As an enthusiast of scientific research and medical breakthroughs, I was intrigued when I read that hormonal birth control methods for males will be made available to the public within the next five years. I was less intrigued, though, as I read on and realized that this was nothing more than a re-iteration of what I’ve been reading on this topic for the last five years.
Fact is, male hormonal contraceptives have been in the making for years — and given that a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology this year demonstrated a 95 percent rate of effectiveness for the potential product, there seems to be no solid reason why companies have continuously hesitated to make it widely available to the public.
Perhaps a conversation I had earlier in the week can provide some insight into this logic puzzle. I was relaying the issue to an uninterested male friend, and in a blaze of passion from being ignored, I asked, “Don’t you think its important for male birth control to be released?”
And his reply was, “Yeah, I guess we could prioritize it more and stuff ... like with video games.” (What? What does that even mean?)
This isn’t just a random anecdote — it demonstrates the same lack of interest or sense of responsibility coming from the male front that has hindered the release of hormonal methods for men thus far.
Some sources have speculated that the reason male hormonal options are not out on the market yet is that pharmaceutical companies anticipate a lack of audience: a lot of men just wouldn’t take the birth control, even if it were released. A spokeswoman for Organon, a pharmaceuticals company, made her company’s view clear when she remarked to Chemistry World magazine in 2007, “despite 20 years of research, the development of a hormonal method acceptable to a wide population of men is unlikely.”
While it’s understandable for men to feel wary of these new treatments, the discrepancies are telling. When female hormonal methods were approved by the FDA in the early 1960s, they were heralded in with a much warmer welcome by their female target audience.
Scott Hardin, 40, is one of many curious men who embraces the idea that more options are being developed for men, and yet would probably never take a hormonal contraceptive. As he explained for an interview on MSNBC.com in October of last year, “The problems women have had with hormone therapy doesn’t make me anxious to want to sign on to taking a hormone-type therapy.”
This “hormone-type therapy,” more commonly known to the rest of the world as birth control, actually seems to have few serious side effects. Larry Setlow, a 39-year-old also interviewed for the same story, took part in three male hormonal contraceptive clinical trials at the University of Washington and said that “I never had any real noticeable side effects ... I may have put on a little weight.”
Considering that 80 percent of women will rely on birth control pills at some point in their lifetime, and that women have been dealing with the same risks and side effects that unnerve guys like Hardin for nearly half a century now, the faction of men that is unwilling to bear its fair share of the sex responsibility seems hypocritical to say the least.
The discrepancy doesn’t just end with hormonal methods. Currently, there are 11 methods of birth control for women and merely two for men: condoms and sterilization. And when it comes to permanent methods, sterilization for men is a much safer, quicker and less invasive procedure than tubal litigation is for females — and yet the latter still remains the most common form of sterilization.
These inequalities seem to be indicative of several archaic viewpoints — that pregnancy and preventing pregnancy are just the woman’s problem at the end of the day, or that taking male hormonal methods or undergoing male sterilization is somehow emasculating. (Hint: It’s not your sperm count that makes you less of a man.)
It’s saddening to think that scientific and medical research have progressed to such a degree that we can manipulate a sperm count to safely and reversibly drop to zero in a laboratory, and yet some attitudes toward male birth control have evolved so little during that time. And these mindsets must progress if drug manufacturers are to make this legitimate product a reality for the males who actually would consider using it.
Hopefully, when male birth control is released (surely within the next five years) it is received with an open mind and some chivalry. Attitudes have lagged behind reality for far too long — we no longer function in a society where it makes sense or is practicable for birth control to be the responsibility solely of the female.
Asst. Editorials Editor Catherine Cai is a College sophomore from Atlanta.