September 8, 2011

Male Birth Control - - A Wonderful Plan or a Big Joke?

Would you feel secure jumping off a building if you couldn’t see the safety net at the bottom? Would you feel at ease sprinting straight ahead if you couldn’t see that the path was clear? Would you feel safe having sex with a man who reassures you that he has taken his birth control pills, even though you cannot physically see a condom?

Although the most popular and effective form of birth control in recent years has been the female oral contraceptive, the responsibility of preventing unwanted pregnancy may soon be available to males.

This new discovery would encourage both males and females to stop and think about their own forms of birth control and decide whether or not they would be willing to test the boundaries of contraception.

Since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of legalizing contraceptive use in 1960, birth control methods for women have become increasingly varied and popular. Before this time, however, women had to be more creative in their attempt to avoid pregnancy. Beginning in 1900, some women inserted lemon halves that had been hollowed out into their vaginas hoping that the fruit’s skin would block the sperm, and its acidity would kill any sperm that managed to escape. Other women followed old wives’ tales that instructed them to do things like jumping up and down or swallowing bees after intercourse.

Today, women have many more contraceptive options that are much more effective and reliable including rings, patches, injections and diaphragms. The concept of male contraception has evolved in a similar manner. As early as 1000 BC, men were using thin layers of linen, leather and silk paper to prevent conception. In 1855, rubber condoms were invented. Men were instructed to wash them after use and reuse them until they crumble.

It wasn’t until 1912 that the disposable, latex condom was created. In the 1950s, condoms were improved with a tip on the end that collects the sperm to further increase their effectiveness in preventing pregnancy. Although this condom is more effective than its reusable ancestor, its success rate at preventing pregnancy has failed to match that of female oral contraceptives. This is due to the fact that condoms can break under too much pressure and are not always used correctly.

Since then, little had been done to improve or innovate male contraceptives until now. According to The Science Channel, researchers began working on a way to make a male form of the birth control pill in the 1950s. They soon became discouraged, however, after hearing testimony from men around the world saying that they would never use such a product. These men showed skepticism towards the possible long-term effects the drug could have on their fertility and their sex drive.

Recently, pharmaceutical companies such as Wyeth, Schering and Organon have once again been working on developing contraceptive pills and injections to be used by men. These companies are currently pursuing clinical trials and awaiting FDA approval. It is unlikely that these contraceptives will be available for public use for at least ten years. Some hormones being tested are expected to stop sperm from being ejaculated. Others merely make the ejaculated sperm unable to fertilize an egg. Male birth control pills would hopefully be 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy, just like the female form. According to Science Daily, researchers found that androgenic hormones work in the testes to control normal sperm count and therefore affect fertility. These hormones are controlled by the amount of testosterone in a man’s body. Researchers stumbled upon this discovery when attempting to find a solution for men who were unable to have children due to a low sperm count. Slightly more testosterone than average was found to produce an increase in fertility. However, a large excess of testosterone proved to dramatically decrease fertility. By altering these hormones, a man’s fertility can be turned on and off rather easily.

A majority of middle-aged, married couples are in favor of trying male contraception, according to a study published in the Journal of Sex Research. William Marsiglio, along with researchers in the Department of Sociology at Ohio State, found that women are more hesitant about men using birth control than the men are themselves.

"A woman could be hesitant to rely on her partner’s actions when the consequences of his mistakes would affect her body," Marsiglio said. "This could be because she does not trust the man to use the contraception correctly or that the physical act of taking the pill gives her a sense of control."

Since the subjects were middle-aged and married, the study did not answer the question of whether younger, unmarried people would be as willing to welcome the idea of male contraceptives into their lives.

"I would never take a pill that messed with my ability to reproduce," said Tyler Smith, a student at San Diego State University who is currently not in a relationship. "It is too risky, and we don’t know what the possible long term effects could be. I always use a condom, and other than that it’s not in my control."

Daniel Major, a California State University, Chico student who is currently in a romantic relationship, cited other reasons why he would never consider using a form of male birth control. "This may sound ridiculous, but I feel like it would make me feel less masculine," Major said. "Birth control has always been associated with feminine things. Messing with my sperm count or forcing me to ‘shoot blanks’ would make me feel like I had been neutered."

College women seem to have similar reasons to the middle-aged, married women for being hesitant about the concept of male birth control. Katie James, a University of California, Santa Barbara student, has been dating her boyfriend for over a year. Although she claims that she trusts him completely in every other aspect of their relationship, she would be unwilling to trust him with the full responsibility of contraception.

"I just know that I would be too anxious every day, asking him if he had remembered to take his pills on time," she said. "If he messes up, I end up pregnant. I
just feel more comfortable knowing that I am taking my pills correctly, and if something goes wrong, I have no one to blame but myself."

Although most of the college students questioned were completely against male contraception, one man thought of a way that the birth control could be used to his advantage.

"For players like me, this new idea is a blessing," said Joseph Shank, a UCSB student who dates several women. "I could fool around with anyone I wanted and have no fear of getting slammed with paternity accusations."

There may be other reasons besides promiscuity that could tempt men into trying these new methods of contraception as well. According to John Schieszer, a writer for, many men have been targeted by women for the sole purpose of getting pregnant. These male victims are often actors or famous sports players who are financially stable. The pregnancy would allow the woman to raise her child without monetary struggle or perhaps it would give the women her sought-after fifteen minutes of fame.
It has also been the case in the past that married women have stopped taking their birth control without telling their husbands in order to have a baby and hopefully save their marriage.

According to the Helium Pregnancy & Parenting Site, this tactic is unlikely to work successfully. The man often feels betrayed and the true problems within the marriage would still remain unsolved. In these cases, male birth control would help ensure that men also have control when it comes to deciding whether or not they are ready to have children.

One important thing to remember when considering male birth control is that it does not necessarily need to take the place of other forms of birth control. A couple could choose to use more than one type of contraception if it would make them feel more confident and in control. Birth control pills may lose their effectiveness due to certain antibiotics, if they are not taken at the correct time, or if a person throws up within 3 hours of taking them. To have both partners on a birth control pill would help decrease the likelihood that one of these situations would result in an unwanted pregnancy.

Also, no form of birth control, other than the condom, works to prevent the spreading of sexually transmitted diseases. For this reason, partners that are sexually involved but not in a monogamous relationship are advised to use birth control pills as well as a condom, according to the CDC.

Clara Levy, a UCSB student who has never been in a romantic relationship, says that every one of her female friends is on birth control pills, even if they are not currently involved in sexual relationships.

"Not all sexual acts are planned out like they should be," Levy said. "People often make bad decisions, especially when they drink. Being on birth control can help alleviate the possible negative consequences of those experiences for men and women."
Levy does admit that there are some differences between the sexes, however, when it comes to birth control needs. She says that unprotected women could become
pregnant if they are raped, which is not as uncommon as some might believe. By being on birth control "just in case", they could eliminate this possibility.

"Plus, many men go out just looking for any girl to have sex with," Levy said. "Perhaps the possibility that they may impregnate a woman might be the one thing stopping them from acting on every urge. If men are able to let go of all sexual responsibility by taking birth control, know knows what might happen?"

There were many repercussions of legalizing female contraception in 1960. Once they were alleviated from the burden of having children when they were not financially or emotionally ready, women began taking on more powerful roles in the workplace. They became more independent. They gained a sense of control over their own lives that most of them probably wouldn’t have imagined possible in their wildest dreams. As birth control became more popular, women began initiating more sexual experimentation. They were able to enjoy having sex without constantly worrying about the consequences.

There is no telling the effects that a male form of contraception, whether it be a pill or an injection, could have on society. There is the possibility that women will slowly become more comfortable sleeping with a man without using a condom, especially if she is able to trust him when he says that he has been taking his birth control correctly.

Male birth control may be a continuing factor in the ever-changing, interdependent roles of males and females in modern world. In fact, having to take responsibility for birth control may force males to be more conservative in their sexual conquests than was previously the case. There is also the possibility that the hormones
in the birth control will negatively affect the man’s libido and sex drive, much like the female version does for many women.

Who knows, maybe 50 years down the line a typical couple will consist of a women begging for intercourse while the man lays in bed and simply states, "Sorry, baby, I’m just not in the mood."

* This was an article I wrote for a Journalism class I took, but all the information is true.
* The image above is not my own
* All names have been changed to protect the privacy of those interviewed

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