We’re Close to Male Birth Control. Does It Matter?
I grew up with a pretty intense North Jersey Italian mother who relayed two pieces of advice to me on a daily basis: 1) boys are led by their pointers (her disturbing euphemism for “penis,” not mine), and 2) no one is going to protect you but you when it comes to sex.
As I grew up, I learned the latter was undoubtedly true (as was the initial sentiment, minus my mother’s word choice). While I’ve worried about contracting STDs and getting pregnant after even the safest of sexual encounters, my male counterparts have never seemed really worried. No man has ever asked me if I was on the pill pre-coital mediocrity (college, amirite?) or if I had ever been tested; they just assumed my non-disclosure meant I had everything taken care of. And, in fairness, I did.
I have grown accustomed to this role. I am the responsible party in a sexual relationship. I make the decisions when it comes to condom use, abstinence, and whether I take birth control. But I may soon have the option to share that burden. That’s right, everyone: experts have revealed... male birth control is imminent.
How male birth control works: science!
While a surgical vasectomy, condoms, and the juvenile pull-out method have been age-old birth-control options for guys, the science is now there for several versions of pregnancy prevention. And while a legitimate birth control isn’t readily available, several different forms are in the works.
The most promising is the male birth control injection with the tongue-tying title of Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance (RISUG). RISUG was first invented in the 1970s by Sujoy Guha, a biomedical engineering professor at the Indian Institute of Technology. The injection was studied for 30 years without any documented complications. It’s effective, it’s affordable… and it sounds a whole lot less invasive than a gynecological exam.
The process takes about 15 minutes and involves a doctor injecting a tiny amount of synthetic gel right outside of each testicle in the vas deferens (the tube through which sperm hitch a ride to the urethra). The procedure only needs to be “renewed” every 10 years. If a man doesn’t want it to last that long, RISUG can be undone. A simple injection of baking soda will help dissolve the gel and get the sperm swimming again in no time.
Another option comes from Japan, where scientists have rendered mice temporarily infertile by blocking calcineurin, a protein necessary to produce sperm.
And then there’s the possibility of an actual birth control pill for men.
‘The Pill’ for men, according to an actual doctor
“The reality is that there is no scientific reason why we don’t have a pill for men in 2015,” explains Aaron Grotas, a practicing urologist at New York City’s Mt. Sinai Beth Israel Hospital. “[Yet] the only male birth control pills I know of involve supplementation of the male hormone testosterone. Like female birth control pills, the same hormones that naturally drive the body can be manipulated to shut down sperm production. While initial results look promising, a main fear is that additional testosterone will increase risk of prostate cancer, heart attacks and stroke.”
But regardless of whether or not one of these magical options is likely to become the new norm, would a woman ever trust a man who said he were on birth control? And would guys want to be on this stuff in the first place?
Actual men on male birth control
I turned to a few of my guy friends to get some insight:
Ray, 31: Uh, nothing is stabbing me in the balls. As for the pill, I can’t even remember to take my vitamins… I’m too lazy to remember to take pills every day.
Mike, 34: I’d probably make that commitment for as long as I was actually getting ass… once the well dries up, I would stop. And if it messed with my mental state even a little bit, I wouldn’t take it. I also wouldn’t try it unless it was completely painless… a needle anywhere near my balls is the last thing in the world I would ever do. I’d rather take a shotgun and blow one of my feet off.
Chris, 27: Isn’t that the girl’s job?
Ah Chris, you misogynistic scholar, you make a good point. For decades, birth control has been the girl’s job, and that’s where a major problem lies. How could women ever hand the reigns over to men and blindly trust them to do as good a job as they’ve been doing?
Actual women on male birth control
To prove my theory, I turned to my girlfriends:
Jess, 28: If a one night stand said he was on birth control, I would think he was just trying to not use a condom. But if he was really taking a pill, no I wouldn’t trust him; I couldn’t use the pill properly until I was in my late 20s.
Jillian, 25: No I wouldn’t trust that… cause it’s weird.
Clare, 29: HAHAHAHA
Even with the science, I’m sorry to say I can’t imagine a scenario in which I’d relinquish my reproductive health to another person. I can’t even trust my boyfriend to pick up his underwear after taking a shower. How could I trust him to take a pill every day?
That said... male birth control is a smart backup to a woman’s pregnancy prevention plan. Used in tandem, partners on birth control would close the “error gap” that is responsible for so many unintended pregnancies. It will be a welcomed day when the responsibility of reproductive health falls to both partners -- and to a culture ready to accept that shift.
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Alexa Lyons is a Thrillist contributor living in New York City who hopes to never hear the word “pointer” ever again.