Shilling The Male Pill: How To Sell Men Birth Control

Posted by Nona Willis Aronowitz


There's a joke in the medical community that no matter what year it is, an alternative male birth control method is always ten years away. And it’s true—doctors have been promising an option beyond condoms and vasectomies since the 1960s. Some scientists have taken a stab at it, most recently with the invention of RISUG, a one-time injection that is supposedly both side effect-free and reversible. Yet nothing ever seems to get approved and make it to market. What the hell is taking so long?

Men aren’t alone here. As we pointed out a few months ago, pharmaceutical companies aren’t exactly rushing to innovate new birth control for women, either. Part of the problem is biology; the human reproductive system is a complex thing. But when it comes to the possibility of a male pill, there’s also that pesky problem of marketing. What kind of dude is going to buy a birth-control drug meant to protect another person from pregnancy? There are financial and emotional concerns to having an unwanted child, but ultimately men are affected indirectly. It’s a tough sell.

"It could be very effective in preventing pregnancy, but if there isn't a clear market for it, companies understandably are a little reluctant to invest heavily in it," Andrea Tone, professor of history at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, told CNN last year.

But all hope is not lost. I’ve devised a handy marketing plan to light a fire under the asses of pharmaceutical companies willing to wait another decade. Here’s how to sell the Pill to men.

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Market it to guys in committed relationships.

Frankly, very few men are going to be using both condoms and another form of birth control; most of them would be trying to find a method to use in lieu of condoms. Don’t get me wrong, condoms are great: cheap, easy to use, reliable, and protective against STDs. But only 9 percent of married couples globally use condoms, and they might be looking around for another method.

“For a guy who’s with someone he presumably loves, he wants to look out for the wellbeing of that woman,” says Hugo Schwyzer, a male feminist blogger and gender studies professor at Pasadena City College. “It’s a whole different level of ask for men to care in advance about the needs of an abstract woman who he hasn’t even slept with yet.”

Many men have witnessed first-hand their partners’ travails with birth control, some of which—like mood swings and lack of sex drive—certainly affect men. Guys: wouldn’t it be nice to present your honey with a solution? Women are also much more likely to feel comfortable putting contraceptive responsibility in a guy’s hands if they’re in a relationship with a lot of trust and communication. 

Selling contraception to couples is not a new idea—companies have been marketing to married women since the birth control pill was invented in 1960. In fact, it was illegal for a single lady to get on the Pill until 1972. Certain methods like the IUD still have commercials with 38-year-old married women assuring us that her three kids are enough. In these cases, though, speaking to coupled-up women has more to do with ensuring you’re not giving the thumbs up to sluts who have premarital sex. Marketing the pill to men has the exact opposite motivation; while we were afraid that single women would use the Pill, now we’re worried that single men won’t.

Sample ad: A jolly Kevin James type is in the drivers’ seat of a minivan. His four kids bounce around in the back, and his wife sits in the front seat serenely. He confides in the camera: "Holly went a little crazy when she was on the Pill. Like, crying-at-cat-food-commercials crazy. Slamming-doors-for-no-reason crazy. She felt edgy and stressed all the time. So I decided to give her a present: I went on Prospermacil." Cut to scenes of the husband popping a pill while the wife happily cooks, gently shuts the screen door, has drinks with her friends, sculpts pottery, etc. Brief, sexy shot of husband and wife "connecting."

Tagline: Prospermacil. What have you done for your lady lately?

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Appeal to the inner neanderthal.

Of course, this committed family man doesn’t need to be a caring, sharing feminist. Some guys may be more into male BC if they channel their 30,000 B.C. counterpart. 

“It’s not just for guys who are in touch with their feelings,” says Glenn Sacks, executive director of the men’s rights group Fathers and Families and a huge advocate of male birth control. “It’s about manning up and taking care of your woman. And being in control of your fertility. No man wants to have a kid against their will. It doesn’t matter if they’re liberal or not.” He’s right about that—a woman’s decision to take birth control certainly doesn’t have much to do with her politics. A full 98 percent of Catholic women use some form of contraception. And given that more than 99 percent of women have used birth control, I’m guessing there’s a few conservatives in there.

Schwyzer also suggests that male birth control could be framed as a badge of honor for a sexually active man, “sort of the 21st century equivalent of virginal boys carrying around condoms in their wallets.” The thought of the American Pie characters bragging about their ball-sack injections is pretty hilarious. And a lot better than unintended pregnancy!

Sample ad campaign: Four guys shoot the shit over beers. The tallest, most good-looking one announces proudly that he went and got the RISUG shot yesterday. His friends look at him strangely. One says, “For real, dude? Sarah got you whipped or something?” The tall guy is nonplussed and shoots them down. “Please. I just like looking out for her, ya know? I figure a little shot is worth all that. What, are you scared?” Tall guy retains alpha male image, friend looks like a douchebag.

Tagline (recited by the Right Guard guy): Be a man. Take the pain. Get the Shot.

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When all else fails, remember Arnold and Maria.

When Kyle Munkittrick wrote a piece defending male birth control in Discover magazine a few months ago, he says readers worried about “how it could be named the ‘cheater pill.’” Allow me to give that a more positive spin: a male contraceptive could protect a dude’s family, whether or not he has the willpower to use a condom. Given that up to half of people have strayed from their relationships at least once, there’s a sizable population that would probably be open to this message.

Mob wives have been known to ask their philandering husbands to get vasectomies "for the sake of the family." Male birth control could be a reversible version of this kind of insurance. Arnold Schwarzenegger could probably tell you that a male pill would save couples from heartbreak, divorce, and public embarrassment.

Sample ad campaign (to be played on SpikeTV, then immediately to be skewered by Tina Fey): Four guys shoot the shit at a dadchelor party. “Congrats, man!” one guy says as he slaps the new father on the back. “Now when are you getting some Fertilanix?” The daddy looks confused. “Oh, Kathy’s on the Pill. We’re cool.” The three guys exchange knowing looks. One ogles a busty waitress and says, “Dude. We’re not worried about Kathy.”

Tagline: Think of the family. Think Fertilanix.  

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Men will never experience the anxiety that women feel about an unwanted pregnancy. But there are tons of incentives for guys to take fertility into their own hands. Perhaps some scrappy filmmaker should start a public-awareness campaign of viral male birth control videos to drum up demand. That way, we'd have a ready-made set of ads to use when a successful method comes out on the market—in another ten years, of course.

photo (cc) by Flickr user Ryan Somma