Bend Over and Cough: Gender Bias and Birth Control

What if male contraception required a physical exam and a prescription?

What if female birth control was sold over the counter (OTC), without a prescription?

What would the access to contraception look like, and how much would it cost?

Imagine if men could get pregnant. Imagine if they were required to visit a doctor to have an exam to get a prescription for a monthly allotment of condoms to have pregnancy-free sex. Imagine if it cost men almost $100 per month (with insurance) to buy their contraception. Our legislators would have condoms flying over the pharmacy counter and onto the OTC shelves before the first guy donned a paper gown and coughed. The pharmaceutical companies, insurers, medical personnel and a host of others with skin in the game wouldn't be allowed to charge exorbitant prices to sexually active males or force them to navigate through the sea of white coats.

Requiring prescriptions for female birth control puts an undue financial burden on millions of women every year. Without (and often with) insurance, women have to pay through the orifice each and every month to avoid unwanted pregnancies and to treat other health issues. Compare the financial outlay women make at the doctor's office and drug store to the couple of dollars any guy can spend at any 7-11 and it's not difficult to see the sobering disparity. (Further, if and when a condom malfunctions or isn't used, the failure of a man's $2 investment can't get him pregnant, but I digress.)

In the endless debate about sex before the age of 18, the regulation of contraception almost entirely focuses on the girl's, not the boy's, access to it. A host of state and federal legislators have created laws that require parental approval, medical exams and other steps specifically designed to deter underage females from having sex. If you believe that girls shouldn't have access to birth control because of age, what about their underage male counterparts? Should the government require boys who want to be sexually active meet with a doctor and get a prescription? Parental permission? If a teen male has sex with a partner who doesn't have access to The Pill and they become pregnant, should he be forced to witness the invasive sonogram performed on his female companion required in some states before a pregnancy is terminated?

Picking and choosing moral grounds in the contraception debate without considering gender is like trying to eat ice cream without having it be cold. It's impossible to parse the two without denial or discrimination. The moral-free truth of the matter is that politicians and the Religious Right leaders, the vast majority of whom are male, don't want to think about the man's role in sex. If the debate were really about sex only as a means of pro-creation, men would be visiting their doctors and pharmacists rather than the guy at the gas station.

The Pill and other forms of female contraception should be available without a prescription, and insurers and employers should be required to make it affordable. Once The Pill is available in the drug store aisle rather than from the men in the white coats, something amazing things will happen. More women who need it will have access to it, driving down the number of unwanted pregnancies. Competition between pharmaceutical companies will drive the price down. And millions more women will feel the same power over their bodies that men do today.

As long as female contraception is regulated differently than male birth control, there will be inequality. It's high time that the two who tango are afforded the same treatment.