The male pill is nearly here – er, any takers?
A succession of breakthroughs in research into the male contraceptive pill mean that it’s edging closer to becoming a reality. But are any of us ready for it? Kate Leahy gives us some perspective.
When it comes to responsible sex and birth control, let’s face it, men don’t have the best of reputations. Your ability to reproduce willy nilly (pardon the pun) and to opt in or out of an unwanted pregnancy with very different physical consequences to a woman has naturally encouraged a more, erm, shall we say, ‘laissez-faire’ attitude towards whose responsibility it is to consider. Coupled with the only two male birth control methods available being either optional (condoms) or permanent (vasectomy) (the pull-out method doesn’t count chaps), the onus is still very much on women to think beyond the basic sexual admin of catching an STD.
But, as we know, with great power comes even greater responsibility. And, men have been left for nearly 60 years to trust in women to take the contraceptive pill with no real long term and easily reversible way of safeguarding against your own family planning. So isn’t it time you had the same ability to decide?
Obviously, a pill won’t eliminate the need for the good old condom (sorry fellas), which, reassuringly, is 98% effective. You’ll still need to ‘rubber-up’ if you don’t want to risk catching any nasties. According to Public Health England (PHE), in 2016, there were 417,984 sexually transmitted infections diagnosed at sexual health clinics in England alone. But, for those in relationships where both have been tested, it could certainly offer a considerably more equal playing field. The good news is men are said to be showing a willingness to burden some of the shackles of responsibility. But, will women ever really feel safe letting you boys take the reins on this one?
What does it mean for men?
In short, if the male contraceptive pill comes to fruition, men will have a similar ability to control their procreation with a daily pill much like women do. Whilst the female form contains artificial versions of the hormones oestrogen and progestin, used to ‘trick’ the body to prevent our ovaries from releasing a monthly egg, early research indicates that the male version will either target your hormones (this means blocking your testosterone) or act in a non-hormonal capacity targeting the production of sperm (this basically means no swimmers, guys). WTF, I hear you shudder. But it’s OK, the effects shouldn’t be permanent, the idea being that once you stop taking the pill, like for women, normal service will resume.
“Men won’t be so concerned with the risk of changes to their hormones because they will see the short term risk as low and the long term risk as uncertain and far away in the future. In general, men tend to take risks, especially around sex.” says Dr John Barry, Chartered Psychologist, co-founder of the Male Psychology Network.
Whilst some very early studies were plagued with side effects such as acne, depression, weight gain (very similar to the female pill) that saw some participants drop out and the tests shut down, some newer, albeit still very early, research has evolved with more positive outcomes.
Earlier this year, reports were released from a small study conducted on 83 men by the University of Washington, funded by the National Institute of Health in the US, who tested a pill known as Dimethandrolone Undecanoate (DMAU). It was trialled for a month and, although tests did show low levels of testosterone in participants, normally associated with loss of libido, very few were said to have reported this as an actual side effect (hurrah).
However, the better option would always be a non-hormonal contraceptive (you can trust the ladies on this one). So, the subsequent news of a small organic compound, known as EP055 and used to target the surface of the sperm to slow or stop its movement, was successfully tested on monkeys is another great sign of promise. It’s in an even earlier testing phase with human trials yet to be started, but for men put off by life-changing side effects, this could be the best news yet.
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Can you be trusted?
It’s not breaking news that some of you don’t like to use condoms, citing discomfort, allergies and desensitising among your reasons. There’s obviously some women who prefer not to use them too. But, recent reports of ‘stealthing’ where men deliberately remove a condom during sex without the women’s consent are alarming to say the least, and further quantify women’s concern as to whether you boys can be trusted to reliably take a pill which, if missed, won’t have quite the same repercussions. Especially if those repercussions are on the other side of a one-night stand.
Whilst no one has been prosecuted for ‘stealthing’ in the UK (yet), a landmark ruling this month in Switzerland saw one offender given a 12-month suspended sentence for the act. The judge was said to have cited from a recent study published in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law in the US, which stated that, ‘While one can imagine a range of motivations for “stealthers”—increased physical pleasure, a thrill from degradation—online discussions suggest offenders and their defenders justify their actions as a natural male instinct—and natural male right’.’ Obviously, the good men amongst you know that that’s a load of b*llocks and these ‘male rights’ don’t exist, but it in no way helps with the birth control equality discussion. But, in the age of #MeToo, there’s never been a more prevalent time for men to stand up and start taking accountability for their actions, especially where your female counterparts are concerned.
Is there really any need for a male pill?
“There are positives but also negatives. There are short term risks in terms of mood problems such as depression, and unknown possible risks such as cardio problems. There is also more likelihood of STDs due to reduced condom use.”, says Dr John Barry. “For men who really don’t want to have a child, this will give them extra confidence that there will be no unexpected pregnancies.” he continues.
Which is good news as in the last National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, which looked at data on sexual behaviour, attitudes, health, and wellbeing, it found that one in six pregnancies were unplanned, the majority of which were in the 20-34 age category. Using the pull-out method, according to the Family Planning Association (FPA), ends in around 22 in every 100 women getting pregnant. The female pill, first introduced in 1961 is now taken by over 3.5 million women in the UK. Much of its appeal is the 99% success rate. The hope is, the male version will offer much the same.
Will I have to think about it during the World Cup?
No, you’ll be pleased to hear it won’t be available in time to interfere with this year’s World Cup so you won’t have to set an alarm between beers. In fact, it’s unlikely it will be ready much before the next two World Cups. But, if and when the male pill arrives, you can guarantee it will give bloke chat a whole new discourse.
What about another solution? Like, not ejaculating at all…
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