Sure, sex is great, but have you seen the title of Gabrielle Blair’s new book, “Ejaculate Responsibly?” As I found out firsthand when I left my copy out on a coffee shop table, some people find the title intriguing — others are, no word play intended, turned off.
It certainly must feel offensive to that second group that anyone would dare tell them what to do with their bodies. I can’t imagine! That’s only because I don’t have to. As everyone knows, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade this spring. Blair’s book proposes a (theoretically) duh-simple solution to the thorny issue of abortion: If men took responsibility for how and where they ejaculate, it would eliminate most unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, the need for most abortions.
“My key claim is that 99 percent of abortions are the result of unwanted pregnancies, and men cause all unwanted pregnancies,” Blair writes. “An unwanted pregnancy doesn’t happen because people have sex. An unwanted pregnancy only happens if a man ejaculates irresponsibly — if he deposits his sperm in a vagina when he and his partner are not trying to conceive.”
After decades of political and legal maneuvering, cultural warfare, movements and manifestos, and real life-or-death consequences for providers and patients alike, could the answer really be this obvious? This simple? Blair seems completely confident it is. And if you allow yourself to step back and not jump to the usual “but, but, but” responses that you’ve learned over time, you might find yourself agreeing with her. I know I did.
“Ejaculate Responsibly” began as a 63-tweet-long thread in 2018. “I was totally afraid no one would respond,” Blair said in a recent interview. “I was thinking, ‘How fast can I delete?’ ” Instead, the tweets went viral. Blair, a mother of six and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says the first person who called her after seeing her tweets was her bishop, who told her she could build a legal career on it. Instead, she wrote this book. On the podcast “Mormon Land,” Blair said her treatise emerged from conversations with the many women she’s met over the years, particularly through her lifestyle blog, Design Mom. Now she is asking her followers there to send “Ejaculate Responsibly” to specific members of the Supreme Court. (So far, Justice Amy Coney-Barrett has the most copies in her box.)
Blair’s argument is plain-spoken and direct. Smartly, she doesn’t engage in a debate over whether abortion is right or wrong. In stark language and (mostly) straightforward examples, she underscores how unacceptable we find it to merely suggest that men take responsibility for their actions (and sperm). Or how it’s unthinkable that men would compromise their pleasure in any way, for example, by using a condom (although she does have a lot to say about the myth of condoms impacting pleasure nearly as much as we’ve all been led to believe). Or to expect men to tolerate even mild side effects for the greater reproductive good, as happened when an otherwise successful 2006 trial for male birth control was shut down because some participants experienced acne and weight gain. Or as women like to refer to these side effects: being alive.
But, as Blair makes clear, the problem with who takes responsibility for birth control isn’t just a men-believe-this situation. It’s a a-whole-lot-of- us believe this situation: “We, men and women, have a huge blind spot when it comes to men and birth control. Men assume women will do all the work of pregnancy prevention, that a woman will take responsibility for her own body and for the man’s body, and women assume women will do it, too.”
Instead of telling women to keep their legs shut, Blair wonders why men can’t keep it in their pants (or in a condom or get a vasectomy — methods that are easier, safer and more effective than birth control options for women.) As she notes, when condoms are used correctly, they’re 98% effective at preventing pregnancy. They’re also the only form of birth control that prevents transmission of sexually transmitted infections. Vasectomies are 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy. Although the pill is 99% effective, it’s also a hormonal form of birth control that must be taken daily, requires a prescription, isn’t instantly effective, has cost implications for the user as well as a long list of potential side effects — and is also susceptible to restrictions from employer health insurance plans and, well, in June “following the overturning of Roe v. Wade,” Blair points out, “Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas signaled that Griswold v. Connecticut, the case legalizing the use of contraception by married couples, could be up for reversal as well.”
She also argues against those who respond, “All women need to do is ask men to wear a condom, and then refuse to have sex with him if he doesn’t.” As if it’s ever that simple or that we live in a world where there aren’t real power dynamics and the potential for domestic violence. “Don’t ask: Why don’t women pick better men? Instead, ask: Why are there so many abusive men? And: Why don’t we teach men not to abuse?” This reminded me of my local police department offering a self-defense class for women, suggesting it was the perfect mother-daughter activity for girls 14 and up, but didn’t offer an equivalent class for fathers and sons teaching them how to not assault or rape girls and women.
Blair’s book is incisive, but there are some stumbles. As a lengthy Twitter thread, her arguments packed a real punch. It was simple and bold, cutting off avenues to counterargument left and right. The expanded book version can sometimes lose its way and its momentum. The points Blair makes can get repetitive, so much so that at one point I thought I had lost my place and was rereading a couple chapters by mistake. The analogies can sometimes be a little silly, losing their power to illustrate a valid point. And a few chapter headings (like “Sperm are dangerous”) feel designed to shock at the risk of losing the reader who might otherwise be open to her argument.
Also, since this book is, in effect, a rebranding of the abortion issue — by the creator of “Design Mom” no less — it’s odd that the book itself isn’t a more satisfying design exercise. Blair’s powerful core proposal and the information that’s jam-packed into it are perfectly suited for a tighter, more compelling approach. For every credible stat, there’s a Wikipedia reference or a mushy phrase like “the vast majority.” There are caveats and notes galore that can make the reading experience sometimes feel disjointed. A more infographic-like style could have helped weed out some of these weaknesses and punch up her most potent points.
Still, Blair’s fresh reframe should be required reading for any person who has sex, wants to have sex or is raising someone who might have sex in the future. This slender book has what it takes to be the foundation for a movement. At the minimum, the point Blair makes in her introduction should get everyone examining their expectations, biases and judgments more closely: “We’ve put the burden of pregnancy prevention on the person who is fertile for 24 hours a month, instead of the person who is fertile 24 hours a day, every day of their life.” It feels impossible to argue with this point in theory. But the thing about ejaculating responsibly is we now need to see it in practice. So to speak.
Kimberly Harrington is the author of “But You Seemed So Happy.” Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Cut, and McSweeney’s. She’s also a creative director who has worked with Apple and Nike.
A Whole New Way to Think About Abortion
By Gabrielle Blair
Workman. 144 pp. Paperback, $14.99
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