November 21, 2013 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

As I’ve mentioned in a previous blogs, men only have 2 contraceptive options—male condom and vasectomy—and neither are long-acting reversible contraceptives. If more male contraceptives were developed, would men use them? Some empirical research shows many men would, especially young, urban, and educated men. Yet, skeptics say men don’t value pregnancy prevention to the same degree that women do so they won’t be motivated to use male contraception. Another common reason given for why men wouldn’t use male contraceptives is the fear that these contraceptives will emasculate them. Here I will discuss three social beliefs that contribute to this fear. 

First, many men believe that testosterone is a crucial factor in what makes them men. Though certain levels of testosterone in the body do result in what are usually classified as masculine characteristics, such as more body hair, more muscle tone, deeper voice, aggressive behavior, and stronger sex drive, the category ‘men’ is not just a biological one, it is also a social one. There are many cultural beliefs about what it means to belong to the category ‘men,’ one of which is that men have an uncontrollable libido. Most men want and feel pressured to adhere to these dominant conceptions of masculinity so that they are considered “real” men. 

Second, the male genitals are generally central to men’s coherent sexual identity, and are associated with stereotypical masculine traits like “strength” and “courage.” Because of the personal, as well as social, significance of the male genitals, having “malfunctioning” (e.g. impotent, prematurely ejaculating, infertile, sterilized) genitals or genitals that look “abnormal” (e.g. small penis, missing a testicle, scarred) can diminish men’s sense of masculinity. 

Third, as previously mentioned, there is a social norm that men are supposed to be strong, fearless, and tough. This belief can lead men to take risks and to shy away from protecting themselves (e.g. riding motorcycles without helmets). Men who admit that they scared or who want to take safety precautions are sometimes seen as “sissies.” In the case of contraception, men may think that using contraception signals that they are effeminate. Women are typically thought to be the ones in need of protection from sexual activity because they are the ones who experience pregnancy. Yet, men can also be affected by pregnancy (especially by future children) and they are clearly at risk for STIs. But acknowledging these risks and taking preventative steps may be seen as “unmanly.” 

In sum, men may be concerned that using contraception will emasculate them by affecting their testosterone levels and libido, the functioning and appearance of their genitalia, and their identity as strong and tough. These reasons help explain why vasectomies, which are quicker, easier, safer, and cheaper than tubal ligations, account for only 9% of all contraceptive use in the US (tubal ligation is 26%). Until social norms regarding masculinity change, current male contraceptives (vasectomies and condoms) will continue to be less common than female methods and future male contraceptives will raise suspicion and face resistance. 

Dr. Lisa Campo-Engelstein was interviewed by Anna Maria Tremonti on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation show "The Current" for the segment "Where's the male birth control pill?", which aired November 13th. Click here to listen to the show!

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

1 comments | Topics: Fertility , Gender , Reproductive Medicine


Jerry Mathew

Jerry Mathew wrote on 07/02/14 5:42 AM

Persons usually find it hard to make a decision whether to get the process done or not. Dr. Buenafe understands that vasectomy can be a nerve wracking experience for many men since this is the first time for them to undergoing a procedure. To provide them with more comfort, Dr. Buenafe offers personal care for his patients and ensures that they are comfortable before, during and post procedures. For comfortable vasectomy procedure, I prefer Dr. Buenafe’s vasectomy clinic Manitoba. Visit for more info

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