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Sorry ladies, the male birth control pill is not about you

George Dvorsky

Sentient Developments

May 01, 2008

There’s been considerable media attention surrounding a recent breakthrough in the development of a male birth-control pill (MBCP).

Fact of the matter is that it’s still about 5 to 10 years away. It’s taking forever for a men’s pill to come to market.



What’s taking so long?

Well, the issue is not as simple as it might first appear. Sure, there are still some technical hurdles to overcome, but the delay in developing a MBCP has definite political, economic and even discriminatory aspects to it.

Barriers to entry do in fact exist for the male pill—disempowering barriers that men should most certainly be aware of—including those set up by sexist women who belittle male reproductive accountability, unfair gender biases, self-serving feminists who refuse to relinquish reproductive power, and a risk averse Big Pharma.

And men themselves are also to blame. Far too many guys have gotten comfortable over the idea that birth-control pills are exclusive to women. Most men have not yet realized the implications of having access to a pill of their own.

Consequently (and quite disturbingly), conversations about the male pill have migrated outside the sphere of male interests. Women tend to frame the issue as it pertains to their concerns and their needs, while politicians and pharmaceutical companies neglect the issue, unsure as to what it means to them.

Ultimately, however, this is about men. It’s about men gaining fair and equal access to a powerful contraceptive that will finally allow them to have the same control over their reproductive processes as women—an outcome that will greatly benefit male interests.

How the male pill works

An international consortium of physicians recently revealed a formula for “safe, effective and reversible” hormonal contraception for males.

The breakthrough involves progestin, which is found in women’s birth-control pills and the male sex hormone testosterone. Progestin helps suppress ovulation when used in an oral contraceptive and it appears to function in the same way for men, suppressing the rate and extent of sperm production. The developers claim that this contraceptive will be as effective as a vasectomy.

Men will have to take the pill for about 2 to 3 months to deplete their sperm. It will take a similar amount of time to restore normal levels of fertility once off the pill.

Bring it

For the most part, both men and women appear to be in favor of the MBCP.

Trouble is, most men and women don’t truly understand why it’s so important. Particularly women.

Now, I don’t mean to begrudge women their reasons for welcoming the male pill. It’s all good.

I think it’s great that couples will finally be able to share the burden of birth control.

And it will undoubtedly be a welcome alternative for those women who cannot take the pill or other contraceptives (of which there are many).

There’s also the issue of accessibility. A 2004 report from the Reproductive Health Technologies Project calls contraceptive availability an “unfinished revolution.” Indeed, we need more contraception and more options.

But this is fundamentally an issue of male reproductive control

This is a male issue about male reproduction.

And all that it entails.

The pill will resolve a number problems that men typically face.

It will be dramatically less invasive and severe than a vasectomy—a procedure that can be reversed, but one that’s quite involved and not always possible.

The male pill will also prove to be much more reliable than condoms or withdrawal which can have worst-case failure rates of 15 and 27 percent respectively (!!!).

Also, the male pill will have a profound sociological impact similar to what happened after the advent of the female birth-control pill. This will prove to be a seminal event as far as the men’s movement is concerned.

In fact, a strong case can be made that the delay in the male pill has been caused by an underdeveloped male social movement. The sense of urgency to develop a MBCP has been quelled by the dissenters and the disconnected. Men need to be aware of those forces that work to prevent the advent of not just the male pill, but a cohesive and powerful men’s rights movement itself.

Negative male stereotyping

The possibility of a male pill has caused a number of women to pause and reflect on the implications.

Should a woman believe a guy who says, “Trust me, baby, I’m on the pill.”?

Most women would likely say no. It’s doubtful that women would put faith in men to stick to a strict schedule of birth-control pill popping. Men are supposed to be untrustworthy and irresponsible, right? After all, they’re not the ones who would have to deal with a pregnancy.

Aside from what this says about negative male stereotyping, this complaint neglects three fundamental issues.

First, people must take control over their own reproductive processes and not rely on the other person. This goes for both men and women. The MBCP will finally help men know for certain that they have virtually no chance of impregnating a partner.

Which immediately brings to mind the problem of trust that many men are confronted with today. Should men trust women when they make the same claim? How many times has a man been duped into fatherhood by an opportunistic woman?

Well, according to a Cornell University study, over a million American births each year result from pregnancies which men did not intend. What does this say about female reproductive accountability?

The male pill, will at the very least, help men avoid this risk.

Second, the MBCP strictly deals with contraception. It will do nothing to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The advent of a male pill will not eliminate the need to wear a condom as far as STDs are concerned. 

And third, most men do in fact deal with a pregnancy and the introduction of an unexpected child—be it parental or fiscal responsibilities. There are more accountable single dads who have joint custody of their children than ever before in history.

An unwelcome power shift

As Glenn Sacks has said, “Power is the reward which comes with responsibility.”

Indeed, because women have had to bear the burden of contraception, they have gained control over an integral component of human life, namely reproduction. The MBCP threatens to wrest that control from women to men.

Quite understandably, some feminists are concerned about this possibility.

And, I’m sorry to say, that’s too bad.

Men are currently at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to the choice of reproduction—but this is now set to change.

As an example, according to the 2004 National Scruples and Lies Survey (which polled 5,000 women in the United Kingdom), 42% of women claimed they would lie about contraception in order to get pregnant, regardless of the wishes of their partners.


Other evidence suggests that over 10% of children turn out not to be the offspring of the expected father when DNA tests are done, suggesting that many men obliviously help in the raising of children who are not actually theirs.

This is no laughing matter. Child support rates are increasing, with some fathers giving their ex’s as much as 15 to 25% of their take home pay per child. And it’s widely known that fathers are second class citizens in the courts. For example, in some U.S. states a father cannot present DNA evidence to disprove paternity.

For those men who truly don’t want to have children—something that is completely within their rights—the MBCP will help them achieve that level of control.

And again, female claims that this will allow men to forever shirk their paternal responsibilities and live in perpetual adolescence are not just gross generalizations, but sexist statements of the highest order.

The Man is holding men down

Quite surprisingly, Big Pharma has dragged their feet in developing the MBCP. Despite over 20 years of research, they claim that there’s little money to be made.

In fact, that’s one of the main reasons that the pharmaceutical firms Bayer and Organon abandoned their male pill programs last year.

This is because men are not demanding it

Men are clearly not showing Big Pharma that they want a male pill.

Research shows that most males are not ready for personal birth control. A recent MSN-Zogby poll revealed that only 14% of Americans would definitely take it or insist that their partner take it. And tellingly, the study indicated that women are slightly more excited about the prospect than men.

While at the same time other studies show that men do in fact want alternative contraception options.

What’s going on here, guys?

Perhaps confusion has something to do with it. There’s a very underdeveloped sense of a male collective consciousness. It appears that men, for the most part, don’t yet realize the importance of reproductive control—something women have, for obvious reasons, been very aware of for quite some time now.

Some men, for example, dismiss the male pill on account of their fear that it would transgress their masculinity.

This is exactly the mentality that has to be abandoned and replaced by some more forward thinking ideas that will work help equalize not just reproductive options, but other gender issues that set men at a disadvantage or limit biological potential.

Times they are a changin’

Perhaps I’m understating the fact that 14% of men are ready to use the pill. That’s a significant number unto itself. Maybe it’s a positive sign that attitudes are changing and that broader acceptance is on its way.

In all likelihood, demand will probably increase once the pill is finally made available. It will become real for men once it becomes a real option.

And hopefully it will wake men up to the possibilities. Issues of gender, sexuality and reproduction are not just women’s issues. They’re a vital element of the collective human condition.

George P. Dvorsky serves as Chair of the IEET Board of Directors and also heads our Rights of Non-Human Persons program. He is a Canadian futurist, science writer, and bioethicist. He is a contributing editor at io9 — where he writes about science, culture, and futurism — and producer of the Sentient Developments blog and podcast. He served for two terms at Humanity+ (formerly the World Transhumanist Association). George produces Sentient Developments blog and podcast.


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