No longer is hormonal contraception only for women. This is the big news being reported in response to a newly published study which shows that contraception can be achieved by giving men — not women, which is common practice — injections of hormones.
These jabs work in two ways. The progestogen in them reduces sperm production: fewer sperm means a lower sperm count means a lower chance of pregnancy. But, unfortunately, this progestogen also inhibits the testes’ own production of that all-important masculine hormone, testosterone. That is why testosterone is also given as part of the injection; to compensate for the drop in testosterone production.
The idea of this new form of contraception, one supposes, is to redress the imbalance of contraceptive responsibility which women bear unequally. And many might consider it a good thing for men to take control of their fertility in this way. Isn’t it about time they shared some of the responsibility? Well, that’s one gloss on it. Put a different way, however, it would be right to say that this male contraceptive injection is actually a form of chemical castration.
Indeed, progestogens similar to the ones in the contraceptive injection are used even today in the chemical castration of some sex offenders. They reduce levels of testosterone, and libido as a result, and thereby, in theory, prevent recidivism. The effect on the sperm count is accidental in such cases. But progestogen on its own would certainly be an effective contraceptive, though its side effects intolerable. That is why the hormonal contractive injections contain testosterone. This compensates for the drop in the hormone (ie, the chemical castration) brought about by the progestogen. So it remains a chemical castration, albeit one whose effects are attenuated.
Put this way, the prospect of male hormonal contraception is far less appealing. One guesses that few men would tolerate it if they understood its mechanism of action — quite apart from any of the side effects which some men in the study reported. But someone might rightly denounce this as special pleading: women take hormones which inhibit their fertility in a very similar way, so why should men be permitted to squeamishly evade it?
This is a fair objection. But it would be better to ask why this aspect of contraception is so rarely discussed. Contraception is nearly always assumed to be an obvious and exigent good, especially for the women whom it empowers. But many are ignorant of its effects (and side effects) and their significance. For example, many fail to notice the convenient connection between sex without babies and men without an incentive for responsibility. Contraception marvellously serves the base appetites of men who seek pleasure without the commitment of sacrificial love or family life. It is, therefore, not necessarily the great leveller some believe it to be. It says that the only way that women can be equal to men is by becoming selectively infertile — in other words, less like women. Equality is only possible by the obliteration of those things special and unique to the female sex.
Plato, who is sometimes touted as a proto-feminist, shared such a view of women. He believed that women should participate in public life on a similar footing as men, not because of their intrinsic human dignity, but because he did not consider the traditional pursuits of women to be of any value whatsoever. For Plato, being a woman is irrelevant at best. Hence, a woman can be equal with a man if she will become less like a woman. This is the very same sort of feminism which stokes the contraceptive mentality. It is equality that can only be achieved by self-repudiation.
Now it has become possible for men, too, to be asked and expected to medicate their own identity in the name of the mastery of fertility. Contraception will then succeed in its quest to reduce unplanned pregnancies — and femininity and masculinity will be its spoils of war.