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Men’s Birth Control Faces Many Obstacles

August 05, 2008 12:26 PM
by Rachel Balik
Pharmaceutical companies are unwilling to make a push for men’s birth control, and current innovations are a long way from being market-ready.

30-Second Summary

Scientifically speaking, birth control for men is an imminent possibility, but researchers and doctors involved in developing male contraceptive medications and devices say we’re a long way off from seeing these products on the market. Pharmaceutical companies aren’t making the necessary investments because of a widespread belief that men simply won’t take responsibility for birth control. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink,” researcher Dr. David Handelsman said, referring to the drug companies’ continued disinterest, and accusing the companies of being out of touch with what people actually want.
Statistics appear to back up Handelsman’s assertion: 55 percent of men polled expressed interest in male birth control. Kirsten Thompson, director of the Male Contraception Coalition, says that even if a small number of men took the drugs, it would be financially rewarding for the companies. She says that the most detrimental factor is the belief that men aren’t responsible enough to take birth control.

A writer at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies says, “the male pill will have a profound sociological impact similar to what happened after the advent of the female birth-control pill.” He argues that men, too, will be empowered by having control over their reproductive health and birth control options.

While a writer at the Feministing blog fiercely criticizes men who might hesitate to take advantage of birth control options, statistics show that a majority of men are in fact willing. The Male Contraceptive Information Project asserts that “any statement that ‘men are not interested in contraception’ is clearly out of date.”

Headline Links: ‘The Long Wait for Male Birth Control’

Development of birth control methods for men is stalled because pharmaceutical companies aren’t ready to allocate the necessary funds to perfect the injections, creams and implants that could be a viable alternative to the birth control pill. “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,” Kirsten Thompson, director of the Male Contraception Coalition says. But the data suggests otherwise. The methods that could effectively repress sperm production aren’t quite as convenient as the birth control pill, but in a 2005 survey conducted by the Schering pharmaceutical company, 55 percent of men said they would be willing to explore alternative methods.

Opinion and Analysis: What’s taking so long and should we bother?

It’s unfair to think of male birth control as a feminist issue, writes George Dvorsky for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. He says that additional impediments for the drugs include: “sexist women who belittle male reproductive accountability, unfair gender biases, self-serving feminists who refuse to relinquish reproductive power.” He argues that listening to women who discuss whether or not men can be trusted is an infringement upon men’s own reproductive agency. Plenty of unwanted pregnancies happen when women are supposedly on the pill, and men would do well to take responsibility on their own. He says, “the male pill will have a profound sociological impact similar to what happened after the advent of the female birth-control pill. This will prove to be a seminal event as far as the men’s movement is concerned.”
In February, the Feministing blog blasted men for being afraid of a new contraceptive in Australia that requires an implant and injection. The blog sarcastically reflects, “gee, must be tough for dudes to have to weigh some health risks and potential long-term side effects with other concerns—like not wanting kids yet, but also not wanting to opt for permanent sterilization.”
The Male Contraception Information Project explains why male contraception is so necessary. It argues that especially on a global level, cheaper, more reliable methods of birth control could help fight poverty and death in developing countries. And it says men would be willing to use birth control, suggesting, “with the huge increase in the use of condoms over the past two decades, at least regarding the United States, any statement that ‘men are not interested in contraception’ is clearly out of date.”

Related Topic: Accidental Pregnancies

Reference: Male contraception and reproductive health


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