Male Contraception: It’s Cumming

One of the greatest scientific accomplishments of all time is contraception. The ability to engage in sexual intercourse while dictating whether a child is conceived is truly a privilege that we should not take for granted.

Men and women both enjoy the options afforded by contraception. However, it is without question that men are seriously lacking when compared with women, for one reason or another. Before we explore why men’s contraception is needed as much as women’s, as well as current options and new research in that area, let’s briefly examine the history behind birth control.

While the history is certainly a long one, the key dates are the following. In 3000 B.C.E., the first condom was invented in Egypt. Around 1500 B.C.E., the first spermicides were introduced, which used condoms made from linen cloth sheaths and soaked in a chemical solution and dried before using. In 1916, Margaret Sanger, a true heroine of the contraception movement, opened the first public birth control clinic in the United States. Even though she was jailed for 30 days for “maintaining a public nuisance,” she kept her clinic and pushed forward. In 1950, when Sanger was in her 80s, she underwrote the necessary research to create the first human birth control. Ten years later, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would approve Enovoid, the first oral contraceptive. In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court approved intrauterine devices, better known as IUDs. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized birth control for all its citizens, regardless of their marital status.

The 1990s and 2000s were tremendous decades for birth control as new methods were introduced. The first of these was Norplant, the first contraceptive implant; DepoProvera, which is an injectable method; FC1/Reality, which is a female condom; and Plan B, which is an emergency contraceptive product. Fast-forward to the millennium era and we have Mirena, which is a new levonorgestrel-releasing IUD put out in 2000; a hormonal patch called Ortho Evra in 2001; the vaginal ring called Nuvaring in 2001; Essure, which is a method of transcervical female sterilization, developed in 2002; Implanon in 2006, which is a single-rod implant; and finally FC2 in 2009, which is an improved female condom. Needless to say, abortion is also an important addition to the list.

The one glaring issue about all of this is that the methods listed above, with the exception of the condom, are exclusively female-only options. Women have been given priority in the continued research for more and better birth control options. Now, this is not a bad thing in and of itself. Being spoiled for choice when it comes to the ways you control unhappy accidents is a good thing, of course. At this time, women, according to Planned Parenthood, have 22 options for birth control. Again, this is a good thing.

But when it comes to men, we are seriously falling behind. Again, according to Planned Parenthood, men have a measly five options. They are abstinence, condoms, outercourse, vasectomy, and withdrawal. Of these five, only condoms are the truly viable option. Abstinence simply doesn’t work, unless you’re the most devout monk in all of Tibet. Outercourse is exactly what it sounds like. You might as well be not touching each other. Vasectomies are invasive forms of surgery and unfortunately are not always fully reversible.  Withdrawal is about as effective as abstinence. Finally, we come to condoms (no pun intended), which are the most widely used male contraception and, realistically, the only option men have. Condoms have a failure rate of 18%, which isn’t super high by any means, but it’s definitely cause for concern, given what can happen if it does fail.

Why are men being denied their full reproductive rights? Men’s rights are human rights. We are human beings, we can make mistakes, and the risks for us are just as great as they are for women. Now before someone screams that I’m being unfair, I will concede that the risks for men when it comes to pregnancy are of course not physical in nature, since men cannot become pregnant. Rather, the risks for men are financial. A man is not afforded the same option to opt out of parenthood like a woman can through abortion. If she wants to give up having the child, that decision ultimately lies with her. But if she wants to keep it, the man must stick around to pay child support even if he doesn’t want to. It’s a matter of parental rights in this case. There are also the egregious cases where a man has to pay child support, even if he isn’t the biological father. Women, by law in the United States at least, can hold a man at metaphorical gunpoint and force him to pay up when he wasn’t even involved with the child in the first place. There are also women that are simply not comfortable with the idea of more male contraception because they feel as though they’re losing something to men. Men’s rights are human rights. No civilized society would hold women up to these ridiculous ideas because they are just that: ridiculous.

At this time, there is more research happening in the domain of male contraceptives. The most promising of these is RISUG, which stands for Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance, currently being developed in India. It is a gel injection that kills the sperm and sterilizes a man for 10 to 15 years and is completely reversible with a follow-up injection that dissolves the gel. The other option of note is Vasalgel, which is being developed in the United States. From what I understand, it works essentially the same as RISUG, whereby a polymer gel is injected into the vas deferens. The idea with both of these is that they will, one hopes, be more readily reversible than a vasectomy. Like RISUG, the polymer injected by Vasalgel could be removed with another injection. The Male Contraception Information Project is a wonderful resource in this regard and contains information on other promising projects. I would highly recommend you give it a look and become involved via the options presented on the site. At the very least, stay informed by signing up for their newsletter. I know I will.

Men are human beings and, consequently, deserve the same kind of reproductive control women do. This is not an exercise in entitlement because there is a responsibility associated with these rights. These rights are human rights. And who knew? Men’s rights are human rights.

 

Further reference for important milestones in contraception history:

http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/book/companion.asp?id=18&compID=53

 

Editorial note: this item originally published on Men’s Human Rights Ontario. –DE

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