Guest Post: Is Contraception “Emasculating”? Sean Responds

A guest post by Sean

Hi everyone! This is Sean.

Libby sent me a piece called “The Emasculating Effects of Modern Contraception.” This is about husbands and fathers. Libby is neither, but she happens to know one pretty well – me!

She was wondering what I thought – so here goes. First I’ll start with an excerpt from the piece.

The most recent discussion about “neutered men” brings to mind a casual conversation I took part in a few years back at a sporting event. A group of mothers was chatting on the sidelines and the discussion wandered to the topic of family pets. A woman was telling the story of how they came to own their dog when one of the mothers asked if they had gotten the dog neutered. The woman replied, “Oh, yes,” and then added archly, “All of the males in my house are neutered,” at which point everyone but me cracked up appreciatively.

I sat with a smile frozen on my face trying make sense of what I had just heard – that a nice woman like this would make her husband the butt of a crude joke and willingly belittle her homelife in that way, to the laughter of other mothers. I wish I could say I said something that showed them all how misguided they were but I sat mute and just felt terribly sorry for the man involved, who at the time was laboring away on the field with the boys.

That’s the long way around to the question I want to pose: How much has contraception contributed to the emasculation of men and to men’s shrinking roles as provider and protector?

Men in this day and age are rarely encouraged to procreate freely; they are asked to step up to the plate a couple of times and then are sort of put out to pasture, for lack of a better term. Their role as father is never fully realized (nor is that of the mother but that is another discussion) – it is always held in check, restrained and controlled and eventually severed, whether surgically or otherwise. Have women been emboldened, and deep inside do they look down upon men, who allow this manipulation of their progeny? And have men in turn been weakened – and have they become intimidated by the huge but beautiful responsibility of providing for a family – due to the false sense of control contraception gives, and with it the temptation to avoid heavy family and financial burdens?

The overplanning that contraception allows has led to the view of children as the special creation of the parents alone, pre-planned as they are, with births timed as goals achieved amidst other life goals of career advancement, home-buying and trips taken; these children are born with one or two other siblings and then the line of their would-be siblings is cut short. From this total control of reproduction comes an inflated sense on the part of the parents of their role as the sole creators of life. This is, no matter how sweet the family, a form of arrogance, at the bottom of which is a lack of understanding that they are called to be not the sole creators of life, but co-creators with our Creator himself, a very humbling acknowledgement indeed. And so, as Laura says, the children “are indulged in small things and deprived of big things.”

[click through to read the comments]

My first reaction to this piece was confusion: what on earth does contraception have to do with masculinity, or being “neutered”? Libby has an IUD. Does that somehow mean I’ve been neutered – my testicles removed, rendered effeminate, weak, and all the rest of the patriarchally-nasty implications of castration?

Obviously not. So what’s the author’s point? Let’s try to tease it out. There seem to be two strands in the last two paragraphs: a man who isn’t procreating isn’t ever “fully” realizing his god-given role of responsibility for a large family, thus opening himself to derision from women; and contraception permits parents to plan out their children, arrogantly deluding themselves into believing that they are the sole creators of their children’s lives.

Let’s dispense with the courtier’s reply and assume that “emasculation” has some sort of meaning. It pretty clearly doesn’t (what, ability to lift heavy weights or deal with great responsibilities is solely the province of men?), but let’s grant meaning for the sake of argument.

The key idea motivating the first strand holds that a man’s natural role is as a virile, freely procreating man who embraces the responsibility of managing and providing for a large family. We’re all familiar with patriarchal gender roles. In Quiverfull circles, questioning the obligation of mothers to manage, love, and sustain large batches of children is almost passe. From my conversations with Libby, we’re aware – but perhaps don’t discuss it as much, for whatever reason – that Quiverfull also shoehorns men into a particular role, albeit one more congruent with mainstream patriarchal expectations.

I want to question it: Why does my “manliness” (whatever that even is) crucially hinge on not exercising control over the most important set of decisions I will ever make? Why does responsibly gauging and controlling my issue mean that I am no longer capable of bearing responsibility – that I have been infantilized?

No. The ability to control my reproduction does not infantilize me – rather, by putting more under my control, it enables me to be more responsible. It does mean that I have more control over my life – more choice in my role, less drifting on seas of circumstance – but I’m better off that way, not worse off. And so is Libby. She’ll be the first to tell you about how well I handle having a project due when the kids are tearing up the house and she’s in the middle of writing a blog post – the idea that somehow the personal growth induced by two more children (if we were Quiverfull, we’d be starting on a fifth pregnancy right about now) would turn my stress responses 180 degrees is just completely laughable.

What about the second strand? Well – perhaps surprisingly – I would like to express agreement. That’s right: by exercising total control of reproduction, parents have become the sole creators of life. No longer are couples’ lives blown on the winds of happenstance – by divorcing sex and reproduction, couples now exercise control over the creation of new life. WE decide when to get pregnant. WE decide how many children to have. WE decide whether to plant that seed of life, to coax it into bloom, to love it and protect it and guide it.

No longer can we escape by imputing responsibility to an imaginary co-creator. Contraceptives force us to face reality. Parents are the creators of new human life. We do bear responsibility for the lives we bring into the world. And we modern humans have severed the ancient link between sex and childbearing – contraceptives permit us to both pursue sexual pleasure for its own sake without great fear of unwanted pregnancy and to exercise unprecedented control in choosing when to have children.

(Isn’t that awesome? Science is so sweet.)

And in the end, does any of that tear down my “role” as a provider and protector? No, because that role no longer exists. I am not the provider and protector. Libby is not the nurterer and in-home manager. Broad economic and social changes (it ain’t the industrial revolution any more!) let us parent together, and both pursue careers in fields we love.

And Libby doesn’t look down on me because we’ve chosen, together, to balance having a family and pursuing our careers. She doesn’t think I’m somehow less of a person because my sperm can’t make her pregnant, or because an eventual vasectomy cuts off my sperm from my seminal fluid. Those are ridiculous sentiments – we’re forging a life together. We don’t have time for nonsensical non-sequitur judgments. We have a family to raise!

— Sean

Any Time I Hear Someone Say "Traditional Marriage"
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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Kevin S.

    The idea that men stop being fathers if they can’t fertilize around a dozen eggs only makes sense if you think the father’s role stops at conception. In the example given in the excerpt, the supposedly “neutered” man is being a good father: he’s coaching his son’s little league team. I suspect the “neutered” comment may have been about the couple’s private life in the bedroom. Of course, a follower of a patriarchal belief system would never think of that because a woman’s pleasure is the last thing those ideologies think sex is about.

  • centauri

    Oh good grief, it’s the (un)Thinking Housewife again…I used to read that every now and then. But I decided to quit doing that since my blood pressure got way to high after even her shortest posts. I’d rather read Libby’s writing.

    • Steve

      Haha. I didn’t notice the source. That certainly explains the insanity.

      The idea truly seems to be that people are only proper parents if they have as many children as possible. Raising them doesn’t count.

  • KristinMH

    Yeah, that article seems to think that fatherhood begins and ends with conception. Which says a lot about the Thinking Housewife’s husband, come to think of it!

    My dad comes from a family of 12 kids (this is way pre-Quiverfull, BTW – they were just poor Catholic farmers); all of his siblings limited their family size to 2-3 kids, and all had a lot more to give to their kids than their parents did. Who’s the better dad – my grandfather, who sired 12 kids but had little time or cultural space to participate in parenting, or my dad and uncles, who cared for, read to, and played with their kids? It’s much easier to be an involved parent when you don’t have so many kids you wind up with two Als and two Lous.

  • Kacy

    Great post, Sean!

    The article never actually makes a clear connection to exactly *how* contraception emasculates men, but you did a great job refuting this idea.

    I do agree with the Thinking Housewife about one thing, but for different reasons. I fail to see the humor in the joke about the “neutered” husband. Perhaps, this is a knee jerk response after leaving a church that encouraged sharing charts on my reproductive cycle, or perhaps I’m simply used to taking birth control issues very seriously.

    • Lainey

      I agree – I dislike the ‘joke’ that got the writer started on this rant. And generally I dislike the habit that groups of women sometimes fall into of moaning sessions (as opposed to seeking support and advice with genuine difficulties in their relationships) and mean jokes about their significant others – especially the moans that support the idea that men are automatically incapable of doing household tasks, childcare etc as well as a woman. But women have been doing this for hundreds of years and you can find numerous literary and historic memoir examples of that – so it not about recent developments in contraception (although jumping to that position is a great example of the ridiculously literal mindset that evangelicals also bring to bear on the Bible that seems unable to deal with any kind of understanding of subtext, motive etc). These kind of comments don’t reflect that men have been ‘emasculated’ and women are more powerful than them now, in fact just the opposite – its that the balance of power is still against women in many ways and this is one way they have to reflect their dissatisfaction and/or reinforce the limited areas of control they do have. In most cases, the women I know who whose relationships appear most equal and least tied to traditional gender roles are also the least likely to participate in this type of comment.

      • M

        She might have been speaking literally- the husband may have had a vasectomy. I’ve heard my mom makes jokes about my dad getting “snipped”, and he himself refers to it as “walk-in, limp-out” surgery. That was my first impression, anyways- the dog was neutered and the man had a vasectomy.

      • Rae

        I had the same reaction as M – I read that as the woman joking about her husband’s vasectomy. I’ve even heard men who’ve had vasectomies joking around like that in a similar way when they’re talking about getting their pets neutered.

      • Christine

        I read it as a joke about her husband’s vasectomy, but it still seemed to be in poor taste to me. But, I don’t know her husband or her.

    • Aighty

      I didn’t find the joke funny either, but I also felt as though we were missing some context surrounding it. I mean, she did explain the situation a little bit, but it seemed to me that I’d have to have been there to really know whether I thought it was funny or not.

  • emily

    Sean! Great to hear from you. Two things: the dichotomy of “no birth control and God blesses us with children as he see fit” and “couples exercise total control over their reproduction timing children around trips and careers” is a false one. Anyone who has dealt with infertility or knows someone who has can see the limits of control even via science. And plenty of people use contraception, become pregnant, and choose to have a child who wasn’t part of plan A. Nature is manageable but not totally controllable. Two: the limited role of men in qf families makes me so sad. It seems like the dad misses out on so much love and joy because he is sticking to his role.

  • thalwen

    I thought part of what is considered “manly” is taking control of your life? In that case, isn’t taking control over your reproduction, the “manly” thing to do? A man’s man doesn’t leave things to chance, so why should he do so with how many kids he has?
    I’m thinking that the whole “neutered” idea comes from the idea that men have the sex drives of wild beasts and as animals will want to reproduce as much as possible, so should men? Of course, this argument is flawed on so many levels that it is humorous.
    Fundamentalists are way too attached to their ideas. They tend to stick with them even when reality is boldly contradicting them and blame reality for not conforming.

  • Christine

    I want to point out that the original joke probably wasn’t even about birth control. Last time I checked there were lots of ways to avoid having babies without the man needing to get snipped.

  • Katherine

    Oh jeez.

    One thing that really struck me while reading this is how many totally ridiculous other things one would have to believe to ever come to the conclusion that contraception could emasculate men. Because essentially, if you aren’t steeped in heternormative patriarchy, the argument makes no sense at all and is pretty laughable. I mean first you would have to believe that male-female relationships are the CORRECT kind of relationships to have, then you would have to believe that masculinity is the sole province of men and is somehow tied to and reliant on the ability to procreate, then you would have to believe that being a good father equals having a ton of kids, and THEN you would have to believe that procreation should be in “God’s hands”.

    AND EVEN THEN this argument maybe explains how a vasectomy could be seen as emasculating by people who think that way… but other forms of birth control aren’t affect the man’s ABILITY to father children, just causing children not to be fathered THIS TIME (and in the case of all but barrier methods, it is generally the woman’s body that is affected, not the man’s).

    Contraception only emasculates men in situations where men assert their control and dominance over women by causing them to go through multiple pregnancies.

    • Stony

      Perfectly and logically captured. Excellent comment.

  • TheSeravy

    Thanks for the great post Sean! And absolutely agree. It’s true that most contraceptions are designed for and consumed by women. But as Sean have said, as long as both partners are involved in the decision-making, it shouldn’t make a difference. Would the widespread availability of male birth control pill change the dynamic?

    The article was also a very weak attempt at connecting contraception with emasculation. According to that article then, the guy on judge judy who has fathered 10 kids with 10 different women, can’t remember their names and ages and don’t pay child support must be manly virile father of the year. The thinking housewife has confused procreation and fatherhood; two very separate issues. Doing well in the former, does not guarantee competence with the latter. She is also perpetuating a very harmful idea; that children will automatically make a man “settle down” and become a father. As some women have tried, it’s a very stupid idea and it doesn’t work except breed resentment.

    As for the offhand sexist remark: When the girl/guy talk gets going, the sexism comes right out of the bag (I admit, I’m guilty of it too sometimes). In those conversations, it’s hard to tell if people are just letting off steam or truly mean it; most of the things said in those conversations would never in a million years be said in front of those of the opposite sex. Gender roles tend to limit opposite sex interaction to dating/relationships; people deal with things that they don’t have to in friendships so it becomes really easy to form a poor opinion of the opposite sex as you check things off your stereotype list (though it’d probably be just as bad if you had to date your same-sex friends).

  • Rilian

    So a many has to be able to freely make babies? So does that mean that a woman is emasculating a man simply by declining to have sex with him? That article made me “aauaughgh”.

    • Rilian

      *man, not many

  • Stony

    Of course, I didn’t make it past this without cringing:

    that a nice woman like this would make her husband the butt of a crude joke and willingly belittle her homelife in that way, to the laughter of other mothers. I wish I could say I said something that showed them all how misguided they were….

    I’ve had a lifetime fill of that self-righteous attitude, thank you kindly. An ample sufficiency. Heaven forfend that this woman not speak of her lord and master with awed reverence at all times. See? I can indulge in rank hyperbole, too. In short, Miss Judgement here could give it a rest.

  • Emily

    I went back to the original article and meandered through the blog. In a post entitled “More on the absurdity of coed combat” the author writes, “Anyone who has watched a few war movies with his common sense intact knows how ridiculous and unnatural it would be to have men and women live in battlefield conditions together or to expect women to relieve themselves on the battlefield as easily as men do.”

    Y’all, we’re spending time tearing down the argument of a woman who, elsewhere, argues that women shouldn’t be in combat roles because WE CAN’T PEE STANDING UP. I’m moving on with my day.

    • smrnda

      I’d like to tell that author that the question of whether or not women could serve in combat was decided way back in World War II for sure, if not before during the Ukraine-Poland war which followed WWI. In both many women served in combat and many distinguished themselves as soldiers. For interested parties, look up Lyudmilla Pavlichenko, the top female sniper of WWII.

      I think that in these cases, given that the USSR was fighting a total war, sexism and belief in outmoded gender roles was a luxury they couldn’t afford.

      • Anat

        There were many women who served in combat in the 19th century – disguised as men. That they could pull it off must mean something.

    • Liz

      To be fair, I sometimes go on intense hikes with men, and if we need to move quickly peeing out of sight is a huge hindrance. A few minutes for me to find a nice tree and pee, a few seconds for them.

      They do make devices to help with that though.

      • machintelligence

        A friend confided that that was the only time she felt penis envy. :-)

      • Steve

        There are also devices that allow women to pee standing. Some military units are also procuring them though they aren’t standard issue.

        In the US military there is a lot of typical puritanical prudishness about men and women living close together. Other countries that have women in combat units are more relaxed about that. I saw a British documentary about women serving in an artillery unit and the women slept in the same houses as the men with only a small camping tent for privacy each. They undressed in front of each other. Also the men walked around shirtless outside and sometimes in shorts, whereas some of the women only wore shorts and bras.

    • Lucreza Borgia
  • TKB

    Great post! Tying responsibility and control together to combat any claims of infantilizing makes so much more sense than what the Housewife was attempting to do. Lack of control and lack of responsibility are more characteristic of childishness/infantilization, not masculinity. Then again, it seems like it might be related to the idea of a wife ‘caring for her husband as for her children’ role.

    Funny enough, the idea that arrived first for me was: sperm donors. If masculinity were strictly tied to the ability to ‘procreate freely’, why aren’t donations center packed to the brim with any folks who believe masculinity is inherently tied with the ability to ‘procreate freely’? I presume this is not so, since such free procreation is only sanctified as within a proper, godly marriage. Up until that point, what’s a poor guy to do? And heaven forbid if a bloke decides not to ever marry.

    ” I wish I could say I said something that showed them all how misguided they were but I sat mute and just felt terribly sorry for the man involved, who at the time was laboring away on the field with the boys.”

    This is the line that grates like lemon over a paper cut for me. Clearly, all these ladies know not one whit of what they’re about as opposed to the Housewife. It’s smarmy and arrogant while at the same time, blindly pointing out the hypocrisy in her own post that this man is a pulling his parenting weight by being involved with his children out on the field. And yet, she doesn’t even consider this in the remainder of her post — more concerned with fitting men into a stereotypical ”protector and provider’ role rather than investigating the details of that role. It’s like, she almost touched on an egalitarian idea of masculine roles and then totally overshot by about 100 feet.

    What strikes me as particularly insulting is the idea that the ‘provider’ role strictly equates to ‘money’ rather than the emotional and intellectual support said man was providing to ‘the boys’ by being involved with them. The protector role doesn’t appear to elaborated upon as much, at least not in this particular article of discussion.

    “Men in this day and age are rarely encouraged to procreate freely; they are asked to step up to the plate a couple of times and then are sort of put out to pasture, for lack of a better term. Their role as father is never fully realized (nor is that of the mother but that is another discussion) – it is always held in check, restrained and controlled and eventually severed, whether surgically or otherwise. ”

    I also find this interesting. She never goes on to explain how a father’s role could be fully realized and she also appears to link the ability of a father to realize his role with that of the mother — she can’t realize her role until he realizes his role. At least, that is how it reads to me. Could be wrong for all I know.

    • Jayn

      “If masculinity were strictly tied to the ability to ‘procreate freely’, why aren’t donations center packed to the brim with any folks who believe masculinity is inherently tied with the ability to ‘procreate freely’?”

      Short answer–because that’s doing it wrong. Children are meant to be conceived by a husband and wife through intercourse. (The RCC has prohibitions against not only contraception and masturbation, but also some fertility treatments, IIRC). Anything else isn’t God’s will.

      Plus I also suspect there would be some ego-related balking at the possibility of one’s child possibly not being raised (the right type of) Christian. Or just being raised by another man. (Or two other men, single women, lesbians…)

  • Jarred H

    And in the end, does any of that tear down my “role” as a provider and protector? No, because that role no longer exists.

    Personally, I think that’s a great time. Not being required to fill a “provider and protector” role allows me to explore other roles that I greatly enjoy.

  • smrnda

    I notice that arguments against birth control usually try to make it an issue of men against women or vice verse, as if a man and a woman couldn’t decide together that they want to use birth control. It’s always either the woman ‘neutering and emasculating’ the man, or else it’s the man who is refusing to make the woman happy by giving her the double digit family that she naturally, as a woman who wants most of all to have as many children as possible craves.

    Part of the issues is that religion tries to set itself up as a mediator between people. You aren’t supposed to go to your spouse to find out what they want or think or feel, you’re supposed to go to your religion and find out there. People working out relationships on their own reduces the need for an organization that tells you how you’re supposed to handle marriage. It also creates a private space where couples work things out without involving ‘the church’ which leads to their decline in influence and relevance.

    • James

      Why does everyone assume contraception = birth control?

      The post is from a Catholic site, so I assume that the author is advocating using natural family planning as birth control, not “quiverfull”.

      In which case, I completely agree.

      Quiverfull tells men that they don’t have to control themselves and should breed like rabbits. Contraception tells men that they don’t have to control themselves, but can do so without breeding like rabbits. Natural family planning (whether supplemented with barrier methods or not) tells men they have to control themselves.

      I have become better man than I was because I can control myself. And we ended up having more sex as a result. We have no more kids than we did since making the “switch”.

      The IUD and the Pill were terrible for my wife’s health. What kind of man asks his wife to damage her health because he can’t/doesn’t want to control himself? And what kind of man gets snipped because he doesn’t want to control himself?

  • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

    Hi Sean! Good article.

    The combination of “procreate freely” and “put out to pasture” conjured up images of a naked man placidly munching grass before haring off to impregnate people. Anyone else have that image flit through their mind, or was it just me? Which is funny, because the author just objected to a man being compared to an animal (well, that’s my objection to the joke, anyway) and then argued that men have to impregnate as frequently as possible to fulfill their function as men. Which, to be frank, is kind of animalistic. You’re totally right, Sean: why is an ethos of responsibility applied to every other area of life except family planning? How does being responsible about reproduction degrade anyone?

    Also, I find this sentence really disturbing: “Have women been emboldened, and deep inside do they look down upon men, who allow this manipulation of their progeny?”

    Um, excuse me? “Allow this manipulation of their progeny?” What about my progeny? Do I get a say in what happens in my own body? Yes, yes, I do. And I only look down on men who believe it’s their God-given right to impregnate their wives as often as possible, without regard to their wives’ own desires.

    I think I’ve realized why contraception is such an issue for very conservative Christians. It doesn’t just provide an “illusion of control,” it provides real, tangible, immediately observable control over reproduction. No method is 100% failsafe, but when people have access to the full range of contraceptives, and they use them consistently, they’re able to exercise a lot of control in their lives. In their worldview, that would give the lie to God’s omnipotence, so they have to tie themselves in knots justifying why contraception is a great evil.

  • Ismenia

    I understood the joke about neutering was a way of saying that her husband had had a vasectomy.

    I don’t know how popular it is in the US but I’m in the UK and it’s a perfectly normal thing for a man to have a vasectomy once he and his partner have finished their family. It’s less invasive than female sterilisation and women have to bear the burden of most forms of contraception, pregnancy and childbirth.

    The writer of the article clearly considers it a distasteful and private matter but my father and most of my uncles have had it done and it tends to be talked about openly. I recall being embarrassed as a kid when my father told someone we harldy knew that he couldn’t ride his motorbike for three days afterwards (I’m impressed that he could after four).

    When my aunt’s ex-husband had it done he told us that he had shown the to a female friend marks (she had asked to see but it turned out that she didn’t realise that the incisions are actually made in the testicles).

    The joke isn’t all that funny but then it was a silly comment to amuse a few friends not part of a stand-up comedy routine.

    • Basketcase

      Its more and more common here in NZ as well. In fact, I recall talking to my SIL while she was pregnant with #2 and she mentioned they had decided that her husband would get the snip. Not sure if he has done it yet or not, and dont feel a need to ask. We are talking about it in our household too, but hubby is not sure he can handle it (the mental aspect of permanently giving up the option of having more kids, even if we decided we definitely did not want any).
      But yeah, I also know my Dad and Uncle are both snipped, as are several friends husbands now that they feel they have completed their families – including one where she got pregnant with #3 while on the pill (and taking it absolutely correctly), who was told “go, now” and absolutely agreed as they had only wanted two and a 4th would push them beyond the limits of “financially strained”.

      • Rosa

        Vasectomy is the most common form of birth control for couples we know who don’t want or are done having children. Though our friends might not be representative – about half the married couples I know are Catholic and it seems like a good choice for devout Catholics who aren’t using NFP, since you do it once and don’t have to keep deciding over and over and there’s little chance nosy relatives or parish friends will find out.

        @Basketcase – he might want to look into plug vasectomy, because it’s more easily reversible – that’s good psychologically if he’s not 100% on board the no more kids train, but also because if he’s one of the few men who has painful orgasm as a side effect of the surgery, it usually goes away if the plugs are removed.

    • Rosa

      Vasectomy is the most common form of birth control for couples we know who don’t want or are done having children. Though our friends might not be representative – about half the married couples I know are Catholic and it seems like a good choice for devout Catholics who aren’t using NFP, since you do it once and don’t have to keep deciding over and over and there’s little chance nosy relatives or parish friends will find out.

  • Lucreza Borgia

    Getting a vascetomy was one of the happiest decisions that quite a few of my male friends have ever made for themselves and their families. Sadly, I know of a few men who think it is emasculating. Meanwhile one of those men never ever wants children and is perfectly willing to take the risks of condoms.

  • plutosdad

    I was dumb enough to click and read some of that, I have never read anything so silly. He wants to say we are emasculated, he, the whiner who complains that women won’t take his feelings into consideration?

    I think throughout history women have made jokes about getting the dog neutered, I know my mother did. It made us men uncomfortable, but that’s why they thought it was funny. Like the old joke about in a movie when the man is hit in the groin, the women viewing thinks it hurts but the man viewing actually feels the the pain. Is that emasculating too?

    And I’m not sure how manly it is to have more children than you can afford, or wise to let your ability to care for your family be dictated by the winds of fortune rather than planning.

    • centauri

      Sadly enough, there’s only one man in that particular post, and he’s at the very end of the comments…

  • orakio

    .. Funny. I don’t feel emasculated. What I do feel is relief that I’ll never have to help my wife come to the decision to terminate a fetus or give birth to a child that we don’t want. What I do feel is relief that I’ll never be asked to support a mouth that I didn’t ask for. What I do feel is comfort in knowing that my family is set the way it’s going to be – the way we want it to be. And it means we can enjoy our sex life more, knowing that we won’t have to deal with any of the above.

  • Tracey

    Good to hear your voice, Sean. It’s nice to get some words from the people around LA. I feel that I’d like meeting either of you in person if that were somehow possible. I’d certainly read another guest post if you write again.

  • picklefactory

    And in the end, does any of that tear down my “role” as a provider and protector?

    I’m a provider and protector when I need to be, but what I really am is a partner, and that’s the way I want it.

    Hey Sean, great to hear from you. We’ve heard so much about you. :)

  • Mogg

    Nice to see you write something, Shaun!

    I think there’s a whole aspect here which has been missed. The purpose of neutering, that is, specifically castrating rather than vasectomising, any male animal is to make it biddable – reducing testosterone makes the animal calmer, gentler, usually less obviously masculine in appearance and musculature, and generally safer to handle. It is almost always less about reproduction, and more about making a servant-creature compliant to our wishes and safe to be around. In some cases with animals there is a specific need for the more overtly male behaviour, and vasectomy is used to achieve it – high-level working dogs with no place in a breeding program, or, much more commonly, a “pacifier” stud tom cat used by a breeder to mate with females in heat which are not ready to have kittens at that time (and if you have ever lived with an unspeyed female cat, you’ll know that if they mated every time they came into heat, you’d be flooded with kittens, and if they don’t mate they come into heat every three weeks for more than half the year. Not fun for anyone, including the poor cat.)

    In that sense, the comment is terribly rude and and indicates the woman may have little respect for her husband. I find such comments disturbing, but they are common in female groups – the equivalent of locker-room talk for males, and disrespectful of the opposite gender. However, I agree with other commenters that this is a symptom of the problems between genders in both equality and understanding. In my experience the usual culprit in this sort of conversation is someone who has a bad relationship history. She may be to blame as much as her partner/s in that history, but it is far more common for the woman to come off worse in such situations, and I suspect it is an attempt to regain power in some way. Nothing at all to do with reproduction, all about.being safe in a relationship when other relationships have been threatening.

    How.much better would it be for both men and women if the expectations of history and culture did not force them to feel the need to confine themselves to or define themselves by a certain model of relationship and gender role, or feel threatened if they don’t?

    • KristinMH

      It is almost always less about reproduction, and more about making a servant-creature compliant to our wishes and safe to be around

      Uh…what? I own both a male and a female dog, both sterilized. This had nothing to do with changing their.behaviour and everything to do with preventing the proliferation of unwanted animals. I don’t know where you live, but in Canada it is really unusual to find unaltered pet dogs. I’ve only run across 3 that I can think of in my 7 years of pet ownership. I don’t know why anyone *would* keep their pet intact, to be honest. It seems like a giant hassle.

      • Mogg

        I’ll bet you have never seen too many intact male horses, cattle or sheep, either. Geldings, bullocks and wethers are far easier to handle both in general and around others of the same species as they have less to distract them from what we want them to do, that is, carry us, pull our loads, or calmly eat grass and make good meat and wool. They have much less drive to either fight other males or chase and mate females. When dealing with big animals, that means safer. Neutering a dog or cat early means they do not develop fully adult behaviour (think tomcat spraying, for starters, and the tendency of intact dogs and cats to wander and fight for mating opportunities), and may be taller because they do not have a hormone-induced early closure of the growth plates of the bones, but not as robust in build due to the lack of testosterone to boost their muscle development.

        I live in Australia, where neutering and spaying or properly managing undesexed pets is unfortunately not as ubiquitous as I would like. I don’t have a problem with long as they’re not allowed to roam or harrass other pets AT ALL, but they are harder to manage. I have friends in both dog show and cat show circles, so I’ve seen how much it takes to keep non-desexed animals responsibly, happily and healthily.

      • Rosie

        While pets are usually “fixed” to keep them from procreating, livestock males are most often neutered to make them more biddable, less territorial, and in the case of cattle, more edible. Even in the smaller species–sheep, goats, alpacas–an intact male can be quite hazardous to any humans that have to deal with it. Two in the same pasture is often a recipe for trouble. Same goes for roosters, for that matter, but usually those are simply killed at a relatively young age (I like to let mine get big enough to be worth cooking), because neutering them is quite the delicate surgery.

    • Ismenia

      My husband is planning to have a vasectomy and has been making endless jokes about being taken to the vet etc.

      If the woman in the original story meant that her husband has been made more docile and under control it would be a bad sign but I don’t think that was what was meant. When you get down to it everybody knows that human male sterilisation does not involve castration.

      My husband used to call me a cyborg when I had a coil fitted but that doesn’t mean he was implying that I had become dehumanised by contraception.

      • Mogg

        That is generally how I interpret any kind of desexing or lack of balls joke, as it seems the most obvious point to me given it’s been routine for thousands of years for exactly the purpose of pacification, even on human slaves. It goes with the general trope that a man who lets his woman tell him what to do, i.e. is biddable and does what she wants, is not a *real* man, has no balls, she’s holding his testicles, and variations on the theme. I find it quite fascinating that my interpretation is not the common one here, though!

    • thalwen

      Neutering is all about preventing the proliferation of unwanted animals. I have been to countries where neutering/spaying is not the norm and it is tragic seeing the homeless, sick, thin dogs and cats roaming the streets. Most of these animals will live shortened lives or be killed by animal control. Just one pair of cats will produce nearly half a million descendants within less than a decade. Not to mention spaying/neutering has major benefits for the animal (less risk of prostate/gynaecological problems and cancer). Neutering my cat hasn’t changed his personality but it means that he doesn’t mark, doesn’t get stressed out when there’s a female in heat in the neighbourhood, and doesn’t make kittens which would then have to be found homes. Look at any animal shelter and there are tons of unwanted kittens and puppies because people didn’t bother to get their animal spayed or neutered, because the cult of masculinity is more important than the well-being of animals.
      Also, calm and gentle aren’t horrible things. Saying that a man is calm and gentle isn’t some horrible, rude, emasculating comment or an attack on masculinity. Real masculine men aren’t defined by false machoism.

      • Christine

        There are some pets where it’s done for non-procreative reasons. Our rabbits, for example, were spayed for health reasons (they would live a fair bit longer). It’s really mostly dogs and cats where neutering is for population control. Livestock is behavioural (or for flavour of the meat animal).

      • thalwen

        I realise reading the comments now (they all got posted as I was writing). I’m a city gal, so my knowledge of animals isn’t the livestock kind. But even in those populations, the neutering has a purpose. In pets, obviously there are health benefits along with the population control. I guess I got a bit too defensive as I took the OP to mean that neutering is some horrible thing that should never be brought up in the context of human males, when in animals it isn’t horrible, even if it is to make some of them more docile (I doubt a farmer wants a field full of intact bulls on the farm).

  • Rae

    Maybe it’s just me, but the phrase “procreate freely” brings up mental images of some sort of free-love hippie Star Trek society where people just arbitrarily have sex with anyone else…

  • Sophie

    Like many of the other commenters, I didn’t find that joke funny at all. And that kind of down on men talk makes me deeply uncomfortable, when I encounter it I usually excuse myself. I also agree that it’s likely the joker was referring to her husband having had a vasectomy but she could have been saying that she was the head of the household or that she was in charge what it comes to her and her husband’s sex life.

    I think that the Thinking Housewife used this encounter as an excuse to write a rant against contraception. I really object to her idea of men as wild beasts who have are driven to produce as many children as possible. And her assertion that men and women who don’t have a large family aren’t fulfilling their roles as parents. And oh my goodness that people are being so selfish because they don’t want to get themselves into massive amounts of debt by having more children than they can afford. Never mind the frankly idiot premise of contraception emasculating men.

    I agree with Sean completely that taking responsibility for your fertility is one of the biggest and best desicions you make as a parent or potential one. And that desicion should be made with your partner, and if children are wanted then the subsequent parenting should be shared equally too. I do want to add that there is nothing wrong with having a large family but only if both parents want it, they can afford it and that the children don’t suffer because of it. Every child deserves individual attention from their parents, and I really object to the practice in large religious families of the older children essentially being co-parents. There’s nothing wrong with them helping out but their younger siblings should not be their responsibility.

    Anyway excellent post Sean, I hope you will guest post again.

  • Nebuladancer

    I doubt the man writing the rant was aware of evolutionarily based his argument was, otherwise he might not have made it.

    We were having a discussion in Genetics last week about biological ‘fitness’ and the point was made that in a survival of the fittest scenario, the person who successfully procreates AND raises their progeny to the point that they ALSO successfully procreate is deemed to have the most biological fitness. That is, they are the evolutionary winners.

    By defining his “role as father” to merely his role in providing half of his chromosomes to a new person he is tacitly agreeing with blind evolutionary thought. And yet when he says “This is … a form of arrogance…” he denies the very basic biological fact he has asserted is his “role as a father.”

    So he first defends the position that conception is the result of sperm intermixing with an oocyte, and implies that any attempt to block the two from meeting detracts from his manliness, and then he claims that knowing this fact and making a choice concerning it is arrogant. He wants to win the evolutionary game while pretending he didn’t know how he won it. It’s a false humility.

  • A Reader

    I love reading Libby’s blog, and it’s cool to see Sean write too :)

  • Joy

    First, people are not neutered or spayed…vasectomy and tubal ligation do not remove organs, merely connections between them. And that comment IS meant to reduce you to your balls, just as the entire philosophy reduces women to either a hymen or a uterus. And parents are actually able to give more individual attention to their children–i.e. make better parents– when they aren’t trying to breed an entire baseball team.

  • JoAnne Simson

    This post is just awsome, and more so coming from such a thoughtful and articulate MAN!