60 years ago, hormonal birth control fulfilled women’s dreams of autonomy over their lives
The Pill permanently revolutionized American social culture. As evidence of that epic transformation, we submit that every reader of this sentence knows precisely what we mean by “the Pill”.
The Pill gave women complete control over one of the most basic aspects of their lives: whether and when to bear children. Instead of working until motherhood (whether or not planned) forced them out of the workforce, women could now prolong their careers indefinitely, if they so wished. And many did so wish, often to the consternation of their male counterparts.
Dr. Gregory Pincus, widely revered as the father of the Pill, sought to provide the same sort of hormonal parental control to men. But his efforts were subverted by the opposition of the very women who were funding his project, Margaret Sanger and Katherine McCormick. According to Jonathan Eig, author of The Birth of the Pill, Sanger and McCormick wanted women to retain the upper hand in childbearing decisions.
Whatever the reason, it’s remained a fact that men have nothing comparable to the pill. When it comes to contraception, men are generally relegated to unreliable condoms, permanent vasectomies, or reliance on the measures taken by their female sexual partners.
Today researchers explore different methods of male hormonal birth control
Two women scientists are seeking to give men the same level of control over their parental status as the Pill gave to women. Christina Chun Lun Wang, a researcher at Los Angeles Biomed, is collaborating with Stephanie Paige, a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine in a search for safe and reliable hormonal contraception for men.
Paige and Wang are currently exploring three different methods of male hormonal birth control: a pill, an injection, and a rub-on gel. Of the three, the skin gel (called NES/T) is the most advanced. Four hundred couples in nine cities are currently relying on the gel to prevent pregnancy, while researchers monitor the men’s sperm counts and track side effects.
On March 24, at Endo 19, the annual conference of the Endocrine Society, Wang announced the completion of a 28-day test of the male birth control pill.
- 40 men took part in the safety study over a 28-day period
- 10 men were given placebos
- The other participants took a combination of progesterone, to reduce sperm counts, and a modified form of testosterone, to combat side effects
- All the men in the study completed the test
According to Wang, the pill “greatly reduced” the hormones that are required to produce sperm. However, 22 men reported side effects. This included acne, headaches, lower sex drive, and erectile dysfunction. An average weight gain of 3.5 pounds was also reported, so it seems that further research may be indicated. Wang confirmed the long-term prognosis: “Safe, reversible hormonal male contraception should be available in about 10 years”, she said.
It’s about time that we have hormonal birth control options available for men. I applaud the diligent efforts of scientists to make this a reality. Let me know what you think! Thaïs
About Dr. Thais Aliabadi
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