"Step Up, Fellas" The Viability of Male Contraceptives


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A few days ago, I saw this picture on 9gag with the caption "Why male birth control pill will not work":

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This got me pondering.  Is male birth control a viable form of contraceptive?  This of course has two sides, scientifically (is it possible), and socially(will it be used). With this question in mind, I figured I'd start off my Sc 200 blogging!

Intro:
Male birth control has been in development for almost half of a century now, despite hesitation on the part of pharmaceutical companies that have stakes in female contraceptives (Johnson).  Only recently have scientists gotten to the point where the potential for experimental drug creation is possible.  So the question is, "Will male contraceptives be a viable form of birth control?"

The two types:
There are two potential types of contraceptives out there: ones that decrease the sperm count, and contraceptives that inhibit sperm mobility.

Decreasing the sperm count:
When looking at women's contraceptives, the hormones only need to prevent one egg a month from being fertilized.  On the other hand, men produce approximately 1,000 sperm with every heartbeat and the contraceptive would need to reduce this number by approximately 99%, a much more complicated and in-depth endeavor (source).  Despite the complexities of this, researchers, such as those funded by the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, have focused on using this approach to male contraceptives.  Scientists funded by the aforementioned institute, in conjunction with The University of Washington, have created a gel that they believe to reduce the number of sperm.  The gel is actually two separate gels working together.  One gel contains testosterone and is used on the arm, and the other gel contains Progestin and is used on the stomach.  The gels work together to turn off the hormones that produce sperm.  An experiment performed by the aforementioned study showed that 89% of men using both of the gels had their sperm count reduced to 1 million sperm per milliliter, as opposed to the normal count of 15 million.  But, possibly more importantly, up to 78% of the men using the gel combination had their sperm count reduced to zero. Article can be found here.

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Testosterone, a hormone found in the gel

Impacting Mobility:
The second area of male contraceptive research focuses on impacting the mobility of sperm, by hampering the ability of the flagella to move the sperm, and thus rendering them unable to fertilize the egg.  Scientists identified a protein located only in the testes that once the sperm were exposed to, caused the flagella to move and allowed the sperm to achieve mobility.  This protein is called Protein Cs, and is believed to be the protein behind sperm flagella movement.  Halting the production of Protein Cs would cause sperm to be immobile.  Scientists at Spermatech in Oslo, Norway, are now working on producing male birth control pills that could affect protein Cs production.  These pills would not affect sperm production, but make the produced sperm immobile, and thus unable to fertilize an egg.  While human testing is not on the immediate horizon, Spermatech is continuing their research. For more information on the second type of contraceptive, my source can be found here.

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Will male contraceptives be in pill form like the pack above?

Concerns with male contraceptives:
One of the primary reasons that scientists are trying to find a new form of male contraceptive is that the current predominant form of male contraceptive (besides condoms), is a vasectomy, a permanent form of birth control for males.  This is the main cause of concern in regards to these new forms of contraceptives, "Will they be reversible?".  While recent studies have shown no such permanency as with a vasectomy, scientists are concerned about the long term effects of such hormones and whether the males will be able to produce healthy sperm when they decide to have children.  Aside from the permanence of the sterility/immotile sperm, is the side effects of the hormones.  In the study done using the gels, one side effect was an increase in acne (source).  While this is a mild side effect, and expected to be fixed by lowering testosterone levels, other potential side effects remain unknown.

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Scientists wonder about the permanency and side effects of male contraceptives.

The Big Question:
While the science behind male contraceptives in interesting, what really piqued my interest is the practical ramifications of male contraceptives.  Birth control has always been the responsibility of the female (for the most part, there are, of course, exceptions).  The women are expected to take birth control on a daily basis or use spermicides, along with condoms.  This begs the questions, "Will women let men be responsible for birth control?". And this is the crux of my own personal argument against the viability of male contraceptives.  The likelihood of women believing that men will remember to take a pill everyday, or apply a gel everyday, and be honest about missing a day and needing to abstain from sex for awhile, is probably fairly low, especially for teenagers and people in new relationships.  Male contraceptives are more likely to be used in relationships that have lasted a long period of time, especially with married couples, who have a lot of trust in each other to both be responsible.  

Now, with this said, I am not man bashing.  I know that some guys out there don't want kids too early and will responsibly use male contraceptives to protect themselves against unwanted children the same as females do, and just as they use condoms.  Yet, the females are still the ones to bear the actual children and thus face more consequences if a male forgets his pill or gel, similar to forgetting a condom and insisting that "it's ok". 

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Will women trust men enough for male contraceptives to be viable?

Conclusion (A message to the fellas):
Male contraceptives are on the horizon.  While it could take years for them to become commercially available, there will be a day where men can take responsibility for their fertility, just a females do.  Whether it is a gel, or a pill, or affects the mobility or number of sperm, fellas, you will have the opportunity to be responsible.  So to answer my original question: "Will male contraceptives be a viable form of birth control?", I have two answers. From a scientific view: yes, there have been significant advancements in the last few years (such as the discovery of protein Cs), and enough groups are researching male contraceptives that they will become commercially available eventually.  From a social view: It's questionable. Will men remember / care enough to take the pill? Will women trust the men enough to take the pill? Will male contraceptives cause women to get forgetful and lazy about taking their own birth control? It all depends.  In the end, it all comes down to the responsibility of the individual and the trust level within the relationship.  

So fellas, are you ready to step up?

1 Comment

I actually think once this form of birth control is available for men, they would use it. Most of the time a guy doesn't want to use a condom and not all women are on the pill. And in other instances there might be a girl that wants to "trap" a guy with a baby and lie about being on the pill and poke holes in condoms. This form of birth control could definitely give the guy the upper hand, and they could be fully in control of their sperm.

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