Why is the Male Contraceptive Pill Taking so Damn Long?

As a woman using the contraceptive pill for almost four years, I have experienced every side effect under the sun from bigger boobs and mood swings to crippling migraines and depressive episodes. I’m not the only one with around 3 million women in Britain taking the pill and nearly 100 million worldwide. That is 100 million women who have long been disproportionately burdened with the issue of birth control. They are often solely responsible for preventing pregnancies worldwide whilst men run a mile from using condoms and trust blindly in their poor pull-out game. Nevertheless, I stand in firm allegiance with my Levest pill. At the end of the day, it does exactly what it says on the tin and I am eternally grateful for it.

As World Contraception Day soon approaches on Wednesday 26th September, a mind-boggling question crossed one’s mind. Why in the world is there still no male contraceptive pill available on the NHS or in the private market? It is also shocking that the reason why pharmaceuticals industries worldwide have neglected the area of the male pill, despite the demand, is simply because of side effects.

An injected male contraceptive has been shown to be almost 100 percent effective in a trial of 320 men. The hormone injection lowered sperm counts by acting on the brain’s pituitary gland. The injection was effective in almost 96 percent of couples during a year-long trial. However, the trial did not proceed to stage two due to the treatment’s reported side effects which included: depression, muscle pain, acne, and increased libido. Consequently, it was concluded that the risks to the study participants outweighed the potential benefits and the product was sadly discontinued.

However, I find it ironic that they seem to think it is fine for women to experience even more negative side effects. Effects that are taken lightly or completely ignored by medical professionals because our society does not seem to mind if women suffer both physically or mentally. However, it’s time to get out the violin and the man-sized tissues when men start to experience mood swings, depression, muscle pain or acne.

Instead of our male-dominated government (Men make up 68% of MPS and 74% of the Cabinet) investing more money into the male pill, they ran away when the going got tough. This leaves the responsibility to smaller pharmaceuticals who do not have the money for research needed to advance various contraceptives to the point they are widely available to men as a method of contraception. It has been 60 years since the female pill was invented but without this crucial government and financial backing, we may never even see a male pill in our lifetime. Now do not get me wrong, as somebody who has experienced all of the above I sincerely sympathise with the side effects. I also appreciate the fact that at the moment it is more difficult to create a male contraceptive pill, for a female one only has to inhibit the release of one egg. Men release millions of sperm per ejaculation.

But I do not sympathise with the huge double standard. When it comes to preventing pregnancy, women seem to have a congested amount of choice of contraceptives from diaphragms to implants. This proves that it is simply a woman’s responsibility when it comes to birth control. But what if a woman wants to take a break because she’s tired of pumping her body full of hormones? Many of us women feel obliged to stay on the pill because the risk of pregnancy is so high. This is of extreme importance because any unexpected pregnancy will have a negative effect on our careers. Even in 2012, 76% of the public believe women should stay at home or go part-time when she has a young child. This would mean that in the future if we have an unplanned pregnancy, we are less likely to get promoted, get a higher salary or our career prospects might plummet.

It is frightening that our only option to prevent pregnancies is whether or not a man can be bothered to wear a condom, 15% of whom didn’t with multiple partners in 2015. Therefore, the male pill will not only allow men to control where they put their sperm but provide more equality in the bedroom by sharing the responsibility for the consequences of sexual intercourse.

Although there is currently little hope for the male pill, there are other promising products currently being clinically trialed around the world. This includes a topical gel containing testosterone and a progestin (a synthetic form of the female hormone progesterone) used daily to stop sperm production. It is the furthest along of all of the male birth control methods so we have hope! Researchers in India are in the process of developing a non-surgical vasectomy called RISUG (Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance). It involves injecting a polymer gel into the vas deferens (rather than cutting or tying it) to block the sperm. The best part is that the treatment is reversible with the use of a shot that breaks down the gel. The procedure is 98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy and will launch in India this year. This is all extremely promising as the more birth control choices we have for both genders, the less unplanned pregnancies we have and the more we control our bodies.

Abiha Khan