The Letter I Wrote to Australia’s Political Leaders about Male Contraception

I wrote to Australia’s political leaders in November which is the occasion of “Movember” highlighting men’s health. They were:

Tony Abbott, leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister of Australia.

Bill Shorten, leader of the Labor Party and Opposition Leader.

Christine Milne, leader of the Australian Greens,

Bob Day, Family First Senator for South Australia,

Clive Palmer, leader of the Palmer United Party and

Rick Muir, the senator for the Motoring Enthusiast

To date I have received only one non-reply from Bill Shorten. Interesting how easy it is to unveil the inner coward of Australian politics.

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I would like to learn about your party’s policy in regards to male contraception. This is important because the concept seems likely to move from the hypothetical realm to the realm of reality in the next few years. I am referring to the development of Vasalgel presently being tested and likely to be available in 2017 onwards. Vasalgel is a polymer gel injected into the vas deferens. Instead of cutting the vas it blocks it and unlike a vasectomy is it easily reversible with a flushing treatment. Another promising technology is RISUG (Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance).

I subscribe to the philosophy of “His Body His Choice”. Males have the same right to control their own fertility as females. The main obstacle in practice has been the lack of choice for males. These are limited to abstinence, condoms and vasectomies. Abstinence is too impractical and unreasonable to be used as birth control although effective. Condoms are in theory 100% effective but have other issues including convenience, aesthetics, slippage, failure and tampering. Vasectomies are effective but are usually permanent. Although it is sometimes reversed in many cases this is not effective in restoring fertility.

There is some anxiety in the community about the immanent advent of safe, effective reversible male contraception. I believe this is misplaced and that the benefits will outweigh the misgivings. This anxiety mirrors that which surrounded the advent of safe effective reversible female contraception. Below are my answers to misgivings raised.

  1. Men will not make use of it because they do not have the same risks as women in respect of pregnancy. In fact men do face risks with an unwanted pregnancy by a woman. Men are liable to child support payments or marriage to a partner who is viewed as unsuitable. The risk to a male’s choice of lifestyle is very substantial indeed.
  2. Men may not use it or may lie about their use of contraception. No drug or medical procedure is denied scheduling on the basis that some of the targeted patient group will not make use of it or may lie about making use of it.
  3. Women will become pregnant because men will lie about their use of contraception. This objection forgets that women already have a range of contraceptive choices available to them. There is no reason why a female will have to cease her contraceptive use because male contraception exists.
  4. Men already have a male contraceptive and it’s called “keeping your trousers on”. The same argument can be used to deny women access to contraception. It could be called “keeping your knees together”. Such an argument is both insulting and patronizing in both the male and the female context.
  5. Every time a man has sex he is already agreeing to become a father. The weakness for this argument is that it works just as well to deny women contraception.
  6. Men just want to be irresponsible. This translates as “men want to have choices and to exercise agency in their lives”. Once again the argument can work to deny women contraception.
  7. Men should take responsibility for the children they father. It is best if men do take responsibility for the children they father but in order to take responsibility one must have agency and male contraception will allow such agency to males. It is in fact much better still. No child would be born unless it was wanted by both parents. This surely translates into better, happier marriages and better adjusted children in an age when mental illness is a concern.

In addition to these points the issue is also politically suave. Recently in the United States we witnessed some workplaces denying health coverage to extend to birth control. The criticism was that this was “male privilege” oppressing women once again. How much more difficult it this be if males also had an interest in birth control? Politics is about building alliances with other with converging interests. The best way for men to appreciate the right of women to control their own bodies to align effort with men who also want to control their own bodies.

The late Gough Whitlam ended 23 years of coalition government by forging similar interests from diverse groups into a winning campaign. His political mission was one of passion and principles but he also had a view on building alliances with different groups. Similarly some activist campaigners could take a page out of Gough’s book by focusing on shared interests in contraception and giving up their anxieties fueling an opposition effort to deny males something females have long had. It is in such wasted energy that other opportunists with other agendas will reap a rich harvest at the expense of shared rights.

Looking forward to learn of your views

P.S.
I have received a letter from Tony Abbott dated 6 February 2015. The letter didn’t say much. Only that male contraception product will need a sponsor and documentation to allow it to be included on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) in common with all such goods.