Male Birth Control: Seeds of Revolution?


Media interest in
contraceptive options for men has surged in recent weeks — in both contraceptive
methods available now and those still in development.  Right now, condoms, vasectomies and the
withdrawal method are the only options available for a man to prevent an
unwanted pregnancy-all of which have their obvious limitations.  While most women have a number of birth
control options to choose from, why is there a glaring gap in male-controlled
methods?

The next generation of
male contraceptive methods, including pills, injectibles and implants, has been
in research and development for over 20 years, yet experts still predict that
it will be four to ten years at best before we see a marketable product. Recent
articles in The
LA Times
, the Washington
Post
, and Time Magazine
have cited the lack of public interest and, ultimately, the lack of a market
for pharmaceutical companies as the major reasons for the lag in male
contraception development. Researchers name the failure of pharmaceutical
companies to invest in large clinical trials as a major hang up and state that
pharmaceutical companies are out of touch with "public and medical perceptions
of need."  Indeed, a spokeswoman for
Organon was quoted last year in Chemistry
World,
an industry journal, as saying the prospect of a male contraceptive
"acceptable to a wide population of men is unlikely." 

But is this really the
case?  Does the American public truly
think that new forms of male birth control have little use in modern-day family
planning?  Is it true, as I’ve heard
sprinkled throughout my conversations with individuals and the blogosphere,
that we don’t trust men to use a new male contraceptive reliably?  Kirsten Thompson, director of the Male Contraception Coalition and
one of the few advocates for male contraception, has had similar experiences.
"The biggest hurdle that I’ve encountered in trying to share this
information is a sort of knee-jerk reaction that men aren’t interested in these
kinds of contraceptives and that women won’t trust them to take them," she
says.

What is clear is the
media, bloggers
and researchers are talking about male contraception-the potential successes,
failures and implications.  Last year the
National Institutes of Health held a "Future of Male Contraception" conference
in Seattle,
highlighting the science and technical aspects of male contraception
development, but lending little to advocacy. 
In addition to Thompson’s Male Contraception Coalition, the only other
advocacy organization dedicated to male contraception is the Male Contraception Information
Project
headed by Elaine Lissner.   Where is the larger, coordinated advocacy for
the future of these technologies and where is the broader support for the
rights of men to control their fertility and become more active family
planners?

As reproductive health
and rights advocates we can take a proactive stance and seize this opportunity
to show that we are committed to our values of equality. This is a chance to
debunk harmful gender stereotypes and to build connections between men, the
oft-forgotten stakeholders in reproduction, and the traditionally (and
necessarily so) woman-focused reproductive health community. We can lend our
knowledge, advocacy and lessons learned from the struggle to achieve women’s
reproductive rights to this new revolution. With the prospect of male
contraception, we have an opportunity to educate and engage men in the
importance of family planning options and to ultimately gain an untapped
constituency for gender equity and reproductive justice.

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  • http://www.xanga.com/andrea_thenerd invalid-0

    I know of at least one man that wishes this was an option. My husband would have been a religious taker of this pill in his youth, and was quite angry when I told him it was possible even then. After all, what man wants to use condoms if he doesn’t have to?

    Actually, that might make a good marketing point. Male pill = freedom!

  • truth

    Men are already involved… We keep track of our woman’s cycle and if we are trying not to have a child then we abstain during fertile period to prevent pregnancy. What man or woman would want to take a pill everyday? Plus, who really knows how these "contraceptives" really effect our bodies since they have only been around for 40yrs or so… God put in place a perfectly natural and safe way to space children so men and women can both be involved in the miracle or procreation. To spend any more time or money on male contraceptives is a waste of time and money. Instead, spend the money on teaching people about nature and that everything is already here for us – you just have to open your eyes.

  • amanda-marcotte

    You keep track of "your" woman’s cycle. Yeah, uh-huh.  I hope she doesn’t trust you, since you’re a stalwart fighter for tricking women into pregnancy by lying to them about contraception.  Given your enthusiasm for deceiving women and trying to get them pregnant, a woman would be a fool to trust your opinions about what point in her cycle she’s at.

  • invalid-0

    “What man or woman would want to take a pill everyday? ”

    A woman who does not want to get pregnant.
    A responsible man.
    NFP, (which, from your description is clearly something you’re as ignorant about as every other subject involving human sexuality, is a joke and the least effective of all methods.

  • heather-corinna

    …yet another "Truth" around here (and their illustrating all by themselves there is more than one truth is pretty charming), but as a birth control educator, I am uncomfortable with inaccurate BC info when I see it.

     

    Don’t mean to niggle, but NFP, in typical use, isn’t actually the least effective method of contraception according to most credible contraceptive resources, like Contraceptive Technology and OBOS. 

     

    Spermicides used alone are, then withdrawal and then NFP.  And with perfect use, and that’d mean using mucus/basal temp combined charting and having a 100% compliant partner for periodic abstinence, it can actually be pretty decent. Of course, if you’re also shacked up with someone who feels he can be King of your cycle — an attutide which makes me throw up in my mouth a little — the avoiding-sex part is likely easier than it might be otherwise. It is an option for women who, for various reasons, be they religious or otherwise, want a method of contraception and either cannot or feel they cannot or simply do not want to use other methods. NFP is also pretty awesome, used properly, for combining with barrier methods.

     

    So, by all means?  Not the best choices for women who really do not want to become pregnant, to be sure, and most other methods are certainly better.  But it is one option and not the least effective.

  • amanda-marcotte

    If you’re religious in tracking your cycle, it’s possible to go condomless during infertile periods and use condoms when you’re fertile.  I’ve known people who pulled that off.  Personally, it’s way too risky for my taste.  Plus, too much trouble.  But for anti-choicers who push it, the high failure rate is a feature, not a bonus.  They’re trying to lull people who really don’t want to get pregnant by offering a form of contraception that has a high failure rate even with perfect use and a really high rate of not being used correctly.  In other words, it’s another attempt to trick women into getting pregnant.  Which is disgusting and I fail to see how it could be defined as anything but misogynist.

  • invalid-0

    “Spermicides used alone are, then withdrawal and then NFP”

    My women friends who used NFP all found themselves pregnant within a year when they did not wish to be. Reportedly, there were considerable problems with the compliant partner aspect and the length of the periods of abstinence. Thus my almost audible snort of derision.

  • heather-corinna

    Actually, the way I’d suggest combining is to use condoms (or a cervical barrier) during less fertile or infertile times and still abstain completely during fertile times.  That way, there’s a backup every day of the month AND a partner doing their own part throughout as well.

     

    But I totally hear you when it comes to the rest and agree that that certainly is a common-enough dynamic, which, when it occurs is just plain vile.

     

    I just wanted to make sure we left room for women who choose NFP for themselves (and who have a wide variety of political perspectives) and that info on it — as with any method — is accurate.

  • http://bestwomancare.com/ invalid-0

    I never heard this before… male birth control? After I read your article now I understand to prevent unwanted pregnancy is not only from women side but men encouraged to do the same.

    Great article!

    BEST WOMAN CARE

  • invalid-0

    Yeah, the rhythm method is about 25% accurate! That is why you had a baby at 16!

  • heather-corinna

    That’s just not true.

     

    Surely, we can talk about why saying NO other method besides NFP (and yes: young people trying to use NFP when cycles are so irregular is a big problem, and of all kinds of NFP, the rhythm or calendar method is the least effective, but it has far higher than a 25% effectiveness rate) should be used is seriously problematic without disseminating misinformation about any given method, including NFP?

  • truth

    I’m not sure I see your point. Are you talking about me or your perception of men in general? Why would I want to get her pregnant if we have decided to space a child? That’s kinda shootin’ myself in the foot, right? Besides, this is a major trust builder between two partners because it requires the male partner to abstain for periods of time. As this is not easy for men, it usually makes the woman feel the love from her spouse in a deeper way making intercourse all the better. It’s natural and seems to be the way we were created one for the other. Good men do exist.

  • invalid-0

    truth, I am happy for you that you have always had partners with a perfect cycle. The only times I have ever had a predictable cycle is while on birth control. There are many women like me. Due to various reasons our cycles are never “normal” making it impossible to determine fertile and non fertile days. Without birth control I would have to have an endless supply of morning after pills on hand.

  • invalid-0

    “Good men do exist”

    Yes they do and I’m sure that all the women here know that. It’s laughable to see you count yourself amoungst their number.

  • invalid-0

    Nice article my dear, I see it has raised some brows–caused a mini-ruccus…As it should! I am all for male contraception. I, personally, have always had a slight problem with taking a medicine, every day, that has only been around for 50 or so years…especially after having taken it for eight years now. I hate condoms just as much as the next person, so I will continue to take them. But,if I could find a man willing to take on part of the burden with me–It would prove to me that he is someone that cares for not only the pleasure of intercourse, but also the emotional and physical wellbeing of his lover.

  • invalid-0

    This is a very important topic and I commend you for discussing it. The inclusion of male contraception balances the argument and begings to finally enable a shift towards a more equitable sharing of responsibility for contraception and the decision to have a child. Men are quite capable of using drugs…even those with side-effects…for sexual purposes. Viagra and other such drugs have an enormous market…mostly among older men who make not be the proper demographic for an oral contraceptive. Nonetheless, it proves men can be influenced by their lover’s needs to use a pill. Which brings me to my simple point: Women can influence their male lover’s sexual behaviors in a wholesome manner and could apply pressure to use contraception when she cannot or should not. Well-adjusted and secure men are sensitive to their female lover’s well-being, including sexual well-being. A healthier relationship will result.

  • invalid-0

    Nice article and one of the first that I’ve seen that even mentions advocacy. It’s frustrating that the discussion of the implications of the male birth control pill are usually framed in terms of what it means for women.

    I want access to the pill because I don’t want to have children. Men’s options are lousy (why would one believe a church that doesn’t believe in birth control when they tell you that the rhythm method works?). From a male perspective if a woman wants to have a baby badly enough one gets pretty skittish about the fact that your best non-invasive option is condoms which break, slip, leak and can be rendered useless with a pin hole.

    I had a girlfriend go off of the pill in the past without my knowledge and she did get pregnant. It was a failed bid to lock me into a relationship. Now I ask you, was that fair?

    A simple truth for me is that very few people are willing to say that men’s reproductive rights lag far behind those of women. A male pill mean less abortions, lower teen pregnancy rates and fewer deadbeat dads.

    I hear women complain that they can’t find a good man and my lack of reproductive rights is one of the reasons that they can’t find them. I’m 40, well educated, consistently employed and good looking. I am very cautious because some of women that I’m attracted to (mid-thirties, single) feel that they are running out of time and are desperate to have a baby.

    Since I feel that I have so little control of the matter I’m not getting involved. I don’t want to have a child and I don’t want to pay 216 child support payments either.

    BTW,

    Please don’t tell me to get snipped. How many single women with no kids get their tubes tied.