David Russell Mosley
7 November 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire
I want to write to you today about two seemingly disparate topics that, I think, are more related than would appear on first blush. The first is eco-sexuality and the second the rather contentious male birth-control injection study.
You’ve probably seen the Vice article, “Ecosexuals Believe Having Sex with the Earth Could Save It,” on Facebook. If you haven’t or if you haven’t read it, allow to me to give a very brief digest. The term ecosexuality has a wide range of meanings. It goes from ecological sustainability in one’s sex life to skinny-dipping/naked hiking to desiring to have sexual intercourse with the earth itself. The general idea is that greater awareness (whether through having sex with trees or using sustainable practices in one’s sex life with other humans) will help us take better care of the earth itself. I have to admit that I’m fascinated by this. Not because I have any desire to make love to a blackberry bush (talk about painful), but for reasons I will explore more here in a moment. But before I do, let’s turn our attention to the recent male birth-control study.
If you’re unfamiliar with this, essentially, a study was performed and the results published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Essentially, an injection has been developed to reduce, temporarily, sperm counts in men. Through the study, only 4 couples got pregnant out of 100. However, the study was halted due to adverse side-effects. Now, many have gotten up in arms because the listed side-effects are similar to, if not identical to, those experienced by women who take the pill. This has caused many women to “laugh” because most men have little to know idea what women on the pill have been going through for decades. Of course, much of this misses that it wasn’t the men in the trial who decided to halt it, but an external board (which may have been composed primarily of men). In fact, 76% of the men who were part of the trial said they would continue to use it, if they could, despite adverse side-effects.
Now here’s what I find interesting about the juxtaposition of these two topics. Somehow they manage to co-exist while also being, to my mind, mutually exclusive. While it’s true that many of the reports of the consequences of the pill for our environment may have been exaggerated, we still don’t know the long term consequences of pumping women full of various chemicals that they wouldn’t naturally produce or consume (or not at those levels) on the women themselves (and their children) nor on the environment in general. And let’s face it, whatever the consequences may be, big or little, we aren’t particularly concerned with them when we think about the pill, that’s not the primary focus. So if we think of ecosexuality as being green between the sheets, and not being between the sheets with something green, then I think we need to think seriously about what potential affects there are from any form of chemical contraception (whether for women or for men).And of course, we must remember that we are part of the environment. That is, we’re not discreetly separable from “the environment.” Thus, these negative side-effects that caused the male birth-control study to be ceased, and the negative side-effects women on the pill have been facing for at least fifty years, ought to be real parts of our conversations about the environment. Is it good for the environment that women (or men) be subjected to these side-effects that have been put upon them by men. In fact, I see the issue of the pill as a rather feminist issue, not because I think we should make the pill freely available to everyone, but because we’re not considering the source. Or at least we weren’t, more and more women are talking about the issues surrounding the pill or other chemical (or chemic-physical, such as an IUD) and their patriarchal sources.
Now, since I am Protestant, I am not bound by Humanae Vitae and its proscriptions against all forms of contraception. My personal jury is still out on the issue. However, I can see the benefit of using more natural means to “prevent” pregnancy (I actually dislike the terminology here because it makes pregnancy sound like a disease which aids us in thinking of fete as unnatural byproducts of sex). This seems to me far more ecosexual, after all. There’s no landfill by product if you don’t use condoms or diaphragms; no excess chemicals are being introduced to our soil or water if we don’t use foams or spermicides or things like the pill, IUDs, or injections. Of course there’s still the economic consideration here as well. Women getting pregnant wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t so terribly expensive just have to children (and here I’m just talking hospital expenses), not to mention unpaid maternity leave, the seeming choice that must be made between children and work, the fact that work takes both parents outside the home, etc. And none of this touches on the theological and philosophical considerations (what is sex, what is a human being, what does Christ as the New Adam and the Microcosm mean for how we understand our relationship to our environment, to our common home?).
So I’m left in a strange place. After all, I’m keenly aware that there are mitigating factors. That women take the pill for more reasons than just pregnancy prevention (see Marina Olson’s excellent piece on this, “When Good Catholic Women Take Birth Control“); that economic realities make it difficult to have children in our society; that we truly have a culture of death, and not simply because we abort unborn children but because we don’t take proper care of the people, plants, and animals that make up our societies. And yet, I’m glad that these topics have arisen simultaneously because they are making us take a hard look at our present practices. I can only hope that this hard look will cause to rethink how we relate to one another sexually, economically, relationally, and how we relate to our common home.