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MORALITY

A contraceptive gel for Kenyan men

Sometimes, being first should not be celebrated

We Kenyans live in a society that glorifies being first. We are bred to be racehorses, to top the class in academic performance, to outrun our competitors on the field, to earn the highest salary, to steal the most from the government. Ours is a hyper-competitive existence. It conditions us to always gun for the top.

I am not complaining. This desire to be the best among our peers has led us to excel in many and varied areas. It has made us to walk around with heads held up high, ready to spout a litany of our achievements at the slightest provocation. Ours are the only athletes who can threaten to run a marathon in under two hours. Our internet speeds are better than most first-world countries. Our skies are the bluest and our sun is the hottest.

There are those cases, however, where being first should be no cause for celebration, where being first should merit lament instead. The recently started clinical trials for a male contraceptive, in which Kenya is the first African country to participate, is one such worthless achievement. But you would not have known it by reading the news report from the Daily Nation.

The article reads like a promotional piece for the contraceptive gel. It starts off with, “Are you a man aged between 18 and 50? Are you sexually active and in a steady monogamous relationship? And finally, have you ever pictured yourself as the one carrying the burden of family planning in the relationship?”

The author goes on to wax hyperbolic about the merits of the clinical trials and the potential for the gel to give men the “same stake in birth control” as women. The contraceptive, which is to be smeared to the shoulders and upper arms, will work by lowering the sperm count of the user to a level where he cannot impregnate a women.

All through, the writer remains absolutely uncritical of the development. She does not cover the potential harmful side-effects of the drug (which as a journalist, she has an obligation to). She does not question the usefulness of a male contraceptive. She does not take any moral considerations into account. No, it is a jubilant ramble, a victory cry at the marvelous prospect of men losing their fertility.

I know. It might seem like I am overreacting. What is wrong with contraception for men after all? Should we not all join the Daily Nation in hailing this development as a true achievement? These are good questions. But they assume that we have already asked and answered a much more important question: is it right to use contraceptives in the first place?

Some will answer that we need to use them to control population growth. The planet can only support a finite number of people, they will say. We risk perdition if we do not control our numbers. We will overgrow the resources of our planet, the climate will change rapidly, and we will go extinct for lack of food, water and oxygen.

Others will say that sexual freedom, the capacity to be randy without worrying about siring unwanted offspring, is a fundamental human right. We, humans of the twenty-first century, should be able to have sex with whomever we want, at whatever time, without worrying about more than the pleasure we can get out the act.

Yet others will say that I should keep my big Luo nose out of people’s bedrooms. What happens between the sheets, they will insist, is none of my business. People have a right to do whatever they want with their bodies. Whether they use contraception or not is their prerogative, and my words are nothing but a bothersome intrusion into privacy.

But there is a problem with all these answers. They strip sex of all that makes it valuable. The argument for population control sees sex as a mere assembly line for human offspring, sterile and clinical, that can be turned on and off to meet production targets. By this argument, the awesome power of sex is denied, despite being paradoxically also acknowledged.

The argument for sexual freedom sees sex as the pursuit of pleasure and nothing else. And we all know what happens when the pursuit of pleasure is only consideration we make, in any field of human endeavour. We become addicts, fraudsters, thieves and slanderers. In short, we become bad people. The man who is ruled by pleasure is not a pleasant man to have around. He is a slave to an inferior master.

And the argument against my big prying nose ignores the fact that my nose would not be so big or able to pry if it had not been created in a bedroom by my parents. Moreover, I am not the first to thrust my nose into people’s bedrooms. The developers of this male contraceptive gel, and the uncritical Daily Nation writer, dragged me in by pushing this narrative to me.

They entered the bedroom first. In fact, they have not just entered the bedroom, they have gone to that intimate point where man and woman meet, and put a barrier there. By doing that, they have made it my business too, for the men and women who use contraceptives are part of the same society in which I live.

Look, the creation of a contraceptive for men is not a laudable achievement, just as the female contraceptive wasn’t. The female contraceptive was a solution in search of a problem, which made it, for that matter, a dangerous invention. At their best, artificial contraceptives do not respect the biology of women, giving rise to all manner of adverse consequences.

At their worst, contraceptives have stripped away the dignity of women in a way that all the male chauvinism (which now skulks around under the name of toxic masculinity) never could have. By blocking the most visible consequence of sex, contraceptives have effectively turned women into little more than instruments of pleasure for men.

All the gains the feminists of yore sought, all the equality they preached, have been wiped away by the very tool they thought would help them win. Women, who once tamed men by keeping the gate to sex locked until marriage, now liberally supply them with it, so that the modern man has no reason to commit himself and his energies to any woman in particular for life. He can sample every pool without catching a cold.

This brings us back to the prospect of a contraceptive for men. If the female contraceptive never brought equality, by what leap of logic would one presume that a male contraceptive would? How does a man who is assured that he would not impregnate a woman with whom he has sex behave? We do not need to wait for a male contraceptive to get our answer.

Feature image: Unknown source (claim it).

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