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ISSUE 118 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/3/2004

A pill for Bill?

By Jennifer Hancock
Contributing Writers


Friday, December 3, 2004

For the last 40-some years, the pill has served mankind well. And when I say mankind, I mean “man” kind. For decades, men have reaped the benefits of female oral contraception. They have been able to sit back and enjoy while the womenfolk bear the responsibility of preventing conception by remembering to swallow their requisite daily pill. It is time for women to pass the pregnancy-prevention torch to men.

Now, I am not trying to rip on the pill. It definitely does its job. According to Planned Parenthood, "“The pill is one of the most effective reversible methods of birth control.” Fewer than one in one hundred women will become pregnant with perfect use. Even with a little error, only eight women in one hundred will become pregnant. Recently, the pill has been shown to protect against certain forms of cancer. Thus, for many healthy women, the pill is a great option. In addition to the pill, a plethora of other hormonal birth control options also exist for women including: “the ring” (NuvaRing), “the patch” (OrthoEvra) and “the shot” (Depo Provera)."

However, some women cannot take the pill or other forms of hormonal birth control due to health issues, and they do not want to rely on barrier methods alone. A man cannot help his partner out in that area since there are no male hormonal birth control options on the market. As far as male contraception goes these days, it’'s either a condom or a vasectomy.

Why are there pills, patches and shots for women but only the option to wear a rubber or go under the knife for men? There are two reasons. First of all, female contraception has been highly profitable for four decades. Since the female contraceptive market began its boom in 1961, many drug companies have built their fortunes on female contraception. Since they turned a pretty profit on female birth control, there was little incentive for companies to create male forms of birth control. In addition, until recently, developing reversible methods of contraception for men, scientifically speaking, seemed to be an impossible task. Unlike women who produce only one egg a month on a cycle, men are constantly producing sperm. As a result, it is difficult to develop methods of contraception for men without causing them permanent fertility problems. So, here we are in 2004 and still there is still no male oral birth control. Where are the man pills?

Today, progress in the area of male contraception is definitely being made. In Italy, a clinical study is being conducted with a contraceptive pill that contains synthetic hormones. The World Health Organization has reported that combination injections of progestin (a hormone used in female birth control) and TE (a synthetic testosterone) reduce sperm count. Drug companies are currently working with combinations of these hormones to develop safe pills and injections for men. Another highly interesting, very different, male contraceptive option is battery-powered capsules which would be implanted into each vas deferens and emit low-level electrical currents that would immobilize sperm. In effect, the little swimmers would get zapped with a miniature stun gun. I wonder if they could make the “battery-powered capsules” send a nice little vibration down the penis. That would certainly make things interesting.

Okay, enough fantasizing about the pleasurable possibilities of male contraception, and back to the subject at hand. It would seem many women would be reluctant to allow their male partners to take full control of contraception. However, a study conducted by the Dutch drug company Organon, which is currently working on male contraception, discovered that only three percent of women would never trust a male to take care of contraception. Most said that they would allow a man to do so in a stable, long-term relationship. Sixty-six percent of men said they would consider using a male contraceptive if it were available.

It looks like there is a market out there for male contraception. Whether men will paralyze their sperm with battery-powered capsules embedded in their vas deferens or simply receive a monthly injection is yet to be seen, but the day will soon arrive when men can give women a break from the responsibility of contraception.


– Any questions or comments may be sent to sexcolumnist@stolaf.edu


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