The female pill was launched more than half a century ago. Why is the male one proving so difficult? Because big pharma can’t possibly risk men facing a single side effect, of course!
New contraceptive method just dropped: Scientists have found a way to “switch off” sperm in mice, laying the foundations for a male pill (for humans, not for the randy mice).
This sounds revolutionary of course. 60 years since the female pill became available, you would think there is a scientific reason for a male one appearing on the market.
Tens of male contraceptive methods have been developed in the last few decades, but none have quite made it – and the evidence suggests this is down to economic and social reasons, rather than scientific ones.
An example of this saw the World Health Organisation (WHO) stop enrolling men on a trial in 2016 earlier than planned, after being alerted to life-threatening side effects: acne, and increased libido.
The BBC also cites the main challenge of developing a male pill as ensuring “it doesn’t blunt sex drive or reduce erections,” God forbid.
Not to worry lads, in the meantime, women will get the acne for you, and while we’re at it, the blood clots, breast cancer and increased suicidal tendencies too. No worries!
Of 10,000 women taking combination birth control pills, about 10 will develop a blood clot after taking it for a year, which can of course cause strokes, heart attacks and other issues (I was told I was “stressed” after spending eight hours in A&E. Turned out to be a blood clot behind my eye. Personally, I would have been more concerned if a patient came in totally blind in one eye, but you know best, doc).
Dr Thomas Reilly, psychiatrist and Clinical Research Training Fellow at the University of Oxford researching the relationship between hormones and mental health, says, “For a long time [female hormones] have been neglected in education and research and medical practice. There is probably an element of sexism as to why.
“There will be a lot of people who say it has been ignored because it’s a women’s issue and men researchers are deciding funding.”
Poor male decisions strike again from the patient side as well as the clinical, in a study by Anglia Ruskin University, in 2011, which found around 50% of women would worry that their male partner would forget to take a pill.
Best not bother at all then. If they can’t set a reminder on their phone, it is probably the fairest compromise for women to keep taking literal carcinogens.
Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology at the University of Sheffield, said: “The key will be if there is enough pharmaceutical company interest to bring this product to market if their trials are successful.
“Unfortunately, so far, there has been very little pharmaceutical company interest in bringing a male contraceptive pill to the market, for reasons that I don’t fully understand but I suspect are more down to business than science.”
Outside the hellscape of big pharma, however, people do seem ready for a male pill.
In the discontinued WHO study, three-quarters of the men who took part said they would have continued to use the method if they had the choice. Amore recent study since the Anglia Ruskin one gave much more reassuring figures for trust in partners, suggesting only 2% of women wouldn’t trust their partner – not 50%.
Vasalgel, a contraceptive gel, is closest to the first US option for men. It has been in development for six years and is currently undergoing animal and safety trials. A male contraceptive jab has also been developed. Non-hormonal, non-invasive, reversible, and effective for up to a decade, with 99% effectiveness.
Let’s pray the gels and jabs don’t cause any pimples, and we might be well on our way to contraceptive equality.