Sure, he might say he’s on the pill, but would you really trust him? | Barbara Ellen

Once again, there are reports of the male contraceptive pill being tantalisingly imminent. And, once again, a mental image occurs of a man and woman looking at each other, arms folded, as if to say: “Sorry, I don’t trust you a bit.”

A University of Washington study, involving 40 men, showed that sperm production could be disrupted with minimal side-effects and everything returning to normal once men stop taking the pill. Which all sounds intriguing, though it wouldn’t resolve the other major issue – the intrinsic lack of contraceptive trust between the sexes, which seems impossible to resolve, leastways to the point where the chemical baton could pass from women to men.

When previously considering the idea of the male pill, I’ve been sceptical, albeit with regret. Women have long borne the hormonal burden, sometimes with devastating consequences; still, how could a woman trust a man to take a pill? He might forget (as women forget, but they can’t get men pregnant). Moreover, a certain kind of man would say absolutely anything to make sex happen. To this inglorious list (“The world’s about to end”; “I’ve had the snip”; “Tell me more about feminism”; “I love you”), they’d be able to add: “I’m on the pill.”

Before men complain, some distrust women just as much, if not more. Look at the scaremongering about allegedly industrial levels of “sperm theft”, as though there were nightly platoons of female desperadoes barging into wine bars, intent on harvesting a poor chap’s swimmers against his will.

Whatever the scientific revolutions, some things always remain true. The barrier method of the humble condom is paramount – preventing pregnancy and STDs in a way no pill (male or female) could ever do. And however much men are affected by unwanted pregnancies, it’s still women who have them. We might be living in the age of empathy man, but biology is biology and it’s never going to be men squatting in work lavatory cubicles frantically peeing on white sticks. The phrase “left holding the baby” got popular for a reason. If all this makes women jumpy about the male pill, that’s their biological right.

Which seems to suggest that the male pill may end up causing as many problems as it solves. Men pretending or forgetting to take it, women accusing them of doing so, people not using condoms and spreading STDs and so on.

Far from trumpeting the male pill as an alternative to female contraception, maybe it should be looked upon more realistically as a mere addition – a useful part of a couple’s contraceptive “belt and braces” programme and one that finally gives the chemically besieged female body a break.

Away from established, respectful, honest relationships, the existence of a male pill could also wake everybody up to the harshest contraceptive reality of all – on this issue, between the sexes, the trust really has gone.

Clooney a class act for speaking out against Brunei barbarity

George Clooney

George Clooney: ‘Are we really going to help pay for these human rights violations?’ Photograph: Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images

Bravo, George Clooney, for making himself useful. Clooney, married to human rights lawyer Amal, drew attention to the appalling situation in Brunei, which is about to introduce sharia law, meaning, among other things, that gay people and adulterers could be whipped or stoned to death.

Clooney’s focus may draw derision from some quarters – he called for a boycott of exclusive international hotels with links to Brunei, saying: “Are we really going to help pay for these human rights violations?” Frankly, only those in rarefied circles would have the chance to withdraw their custom from the likes of the Dorchester or the Beverly Hills Hotel. However, after Clooney’s declaration, perhaps the global elite and powerbrokers will be shamed enough to take their personal trips or business meetings elsewhere.

Today, there are still areas of the world where LGBT people are frightened for their liberty and their lives. With cases such as Brunei, it’s unacceptable for the west to look the other way. So, well done, Clooney. Sure, A-listers going full-throttle “worthy” can become a little tiring. However, if you can command worldwide attention on an issue such as this, then you’d be a sad waste of skin for not trying.

Take it on the chin, chaps – your beards are not sexy

Beard enthusiasts

Sorry, guys, it’s a actually a thumbs-down. Photograph: Bearded Villains Sweden

Research into beards from the University of New England asks if they’ve evolved as a result of being sexy – a sign of masculinity and dominance. After I’d finished laughing, I took a field trip to trendy Hoxton in east London to stare at the men with Edwardian beards, plaited goatees, mutton chops, waxed moustaches and other modish forms of facial hair, as they trundled past on their candy-coloured skateboards.

Now that I’ve returned, I’m able to report that, even if beards have been updated since the facial hair nadir of the cartoon hippy from The Joy of Sex, in my humble opinion they’re still not sexy. If anything, modern trendsetters could be congratulated for finding a way of making beards not even look particularly masculine any more.

The study also pondered on whether beards intensified a man’s character – making jolly men look jollier, angry men angrier. Again, I’m really not sure. I know some guys who pull off having a beard, but these are honest men who just woke up one day and decided they couldn’t be razzed to shave. That’s not being bearded, it’s being lazy and unkempt – I can respect that. Just don’t expect me to pick Rice Krispies out of your wayward tufts like a doting mummy monkey.

If anything, beards often come across as a highly suspicious face-hiding exercise. What’s lurking under there – what lies beneath? Thus, rather than intensifying a man’s character, arguably beards do the opposite, concealing their true (evil? disturbed?) natures. Beards could also be hiding alien markings or panels in their robot bodywork. (Just putting it out there, saying what everyone’s thinking.) If this is coming across as too much beard-hate, then I apologise. If beards continue to be considered generally fashionable, even sexy, these days, then fine – it’s just all a bit Poundland Game of Thrones for me.

Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist


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