Why do so many men hate using condoms? Is it because they reduce sensation, are not known for their comfort, and can be a hassle to put on? Maybe. Some say they kill the mood, though not as much as a crying baby or a horrible STD infection. It’s easy to become frustrated or annoyed with men who don’t want to take on their share of responsibility for birth control. Yet, given that condoms are the main option for men (aside from “pulling out,” which is notoriously unreliable), can you really blame them? If we all agree that men should have access to more options, what’s taking so long?
The Male and Female Systems are Different
Not to belabor the obvious, but the male and female reproductive systems are very different. For a male birth control product to be considered effective, more is required than simply blocking sperm or making them nonviable with hormones or synthetic drugs. Desirable birth control needs to be reversible in addition to being effective at preventing pregnancy. Otherwise, why not just have a vasectomy? (Note: for the purposes of this article, we’re going to skip over the talk of disease prevention - something birth control pills have never adequately addressed.)
A Male Birth Control Shot for Men
A Swiss research study published in October of 2016 cited the effectiveness of a birth control shot for men. The shot was administered by a doctor once every eight weeks. As printed in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, the shot drastically reduces the number of viable sperm in the ejaculate. The effectiveness rate was right around 96%, which is pretty dang good. So when can your favorite man get this shot from his local doctor? Not yet. In fact, probably not for a long while.
Hasn’t this been tried before? Sure. From the 1970s through the 1990s, several studies were made using a substance called “Gossypol.” This is a plant derivative known to reduce sperm counts. Farmers discovered this after accidentally feeding it to livestock. Romantic, right? The main problem with gossypol was that it’s actually a toxin. A toxic dose is less than what is recommended to prevent contraception. Even when it worked, the results were not reversible.
The Negative Effects Preventing Male Birth Control
What’s keeping birth control innovations out of our hands? For one thing, some countries (say, the United States) are slower to approve sexuality-inspired products, citing them as less necessary than those that cure disease or advance treatments. This seems dubious. While we may all know someone who has or had a serious illness, we know many, many people who have sex. In the case of the birth control shot, the bigger problem may be that 20% of the study’s 320 respondents dropped out due to the negative side effects. Among those in the study, nearly 1,500 “adverse events” were reported. What’s an adverse event? This is where the story gets a little snicker-worthy.
The negative side effects of the birth control shot are nearly identical to the ones women using birth control pills have been complaining about since the 1970s. Symptoms ranged from simple things like dry skin or acne, to more serious side effects like depression, irritability, general mood swings, or even changes in breathing or heart rate. The main difference, as some see it, is that when men report these symptoms, doctors listen to them. Women reported these same symptoms for decades and were often told they were imagining them or that they were caused by something else.
One could argue that women have long gotten the short end of things from the medical community. Is it possible that now that men have confirmed that hormonal birth control leads to unpleasant side effects that a product with fewer side effects is on the way? Maybe. Putting women in charge of birth control, even within the confines of committed monogamy, makes a certain kind of sense. The condom is the only mainstream, readily available form of birth control that men have available. They’re also the only one average men tend to understand. Ask your special fella to explain how an IUD works or why it’s OK to skip the last seven pills in your 28-day pack and he'll likely draw a blank.
When the Swiss study was originally published, the Internet spun with erroneous reports that the men leaving the study invalidated it. Not so. The fact that 20% of participants left the Swiss study did not end it. The study, which was not intended to be the last before the launch of a marketable version of the shot, went on as planned. Had it not, we probably wouldn’t have found out about it. After all, who publishes an unfinished study?
So, What's Next?
What are we left with? We know that there’s a male birth control shot that men can get every eight weeks, and that it is 96% effective at lowering sperm count. Is it foolproof? No. Yet, as Mary of Nazareth would tell you (‘tis the season), even abstinence is only 99.999% effective if a deity has his mind set on you. Time will tell if this new injectable hormonal birth control for men will be a keeper. It may have to compete with products like Vasalgel, which is being raced to market as we speak. When it comes to safe, reliable birth control, we say the more the merrier!