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The Guy’s Not-So-Great Guide to Birth Control

A handsome man with mad cooking skills stars in a birth control ad that only seems women-friendly.

Guys get contradictory messages about being a protective man: defend a gay guy or a sister but get suspended. Heed calls to stand up and condemn “pervy” behavior but likely face objections for presuming a woman needs defense. (See point 5 and comments.) One might forgive guys for being clueless about protecting women.

Guy Nottadadi is one of the clueless ones. He stars in’s Guy’s Guide series, a hip version of a public service announcement. (Bedsider is operated by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.) I found Guy though A Guy’s Guide to The Pill.

Guy presents the information in a way that sounds protective of women, but manages to avoid the protests of patronization, I suppose, because Guy’s message isn’t really about helping women but about helping guys preserve their “non-parental status.” (Nottadadi, get it?)  The handsomeness and cooking skills are only window dressing to make some illogical  and ill-advised counsel seem women friendly.

The logic problems

The hormone debate has fascinated me for a long time. We see many discussions about animal growth hormones that we might eat. Many moms go to great lengths to avoid hormones in family foods for worry that it might contribute to the supposed spike in early onset puberty. Guy tossed a quick acknowledgment to this anti-synthetic hormone sentiment with the “f#$%ing science” aside after describing what everyone knows but doesn’t like to think about: the Pill is hormones.

In everything else—childbirth, tampons, crops, etc.—whatever is “natural” is deemed best, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

Yet, women take synthetic hormones for years, in the pill and in patches, IUDs, implants, and cervical rings. These methods represent the most effective contraception but at what other costs? By design they override those otherwise coveted natural rhythms. They carry significant health risks, and have prompted a growing body of studies suggesting that hormone dosing lowers our libido and influences our view of a mate and our moods. And they can also cause secondary amenorrhea, which more hormone therapy eventually resolves for most women, but not all.

To worry about things like occasional ingestion of bovine growth hormone in milk but blithely use hormonal contraception daily is utterly illogical.

Therefore, to worry about things like occasional ingestion of bovine growth hormone in milk but blithely use hormonal contraception daily is utterly illogical. And this is before considering the hormone dosing women require to achieve pregnancy after using hormone dosing to delay it. The newly vogue practice of egg freezing and Assisted Reproductive Technology start with massive hormonal ingestion (and then move on to “harvesting” (really, that’s what it is called), which is far more invasive than the internal ultrasound that pro-choicers claim to find so objectionable when used to confirm pregnancy locations).

L., a “natural” condom company, illustrated the absurdity well in a commercial released on Valentine’s Day. We have the requisite patronizing snark to men—they aren’t intimidated by cleanliness or thoughtfulness—and then the voiceover announces, “Good men would never put harmful additives into a woman’s body.” Not on a condom, perhaps. Ingestion will suffice, and, secret bonus, it makes condom use seem less critical. (Guy even suggests that good men would offer to help pay for the additives, but I will get to the bad advice in a second.)

So what about condoms? Credit to Guy for mentioning that only condoms provide contraception and protection against STD’s. (I would have found this more comforting if I hadn’t seen Besider’s withdrawal method video on the sidebar.) But still, if the Pill is a synthetic hormonal manipulation of a woman’s body and a condom is necessary for STD protection, why do women take the Pill? Redundancy makes the most sense, but there are many non-hormonal barrier methods women could use as backup protection.

Married women turn to these hormone-free methods. When birth control comes up, we talk openly of our relief at going off the Pill. The daily routine of taking our dose no longer bothers us—routine we can do—but in retrospect we can see how much the hormones effected our libidos. We tend to go off the pill a few moths before trying to conceive and then, barring the need for ART treatments to get pregnant, we spend months without the Pill and find that sex gets better. When we do need birth control again, we prefer to avoid hormones. Since married sex is more predictable, we can easily turn to older barrier methods.

I think women use hormonal contraception when we are more likely to have spontaneous sex, that is, in casual and pre-marital relationships. Women bear the enormous consequence of pregnancy and, therefore, we assume the hormonal complication so we can be more readily available for sex. To be perfectly blunt, the Pill it is a hormonal cocktail that women take for men’s health and pleasure.

The advice problem

Rightly or wrongly, women perceive that they are the worker in relationships. After the early rip-off-each-others-clothes-as-you-hit-the-door stage of coupling, many a focused and ambitious woman with a possibly hormonally suppressed libido begins to view sleeping with her boyfriend/fiancee/husband as a to-do list checkbox. At that point, “Did you take your pill today?” is not sweet. It lands on the list of most infuriating comments right under, “Are you PMSing?” The guy, who thought he was being thoughtful, might earn an earful about how he never thinks of helping her or romancing her, he just wants to make sure she is available for sex.

Offering to pay for it is even worse. On top of the making sure she is available assumption, he signals he is willing to pay for reliable access. I know that is not how guys making the offer would intend the money, but how easily women and men cross wires about romance is an ancient complication (and a classic Dave Barry article). He will think “cost sharing” while she starts to think “retainer fee.”

But offering to pay some of the pill costs should work in shorter term couplings, then? No. It is still bad advice.

Consider some possible payment sharing questions for more casual hookups. Should a man prorate the monthly cost and figure out a tenth of a pack’s price for a weekend of sex? Should he just “tip” her? Could he offer to pay more if she will hook up with him next weekend? The Pill runs high at 50 bucks a month, so even if he paid for the whole month of a premium pack, that’s probably a bargain. So maybe he should pay for the whole pack? Because  nothing says “romance” like being treated like a hooker, a cheap one at that.

Gushing comments to the video aside real guys would do well to steer clear of Guy’s advice. Guy is handsome and witty and obviously knows his way around a kitchen, but the information he provides only sounds good. And it sure isn’t pro-woman.

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