Gather round, ladies, for our quarterly consciousness-raising circle regarding the fact that there is still no male contraceptive pill. What is the delay? Can we take up a collection or something?
It seems every six months or so, newspapers promise some solution is right around the corner—until you get to the bottom of the article and read the "within five to ten years" fine print, of course. What gives? The Guardian outlines the history of the search for a male contraceptive that's neither a condom nor a full-on vasectomy, which has been going on since roughly the time of Hippocrates.
One problem: researchers, no matter how scientifically promising their ideas, almost always have trouble scraping up grant money. Says Dr. Sabatino Ventura, whose own promising line of research made headlines in December:
"You've already got a good female contraception, so people don't think we need a male equivalent," he says. "It's more like: 'Oh, that would be handy, but we could probably do with curing a whole lot of other diseases beforehand.' If you are writing a grant proposal to develop drugs to cure cancer or other chronic illnesses, you have a better argument because you are saving people's lives."
But there's another stumbling block, and that's potential side effects. Women who've tried every pill under the sun in search of something that doesn't cause horrible mood swings and a sudden inclination toward witchcraft might not have much sympathy for this particular argument. But dudes aren't going to get pregnant if they don't take a pill, which makes it harder to get hormonal contraceptives through the trial stages, much less all the way to market:
But the recurring – somewhat shaky – riposte is that there is a substantive, even ethical, difference between the sexes here: the side-effects of women's contraception need to be set against the positive health benefits of avoiding an unintended pregnancy (the same cannot be said for men directly, making it more complex to justify the negative symptoms of hormonal treatments). A cynical person might speculate there is an innate chauvinism involved, but it has been enough to disrupt one of the largest trials, sponsored by the World Health Organisation in 2010, which was forced to end prematurely on health grounds.
Then there are problems of the but-wait-that's-not-how-I-want-to-cum variety. One team has an idea for a concoction that would produce a "dry" orgasm—but studies suggest that's simply too much for many men to comprehend. It's all enough to produce a certain sense of esprit de corps among competing researchers: "I don't feel like it's a race," said Ventura.
Don't you just love the idea of a bunch of middle-aged scientists sitting around, chatting all friendly-like about semen?
One thing that's NOT delaying the advent of more male contraceptives: disinterest from men. The Guardian cites a 2005 survey, which found that 55 percent of men would be interested in something along the lines of a male pill. That's a pretty impressive potential market, but I guess pharmaceutical companies are busy figuring out ways to charge more for asthma medicine or something.
Maybe one of these possibilities will finally pan out. Who wants to bet it'd be instantly covered by insurance?