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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Prototype male birth control pill could bring real gender equality

Published: August 24, 2012
Section: Opinions

The past couple of months have been filled with discussion about birth control, abortion and the right of individuals to decide the best course of action for themselves regarding their sexuality.

There has been a new discovery about birth control for men. Published earlier this month in the science journal Cell, researchers have inadvertently found a way to create a birth control pill for men that is easily reversible. While this discovery was unintended and is far from being FDA-approved for consumption by the public, it offers a glimpse into what the future of birth control could be like, a truly shared partnership between men and women when it comes to safe sex.

The pill for women was born in 1960 and three years later about 1.2 million women were taking an oral contraceptive. According to the Guttmacher Institute, from 2006 to 2008, 62 percent of women of reproductive age (15 to 44) use a contraceptive. Out of that 62 percent, 28 percent of those women used the Pill for birth control. When these numbers are compared to the 16.1 percent usage of condoms by males and 9 percent of men who choose to get a vasectomy as a form of birth control, a pretty clear picture is painted: Thus far in our cultural history, it has been up to the women to provide and be responsible for birth control.

To decide the likelihood of men taking an oral contraceptive, I began to ask all the men I knew. Unsurprisingly, when told that the pill would have no long-lasting effects and could potentially replace the use of the condom as a form of birth control, most men I knew hopped on the oral contraceptive bandwagon. What is astonishing to me is not that the many men I talked to were more than happy to take a birth control pill, but that it has taken us this long to begin to think about male forms of contraceptives other than the condom.

The many men to whom I spoke did not have any feelings of emasculation when asked if they would take the pill, like they did when I discussed possibly getting a vasectomy as a form of birth control. Their lack of hesitance to take the oral contraceptive may have to do with the fact that the pill, should it progress in its current theoretical form, would be 100 percent reversible. When a man stopped taking the pill, the effects would reverse quickly, allowing him to produce enough sperm to impregnate his partner.

Tremendous gains have been made in the past decades to create societal equality when it comes to the creation and rearing of children. More men feel comfortable taking paternity leave and it is becoming socially acceptable for men to stay at home with children full-time, while the women go back to work. Our society’s progress hinges on a shared partnership when it comes to all aspects of sex: implementing a rape-preventative culture, the splitting of domestic duties revolving around children and men taking more responsibility for safe sex through birth control. Men should be able to accept and take oral contraceptives and view vasectomy as something other than a threat to their manhood.

What the male birth control conversation boils down to is the construction of male identity. What is revolutionary about this pill is that it does not in any way affect a man’s testosterone level; it only diminishes a man’s sperm count. With their testosterone level intact, will this be enough to hold up the foundation of a man’s identity?

This contraceptive, should it come into full existence, would require men to be diligent about taking their pill every day, and it in no way would be a fail-safe method. It would not protect against STIs and would need to be used in conjunction with another form of birth control. But even in its current form, male contraceptive is an incredible progressive step for birth control and for gender equality.

It is my sincere hope that the researchers who have made these discoveries continue on, so that women’s futures will not look like their pasts: a future where it is not solely up to the women to be responsible for pregnancy prevention.