For some women in America, the pill is a part of everyday life. Birth control alarms are set on cell phones, little pills are punched through slips of aluminum when no one is watching. The ritual is taken for granted, perhaps forgetting that each time a pill is swallowed, women are washing down a tiny milestone in women’s liberation.
Since the pill, women are now able to take charge of their sexuality and female employment skyrocketed — no longer chained to by patriarchal stereotypes like “staying at home and raising the babies” or “a woman’s place is in the kitchen.”
Yet, for all the progress the birth control pill helped spawn, one downside is that it has left women taking primary responsibility for contraception. There are dozens of female contraceptive products on the market, suggesting that women should take primary responsibility for preventing unwanted pregnancy.
Meanwhile, the primary options for men are condoms and vasectomies.
In a recent Askmen.com survey, 66% of respondents felt that men should accept a larger role in the use and choice of contraception. That sentiment may become a reality sooner than we think.
The scientific community has done extensive experimentation with male contraception over the past decade. While women produce only one egg per month, men can release 120 million sperm in a single ejaculation — a biological fact that has proved challenging in developing an effective male hormonal contraceptive (MHC).
Recently, however, scientists have discovered a method to reduce the sperm count to zero without any major side effects. In a market starved for more male contraceptive options, future possibilities may include patches, creams, and implants. And with male birth control not expected to hit drugstore shelves in 2012, other innovative methods could be developed in the meantime.
Many women would love for their male partners to take responsibility in providing and using contraception, but men have a lot of hang-ups about the idea of male birth control. They have observed the hormonal affect the pill has on their wives and girlfriends and are concerned about suffering similar problems.
The majority of clinical studies, however, show that a successful MHC will produce only mild side effects such as slight weight gain or acne — paling in comparison to more serious symptoms women experience like dizziness, nausea, and blood clots. If that doesn’t make men more comfortable with the idea, in all clinical studies performed so far, the MHC has proved nearly 100% effective.
Many men are currently undergoing trial MHC therapy, including Quentin Brown, a volunteer for Harbor-UCLA Medical Center who points out a few of the more self-serving benefits of a MHC, such as protecting themselves from female manipulation. “Some women are out there to use men to get pregnant,” Brown says. “This could deter women from doing this. An athlete or a singer is someone who could be a target, and they could put a stop to that.”
Studies conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation show that two-thirds of American men would be willing to try a MHC if the option were available.
Scientists believe it could take up to three years until the option is commercially available, and up to five before a final product is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Many women hope that when that day arrives, a generation of men who are happy to share contraceptive responsibilities will emerge.