Researchers at the University of Washington say a new contraceptive prototype has been proven to be safe and effective for men. But decades of female responsibility for fertily and pregnancy casts doubts on its potential usage
27 Marzo 2018 17:12
Here we are again: talking about the elusive male birth control pill that, apparently, is very close to becoming reality.
We go through these revolving doors every few years. Studies show a contraceptive pill for men is effective. It gets rejected for being too risky, for having too many side effects, for lowering sex drive, you name it, and the onus remains, as it always has been, on women to protect against pregnancies.
So, even though a new prototype pill, tested in a small trial by researchers at the University of Washington, has been found to be effective and safe, we’re still chewing the fat about its future. Researchers found that the proposed hormone pill, called dimethandrolone undecanoate or DMAU, effectively reduced testosterone and other hormone levels responsible for sperm production without any serious side effects.
However, there are some important questions that remain if the male pill is given the green light. Will men actually take it? Since the dawn of time (OK, not really, but since the 1950s), women have generally been the focal point for contraceptive medical research. Oral birth control for female populations was hailed as a win in a number of socioeconomic and scientific contexts.
For example, the pill gave women freedom over their bodies and future, aided population control, helped with hormonal problems such as acne and polycystic ovaries, and, perhaps most importantly, allowed a sexual revolution where women could fuck like rabbits, and men could enjoy responsibility-free, baby-lite intercourse.
Although these strides have been an indisputable game-changer for women and men, it has created another cultural divide between the sexes. It is now common thought that the burden of reproductive responsibility is carried by women. Therefore, I am somewhat skeptical about how many men would opt to take a male birth control pill.
There is certainly a link between fertility and perceptions of masculinity in society at large. ‘If your sperm isn’t doing its job, are you even a man?’ A quick callout to some of my male friends, who I deem to be on the progressive, liberal side of the debate, threw me. I assumed their support of feminism and women’s rights would allow them to avoid the inevitable pitfalls that followed. ‘No, I don’t want to grow tits (breasts)’, was just one reply, so you catch my drift.
What feels evident is that it won’t just be an overhaul of modern medical practices that change if male birth control is introduced; it will be an overhaul of attitudes, as well. For too long the act of sex itself has subscribed to normative gender roles. Masculinity being the active, aggressive force, and femininity signalling passivity.
And while there is much more to this dynamic than simply reproductivity, there is truth in the fact that motherhood and womanhood are far more easily conflated than fatherhood with being a man. This informs the way medical professionals and researchers approach the issue entirely.
For example, while temporary birth control is ordinarily aimed at women, permanent solutions are much more accessible for men. It is easier to get a vasectomy as a man than it is to be sterilised as a woman.
A fellow journalist, Holly Brockwell, founder of online tech magazine, Gadgette, in London, told me that her decision to not have children and opt for sterilisation hit roadblocks in the medical system time and time again. She was instantly shut down by doctors who told her she would change her mind about having children, until aged 30 a sympathetic GP put her forward for the procedure. The UK’s NHS website even states a doctor will usually recommend counselling before agreeing to perform of a sterilisation, and also has the right to refuse to carry out or refer someone for a procedure. Is it the same with vasectomies? No.
One of the biggest issues with hormonal contraception is that it can have extremely negative effects on your physical and mental wellbeing. The first comprehensive study on how hormonal birth control affects women’s wellbeing was published last year and found that, unsurprisingly, ‘oral contraceptives reduce general wellbeing in healthy women’.
Having personally been on two kinds of birth control pill and the hormone injection previously, I can put my hands up and say this is a gross understatement. Tremors, mood swings, weight gain, bad skin, and depressive thoughts are just some of the nasty side-effects. Although women have been complaining about this for years, it has only now been officially recognised. Female mental and physical health is seen as less important and less worthy of comprehensive medical research.
Dr. Stephanie Page, an endocrinologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a lead author of the newest male birth control study, said: ‘Our goal -- and everyone's goal in this field -- is to develop a method for men that has minimal side effects, and the holy grail would be to develop something that also has a health benefit for men.’
It goes without saying that no one wants men to suffer just because some women have in the past, but why hasn’t this been ‘everyone’s goal’ with all other forms of contraception readily prescribed to females? Furthermore, do we (if heterosexual) really want our male partners to potentially suffer in similar ways that many of us have with hormonal disruptions?
For those who have had good experiences with the hormone pill- and there are many - there is also a question mark about whether they would trust men to prevent pregnancies. Although it takes two to tango, if you get me, pregnancy has more immediate, drastic implications for women. I have thought about this a lot, and although I would like to share the responsibility, I would also be anxious about relinquishing control. The issue is complex, and with many unanswered questions, so I guess all we can do is wait and see if this new male pill becomes a reality. I even have my doubts about that.