The feminism of Fawcett, Pankhurst and Davison is not the feminism of today. Today, the issues facing women exist in private and in their privates. Individual lives and sexual culture perpetuate patriarchal and regressive ideals about women and sex. Today, our challenges exist in the private sphere.

The most significant of these challenges? Sex. Only recently have sex and sexual culture been thrust into the forefront of feminist philosophy and discussion. It is in this culture that women are portrayed as objects and made to perform for a system of oppression more than any other aspect of feminist thought. The very act of sex has been moulded to male desire, and the very fact that we call it 'penetrative sex' - ignoring other sexual activity - is a testament to that fact. After all, it is only the penis owner who is doing the penetrating.

Women today are the inheritors of our patriarchal history. Today, our society is burdened by the archaic idea that it is women and girls who have the responsibility for contraception and safe sex. According to The Economist, "nuanced discussion" of the variety, merits and failures of contraception takes place frequently in female locker rooms, and rarely, if ever, in male ones. An article from GQ suggests that the feminist movement may be, in part, to blame for this, as contraception and 'women's liberation' have been so intertwined that no one has cared to challenge the responsibility problem. Indeed, French feminist, writer and existentialist philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir, demanded access to contraception and abortion as means by which women may be liberated from patriarchal dominion. Beauvoir's Manifesto of the 343 - which called on 342 other women to come forward with their experiences with access, or lack thereof, to birth control and reproductive rights, and sign a petition - led to the eventual legalisation of abortion in France.

De Beauvoir wasn't necessarily wrong, women's reproductive rights and unfettered access to abortion, contraception and birth control are very important to ensure sexual ethics and that individuals can take control of their own sex lives. However, we must break away from the idea that contraception is solely a woman's responsibility, we must move forward. Thanks to the wonders of science, moving forward is now looking like a definite possibility, if not now then certainly in the near future. Behold: the male contraceptive pill.

The earlier article from The Economist holds that the lack of options available for men, beyond that of condoms and vasectomies, is a reasonable explanation for the lack of male 'locker room discussion' around contraception. Compared to women, who "may pick from a range which includes the Pill, vaginal rings, copper intrauterine devices, hormonal intrauterine devices, contraceptive sponges, cervical caps, spermicides, diaphragms, female condoms and tubal ligation" there are very few conversation-starters for men.

On the left, the Female Contraceptive Pill. On the right, condoms for men.
All but two of the contraceptive options are the burden of women. But “The Pill” may now become an option for men also.

Well now it looks like we might be able to get one started. Scientific studies on mice have given experts reason to believe that a male pill taken shortly before sex is a real possibility. According to a recent survey, over 50% of men would take such a pill if it were to become available, which may, in turn, make male contraception a breeding ground for innovation. The same survey found that a similar percentage of women supported the idea, as it would ignite a more 'equal spread of responsibility'.Another study, this time by the Harvard Innovation Lab, found that 78% of men worldwide would take the contraceptive if it was available, in addition to 65% of men in the UK.

As you can imagine, these scientists have had their work cut out for them. Preventing millions upon millions of sperm from swimming is no small task. Yet, by blocking a critical fertility protein - for up to 24 hours - scientists have managed to assess that doing that just might be possible. All that is left now, are the potential side-effects, which, apparently, are the chief concern among men. Side-effects have long been associated with female contraceptives, but when weighed against the prospect of unwanted or unplanned pregnancy, breast tenderness, nausea and headaches seem relatively inconsequential. Apparently 47% of men would not tolerate the new contraceptive if it came with side-effects, especially those which affect their libido, or, sex drive.

I, however, count myself among the 53%. If taking the pill meant that I could have safe, enjoyable sex where there are no questions or doubts about responsibility then I'm all for it. Also, what's not to like? It's a simple solution, as opposed to putting on a condom or getting a vasectomy (either of which I'm still all for) - the only two options currently available to men. You'd certainly find this in my locker-room discussions, you'd have to get me in the locker-room first, but catch me in a library or Waterstones and we'll talk.

Am I concerned about the side-effects, chiefly, the potential loss of my libido? In truth, no I am not. Sex drive is influenced by biological, psychological, and social factors, and so the likely cause of any loss of my libido would be the stress from A-Level exams or the anxiety from university applications. Even so, scientists are currently working on adding testosterone or a similar compound to the pill, keeping any loss of drive at bay. So, what's the excuse?

This would seem reasonable to most men, of course, as they don’t have to weigh up such side-effects with the prospect of pregnancy. It may be because of this, the pressure from greater consequence, that men have viewed contraception as a largely female responsibility. Indeed, women have also voiced their concerns, mainly their reluctance to hand over responsibility as they feel their sexual partner may not take the pill regularly. So, from the responsibility problem, we have the side-effect and trust problems. Of course, men are right to be concerned with the potential side-effects of new contraceptives, to a certain extent. Is it, though, that they are truly concerned with these side-effects, or is it that their refusal to accept responsibility for safe, ethical sex is manifested into how taking a new contraceptive would rid themselves of their mojo?

These concerns, however, do not remove the fact that social and sexual institutions - including the responsibility problem - need to be removed, and replaced by an uncodified system where safe sex is on the agenda of both partners. Well, finally, perhaps that is now possible. As in many times in human history, advances in science may serve to also advance the code of ethics by which we live.

So, our problems aren't equal suffrage, legal and economic independence, or the ability for women to succeed in the public sphere; rather, our present and future challenges exist behind closed doors - bedroom doors, specifically (or the kitchen, garden or wherever your passions find you).

Society is finally changing its views around sex and parenthood. We no longer view a key metric of adulthood as having children and starting a family. A recent study found that almost half of Gen-Z don't plan on having children. This is why the new pill is so important in safeguarding couples' and individuals' rights to choose.

A male contraceptive pill would shift the burden of responsibility to the centre-ground between partners, and allow a truly enlightened society to develop from the recognition that some of us just don't want children. What do we get out of all of this? Choice.

Radical reform of sexual culture is now the brief of 21st century feminism, and it is from now that we can begin taking action.

Archie Rankin
Archie Rankin

A young, pen-wielding Liberal with intellectual curiosities in all things politics, with huge appetites for history, philosophy and economics. Committed to making a positive difference for young people in my role as Associate Editor & Innovation Lead, constantly seeking out new ideas and approaches to drive innovation and progress.

Link copied

The Fledger was born out of a deep-seated belief in the power of young voices. Get relevant views on topics you care about direct to your inbox each week.

Have an article in mind? The Fledger is open to voices from all backgrounds. Get in touch and give your words flight.

Write the Contrast
Two birds using typewriters