Recently, the internet has been raving about the near future launch of the male contraceptive. The world’s first contraceptive injection for men will be available to the general public in about 6 months. Indian scientists just announced that the clinical trial has been mostly successful with 97.3% of candidates reporting no side effects. “The product is ready, with only regulatory approvals pending with the Drugs Controller,” said Dr RS Sharma, senior scientist with Indian Council of Medical Research, according to Hindustan Times.
If you’re like me, you are probably asking, “why has male contraceptives taken so long?” Let’s explore.
Firstly, we must discuss how contraceptives came about.
While the issue of birth control dates to Ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece, birth control as we know it today was a significant milestone in the women’s rights movement. The ability for women to have decision making power and autonomy within the household is the most important factor affecting contraceptive use. The goal was to empower women with tools to make decisions about their own bodies, especially around family planning. Since then, 11 long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) have been developed for women, whereas only 2 options – condom and vasectomy – are available for men.
Why are there less male contraceptive options?
As mentioned above, the idea of female contraceptives was to give women more power over their bodies, as bearers of children. So of course the contraceptive research started with women only methods. For decades, the burden of birth control has primarily fallen on women. The reason is clear: women have more to lose and face more health risks when they become pregnant. Indeed, scientists did not begin researching new types of male contraceptives until the 1970s, 50 years after they first started researching “modern” female contraceptives. In addition, some research has shown that men do not think they should be responsible for contraception. There is also a perception that women will not trust men to use contraception.
Now, why is the disparity between male and female contraceptives problematic?
First, because it forces women to assume most of the financial, health-related, and other burdens of contraception. Second, because men’s reproductive autonomy is diminished by ceding major responsibility for contraception to women.
While most of the burden of birth control has fallen on women, believe it or not, many men still want to have safe and effective contraceptive options that gives them more control over their reproductive life – or at least one that does not involve the use of a condom. The research of the male contraceptive has been going on for a while with little success. Several years ago, a male version for “the pill” was developed, dimethandrolone undecanoate, but after the trial, there were multiple complaints of the side effect – weight gain. Soon after, a trial commissioned by the World Health Organization, an inject-able form of male birth control was developed and tested. But then, the trial candidates started dropping out of the trial because of the side effects – mood swings, acne, depression, etc. That clinical trial was cut short.
Of course, these side effects for men came as a huge insult to women because, we have been dealing with these side effects since we were 16! Why can’t men handle them too? Well, according to Rod Stein, “There’s a little bit of a different risk-benefit analysis when it comes to men using a contraceptive. When women use a contraceptive, they’re balancing the risks of the drug against the risks of getting pregnant. And pregnancy itself carries risks. But these are healthy men — they’re not going to suffer any risks if they get somebody else pregnant.” This is a hard pill to swallow (no pun intended), but it’s true. One of the challenges of making male contraceptives marketable is to make sure it has minimal side effects to encourage men to ACTUALLY use it.
Now, back to the question, “why has male contraceptives taken so long?”.
Contrary to what we may think, the reason isn’t because men aren’t willing to use different methods. Research and development for male contraceptives has been slow, and the field is littered with abandoned and unfinished efforts. Investigators working on male contraceptive drugs say there are two major challenges to bringing these products to the market. For one, blocking the production of millions of sperm per day in men versus preventing the release of one egg per month in women is just more complicated, biologically speaking. Secondly, there’s little funding available for clinical trials of these drugs.
What does this mean for the Contemporary African Woman?
The new advancement in male contraceptives is great news for the African woman! It means that our male counterparts have more options to take charge of their reproductive health. This means increased chances of preventing pregnancy and women feeling less pressure about avoiding pregnancy.