Why has progress been halted for the Male Contraceptive Pill?

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It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but the progress on a male contraceptive pill may have come to a halt.  This is leaving many, especially women, feeling more frustrated than ever.

Firstly, certain reports of a “pill” have been covering several types of hormonal and non-hormonal male contraceptives. The most discussed, hormonal method includes the injection of long-acting progesterone to lower sperm count by affecting the brain’s pituitary gland, in addition to testosterone to counter-balance any reductions in the male hormone. This injection was shown to be 96% effective with a trial on 320 men for over a year.  However researchers stated that further testing would be needed to address reported side effects of depression, muscle pain, acne, increased libido or even an irregular heartbeat and an intentional paracetamol overdose, that prompted 20 men to drop out of the study and were seen to be linked to the injection. Despite the fact that 75% of the men said that they would continue to use the injection if it was available, an external board discontinued the trial after concluding that the risks outweighed the benefits. While we hope scientific reasoning was the only deciding factor, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that many women complain of these same symptoms 50 years after the first appearance of the female pill and when examining the dubious history of its testing, it is questionable whether the pill would have made it to market today.

The introduction of the pill for women in the 1960s led to sexual freedom for women, however, this has had unforeseen consequences. Despite the fact that pregnancy, and avoiding it, should be a shared responsibility by two consenting adults, women have been mostly left in charge. As the NHS website says itself, there has been little change in the contraceptive methods available to men than to women. Of course, there is the other non-hormonal method of condoms and they have the added benefit of being the only current form of contraception to assuage your other worry of sexually transmitted diseases. Yet, I’m sure that I’m not the only one to have heard the common complaint that it doesn’t feel the same, but of course, the stomach cramps, acne and all the other side effects from female contraception sure get a woman in the mood.

Another involves the injection of a polymer called Vasalgel to block the sperm ducts until the injection of a chemical to dissolve the polymer, otherwise known as reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance (RISUG). It may last longer than an IUD, it seems to be as effective as a vasectomy (>99%), but more easily reversed, so what’s the problem?   It seems that some men don’t like the invasive nature of the procedure, but yet again, the IUD and jab are fine for women.

This is an exceedingly complicated concept, with several possible avenues of discussion, but it seems to me that the least often discussed rationale for squeamishness among men is one of the most straightforward – men aren’t guilt tripped into worrying about this in the same way. While men might worry about unplanned pregnancy, in today’s media, they’re often placed as the victim with a woman either “forcing” them to be a father or “killing their baby”. There are numerous cases where even the responsibility of sexual violence is placed squarely on a woman, like the Stanford Rape Case. There’s even the scene of the guy trying to “get away” with not wearing a condom, unless the girl makes him. If both parties took the use of contraception as a shared responsibility, it would probably solve a lot of frustration if nothing else, so while there’s a focus on the scientific possibilities in the media, while we wait for new developments, perhaps we ought to pay more attention to developing our attitudes to sex and relationships.

Photo credit: Flickr

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