Women have an array of contraception options from which to choose, a veritable buffet of offerings: implants, IUDs, injections, the pill, the patch, vaginal rings, diaphragms and cervical caps, the sponge, even sterilization.
Men? Wear a condom. Get a vasectomy. Pretty straight-forward, that. And sadly lacking.
Sad for men and their female partners, too. Condoms are great, especially in reducing the risk of a number of sexually transmitted infections like HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. No, condoms are awesome! Condoms are just less effective in preventing pregnancy than many female methods of contraception: male condoms are about 84% effective in this regard, compared to the pill (92%-97% effective), implants (99.9% effective), and IUDs (99% effective).
Vasectomy is highly effective in preventing pregnancy but involves surgery (although minor and outpatient) and is tough to reverse. So, a young, sexually active male who has sex with a woman has to either shift the burden/responsibility of reliable birth control to his partner or depend on a method that’s either less-than-stellar in heading off pregnancy or, if he may want to have biological kids later, simply not practical.
So why are there so few male-centric birth control options? The fact that women are the ones most impacted by unintended pregnancies- and bolstered by a cultural view that pregnancy is really more of a woman’s issue/problem/responsibility- means priority was placed on developing options for female contraception. Plus it’s not a walk in the park to develop effective, safe, and reversible contraception options that guys will actually use. Such research is expensive, complex, filled with more ethical and technical challenges than you might think, all with a less than certain return on investment of time and resources.
Still, the siren’s song of new male contraception may play a sweet tune yet. A number of intriguing options are in fact being researched, hormonal and non-hormonal methods alike, everything from male versions of the pill to injections and even non-invasive procedures. Yes, we’ve heard that all that before, the male pill or whatever is right around the corner, but the variety and technological sophistication of these new-fangled items do give reason for optimism.
One candidate is RISUG (reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance). With this procedure, a polymer that inactivates sperm is injected into the vas deferens (the duct or tube through which sperm move during ejaculation). RISUG is still in development and who knows when or if it’ll come to market, but it’s just one example of the tantalizing research being done.
What a great day that would be, when the male pill or some other highly effective, safe birth control option for the fellows becomes widely available. Who’ll be cheering the loudest, the guys or their gals?
--Fred Wyand aka Fredo
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