Reframing Sex, Consent, and Pregnancy: A Review of Ejaculate Responsibly

Reframing Sex, Consent, and Pregnancy: A Review of Ejaculate Responsibly

Gabrielle Blair’s book Ejaculate Responsibly has been praised online as a much-needed shift in the way that we talk about abortion. That seems appropriate, as the book’s subtitle is literally A Whole New Way to Think About Abortion.

Ejaculate responsibly in these 28 easy steps

Thinking about abortion as a men’s issue, because almost every pregnancy is caused by a man, is a desperately needed change. For example, Blair begs us to stop viewing pregnancy as punishment for having sex, because it’s simply not. Rather, the woman (literally) carries the burden for something a man did: ejaculate. As Blair points out—and we already know this, but we don’t realize just how crucial it is—women don’t need to orgasm or even experience any pleasure in order to get pregnant.

One of the things I take issue with regarding Ejaculate Responsibly is that once you get the gist of Blair’s argument, you can deduce the rest of the points on your own. This book contains 28 arguments for this mindset-shift, but it could have done the job in probably fewer than five. It takes the following 28 arguments to essentially say “Men are to blame for all pregnancies” in 28 different ways.

  1. Men are 50 times more fertile than women.
  2. Sperm live for up to 5 days.
  3. Women’s fertility is unpredictable.
  4. Ovulation is involuntary, ejaculation is not.
  5. Birth control for women is hard to access and hard to use.
  6. Birth control for men is easy to access and easy to use.
  7. Society clings to the idea that men hate condoms.
  8. Vasectomies are less risky than tubal ligations.
  9. We expect women to do the work of pregnancy prevention.
  10. We don’t mind if women suffer, as long as it makes things easier for men.
  11. Society teaches that the man’s pleasure is the purpose and priority of sex.
  12. Women can be impregnated without experiencing pleasure.
  13. Men cause all unwanted pregnancies.
  14. We expect women to be responsible for their own bodies AND for men’s bodies.
  15. We need to shift our focus to men.
  16. Holding men accountable for their actions does not make women victims.
  17. The uneven power dynamic between men and women is real and can turn violent quickly.
  18. A woman can’t walk out on a pregnancy.
  19. We’re not honest about pregnancy and childbirth.
  20. The realities and burdens of parenting are unfathomable.
  21. Pregnancy should not be a punishment.
  22. Adoption is not an alternative to abortion.
  23. There are zero consequences for men who ejaculate irresponsibly.
  24. Sperm are dangerous.
  25. Men have more control of their bodies and sexual urges than we like to admit.
  26. Men can easily prevent abortions but choose not to.
  27. We know what works.
  28. This is how to take action.
Gabrielle Blair, Ejaculate Responsibly, pp. 134-135

Do you know about condoms?

The 98 pages of Ejaculate Responsibly that are not taken up by these arguments, each of which fills at least half a page with its massive font, are really just elaboration. Again, they are conclusions that you would naturally reach by reading the main point. Point 6 reads, “Birth control for men is easy to access and easy to use.” For seven pages, Blair explains that condoms are affordable and convenient, that they “come in lots of varieties” and “make cleanup super easy,” they “are only used as needed,” and they work without the negative side effects of female birth control.

A photo of a page of Ejaculate Responsibly which reads in a large retro font, “Birth control for men is easy to access and easy to use.”

These things are all true, but they are pretty common knowledge. Their purpose here is simply to drive the point home.

Maybe you do appreciate Blair expanding on her arguments like this. In that case, you could save some time and money and read her 2018 Twitter thread that inspired the book.

Many books are born as extensions of online posts, like one of my favorites, Ruby Hamad’s White Tears / Brown Scars, which expands on Hamad’s Guardian article “How white women use strategic tears to silence women of colour.” But unlike Hamad’s book, I feel that Ejaculate Responsibly was more of a cash grab than a genuine attempt at rounding out the initial ideas in Blair’s tweet thread.

An Avant Garde book

If I’m being honest, the biggest difference between Blair’s tweet thread and her book is that the book is extremely designed, if you will. The cover design, undoubtedly paired with the provocative title, is eye-catching.

As a professional designer, I feel it is my duty to shatter the illusion that this tiny book’s design alone makes it worth $14.99. While it is nice and retro (although what its retro look has to do with the subject matter, I’m not sure), it’s really just a pretty simple use of the font ITC Avant Garde. The slanted A’s and the letters that run into each other are all very cool, but the design requires minimal effort. I used Avant Garde in a minimalist, non-retro way for years at my last job, and often these special ligatures would suddenly appear when I didn’t even want them. It practically designs itself. So the look of Ejaculate Responsibly says less “Graphic design is my passion,” and more “I really love Avant Garde.”

An example of Avant Garde font, showing the name of the font with the names of some of the designers over it.

Sperm as a weapon

Aside from the book’s design and possible redundancy, the content itself warrants critique. It’s meant to be radical and to make people angry. Offense is a normal response to someone forcing you to see something you’ve always taken for granted in an entirely new way. Many of Blair’s more radical points are entirely true, but some toe the line on misandrist blame. At one point, she writes,

Sperm should be considered a dangerous bodily fluid that can cause pain, a lifetime of disruption, and even death for some. […] Men are essentially walking around with a dangerous weapon, not a plaything. How they manage their sperm has life and death consequences. To the extent we have not underscored the grave reality of that fact, we have seriously failed men and women.

Gabrielle Blair, Ejaculate Responsibly, p. 113

To be clear, I don’t disagree with this analysis. At the same time, it feels alarmist to treat sperm as a “dangerous weapon.” The book’s entire point is that fewer irresponsible ejaculations can reduce unwanted pregnancies and thus reduce abortions. But even the most responsible ejaculator can make a mistake or be coerced or raped. No birth control, besides sterilization, works perfectly 100% of the time. If we lived in a world where abortions were accessible and safe, we wouldn’t have to look at sperm with unbridled terror.

An overgeneralization of power dynamics

Blair essentially glosses over any meaningful discussion of consent. It’s pretty universally known that most sexual assault perpetrators are cis men and most victims are women, but it is not always this way. According to a 2000 study reported by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), “82% of all juvenile victims are female” and “90% of adult rape victims are female,” which implies that 18% of juvenile victims and 10% of adult victims of sexual violence were male.

According to a statistic on the same page that “On average, there are 464,634 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States,” that would come out to over 83,000 assaults on juvenile men and over 46,000 assaults on adult men annually. I couldn’t find statistics on what percentage of sexual assaults are perpetrated by women, but we know that they happen, and men and boys often aren’t taken seriously when they report these assaults, which they usually don’t. (No other gender identities were included in this report.)

Even in the case of consensual sex, the man gets final say. This is how it works:

Step 1: Woman consents to sex.
Step 2: Man decides if he will ejaculate responsibly.

A woman’s consent to sex does not force a man to ejaculate in her vagina. Even if the woman says, “Pretty please have sex with me without a condom. I want you to ejaculate inside me,” the words don’t force the man to ejaculate inside her without a condom. He still has to choose. Ultimately only the man decides where his sperm ends up. Only he can choose what to do with his sperm and where it goes. A woman telling a man he doesn’t have to wear a condom doesn’t force that man to have sex with her without a condom. He has the right of refusal. If he chooses to have sex without a condom, then he is choosing to risk causing an unwanted pregnancy.

No matter what a woman “lets” a man do, she can’t (legally) make a man ejaculate inside of her. When he does, that’s 100 percent his doing. We know this is true because if she “let” him put his penis in a waffle iron, he wouldn’t. If someone tells you to do an irresponsible thing, and you choose to do that irresponsible thing, that’s on you.

Gabrielle Blair, Ejaculate Responsibly, p. 66

Placing the blame on men

Many of Blair’s more harmful views come not from what she says, but what she implies by omitting crucial scenarios, such as cases of men being forced or coerced into sex. Here, when she says “consensual,” it’s clear from the surrounding context in which “the man gets the final say” that she really means “the woman consented to it.” As in, even if the woman consents, the man gets the final say.

The clarification that legally, a woman can’t make a man ejaculate inside of her, implies that Blair does know that women can coerce men. As in, a woman absolutely can make a man ejaculate inside of her… illegally.

There are more situations that involve nonconsensual sex than just rape. It’s not unheard of for women in positions of power to manipulate younger men into having sex with them. Coercive sex can happen for myriad reasons: bribes, blackmail, money, what have you. The argument that a man would never “put his penis in a waffle iron” is as much of a non sequitur as Blair’s later argument that men can control their sexual urges because they can control their urge to shit their pants. She really said that. (Not to say that men can’t control their sexual urges—they can—but it was such an unnecessary comparison.)

Essentially, saying “If someone tells you to do an irresponsible thing, and you choose to do that irresponsible thing, that’s on you,” when applied in the wrong situation, can be a victim-blaming statement. Maybe you won’t put your dick in a waffle iron, but people can be brainwashed into doing crazy things. Members of the NXIVM cult got their leader’s initials branded on their bodies. Blair underestimates the power of coercion.

Are women victims?

What’s more, three chapter-arguments later, Blair contends that “Holding men accountable for their actions does not make women victims,” elaborating:

At this point you may be thinking: Men cause all unwanted pregnancies? This can’t be right. This seems too unequal; it feels wrong. This removes agency and responsibility from the woman. Are we supposed to think women are just helpless creatures with no decision-making power in all of this? Aren’t we painting women as weak? Aren’t we making them victims?

No. I’m not taking responsibility away from women, I’m just reminding men of theirs. Holding men accountable for their actions does not make women victims. Asking men to take some responsibility is not the same as allowing women to take no responsibility.

Bringing up the topic of men or their responsibilities is not actually a comment on women at all.

Gabrielle Blair, Ejaculate Responsibly, pp. 77-78

In The Turnaway Study, Diana Foster says in response to the issues Blair raises in her Twitter thread,

I appreciate Blair’s attempt to redirect the burden of blame, stigma, and punishment that traditionally redounds entirely on women. But with the exception of cases of rape, contraceptive sabotage, and sexual coercion, women do have some agency in decision-making around sex and contraception. I am not saying that the solution is to share blame equally. Instead, we need less blame all around, more sex education, and much better contraceptive options.

Diana Green Foster, The Turnaway Study, p. 48 (emphasis mine)

Foster brings up a good point regarding sex education: many men, especially young men, have no idea what their bodies are capable of. They don’t realize that what they’re doing in the back of their dad’s car after school can literally cause pregnancy. Their girlfriends might tell them it’s fine, because neither of them know what that simple act of ejaculation can lead to. They don’t know that a girl saying it’s okay does not mean it is actually okay. It’s neither of their faults that they often have wholly insufficient sex education that leaves them entirely unprepared to handle what Blair describes as a deadly weapon.

Operational assumptions

A related fatal flaw with Ejaculate Responsibly is that Blair treats common experiences as universal. In her “note on language,” she clarifies this, but one blanket statement cannot save this book from its massive overgeneralization problem.

I want to let you know right from the get go that the arguments I’m presenting are written from a cisgender heterosexual perspective. While I welcome all readers and I hope everyone learns something from my arguments, applying LGBTQIA+-inclusive language to my arguments would only serve to erase the singular experiences of queer, trans, and nonbinary people, whether they are people who produce sperm or people who can become pregnant. Ultimately, I make a cisgender heterosexual argument for people engaging in cisgender heterosexual sexual relationships (say that ten times fast).

It’s important to make that clear so that you can manage your expectations before you begin, but also because I want everyone to feel comfortable here. Yes, it’s a cisgender heterosexual perspective, but perhaps you’ll find descriptions in these pages, about things like power dynamics and responsibilities, that can serve all perspectives.

While we’re on the topic of language, two vocabulary notes: When I use the word ejaculate, I’m referring to ejaculation that releases semen. When I use the word abortion, I’m referring to elective abortions due to unwanted pregnancies, which make up approximately 99 percent of all abortions. I am not referring to the abortions of intended pregnancies as a consequence of health issues for the developing fetus or the mother. Additionally, I want to acknowledge that while I fully understand some people experience temporary or permanent infertility, the arguments in this book are assuming full fertility for both men and women.

Gabrielle Blair, Ejaculate Responsibly, p. 3

After this caveat, every page of the book operates under the following assumptions:

  • Men produce sperm.
  • Women cannot produce sperm.
  • Women can get pregnant.
  • Men cannot get pregnant.
  • Men are having sex with women.
  • Women are having sex with men.
  • Condoms are always readily available.
  • The couple does not want to get pregnant.
  • Men always make a conscious decision to ejaculate.
  • Nonbinary people don’t have sex, I guess?

The universal PIV experience?

Ejaculate Responsibly is very matter-of-fact. It makes you face truths you’ve always known, but whose implications you’ve never paused to consider. These truths include, “Women cannot remove their egg before sex and set it aside and then put it back in their uterus when sex is finished. […] Unlike women and their eggs, men can mobilize and direct sperm to leave their body. That is what an ejaculation is.”

The shock of reading statements like “Men cause all unwanted pregnancies” would dissipate if Blair instead wrote things like “People with testicles, who ejaculate sperm, who have not had vasectomies, who don’t have delayed ejaculation or dry orgasm, cause all unwanted pregnancies.” At the same time, however, it would not have taken away from the shock value at all if Blair had included more diverse scenarios within her elaborations of her arguments. Yes, she clarified on page 3 that she’s “referring to ejaculation that releases semen,” but acknowledging wider experiences—whether it’s a cis man who’s undergone a vasectomy or a trans man—would have made the book more relatable to people with more than one narrow experience.

A missed opportunity

One Goodreads reviewer writes,

I would say this is a must read for everyone, if it wasn’t for the inacceptable trans erasure in the choice of vocabulary and phrasing. It is 2022, and everyone can do better than this. It would have been really easy and simple to NOT correlate penises with men and vaginas with women, especially in this climate of transphobia. Especially since trans people who get pregnant are particularly vulnerable in the system Blair is describing.

Goodreads Review of Ejaculate Responsibly

Commenters argued that Blair addressed this on page 3, but as far as “a note on language” goes, I was disappointed. Usually “a note on language” in books about abortion are a good thing, being sure to tell the reader that the author will use gender-inclusive language as much as possible, because not only women can get pregnant. But Blair’s note on language instead says that she intentionally uses exclusive language even though she knows it’s exclusive and that she had no interest in researching relationships that were not “cisgender heterosexual sexual relationships.”

Perhaps this whole missed opportunity of examining the culture of sex, power, relationships, and pregnancy across the gender rainbow is directly due to the fact that this book is nothing more than a glorified, beautified Twitter thread. Gabrielle Blair did not have anything meaningful to write in this book that she had not already tweeted. You don’t hear this often from nonfiction book reviewers, but this book could have been longer. It could have told me more than simple facts that I already knew or could have read for free.

7 thoughts on “Reframing Sex, Consent, and Pregnancy: A Review of Ejaculate Responsibly

  • May 22, 2023 at 1:54 pm

    I appreciate the huge effort you’ve put into this review and the mix of design and content you cover. The author’s exclusionary language is quite shocking – they must have fought an editor over that (I hope so, anyway).

  • May 23, 2023 at 8:07 pm

    I’ve never read the book but it seems that Gabrielle’s view on sex and abortions is quite myopic. It has its good bits but blaming things solely on males when, really, all genders should bear responsibility, isn’t helpful. If even only 10% of adult victims of sexual assault are male, that cannot be simply overlooked.

    I think the book could’ve been better if things were framed in a more positive “problem solving” aspect. Instead of trying to blame, offer more solutions to some of the real problems which exist.

    • October 17, 2023 at 1:07 pm

      “I’ve never read the book.” Then how can you comment as you have?

      • October 19, 2023 at 3:03 pm

        I trust Rebekah’s review, which I find to be quite comprehensive. The good thing about reviews is you can decide whether or not something might be worthy of your time beforehand 🙂 .

  • October 17, 2023 at 1:07 pm

    I think the author’s point may. have been missed by you and some of the commenters here. Yes, she could’ve simply listed her arguments and perhaps given one or two supporting points. But as you’ve said, we all already know these things, right? If that’s true, then why has so much that the author writes about barely changed over the six decades of my life? These arguments bear repeating, and they bear repeating from various points of view, including this one. The comment that the author is “exclusionary” is particularly interesting to me because a big point of the book is that women have been excluded from too many decisions about birth control, female pain, parental responsibility and sex education. I loved the book and think it should be required reading for high schoolers. Thank you for presenting this forum for civil discussion.

  • December 5, 2023 at 9:54 pm

    Although I do agree with Ms. Blair’s message, her presentation is blemished by a layperson’s misunderstandings of medical statistics and ethics.

    Let’s start with the former: It’s not generally understood, least of all among most contraceptive users, that small risks taken repeatedly accumulate to very large risks over time.

    To illustrate: Your chances of surviving a single trigger pull in a game of Russian roulette are approximately 83.33%. As long as you spin the cylinder between each trigger pull, you would face those same odds each and every time. However (And this is a huge caveat) there is an accumulative effect to repeatedly exposing yourself to this risk. Your chance of surviving 10 pulls of the trigger are approximately 16.15%, which is pretty dismal.

    The same cold, hard math applies to pregnancy risk, as it is accumulative as well. A contraceptive method that is 96% effective sounds great on paper, but the chances of failure over a 10 year period are approximately 70%. (Ross, Fam Plann Perspect 1989 Nov-Dec;21(6):275-7)

    Ms. Blair’s assertion that, “An unplanned pregnancy only happens if a man ejaculates irresponsibly”
    is therefore patently false. A man can wear condoms religiously and his partner can still become pregnant. This assertion forms the basic premise of the book and is threaded throughout all subsequent argumentation.

    The book is no better and arguably worse when it comes to ethics. As a thought experiment, Blair suggests mandatory vasectomies for all boys reaching the age of puberty. (On Twitter, she suggested castration as a remedy.) As Jewish person of German descent, I find this abhorrent. The NSDAP enthusiastically embraced the Eugenics movement of the early 20th century we as a society eventually decided that forced sterilization was one of the many crimes they committed.

    It doesn’t matter how you sugarcoat it. A crime against children for no other reason than they are male children is despicable. Given that Blair deplores attempts by pro-life groups to police women’s bodies, her inclusion of this idea in her book is not only morally reprehensible, but wildly hypocritical as well. How Blair’s largely female audience can read this and be okay with it is beyond me, especially given the fact that forced sterilization is a crime that has historically been perpetrated against women.


What do you think?