Sex and health are important topics for anyone, but maybe more so for us Pagans. Being an earth-based belief system, we tend to favor and embrace a more natural and holistic approach to our health; steering away from chemicals that can harm the Earth and us, and pills that may contain multiple side effects. And when it comes to sex, we don’t usually attach cultural taboos, and restrictions like other religions do but encourage that which gives our bodies pleasure when performed in mutual enjoyment. We don’t always wish to produce more children, however, so we use contraceptives to prevent this from happening. Pliny the Elder spoke of an herb called silphium that worked so well for the Greek and Egyptian women since the seventh century BCE that the plant eventually became extinct. Other natural ways included mixtures of various herbs, honey, and animal dung but when the bubonic plague ended in 1349, most people were concentrating on repopulating, instead. And in 1484, Pope Innocent VIII stated that evil witches could prevent women from conceiving and so gave full papal approval for the Inquisition to proceed. Unfortunately, with other influences, this has evolved to a general mindset that permanently (or even temporarily) preventing pregnancy is immoral or wrong and since many relied on their farms to sustain themselves and needed extra hands to help cultivate this made sense. But fewer people are farming these days and are instead moving to cities, and the suburbs where more women are working, instead of raising the family and so many couples are opting out of having children or are waiting until they feel they are more ready.
Why, then, is it still so difficult for people to purchase contraceptives? For women, there are several reasons: Globally, the medical society consists primarily of men who discourage it for moral and sometimes legal reasons, or because “the woman may change her mind” (in cases of sterilization). There are also health risks that can occur for women with the contraceptives available, like hormonal imbalances, infections, pain, clotting, weight fluctuations, mood changes, bloating, hair loss, and much more, as well as the severely invasive, uncomfortable, and painful procedures of modern day female contraceptives. But family planning is not up to the woman alone; men have contraceptives, as well. After all, if women have the responsibility to create, men should have the responsibility to prevent. However, there are only two forms available: condoms and vasectomy. Condoms not only prevent pregnancy, but they prevent STDs, as well. But a lot of men have troubles sexually performing when wearing a condom due to discomfort or allergies, and there isn’t always one available in the heat-of-the-moment. Vasectomies are a form of sterilization with very little to no health risks in comparison to their female counterparts and are quick to heal. But only 10% of American men get a vasectomy, and just 2.2% globally (Unpopulation.org, 2013) This low number is especially understood in developing countries where funds and availability are lacking, as well as contraceptive acceptance. I believe the percentage is so low in America, however, because a lot of men feel their masculinity is threatened when they’re asked to block their abilities. It’s also permanent, and some people are afraid they could change their minds on having future children. Also, after reading the steps in the surgical procedure on WebMD, I admit my whole body was cringing in vicarious pain, and I might’ve said, “Oh god” a few times.
There is now a new male contraceptive soon to be available that is even less risky than the vasectomy and is non-surgical. 76-year old Dr. Sujoy Guha in India invented a product called RISUG, the American version is known as Vasalgel. A no-scalpel contraceptive procedure, doctors inject a shot of polymer hydrogel into the vas deferens (a tube that the sperm swim through at the time of ejaculation) that filters the sperm out and does not affect the man’s semen production or orgasm. The sperm then gets naturally absorbed by the body, similar to a vasectomy. The gel continues to do its job for the man until he decides to have sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) injected in the same area which then removes the gel, making this procedure completely reversible. And with a vasectomy, men must wait 1-2 months for it to work by bringing their sperm count down to zero, whereas with Vasagel, it’s an immediate fix. Currently, it is still in the final stages of efficacy and safety testing, and so a release date has not been announced. Nor has the price, but Parsemus Foundation in Berkley, California (a non-profit organization that created Vasagel based on Guha’s design) says they are working hard to keep the cost as affordable as possible, especially for developing countries that could benefit from it the most. The only downside to this is that, like a vasectomy, Vasalgel is not a preventative for contracting STDs and condoms are still the most effective product available for that.
Having free will over our independent decisions about our bodies and our families is not only a Pagan principle but a fundamental human right. If a man feels he is less of one when he chooses not to risk impregnating a woman, then he should question the origin
of these feelings and where his beliefs fall into place. Pagans should have the ability to have sexual intercourse without worry or fear of what could come from it (which can make sex more painful anyways!), and have sex for offspring when they are ready to do so. Since we no longer have Pliny’s silphium available to us, male contraceptives seem to me to be the most efficient, safest, and smartest type available. And hopefully, this new gel injection will make it even more so for us guys.
Vasectomy.com. (n.d.). Gel injection birth control: Vasalgel. Retrieved from http://www.vasectomy.com/article/vasectomy/alternatives/gel-injection-birth-control-vasalgel
Parsemus Foundation. (2017). Vasalgel FAQ. Retrieved from https://www.parsemus.org/projects/vasalgel/vasalgel-faqs/
Unpopulation.org. (2013). World Contraceptive Patterns 2013. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/family/worldContraceptivePatternsWallChart2013.pdf
WebMD. (2017). Vasectomy: Surgery overview. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/vasectomy-14387
Kansas Stanton is a Naturalistic Neo-Pagan who resides in Seattle, Washington. He belongs to, and practices with, a local group of Reform Pagans and blogs at https://leavesontheroad.wordpress.com/. He also volunteers every year at the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle and regularly attends various Pagan festivals and events.
He is a full-time student, earning his degree in Environmental Science and a Certificate in Sustainability, after which time he will move on to law school to receive his Juris Doctor in Environmental Law. When Kansas is not in class or working his job in the art industry, he also attends heavy metal concerts both locally and internationally. He is also a vegan outdoorsman who frequents the trails and whitewater rivers of the pacific northwest and loves to spend his time with friends over a cold, dark beer.