Red pills in man's hand / Pixabay.com
I once heard someone say that hormonal contraception is so effective because after taking it women don’t even feel like having sex anymore. I laughed, but (as with most jokes that hit a little close to home) not for long.
For some women, it’s true, and sad. The adverse side effects of hormonal birth control for women are as plentiful and varied as the options for sub-par birth control themselves — and many women, and even many men, are wondering where the hell the co-ed alternatives are.
There would be no downside to having more options for male contraceptives, whether it’s to supplement existing birth control methods, give single men more control over their reproductive autonomy or just take the sometimes insufferable burden off women.
After all, if it takes (a minimum of) two to tango, both parties should be gearing up responsibly.
But as it stands, male birth control is limited. There are condoms (which are frustratingly temporary), vasectomies (which are daunting-ly semi-permanent) and coitus interruptus (which is grounded in flimsy science at best.)
So what’s up, contraceptive industry?
Researchers have considered that it is scientifically harder to make birth control for men. There are basic differences, the Cut reports, in how the female and male reproductive systems work.
Women release one egg a month for a portion of our lives. We also stop releasing eggs when we are pregnant, so a (relatively) simple hormonal dupe would do the trick to stop ovulation.
Men can produce up to 1,000 sperm cells a second and, physiologically speaking, never experience a state where sperm-production stops. It’d also take 3 months for existing sperm to be cleared out.
But even if it is more difficult, does that mean it’s impossible?
Quite the opposite actually.
“Scientifically, we know how to create a male Pill,” Carl Djerassi, one of the innovators of the female contraceptive pill, wrote in 2013.
It just won’t be marketed anytime soon “because the problem is not scientific, but economic.”
Scientists have actually been interested in the research and development of male contraceptives for as long as they have been about female contraceptives.
Gregory Pincus, co-inventor of the COC pill, investigated using hormonal birth control methods for men alongside his research in female contraception in 1957. Yes, you read right: 1957! Imagine the options that would be available if male contraception had been researched incessantly for the last 60 years.
At the UN’s 1974 World Population Conference, Elsimar Coutinho promoted a male contraceptive drug called gossypol, which proved successful in reducing sperm count after trials in China but it was defunded after sperm counts didn’t return to normal.
Other drugs that have met a similar road-block between the development phase and actually being marketed include an anti-EPPIN contraceptive, gendarussa, the male Jab, the Clean Sheets Pill, DMAU, NES/T and Vasalgel.
Pharmaceutical companies’ aversion to male birth control can be put down to two things: an obsession with virility and a fear of side effects.
Big Pharma is interested male reproduction, alright. But, rather than birth control, it’s centred on virility and curing impotence. And don’t we already know this?
Given that tampons are taxed and Viagra is not, and the money that’s spent on the latter, it’s pretty clear that men’s healthcare and women’s healthcare are not equally important causes to an industry dominated by older white guys.
It's rare that companies approve a male birth control option with even a fraction of the side effects that are considered ‘normal’ for women.
The 1957 study that Pincus did on male contraception?
It was abandoned after 3% of them reported depression. Compare that to the depression that 20-30% (and sustained nausea, headache and stomach pain that 17%) of women experienced during Pincus’ Puerto Rican trials. Three women died during the shady trials, and the pill was still approved and put on the market.
As medicine has advanced, birth control in all forms has become safer. But still, the standard for male birth control is not just ‘safe’ (which it’s been for a while) but ‘flawless.’
While the double standard is frustrating, there are researchers who are determined to level the contraceptive playing field.
Vasalgel and NES/T are closer to being commercially available than any other option has been, and more have been approved for human trials. All thanks to the researchers, philanthropists and organisations like the Male Contraceptive Initiative that are dedicated to male contraceptive development.
Each day the scientific community is nudging us closer to reproductive equality. And I’m wishing Godspeed to them all.Support Villainesse