Advances in birth control make male pill possible

Mary Lingwall

Once birth-control pills became available in the 1960s, the burden of responsibility regarding family planning has rested solidly on the shoulders of women. At first this burden of responsibility was celebrated as a point of freedom. The introduction of the birth-control pill ushered in a new era of female independence wherein women could, for the first time in history, control their own fertility safely and with high accuracy. However, over time, it has become obvious that family planning need not be an exclusively female issue.

In the past few years, researchers have reportedly become closer than ever to developing a comparable birth-control pill for men. After the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism released a study on the highly deleterious effects of testosterone shots on the virility of sperm — the shots were 95 percent effective at preventing pregnancy, according to the study of 1,000 men — scientists were sure that a hormonal approach was the answer to the male birth-control pill quandary.

Except scientists didn’t know how it worked. In fact, researchers soon realized that testosterone failed to prevent pregnancy at all in approximately 20 percent of men.

But between May and June of this year, surprising new technologies have changed the burgeoning science of male reproductive methodology. After studying the copulation of mice and the effects of the pH balance of the female reproductive tracts on sperm, researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, Israel, released news of a nonhormonal-based male birth-control pill June 24. Haim Breitbart, a Bar-Ilan University researcher who is credited with the discovery, calls it the “bright pill” and says that it works via a “compound that temporarily inhibits the reproductive capacity of sperm,” according to Mara Hvistendahl of Popular Science’s

The best news that can be made from of all of this is that a nonhormonal birth-control pill seems highly likely for the future of medicine.

But technology is quickly becoming only half of the battle. The other, and probably much larger issue, that stands between the world and the availability of male birth-control is a profitable market that can attract pharmaceutical companies to mass producing it in the first place. In other words, the main point of contention is over whether or not men would buy the stuff and actually remember to use it.

“Men’s reproductive health has not traditionally been medicalized like women’s bodies have been. Women are accustomed to being subjected to annual medical checkups on the status of their sexual health,” said Amanda Hess in her February 24 post on Washington City Paper’s blog, The Sexist. “[But] men aren’t.”

A male friend of mine pointed out another, perhaps even more obvious, roadblock to the potential of widespread usage of male birth control pills.

“How many girls not on their own birth control will trust a guy they meet who says, ‘Don’t worry, I’m on the pill?’”

But despite these large roadblocks, optimism in the field of contraceptive technology is growing. Breitbart anticipates to have a pill ready for humans use in the next three to five years. Maybe between now and then we can work on getting men comfortable with actively participating in family planning decisions and public sexual health precautions like annual STI testing.

“This is too good to be true,” said another of my male friends. Hopefully his brand of enthusiasm can spread enough to pique the interest of “Big Pharma.” But until then, at least split the price of Plan B with your lady, fellas.