Last night my department hosted esteemed cultural historian Elaine Tyler May, author of the trend-setting Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era, which I often assign to my undergrads. May gave an endowed lecture based on her latest book, America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation, a short and accessible, yet provocative and revisionist history of “the pill,” which just turned 50 last year.
The most interesting chapter in the book, from my perspective, and the most fascinating part of her lecture last night, which included some fantastic images too expensive to be included in the book, is the question of “A Pill for Men?” May explores the long and complicated history of why a pill for men has never been developed and approved. Although the reasons are myriad and complex, the single greatest factor is that men have always had less to lose than women by having unprotected sex, and thus the incentives to ingest hormone-altering chemicals have not been a factor in inspiring a market for such a pill–such inspiration (profits) being the driving force of the resources and scientific power necessary to the development of a pill for men. Related to this, though, is the long history of male ambivalence towards male contraceptives. The image below, from the cover of a 1972 issue of Esquire, best reflects such ambivalence (which is an understatement). I find this image amazing on so many levels.