When I first started out as a sexual health educator, the idea of male birth control seemed a distant reality. When I broached the subject with males in my groups they seemed uncomfortable with the idea and many outright stated that they would not take birth control. Though it takes two to tango, the burden of guarding against the potentiality of an unplanned pregnancy has primarily landed on the women’s shoulders.Though ”the pill” has been available now for a little over 50 years, a male counterpart to “the pill” has yet to be fully researched, approved, and administered. Periodically, newspapers will feature headlines touting the latest advancement in male contraception, yet for one reason or another these headlines do not translate into definitive progress. At the present moment, aside from condoms as a barrier contraceptive method, the only option available to men is a vasectomy – a more permanent form of birth control.
So where are we currently in the arduous journey toward male contraception? Are we any closer? The good news is yes; researchers estimate that some of the first contraceptive methods will hit the market in 3-5 years. Male birth control is subdivided into a few categories, depending on function, including heat, vasocculation, and hormonal. Here are some of the proposed methods of birth control:
RISUG (Reversible Inhibition Sperm Under Guidancer): Known also as the “reversible vasectomy”, RISUG is projected to be the first male contraceptive to hit the market. Doctors inject a polymer(gel) into the vas deferens of the male – the tube that carries sperm from the testes to the penis – which renders the sperm dead or immobile when they come into contact with the gel. The procedure is reversible with another injection and researchers saw fertility return to users 150 days after the first injection. Currently in Phase III in India, the product might become available as soon as 3 years.
Pills: A vast array of pills are available for an oral form of contraception. RAR-antagonists work to cause vitamin A deficiency in the testes, resulting in temporary infertility. A plant-based pill, derived from the gandarusa plant in Indonesia, might serve as a brilliant non-hormonal contraceptive method. Researchers in the United Kingdom are currently working on a “dry orgasm” pill that would prevent sperm from mixing with semen—therefore an orgasm would occur but ejaculation does not.
For a more complete list check out the Male Contraception Information Project.
Though teen pregnancy has reached a platue – after speaks in 1990 and 2006 , unplanned teen pregnancy remains a pervasive concern in our society. If both men and women were able to take birth control as a method to deter pregnancy, I estimate that the rates of unplanned pregnancy would drop. However, even though research is on the verge of a breakthrough, there are still some hurdles to consider. It is estimated that in 2015, the global market for contraceptive care for both men and women will reach $17.2 billion, but the industry has done very little to encourage or sustain the development of a male contraceptive, because they do not see potential demand or a strong return on their investment. Regine Sitruk-Ware, executive director for research and development at Population Council, relates:
“Market research has shown little interest from males, so companies have continued to [bow] out,”
I see male contraception as a positive, responsible step in the right direction. This will hopefully alter society’s perceptions of birth control, what it means when someone takes birth control, and whose responsibility it is to prevent unplanned pregnancy.