Why is there no male birth control on the market yet?


Apparently because scientists think men won’t take it. According to an article in Science Progress, outdated ideas of who’s responsibility birth control and contraception is, has put the burden on women’s shoulders.
Via Broadsheet.

Let’s pretend you are a straight couple, in a monogamous long-term relationship, and you don’t want a kid. Consider your options: A woman can choose from 11 forms of contraception — including barrier methods like the diaphragm, permanent sterilization, and that holy grail of the sexual revolution, the pill, and its more recent and even more foolproof sisters in hormonal birth control, the ring and injectibles. A man can choose two: condoms or a vasectomy.

Right, so according to science, if you are woman it is your problem if you get pregnant or end up with an STD, so it just makes sense if you take care of the birth control. Doesn’t sound very scientific does it. Furthermore, the financial burden, time constraints and side effects of hormonal birth control on women has another implication on not only time, but unfair burden.
Via Lisa Campo-Engelstein at Science Progress

Not being responsible for some or all of these economic, health-related, and other burdens is a significant boon for men. Men typically do not have to dedicate time and energy to contraceptive care, pay out of pocket for the usually expensive and sometimes frequent (often monthly, or at least four times a year) supply of contraceptives, acquire the knowledge about contraception and reproduction needed to effectively contracept, deal with the medicalization of one’s reproductive health, endure the bodily invasion of contraception, suffer the health-related side effects and the mental stress of being responsible for contraception, and face the social repercussions of their contraceptive decisions (such as whether to use a particular contraceptive or to switch contraceptives), and the moral reproach for contraceptive failures.

What both Lisa Campo-Engelstein from Science Progress and Amy Benfer at Broadsheet acknowledge is that this outdated ideology not only leads to the false belief that men wouldn’t take contraception, but also leads to a disempowerment of men taking responsibility for contraception. As in, they benefit from the structural belief that it is a woman’s responsibility and it is a lose-lose all around. To counter that narrative would take a leap of faith on behalf of women and an insistence by the science community around the effectiveness of male birth control and the corresponding research, development and distribution of such measures. So, it is possible, but sex education, the science community and health care providers would have to overcome the sexism endemic in the way we teach and distribute contraception.

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87 Comments

  1. starryeyed.kid21
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    My ex-boyfriend told me it was ‘too embarrassing’ to go buy condoms, so I had to before I got on the Pill. He did nothing but put it on.

  2. llevinso
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    “I’ve also heard that if you have a couple of regular paps that you should be allowed to go 2-3 years between them, but something tells me that money trumps that bit of wisdom.”
    See, I totally agree that mostly it’s about the money, the doctors want to get you in to see them and want to get paid. But it’s also very important to get these tests done yearly even if you’ve always had regular results in the past. I’ve had paps done every year since I was 16. I had all positive ones until two weeks ago. That’s 9 in a row. According to your advice (or what you’ve heard) I should have been able to skip it this time around for 2-3 years. What if this abnormality is cervical cancer? What if I let it go for 2-3 years? Assuming everything was fine because everything had always been fine before? The good thing about paps is they find out very early if something is wrong. That’s the point of getting one done every year.
    I know this is a derail away from the OP but I just think it’s very important.

  3. TD
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Have any of the authors of these articles actually looked at the side effect of the the drugs? Or are they all simply philosophers who deal with what they feel should be possible rather than what is. The pill functions through replicating a natural biological process to prevent fertilization, almost all of the proposed methods for men seek to work through attempting to replicate medical problems, it isn’t hard to see why there might be undesirable side effects from such an approach.
    I personally don’t think the idea of atrophying my testicles with artificial testosterone (and all the side effects that it carries) in combination with being unable to compete in an sporting event, feeling like I’m hitting puberty in addition to the veritable cocktail of other hormones which they’ve suggested adding to the drug?
    Other than the hormone method, there is the option of a reversible vasectomy or a host of failed drugs which have massive negative side effects (e.g. renal failure, no adrenaline, muscle and liver problems).
    So yes, it’d be nice, but considering all the side effects the drug companies are right that in their current states they likely couldn’t get FDA approval much less compete with condoms.

  4. kat
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    My husband can’t remember to take his medicines every day already…so it would be a no-go for us. I do wish it were an option though.

  5. MLF
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I think that the heated underwear thing might work… I remember reading an article once about some tribe where men would dip their testicles in scathing water – it would kill of the sperm…
    http://scienceline.org/2007/08/27/ask-peck-sperm/

  6. anteup
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    AND it didn’t fuck with their sex drive/moods/ability to orgasm like it does ours…

  7. Tapati
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t worry about whether the guy was taking his pill or not (some will reliably, some won’t). I would just consider it a back up to whatever I’m using. A reliable male pill or other option simply insures that both parties can play a role in making sure they aren’t facing pregnancy when they don’t wish to.
    I know there are a lot of men who want more control over that and hate that the only option for them if they want children in the future is a condom.

  8. anteup
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Call me overly paranoid but I also don’t like using anyones condoms that aren’t my own. I know what kind of temperatures and physical pressure they’ve been exposed to. Who knows how many times that things been bumping around in his pocket on a night out? Mine stay hanging out in my undie drawer 24/7.

  9. alixana
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, in my entire history, I went 4 years with normal ones, had one abnormal, and then had another 7 years of normal tests before my next abnormal one, which has me needing a colposcopy (I think I might have mangled that spelling) in 2 weeks. My doctor said that at this early stage, it’s more an annoyance that requires some extra monitoring, rather than something I need to be really concerned about, and that women who do come in further down the spectrum and need more invasive treatments are ones who let it go for many years without checkups.
    Part of it, from what I understand from my doctor, is that when you have HPV (she said 86% of all women do), it’s kind of like a cold sore – the virus is always in you, and you might never get a flare-up, but if you get stressed or have some other trigger, then you could go many years and then suddenly have an abnormality. And after one abnormal test, you might never have another flare-up, or you could have one two years later.
    I’m a pretty healthy person (knock on wood) who hasn’t been to a general care practitioner in at least 7 years (knock on wood again), but I get my eyes and my cervix checked every year like clockwork.

  10. anteup
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    They need to hurry up with that DNA testing.

  11. anteup
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    That would suck for disease prevention.

  12. FrumiousB
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Lisa, that is a completely ignorant statement about biology. Hormonal contraception is not about blocking an egg every month or blocking sperm with every ejaculation. Hormonal contraception re-engineers the entire endocrine process which lead to the body’s ability to even produce and egg or sperm. It’s about the entire cycle taking place, and by the way, spermatogenesis takes about 3 months. If the guy fucks up his pills, it’s not like a few sperm out of millions get through in the following days. It would be more like the usual thousands of sperm will be produced for the short period of time that an unmodified hormonal process is present, and they will exit the body a few months later assuming spermatogenesis is able to complete.

  13. Jen R
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Why don’t we hear more about RISUG? Is it because it’s being developed in India, not by a big lab in the US or Europe?

  14. Tapati
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if the German study simply caused men to tune in more to how they were feeling than they usually would.

  15. Tapati
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps the way to go then is a procedure that resembles vasectomy but uses a device that can later be removed when the man wants to start his family.

  16. oswid_
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    My wife is not able to use contraceptives. So we use condoms. For me, female contraceptives are useless. Does it mean that whenever there is a conversation about female contraceptives I am encouraged to say “Hey, they are useless for me. But it would be good to have such option”?

  17. Comrade Kevin
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Well, it presumes that all men are irresponsible, particularly regarding sex, first of all. I’d have no problem with taking birth control, especially since being a parent is such a HUGE responsibility and it’s not like you can give them back once you’ve got them. Not only that, condoms are not always reliable and I personally am always afraid they’re going to burst or leak.
    I’m also reminded of the statistics regarding the female condom and openly wondering why so few women use them. I remember I asked one partner why she wouldn’t consider using one herself and her answer was “because it’s your responsibility to wear a condom, not mine”. A valid point, particularly when the assumption is that women have to pick up all the slack when it comes down to responsible contraception use, but it makes me wonder if other women think the same way.

  18. jeana
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    I reread what I wrote and I probably should clarify that I meant to say that Glenn Sacks’ MRA posters think some whacky things; not Glenn Sacks. I tend to lump him in with what people say on his blog, and that’s not actually fair since he does differentiate himself from them and does put a disclaimer on his site saying the views of his commentators aren’t his.
    And I’ve never read the other people’s views on the male BCP but I can be sure they want the option for men. I’d like it for my son.

  19. jeana
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s both people’s responsibility to use birth control. She might not have any clue what a female condom is or how it works (I don’t). Maybe buy one and test it out. I know nothing about them but I can’t imagine it would make much of a difference to a female. I’ve heard males like them better, although it seems like it would be pretty much the same to them.

  20. CJ76
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    If you’re going to come on so strong in criticizing the previous poster’s wording then you should not say it prevents egg creation but rather prevents egg release.

  21. TD
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    That certainly seems the most promising of the technologies, but then it’s basically just an improvement on a vasectomy, and you might see the same market.

  22. saraeanderson
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    When people talk about using things like the rhythm method of birth control, it’s always assumed that it’s 100% woman-controlled. If a guy pretty much knows what his female partner’s menstrual cycle is, he’s just as free to say “It’s probably not a good idea tonight. I don’t really trust a condom at this time of the month.”
    I guess this has to do with the gatekeeper myth, where a woman in a straight couple is assumed to be the one deciding when sex happens and the man is assumed to always want to have sex but only get it when his partner allows him to have it. Also, it’s pretty rare for a guy to know that much about any woman’s menstrual cycle. But that doesn’t stop MRA whiners from making a best-guess and opting out of sex during times when he suspects his partner is likely to be ovulating.

  23. GrowingViolet
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    You seem to be confusing ovulation with oogenesis here. The Pill blocks the former but has nothing to do with the latter. A male pill would have to do one of two things: 1) block spermatogenesis consistently – bearing in mind that spermatogenesis takes place on an ongoing, constant basis in adult males, whereas females complete oogenesis before they’re viable fetuses, or 2) prevent ejaculation, which would realistically involve preventing the ongoing secretion of the components of semen, which is nowhere near being on the horizon.

  24. GrowingViolet
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    According to Wikipedia, for what that’s worth, it’s because “In March 2006, the ICMR announced that Phase III trials of RISUG could resume… [but] little progress has been made since [then]. The research centers do not have enough of the RISUG compound to move forward with the trial. Marksans, the pharmaceutical company which has a manufacturing agreement with the inventor and the government, is now over a year past its initial April 2005 product delivery estimate. It is not clear why the delay continues.” The developer does have a U.S. patent and major backers. The trouble might be that there’s not much wide-scale, well-controlled independent evidence for its safety and efficacy – the site from your link is a (well-designed) promotional one from the financial stakeholders, and the research presented is their own rather than externally controlled.

  25. A male
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    If you’re willing to recognize that difference between Glenn Sacks and his more extreme idiot posters: Sacks is the “men’s rights activist” or MRA, with some moderate ideas and others misogynistic. He’s an activist. He’s out there for what he believes in; not so the posters complaining from behind their computers about how women have wronged them or fear how women can wrong them. I don’t consider such people MRAs.
    activist
    Noun
    a person who works energetically to achieve political or social goals
    activism n
    Collins Essential English Dictionary 2nd Edition 2006 © HarperCollins Publishers 2004, 2006

  26. A male
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    Yes, a man can easily donate sperm. But how much would it cost to store your own sperm (or ova, or fetuses) long term in a certified facility, with liquid nitrogen? How much to store it yourself in a large vacuum container, with regular shipments of liquid nitrogen or dry ice?
    http://www.majesticgaits.com/mve.htm
    Will the cost of storage not run into the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars? That will be the true price of permanent sterilization.
    No, this is one more time to question why people value perpetuating their own DNA so highly, as opposed to raising a foster child or adopting if they feel the need to have children in the future. I raised my children as my own even with the possibility (my wife has told me of two other pregnancies she terminated because she questioned who the father was) they were not fathered by myself. I would also prefer to take in a foster child in need, or adopt, rather than put my wife through pregnancy and loss of work again, IF I wanted more children.

  27. A male
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    The percentage and raw number of men who have had vasectomies is actually significant, and in the UK is comparable to the number of women who have had tubal ligation. (Reporting in the US is poor – “No formal data collection system exists in the USA to collect and collate the number of sterilisations performed annually. The last time a survey was done was in 1991. It wasn’t an actual count but an extrapolation of smaller surveys.”) By age 35-39, the number of men who’ve had vasectomies outnumber women who’ve had tubal ligation.
    http://www.vasectomy-information.com/faq/faq2.htm
    How popular is vasectomy?
    The results vary from country to country. New Zealand seems to have the highest rate of vasectomised men (23%), US/Europe approx 11%, and the lowest is China and India on 7-8%.
    The 2002 statistics for the UK state that some 18% of men between 16 and 69 have had a vasectomy, and that proportion has remained similar over time. A further 1% of men had become sterile as a result of another operation. Around 30% of men aged 40-64 have had a vasectomy. 30% of men aged 40-44, 32% of men aged 45-49, 30% of men aged 50-54 and 26% aged 55-64. Only 1% of men aged 16-29 had had a vasectomy. The trend is that men between 40 and 49 were 50% more likely to have a vasectomy than a woman was to have had a tubal ligation.
    A recent US national survey found that 12% of married men between 20 and 39 have had a vasectomy, and of this 12%, nearly a quarter are in the 35 to 39 age group. Worldwide some 50 million men have undergone the procedure – this represents about 5% of married couples of reproductive age.
    [end quote]
    http://www.vasectomy-information.com/moreinfo/stats.htm
    For vasectomies to be considered so obscure a procedure for men, and for the perception that men are more unwilling than women to undergo a surgical procedure to permanently affect their fertility, the fact that men are indeed getting vasectomies must be underreported. Other than my mother, I don’t know any women who’ve deliberately been sterilized, and there is no reason for them to tell me (outside of where it might be relevant at my hospital). Why would men advertise the fact they’ve been sterilized any more than women?

  28. A male
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    Pardon me. Store embryos, not fetuses.

  29. jeana
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    Yes, Glenn Sacks is an activist, but way more for fathers than for MRAs. I don’t even think he calls himself an MRA, although he shares lots of similar beliefs; just not the crazy extreme ones. Like a lot of people agree with a bunch of feminist views but would never call themselves a feminist and would never agree to the more extreme things certain people post.
    But it’s easy to attribute things to a blog owner when it’s really not them that’s saying it or agreeing with it.

  30. Amanduh
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Yeah, I’ve always bought the condoms, and I’m a woman.
    I never really thought about the burden being solely on me; I just thought it’d be stupid not to do everything I could to prevent pregnancy.
    Now that I’m in a committed relationship I have found that my boyfriend is completely ignorant when it comes to menstrual cycle, birth control options, etc etc. So I’ve drawn him into the process over time and emphasized that I want him to take a role in birth control, even if it’s just talking to me about my choices and learning along the way.
    Side note: I’m starting Depo-Provera in a couple of weeks. Anyone have any input on it? I hatehatehate the Ortho TriCyclen-Lo that I was on, it made me sluggish and messed with my libido. The Ortho is estrogen+progesterone while the Depo is just progesterone, which is supposed to reduce those kinds of side effects.

  31. hmprescott.wordpress.com
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    There is a long history to this issue, described by Nellie Oudshoorn in her book, _The Male Pill_ (Duke University Press, 2003). You can see a limited preview on Google Books.

  32. hmprescott.wordpress.com
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    There is a long history to this issue, described by Nellie Oudshoorn in her book, _The Male Pill_ (Duke University Press, 2003). You can see a limited preview on Google Books. Briefly, her argument is that there are both biological and sociological reasons behind the failure to find and market a male pill.
    I should add that the gender asymmetry in contraceptive technology is rooted partly in Margaret Sanger’s quest for a female controlled form of contraception. It was her activism, and financial backing from her close friend Katherine McCormack, that were instrumental in funding the basic research that led to the development of the first contraceptive pill.
    Finally, much of the recent history of reproductive health for men has been shaped by the gay rights movement, which of course has been focused on disease prevention.

  33. ekpe
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    the previous poster said ‘buy’ and i was responding to that

  34. TD
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    From my understanding of the rhythm method it involves more then just a calender type system but taking various measurements, checking for signs etc. At some point in order for a guy to get a complete picture he would need to rely mostly on information from the woman… Making not an issue of a gatekeeper effect, but an issue that the it is the woman’s reproductive system which is being monitored.

  35. Lady
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    I can’t remember where I heard this but I makes sense in my mind, I is much more complicated to create a hormone based birth control for men because in women you only have to prevent the release of an egg or such once a month where as with a man you need to stop many many sperm. and if even a few get by it makes the treatment pointless. Not saying that the lack of research is unjustified but perfecting the simplest method seems like a logical place to spend money rather than taking a really long time and lots of money to create a product that might not work.

  36. Hershele Ostropoler
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    There’s the liquid condom, which is said to work for STIprevention, and useful for communities/cultures where men empirically cannot be expected to participate in that or birth control.

  37. everybodyever
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    I’d had no idea that birth control in German is “Anti-Baby-Pille”; I used to refer half-jokingly to the pill as my “anti-baby.”
    I can’t read German, but I do appreciate the link — that photo is really amusing.

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