For the last few years, there have been sporadic rumblings regarding the development of a male birth control pill. Since 1960, when the contraceptive pill was first granted FDA approval, birth control has been seen as a female issue. And after 50 years of advancements in contraceptive options for women — different hormone combinations in pills, the patch, injections and even the vaginal ring — there is still no form of contraception for men other than condoms, spermicides and vasectomies.
Researchers at the University of Iowa, however, are making breakthroughs in the development of an oral contraceptive for men that reduces sperm count to zero without causing long-lasting infertility. They have isolated the gene that causes male infertility and are working to harness this into an effective contraceptive pill.
When the male pill is finally developed, it will undoubtedly change birth control for both men and women. For many women who suffer from the negative side effects of contraceptive methods, many of which are hormone-related, it could mean relief if their partners decide to take the pill. Men, on the other hand, would not have as many side effects because the pill would not change hormones but rather would target a specific gene that produces the protein necessary for normal sperm movement.
Dr. Michael Hildebrand, one of the leading researchers on the study, explains how a male contraceptive would function.
“Such a drug is likely to be safe because the Catsper1 protein is only expressed in sperm cells and not other cells of the body, reducing the possibility of adverse side-effects. This approach would not involve manipulation of the gene,” he says, adding that the infertility would be temporary and only last as long as a man was taking the pill.
Beyond the physical implications, the burden of contraception would no longer rest solely upon a woman’s shoulders. Partners that were both using some form of oral contraception would further decrease their chances of an unintentional pregnancy without having to use condoms, though it is imperative to note that birth control pills do not protect against any type of STDs.
What it means most for women, though, is more reproductive control and shared responsibility in preventing pregnancy. While these should be obvious in a society that stresses equality, many men still view women as the responsible party when it comes to contraception.
Once a male birth control pill becomes a reality, which won’t be for several years at best, there will be yet another method for sexual partners to avoid unintentional pregnancies. And with a male component to what has historically been seen as a female-only issue, couples can now share the responsibility associated with pregnancy prevention to take this heavy burden off of women.