While the female birth control pill has been around for more than half a century, there is still no equivalent contraceptive method for men. No one factor is to blame for its absence, but rather a host of reasons, such as: the belief that birth control is a woman’s responsibility; the perception that women would not trust men to use contraception; the concern for side effects; and the scientific and commercial complexities of developing an effective contraceptive for men. However, despite these barriers, recent social and scientific advancements have made the possibility of the male birth control pill closer than ever to its fruition..
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Ever since the first birth control pill was approved by the FDA in 1960 (Thompson 2013), the responsibility of preventing pregnancy has largely fallen to women. This is likely due in part to the fact that women are more immediately affected by pregnancy and have to contend with its discomforts and risks. Still, men are equally responsible for their children once born, and they are increasingly involved in childcare as well. 15 percent of single parents are men, and 154,000 men in the U.S. are stay-at-home dads (Campo-Englestein 2012), so assuming more responsibility for contraception would turn to a man’s advantage. According to one study, more than 70 percent of men agree that they should play more of a part in the use of birth control (Glasier, et al. 2000). Unfortunately, at this point in time there are limited birth control methods for men, which include condoms, abstinence, vasectomy, withdrawal, and outercourse (Kaltveit 2011). Since women have many more choices in contraception, they are naturally the ones who have to decide which method to use, obtain it, use it, and then deal with the side effects. Perhaps if the male birth control pill was available, the additional contraceptive options would motivate men to alleviate some of the burden typically borne by women.
But, if the male pill was accessible, would women trust men to take it? The common perception often portrayed by the media is that women don’t even trust men to take out the trash, much less to take responsibility for birth control (Campo-Engelstein 2012). In spite of this, a majority of women in committed relationships say they would have faith in their partners to use contraception, as found by a survey of nearly 2,000 women (Glasier, et al. 2000).
In addition to the question of women’s trust, there is the common notion that men have no interest in taking a birth control pill. On the contrary, various surveys have demonstrated that a significant percentage of men would consider taking male hormonal contraception (Campo-Engelstein 2012). So, if there is such a demand for the male birth control pill, why isn’t one available yet?
Multiple versions of male hormonal contraception and/or male birth control pills have been in development since the 1970s, but none have proven to be acceptable as of yet (Mack 48). One reason for the difficulty is that there are more challenges in regulating men’s’ fertility than women’s; millions of sperm are continuously produced by men versus one egg per month by women (Cornish & Stein 2016). Also, studies on male contraception are often terminated due to side effects experienced by men who participate in trials. These side effects are typically similar to and often less severe than those endured by women from female contraceptives (acne, weight gain, mood disorders, and increased libido for men versus weight gain, headaches, nausea, anxiety and blood clots for women, to name a few). But, men are apparently less willing to cope with these adversities, perhaps because they do not face the possibility of getting pregnant (Cornish & Stein 2016). Meanwhile, many women are forced to choose between the unpleasant side effects of birth control and an unplanned pregnancy, and they often view this predicament as an extension of women’s overall inequality. The one-sidedness of their burden is also evident in the statistics of female versus male sterilization. Vasectomies are less expensive and less risky than tubal ligation, yet nearly 30% of women depend on female sterilization for birth control as compared to the 9.2% who depend on male sterilization (Bartz 2008). Additionally, pharmaceutical companies have little interest in products that do not guarantee substantially lucrative results. Some of the most promising developments in male contraception have been abandoned since they were long-term treatments that would be less profitable than daily administered birth control, such as the female pill (Watson & Conger 2005).
Ultimately, there has been much progress in recent years toward developing an effective male birth control pill or its equivalent. The movement for women’s equality has inspired greater reception to male contraception and has driven the demand for men to assume more responsibility in preventing pregnancy. Along with these evolving attitudes, scientific slowly but steadily approaching the answer to male birth control with minimal to no unwanted side effects. As long as there is consumer demand and acceptance for it, the motivation to find a solution to alternative methods of male contraception will continue and may soon be delivered. And this may in turn lead to a renewed interest in discovering better birth control options with less side effects for women, and thus greater equality as well.
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