Hannah Weintraub is a 17-year-old high school student and one of RH Reality Check‘s youth voices.
Male contraception has had a seemingly unending slog to fruition. In 1983, a hopeful New York Times article claimed that male birth control was “on the horizon.” In 2003, with male contraception still unavailable, an NBC article promised that there would be options “within the near future.” Ten more years have gone by, and you guessed it—we’re still waiting for male contraception.
Is the dream of male contraception simply an unattainable mirage? Medical birth control options for women, such as the pill, have been around since the 1960s. Since then, we have landed on the moon, created the Internet, and put cell phones in the hands of countless people. Yet male contraceptives lag behind this modern technology boom, with men’s options usually coming down to condoms and vasectomies.
The demand and need for male contraception is here. A growing number of men claim that they would use birth control if it was available. A 2010 international report found that at least 25 percent of men would consider using some form of hormonal birth control. Male friends of mine say that they would readily use birth control to prevent pregnancies. None of us want to become parents right now.
Increasing availability of contraception for women has helped lower the rate of unintended pregnancies. Giving men similar access to birth control could be crucial to insuring that unintended pregnancies continue to decrease. Adding options for men will also help spread the responsibility of pregnancy prevention more evenly between male and female partners. Currently only women contend with the medical side effects of birth control, remembering to take contraceptives at a certain time, and paying for contraceptive costs not covered by public or private insurance programs. Of course men often must remember to buy and use condoms, but there is no question that women feel more of the burdens of birth control.
So why are we all left waiting for this advent in male contraception technology? Male contraception’s repeated false starts could stem from the archaic mentality that men don’t really need to worry about birth control, because ultimately pregnancy and a child will be a woman’s burden to carry. But since it surely takes two to tango, men should be held equally accountable for preventing pregnancy and promoting reproductive health.
Putting theories and sociology aside, the physical roadblock to male birth control ultimately comes down to money. Many male birth control trials are not federally funded and therefore need the aid and support of private donors in order to advance to market. Vasalgel, one such inventive and simple option, is in this very financial bind. Vasalgel is a gel that is painlessly injected into the vas deferens, potentially creating a semi-solid porous plug that blocks sperm and allows other fluids to leave—and it is supposed to be reversible. Developers even believe that Vasalgel may have the potential to curb the HIV virus. The procedure has gone through a series of clinical trials in India and is now being tested in the United States. Innovative medical contraceptive options for men like this one could change the landscape of reproductive health, but, as with other male contraception, we must first see that this product advances out of trials and actually becomes available to the public.
Reproductive health and pregnancy prevention is not solely a woman’s issue, however our current contraceptive options seem to suggest otherwise. Having a child should not—and does not—only affect women, but we continue to treat reproductive health as if men are a non-existent variable. Many men are already willing to take more responsibility in preventing pregnancies; the missing piece is additional contraceptive technology. If we wish to equalize the responsibility over reproductive health and make it a more just system for us all, men can no longer be left out of the reproductive health equation.