Men bring the condoms and women bring the pills

Un-planned babies, scratches, itches and smells. These are some of the not-so-sexy consequences of coitus. When fantasies between the sheets are played out there are a whole host of realities that could come from that, some more terrifying than others and all affecting both partners.

But despite this many men are not clued up on sexual reproductive rights, these rights having been gendered and conflated to being about women and “how they make babies”. This would be fine (and I am all for women taking control of their bodies) but when the baby does come it was not made by itself. And sexual reproductive rights aren’t just about babies. These rights speak to issues including inequality in terms of fertility rights, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual violence and circumcision. It speaks to the right to make sexual decisions free from discrimination, coercion and violence.

Despite encompassing such an array of notions men have been largely excluded from the conversation on these rights, which has left them ignorant on a number of sexual matters. At a sexualities conference one researcher said that during her fieldwork the men she interviewed conflated sexual reproductive rights with “the right to have sex”.

The presentation propelled me to find out what those in my inner circle thought about their male partners’ role regarding their contraceptive practices. So I did some research of my own and my findings can be summed up in one sentence: Men bring the condoms and women bring the pills. Although this sounds like one hell of a party it puts a great deal of pressure on one partner as usually once pills are brought to the shindig, condoms are asked to kindly exit the festivities without making a scene. This means the entire responsibility of family planning from the get go lies with the woman.

Menfolk skulk on the outskirts of discourses and there is a need to include men in these conversations and show them that these are not “women’s issues” but issues pertaining to everyone, they have consequences for everyone. If a woman has a baby, this includes her male partner as well, so why not be involved in protective measures outside the half-hearted attempt of an old durex condom in your wallet that “tingles for her pleasure”.

To not be involved is an idea birthed from the thought that the woman is the one to eventually carry the baby, then she should be the one to make the ultimate decision. But that argument is flawed. It discounts the fact that this is a mere nine months out of the possible 25 years that the little one shall sap money, time and sleep from the both of you. The “relinquishing” of this initial power to the woman allows for men to take a continued back seat past the point of conception, past the point of birth and well into the subsequent years of raising the child. The precedent is set and the man will always be “secondary” to the mother, seemingly having less responsibility.

But imagine if he had been part of the decision-making process from the beginning? From the moment when she was like “I am thinking of going on the pill” and a male partner responds with the words “what pill are you thinking of going on?” instead of the standard “nice, no need for condoms then”.

I, personally, would advise men to research the contraceptive their partner is taking because some have truly horrific side-effects. I have known women to experience bloating, mood swings or even breast tenderness. Possibly the most counter-productive side effect of the pill I’ve been privy too is going clean off sex. One lady I knew went from being the sort to go home for “lunch” (codename: world-altering sex) to having a near nervous breakdown every time her boyfriend even looked at her funny. If the hormonal imbalance comes from her taking the wrong pill you will realise how much it affects you when a careless word has an assortment of cutlery hurtling towards you.

I do applaud the men who take the time to check if the lady in their life is taking her pills regularly but there is no harm in taking it a step further, namely knowing if that is the best and what all the options are. For example, with modern medicine there is even the option for men to get an injection that stops them from reproducing, for a period of time. But this is not an option widely publicised because dominant discourse has it that women handle the “baby-making things” and men show up with condoms, at best. This plays into ideas of masculinity and reproduction but that is another article all on its own.

This belief that they are “outside the issue” takes agency away from men when it comes to matters of sexual health, sexual practices and the consequences. This is not only the case in having babies but in all aspects of sexual health and practices.

Leaving men out of these conversations means they can relinquish responsibility for what comes next. Bringing them in means they are not outside the realm of sexual reproductive rights and all that comes with it, which includes issues such as rape, sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and basic creation of new life. Sexual reproductive health is a total package of social, mental and physical well-being, not just the popping of babies and dodging the STD bullet.

Image – AFP