Why do men seemingly get off scot free, in lieu of a woman getting unexpectedly pregnant? Evidence suggests that unplanned pregnancies occur more often than a person might think, given the means of prevention, such as birth control, IUD’s (intrauterine device) and the like. Research has shown that a rough estimate of fifty percent of pregnancies that happen are unplanned (Bonham). With that, forty-two percent of unplanned pregnancies, excluding miscarriages, ended in abortion (“Unintended Pregnancy”). The question is, however, with all the birth control available to females, why are unplanned pregnancies happening with such regularity? The responsibility of preventing pregnancy falls largely on the woman, despite the fact that men play a major role in the art of conception. Studies and family planning organizations have traditionally focused upon female methods of contraception because women bear a disproportionate portion of the health and economic consequences of childbearing and rearing. Consequently, women have many contraceptive choices, ranging from daily oral medications to intrauterine devices implanted every 5 years to sterilization (Page et al.). Despite multiple options of birth control for women, there are hardly any for men. In fact, the choices for men are so slim there are only three methods of prevention available on the market: condoms, withdrawal, and vasectomies (“Increasing Men’s Birth Control”). A person looking for contraceptives often find that the choices are tipped in the balance for women (Mathew and Ganapathi). In short, male contraceptives are another way to prevent planned pregnancy, and it does so without placing the responsibility on only one partner.
Although male contraceptives may seem trivial, it is in fact crucial in terms of today’s concern over shared responsibility. To have multiple options in protection against pregnancy would assure the respective partners that there is an even slimmer chance of a pregnancy actually happening. One of the few options for men is coitus interruptus. The act of coitus interruptus, also known as withdrawal or the pull-out method, is a form of birth control in which a man withdraws himself from a female prior to orgasming, as a way to prevent insemination of his sperm (“Coitus Interruptus”). Though it may not be a widely chosen method of prevention, pulling out has a ninety-six percent success rate, provided the man actually does the act correctly (“Coitus Interruptus”). This option is the cheapest, as it requires no prescription whatsoever, and also no need to buy supplies in order to prevent a pregnancy occurring. However, it can end with conception if the man is not careful, thus the art of pulling out is not widely used as a viable birth control.
The oldest method of barrier contraception is a condom (“Condoms”). Condoms are a form of contraception for men that form a barrier around the penis to collect their semen so it does not enter his partner (“Contraception”). They are one of the options for men and women as birth control, but are designed mainly for male use. Since the invention of this contraceptive, over four hundred years ago, condoms have had a ninety-eight percent success rate of preventing pregnancy, yet they also an eighteen percent rate of failing (Bonham). Fail rate stems from condoms slipping, breaking, and also expiring (“Contraception”). Another problem with the condom is that the material it is made from is latex, a rubber in which many people are allergic too. Because of this allergy, a person may refuse to use condoms as a contraceptive, which increases the likelihood of a pregnancy, as part of the main purpose of a condom is preventing impregnation while also reducing the risk of either partners catching an STD (sexually transmitted disease).
The final option available for men is a vasectomy. A vasectomy is considered a permanent surgery performed on a man to cease the sperm to be carried to the penis in the form of ejaculation. The actual act of the operation is complete when the surgeon makes a cut in the scrotum, so that they can cut, tie, or block the tubes that move the sperm to the penis (“How Effective […] Vasectomy”). After that, there is roughly a three-month period in which the male ejaculate could contain sperm (“Male Sterilization”). In which the men then have to resort to other means of contraceptive during the waiting process. While some males prefer this method of birth control, others are intimidated by the permanent factor of the procedure, in the case of them changing their minds down the road to have a desire for children.
Most people are receptive to the idea of contraceptives, in fact studies have shown that an ideal contraceptive for men should be easy to use, available to the public, easy to access, containing no side effect, and can be reversible (Mathew and Ganapathi). The actual concept of male contraceptive is relatively well received across the world; multi-cultural studies have even shown a relatively good acceptance for male contraception among men with more than three-fourths of men expressing intent to use a contraceptive if available (Mathew and Ganapathi). In fact, “most men and women in various studies found the idea of male contraceptive use agreeable. However, there are multiple religious, educational, economic, and cultural barriers standing in the way of male contraception” (Mathew and Ganapathi). When the clinical trials done on contraception were examined, it was shown that the bulk of them have been concentrated on female contraceptive methods. A few trials on male contraceptives have actually been withdrawn, but, the concept of hormonal and non-hormonal male contraceptive methods are highly alluring given the acceptability and potential marketing prospects if such a drug comes in to existence (Mathew and Ganapathi). The options for male contraceptives are limited, placing the accountability of pregnancy prevention on the women, despite numerous people, both male and female, interested in the idea of male contraceptives. In spite of this, statistics show the male methods such as vasectomy and condoms account for almost one-third of contraceptive use in the United States and other countries (Page et al.). That still leaves two-thirds of the population using female birth control, placing the females as ones to be in charge of the prevention of unwanted babies.
But what if the male contraceptive was revolutionized? Studies have shown that male birth control has been researched for almost seventy years, and with that, the knowledge of chronic testosterone administered to a man suppresses sperm production (Page et al.). It was found that testosterone does not completely suppress sperm production in men, therefore scientists have altered their research so that progestogens have been combined with testosterone to improve the efficiency as a contraceptive; the spermatogenesis takes place during a two- to three- month delay to fully capacitate the contraceptive effect in association of male hormonal contraceptives, “a delay that is similar to that seen with vasectomy, but longer than the period of time required for female oral contraceptives to be effective” (Page et al.). The drugs administered inhibit sperm production but do not incapacitate existing sperm. So hormonal contraceptives have been in the works for quite some time, however there has not been very much advancement with these studies. In fact, in the 70s, research was conducted for the use of a male contraceptive in the form of a pill. Out of the one hundred and fifty-one participants that were asked the question of using a birth control pill 55.6% said yes, 18.5% said probably yes, 18.5% said probably no, while 7.3% said a solid no (Gough). Despite this survey being conducted so long ago, there still has not been any real progress made in regard to a male hormonal contraceptive pill, like they have for women’s use. A more recent survey has shown that men are still willing to try a new method of male contraception. When asked about preference, most men said they would prefer a pill such as women’s birth control, but a large number also said they would prefer an injection or implant (“Increasing Men’s Birth Control”). With male contraceptives as a pill or injection people could possibly avoid multiple pregnancies, because if both partners have some form of birth control then they are providing twofold prevention for the potential unplanned pregnancy. Moreover, hormonal methods have been shown to be fully reversible (Roth).
With the knowledge found about male testosterone and hormones as a contraceptive, a person may want to interject and question as to why there is nothing like that available to the public. There have been studies and research about this, but the fact of the matter is, it is simply easier to shield one egg than to stop millions of sperm (Lissner). Not only that, but from the development standpoint, a major hurdle for male hormonal contraceptive development has been a lack of funding to support clinical trial efforts; major pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have essentially abandoned the field of male contraceptive research and development over the last decade (Roth). This may be due to a concern about “…limited financial returns, potential increased regulatory hurdles around safety of a contraceptive for men, religious opposition, general bias that family planning is a ‘female issue’ or high-profile lawsuits seen with unexpected side effects in female contraceptives” (Roth). The lack of interest on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry has severely hampered the introduction of novel male contraceptives to the market. As a result of limited funding from governmental and philanthropic supporters, most clinical efficacy trials of male contraceptives have been relatively small (Roth). Though there are minor studies about male contraceptives, it is not enough to have a significant impact on the progression of hormones as a male contraceptive.
Despite the hurdle of financials, there was a program that developed a strain of male contraceptive with the mix of testosterone and hormones, but the side effects that were included were too extreme for the male body, ranging from acne and soreness of injection site, to emotional disorder and an increase in desire for sex (“Male Contraception”). However, the study was terminated early when it was considered that the “risk to the study participants in terms of side effects outweighed any benefits” (“Male Contraception”). Yet these symptoms are synonymous to that of the female menstrual cycle, so in comparison to the struggles of an average female, the male equivalent appears to be too risky to use for preventive means.
In fact, because there appears to not be any evidence of productive movement towards contraceptives for males other than condoms and vasectomies German inventor, Clemens Bimek, created a mechanism that allows the man an option of birth control by turning it on and off like a light switch. The idea behind this creation was derived from a similar idea to that of a vasectomy, without the possibility of permanent sterilization (Pangburn). To display the function of the invention, Pangburn writes, “When the device is implanted, the severed ends of the vas deferens are fitted into the valve, then held in place by a connector, similar to the way a garden hose might fit into a spout. Switching the device on prevents the introduction of sperm into ejaculatory fluid, effectively sterilizing the user. Switching it off lets the sperm flow back into the fluid, once again producing semen” (Pangburn). This shows the people to see that a device to prevent sperm, whether hormonal or not, is on the horizon for men.
Although male contraceptives may seem of concern to only a small number of people, it should in fact concern anyone who cares about the unwanted pregnancies across the nation. With contraceptives designed for both male and female, there would be a lesser chance of the woman’s pills failing or the condom breaking. It also allows the partners to have a chance at conception down the road, should their situation change and they want to try for a baby. That option is erased with the surgery performed for vasectomies. The major issue, unplanned pregnancy, would be averted that much more with the making of contraceptives available to men. Accountability would be shared and the task would fall to both people involved to prevent it, lifting a huge weight of answerability off the shoulders of women who get blamed for something that might have been out of their control in the first place. With the production of male contraceptives, women would have a better chance to live without the fear of an unplanned pregnancy. The act of a pregnancy would be monitored by both partners to have a more involved say in having a child or not. Therefore, the creation of more readily available male contraceptives, has the potential to greatly reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies.
Bonham, Adrienne D. “Why are 50 Percent of Pregnancies in the U.S. Unplanned?” The Shriver Report Powered by Information, 21 October 2013, shriverreport.org/why-are-50-percent-of-pregnancies-in-the-us-unplanned-adrienne-d-bonham/, Accessed 7 August 2017.
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Gough, Harrison G. “Some Factors Related to Men’s Stated Willingness to Use a Male Contraceptive Pill.” Journal of Sex Research, vol. 15, no. 1, Feb. 1979, pp. 27-37. EBSCOhost, http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=ea01bc87-ad32-4cff-9f7e-770b8d2a1400%40sessionmgr103&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=5693039.
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Mathew, Vivek and Ganapathi, Bantwal. “Male Contraception.” Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism vol. 16, no. 6 pp. 910–917, PMC, Accessed 2 Aug 2017. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3510960/.
Page, Stephanie T., Amory, John K., Bremmer, William J. “Advances in Male Contraception.” Endocrine Reviews, vol. 29, no. 4, pp. 465-493, PMC, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2528850/, Accessed 2 August 2017.
Pangburn, DJ. “New Male Birth Control Can be Turned On and Off Like a Light Switch.” The Daily Good, 21 January 2016, www.good.is/articles/bimek-slv-male-birth-control-switch, Accessed 2 August 2017.
Roth, M. Y., et al. “Male Hormonal Contraception: Looking Back and Moving Forward.” Andrology, vol. 4, no. 1, Jan. 2016, pp. 4-12, http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=3&sid=cded9e3a-4599-4c78-8628-f4851d699cb2%40sessionmgr103
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