before? (I apologize for the rant, I have been thinking about this ever since you suggested this topic)

E: No totally. It is a rant-worthy topic. Part of the reason I wanted to discuss this is because I’ve had multiple conversations with women over the past month about birth control issues, and how there are just no good options for us out there, and yet there seems to be in increasingly implicit assumption that you’ll just BE on birth control.

J: Such a good point!!! Thank you, yes. Sorry to interrupt, but that deserved a round of applause.

E: Thank you!!! I just want to highlight that like, there should not be a norm here. It is an individual choice, and I would no more expect a man to be taking this than I hope he’d expect me to be on birth control.

Okay so in response to the insurance point though (which is an excellent one), like if I’m an insurance provider I think that I see this male birth control as the enemy, at least in the Vasalgel form. Because it’s a lot better to force women to buy into a plan where they have to buy all these pills and constantly be changing them because EVERY SINGLE ONE fucks with their bodies. Like you can create all these games that way that drive up prices. To my mind, this is a lot less lucrative and therefore a lot of people won’t cover it.

J: That’s a very valid point.

E: As the Daily Beast said, “Why sell a flat-screen television to a man, after all, when you can rent one to a woman for a decade?”

J: To get back to your very first question, because it’s relevant to the way the conversation has turned, will men go along with this? Even if they can’t get their insurance company to pay for it, might they still pay for it out of pocket? It’s a one-time thing, essentially, and they may think that it is worth it.

E: I think if I were a dude, it would come down to how much I disliked condoms. Because if I wanted to just go out on da town and be wild, I could bring a pack of condoms and achieve the same effect…

J: Most men I know do not like condoms, but there is the STI factor to consider if a man’s primary objective is to be wild and free. The condom industry is safe, essentially, is what we are saying.

E: Good point.

J: This new development in male birth control is so wonderful for so many reasons if not just because allows us to discuss the importance of sexual health. See our alternative Valentine’s Day date suggestions for our feelings on STI testing.

E: Totally. So much good (I think) comes from this. To turn the tables, can we see any negative outcomes? Is there a reason we don’t want this happening?

J: Hmmm interesting question. I feel like most of my initial negative reactions were coming from a place that wasn’t fair to men. I’ll admit, one of my first questions was, can we trust men to actually do it when they say they will? But that was incredibly judgmental of me and I am somewhat saddened for myself that I even thought of that.

E: Well, there’s something interesting you just spoke to. I had a similar initial reaction. Upon hearing this topic I just generally had A LOT of thoughts. And something I noticed in most articles I read about this is that they’re written by women. You’d think dudes would be talking about this more, no? But actually everyone who’s brought this up to me has been female.

SO I wonder how much of an impact this will even make–like are we just thinking about this waaayyy more than guys are and is that an inevitable reality of being a woman? Will men even give any fucks?

J: I think one possible explanation for that could just be that women are more likely to discuss birth control because a) we’re more likely to talk about that stuff in general with our friends and b) as you pointed out earlier, birth control has pretty much been our responsibility (or really, forced into our hands) for quite some time. But, it is worrying that men aren’t discussing this online.

E: Can we imagine some casual dudes, in their 20s, just broing out and chatting about new birth control methods? Realistically?

J: While they eat yoghurt?

Probably not, but could that be because they really haven’t had an option other than condoms, which have another health purpose, and vasectomies? But really, are vasectomies so bad? This is something I have often wondered.

E: Something I think we’ll never know….like they’ll never understand the pregnancy experience.

J: That is really a driving factor in why birth control is controlled by women. Because, ultimately, we are the ones who really have to deal with (at the very least) the physical consequences.

E: On that note, I want to bring up something kind of dark that could be a negative effect. So something I kind of like about having birth control be in our hands is that it gives me a certain degree of power when I’m with a guy. There’s always this choice that I could make to have a kid that would affect him for the rest of his life. And even if we’re using condoms, etc., they could break, or I could lie and say I’m on birth control and I’m not, and like the dude has no real way to know. Insert like myth about a sketchy woman screwing with guys that way.

To a small (or large?) degree, I think this gives us an implicit edge over men in our interactions. Like, some power. And is this something we want to give away?

J: I think we always have the power, honestly. Because the thing is, we know when a child is ours. A man doesn’t have that certainty unless he has a paternity test. I think this anxiety lies at the root of a lot of male insecurity. I don’t know if we can ever lose our power in this arena.

E: Very, very good point. You are so wise. Fuck, being a man is terrifying.

J: I am so happy every day that I am a woman, to be honest. Living in the place and time that I am now. Despite all the bodily shenanigans that we have to go through.

I think the natural conclusion that we are coming to is that male birth control is most certainly a good thing. 100% of baboons agree.

E: Agree! One thing I wish we’d been able to do is get a male perspective, so if dudes read this, I would LOVE comments.

J: Yes, PLEASE bring on the comments! We want to know all of the thoughts.

E: Like, are we wrong? Do you bro out eating vanilla yogurt and white wine discussing birth control options?? Are you thinking about this stuff most of the time?

J: I love that image. I just keep imagining Matthew McConaughey for some reason with a group of his male bros discussing the merits of Vasalgel. The cast of Magic Mike, essentially.

What does everyone think? Is Vasalgel a precursor to the male sexual revolution? Would bros get together to eat yogurt and discuss birth control methods?

3 thoughts on “Tonic Talk #2: Male Birth Control

  1. EstesJL says:

    Guys talking about birth control. You have this imaginary scene from a movie with Matt McC, you know what I imagine? Commercial land. Kind of like a bunch of guys sitting around screaming “viva viagra,” I can see a bunch of earnest gentlemen smiling at one another knowingly and sharing the empowering magic of Vaselgel. While on a hunt or something.

    Maybe it’s just late, but right now, when I think of the male sexual world, it all seems kind of comical, slightly shameful, and more than a bit barbaric in its portrayal. Not even worthy of serious discussion – I’ve definitely never had an open conversation with a man about male sexuality or the issues surrounding it. Oddly, when I think about it, I have those conversations with women. Maybe other men have experienced this differently than I have, would be interested to know.

    I just don’t think there’s any context for such a discussion among men. For women, it sounds great, finally an alternative to a hormone-changing pill – there’s tons of context for that conversation. I think the benefits for men are more subtle – how it could change the dynamic of responsiblity in preventing pregnancy, etc…I think about one of my male friends bringing that up, and it makes me want to laugh. Which is kind of sad.

    But YES. I would take that gel injection thing in a heartbeat. Hope all this still makes sense when I wake up tomorrow morning.


    • talktonic says:

      The campy commercial possibilities are endless. I think knowing smiles from earnest gentlemen will be a key part of the marketing strategy. I can also see them doing it as a weird sex metaphor where there’s like a vast school of fish who come across a wall under the ocean, albeit temporarily because THE WALL IS NOT FOREVER. It is not a vasectomy wall.

      Also, COMPLETELY agree re. male sexual world and lack of a space for open discussion. I think a lot of guys only talk about it (or talk about it much more) with their girlfriends/ female friends…


  2. EstesJL says:

    Right. That’s a good message. We could watch as the fish slowly build up, and build up, and build up until the area is close to bursting, then, a strong hand appears to life the wall, and a mad rush of fish unstoppable dash at whatever is on the other side. “It’s permeable to your will, just not your sperms.”


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