A waiting game

The male equivalent to the birth control pill is long overdue.

Bronwyn Miller

When I first saw the article, “U prof develops male birth control pill” in the Feb. 12 issue  of the Minnesota Daily, I felt immediate excitement. The prospect of finally leveling the playing field of contraceptive responsibilities made me ecstatic, and I was proud that the research is taking place here on campus.

But before I started celebrating, I realized that I’ve been getting my hopes up over this same song and dance for years. We’ve been hearing that the male equivalent to the birth control pill “will soon be a reality” for years, yet nothing has come to fruition. The words of Dr. John Amory, a researcher at the University of Washington, illustrate that scientists share these frustrations: “The joke in the field is: The male pill’s been five to 10 years away for the last 30 years.” 

I do not doubt that developing a safe, reversible method of male birth control is a challenge when men can release between 40 million and 1.2 billion sperm cells  in a single ejaculation. But that’s simply not all there is to the story. The history of male contraceptive research reveals an ugly truth: strong lack of pharmaceutical support. As researchers bemoan, various male contraceptives have shown promise in testing at major companies but were abandoned on account of perceived lack of public interest and, consequently, profit potential. 

The idea that men would not be interested in a pill or other new contraceptive with little to no side effects in order to prevent female pregnancy can not only be refuted by an abundance of survey data but also presumptuously takes a lot of credit away from males. Contrary to the lovely hate mail I get calling me man-hating, I happen to think there are great guys out there who recognize the importance male contraception would have in promoting gender equality and shared responsibility in relationships. Many men acknowledge and appreciate the sacrifice and burden females place on their bodies to prevent pregnancy, and I know they would be happy to relieve some of the
pressure.

I sense another source of support exists among those men who insist that all women want nothing more than to have their children and thus “commonly” develop elaborate hole-poking or turkey-baster schemes in order to procure semen. In fact, we don’t all have such nefarious plans, and “entrapment pregnancies” really do not appeal to nearly as many women as these men seem to think — hence the current widespread demand for female birth control.

Obviously, one form of male contraception already exists: the condom. In casual interactions, most of us would agree it’s a necessity, and I applaud everyone who makes condoms a mainstay in sexual activities. But the condom is not sufficient. It can be a hassle, as well as uncomfortable, and it’s not foolproof. Furthermore, many people who have been tested together and are in monogamous relationships mutually decide to forgo condoms, but preventing pregnancy relies solely on a woman’s willingness to alter and risk her body with birth control pills — which, in a delightful double whammy, has also exclusively opened females up to the hypercritical stigma that associates pill takers with
promiscuity.

We are not asking for a replacement for the condom, which would obviously remain applicable in a variety of situations. But for the specific issue of preventing pregnancy, we have the chance to address the responsibility disparity with a new form of male birth control. If two people are interested in experiencing sexual pleasure minus the baby making, both should be proactively involved in the process.