Equal efforts in birth control

The popular combination of the pill with a condom could be replaced with a male pill.

Most students who attended public schools received some form of sex education and learned about different forms of birth control: spermicidal jellies, diaphragms, condoms and birth control pills. Women today have a multitude of choices when it comes to medical birth control: daily pills, weekly patches, periodic injections and semiannual implants. For males, condoms are the standard equipment; millions are stashed in the wallets of hopeful men and teenage boys around the world.

But men might soon have another choice: male hormonal contraceptive pills, many of which have shown during testing stages to be 100 percent effective at dropping an individual’s daily sperm count to zero. Still in the refinement stages to limit side effects and ensure reversibility, this new option will probably be available sooner rather than later.

Why is this a big deal? According to the FDA, condoms fail at a rate of about 14 percent, and birth control pills fail about 1 percent of the time. The combination is extremely effective, but if the male pill tests are accurate, they may well replace condoms as the male contraceptive of choice. In addition, currently the onus of a daily pill (often in cost and always in routine) falls squarely on the shoulders of the female. Many men would welcome this burden in exchange for more reliable birth control and getting rid of that pesky latex, and females who suffer unwanted side effects, although becoming less common, could breathe a sigh of relief.

The male pill is just like the female pill in that it is not intended to prevent sexually transmitted infections; it will not be a free pass to promiscuous sex as long as the male partner claims he’s on the pill. To this end, condoms cannot be replaced yet, and the development of the female condom has furthered this area in terms of giving the female some ability to protect herself if a forceful partner refuses to use a male condom.

The development of male and female versions of most types of birth control is going a long way to make sex an activity less affected by sexism, especially if the public is open to new ideas and social norms.