New options on the horizon may give men more family planning options.
A birth control pill for men, that’s fair. It makes more sense to take the bullets out of the gun than to wear a bulletproof vest ~ Anonymous.
Researchers writing about advances in male birth control begin with the quotation above. But the truth is that male birth control in some form is nothing new. As early as Biblical times, a form of the withdrawal method was used to prevent pregnancies (though not always successfully). Writings in ancient Egypt show that honey and lemon juice were both used for their spermicidal properties. And long before the sexual revolution, men were using condoms made of animal skins or intestines as a form of contraception.
But here in the 21st century, men’s choices in regards to birth control are basically limited to condoms, a vasectomy or the withdrawal method, which is not considered to be a very effective form of birth control. With these very limited options, it is no wonder contraception has long been considered to be a “woman’s issue”.
That might be changing, however, as several different research projects are underway to give men more options in regard to family planning. Let’s take a looks at some of these project—as well as the possible effects this could have on society at large if better birth control options were available.
What Does the Future Hold?
What researchers do know is what the ideal form of birth control for men would look like. Authors note that it would be easy and inexpensive to obtain, simple to use, safe, and not affect a man’s libido. It would also be reversible if a man decides later that he wants to father children. And in the near future, the following medications and treatments (some of which are close to moving to human trials) that come close to this ideal may give men a lot more freedom when it comes to family planning:
Vasalgel is one of the more promising forms of male birth control currently under research. It is not a pill but a polymer that is injected into the vas deferens and that blocks it off so that sperm cannot mix with seminal fluid. This polymer does not affect a man’s hormones and is also completely reversible. It is also very convenient: a simple injection can provide long-term birth control for sexually active men.
Research is currently taking place on baboons. Several males have been treated with this polymer and been given unrestricted access to 15-20 females baboons each. And although this study has been going on for at least six months, no pregnancies have resulted to date. No side effects have been discovered, either. Researchers are close to moving towards human trials and it is predicted that Vasalgel might be available to men as early as 2017.
Adjudin is a case of “everything old is new again.” It is an analog of an older drug called lonidamine which was first used to treat cancer back in the 1980s. However, during the course of these treatments, doctors and researchers noted the sterilizing effect it had on male patients who were using it, which opened up a whole new line of research. In the past, there have been problems with Adjudin, the most serious of which was damage to the kidneys. However, by the 1990s, nontoxic forms of this drug had been discovered that are considered safe for use.
This pill is completely different from Vasalgel. Rather than physically blocking off the vas deferens to keep sperm from joining seminal fluid, it acts on the testes to prevent sperm from maturing in the first place. These immature sperm are released naturally during ejaculation but are not capable of fertilizing an egg. Research is moving towards human trials but is not as far along as it is with Vasalgel.
“Dry Orgasm” Pills
Yet another potential option coming down the pike are two separate drugs both known as “dry orgasm” pills. The term has been applied to two older drugs originally made for other reasons but which have displayed contraceptive characteristics that have roused the interest of the medical community.
Phenoxybenzamine began life as a medicine to help fight high blood pressure, while thioridazine was designed to help treat schizophrenia. But both of them have one thing in common: they are able to work on the smooth muscles of the vas deferens to prevent sperm from mixing with seminal fluid. The advantage of these medications is that a man can take them just as needed before sex: the effect of the pill lasts for 2-3 hours and then wears off. In other words, it would be an extremely targeted form of birth control.
Implications for Male Birth Control
Assuming that one or more of these male birth control options makes it to the market in the next couple of years, there are a wide range of potential economic, social and health-related consequences to this change. More options for male birth control could mean:
- Men might well become primarily responsible for/in control of contraception for their wives or girlfriends. This can mean a greater freedom—but also that the burden of preventing pregnancy would shift from women to men.
- Unwanted pregnancies might be reduced. The Center for DIsease Control notes that around 50% of all pregnancies (as well as 80-90% of pregnancies for women aged 19 and under) are unintended. This might also have the potential, then, to reduce abortion rates.
- Since female contraception can cause a whole range of women’s health problems, from high blood pressure to an increased risk for heart attacks to tears in the uterus from intrauterine devices (IUDs), widely available male birth control could seriously advance women’s health as well.
- Those who object– for religious reasons—to birth control in women’s bodies, citing it as a form of abortion may have to re-think their positions when it comes to a method such as Vasalgel which stops sperm to begin with, avoiding fertilization to begin with.
In short, if methods like the ones listed above come to the market, the conversation about birth control may undergo some dramatic shifts and men may find themselves much larger players in family planning than is possible with the methods of contraception currently available.