By Katherine Hamilton | firstname.lastname@example.org
You’ve been fooling around for awhile and things are heating up. The next step naturally is doing ‘it,’ but he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. You think to yourself, “When is he going to reach for the condoms,” but he never does. You try to ask in as sexy a way as possible before he rebuttals with, “I don’t like them. They aren’t comfortable for me.” And just like that, the heat is gone as you recall run-ins with ill-prescribed birth control – the weight gain, the depression, not to mention having a doctor jam metal contraptions in your uterus and having implants possibly wandering around your body. Then, in your head, you hear the sound of babies screaming. But he’s uncomfortable. God forbid.
While two people are needed to make a baby, contraception seems to be a solo escapade – a one-woman show rather. We live in a world where men can simply ‘show up’ to the party unprepared, and it is almost entirely up to women to the make sure intimacy doesn’t result in an unplanned pregnancy.
Since the release of Enovid in 1960, the first hormonal female birth control, many more forms of contraception for women have hit the market – even in the wake of resulting deaths and lawsuits. On the other hand, male birth control has only remained a distant, hazy possibility.
In March 2019, a second potential male birth control pill called 11-beta-MNTDC passed human safety tests. The study followed the side effects of its 40 male participants who only showed mild side effects from taking the pill once daily. However, research is far from finished.
“Safe, reversible hormonal male contraception should be available in about 10 years,” said the study’s co-senior investigator, Christina Wang, M.D., Associate Director, Clinical and Translational Science Institute at Los Angeles Biomed Research Institute.
Yes, you read right – 10 more years. As of right now, all men can do to contribute to contraception efforts is use a condom or use the withdrawal method. A condom is only successful 98 percent of the time when used correctly – but when used incorrectly, which is staggeringly common, the success rate goes down to 85 percent, according to Planned Parenthood. Using the withdrawal method results in 22 out of every 100 women becoming pregnant – similarly risky numbers to common improper condom use.
Combine the lack of options with the fact that only 19 percent of men reported using a condom “every time” over the past twelve months, according National Center for Health Statistics. Twenty-four percent of women reported men using a condom “every time,” according to the same study from NCHS, part of the Centers for Disease Control.
To further strain the point – half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, according to a 2011 study from the Guttmacher Institute. Sensing a trend? Because I am.
‘Don’t Mess With My Libido.’
The truth is, male birth control simply doesn’t sell; pharmaceutical companies find it hard to market, so they often aren’t even the ones to fund research. Mostly, private donors and small government allotments are counted on to push the creation of male birth control forward.
And why doesn’t the idea sell? Because male virility is a fragile thing – mess with a man’s libido and you take away his masculine-stud identity.
In 2016, researchers created a male birth control that was 96 percent effective at preventing pregnancy, but the study ended early when some participants began experiencing side effects such as mood swings, altered libido and acne.
“No one blinked an eye when women experienced diminished sex drive on the pill,” said Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD, an associate professor of bioethics at Albany Medical College, in an interview with Cosmopolitan. “But when that’s happened for male contraceptives? People say, ‘No way, that’s part of what it means to be a man.’”
Last time I checked, women had to deal with similar side effects in order to prevent pregnancy. In fact, women on a combined contraceptive pill are 23 percent more likely to be prescribed antidepressants, according to a 2016 Danish study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry.
Despite resistance from pharmaceutical companies, there are many men who are interested in taking equal contraceptive responsibility with their female partners if such a thing were available.
In a study done by the Male Contraceptive Initiative, researchers reported that more than eight out of 10 men aged 18 to 44 in the U.S. are looking to prevent pregnancy – from those numbers, researchers projected that 17 million men are looking for a new form of contraception. Men were also found to prefer the possibility of a non-hormonal birth control twice as much as a hormonal birth control, and 89 percent of men said the birth control must be reversible.
Finding a way to make male birth control reversible, safe and effective is a huge reason the process has been slow going. Not to mention, there are 800 million sperm in a single ejaculation for men, and one egg to protect for women. Physiologically, the needs of men and women are strikingly at odds.
The recent trials of 11-beta-MNTDC has been shown to decrease sperm count enough to render pregnancy almost statistically impossible without killing libido or causing erectile dysfunction, Wang said in a press release from the Endocrine Society.
Everyone who is involved in an unplanned pregnancy is affected, regardless of who does the gestating. In 2011, the Guttmacher Institute found that 42 percent of unintended pregnancies ended in abortion.
Those who chose to see the pregnancy through to birth possibly face numerable social, cultural and economic hardships. The research showed high numbers of unplanned pregnancy and lower abortion rates with impoverished women.
Furthermore, fathers were shown to report four out of 10 pregnancies as unplanned, according to a 2006-2010 study.
So, we ultimately don’t have male birth control almost 60 years after the creation of female birth control because: a) the funding is unreliable, b) sexism is hard at work…again and c) because the process of taming millions of sperm is genuinely complicated.
While in the past, birth control has been considered a women’s issue – especially in the ’60s when sexual liberation was first becoming popular, and women weren’t ready to share contraceptive control with men – people are realizing birth control can be a burden equally shared between the sexes. Women have categorically been saddled with the responsibility simply because they are the ones who carry the child.
Unplanned pregnancy, which takes two people, only has serious defenses built for women. Imagine the drastic drop in unintended pregnancy if both men and women were protected before having sex? Both parties could control when a baby arrives into the world. Men would have more of a chance to step up and play an active role in contraception, and women could feel like they aren’t facing all the consequences of pregnancy alone.
Instead of labeling children as ‘unwanted’ or ‘unintended’ before they even begin to make their way in the world, they could be wanted, loved and planned for – and most likely, abortion and poverty rates would decrease.
But male birth control ‘doesn’t sell.’ Here’s to another 10 to 60 years of waiting.