For more than a century, most men have been limited to only two types of male contraception: condoms or vasectomies. As vasectomies are usually permanent, they can scarcely be called a choice. Reversible methods of birth control enable women to choose between more than a dozen methods, including hormonal injections, implants, patches, intrauterine devices (IUDs), diaphragms, vaginal rings, female condoms, and spermicide.
However, in a major development, researchers at the University of Dundee have moved one step closer to producing a male contraceptive pill, thanks to a £1.2 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The university is one of several institutes researching the possibility of creating the first safe and effective male contraception medication. But there has been little development for many years.
Reports suggest that recent attempts have been hampered due to a lack of understanding of the human sperm’s biology and a lack of research that demonstrates the important roles that sperm must perform after leaving the male. Previously, the researchers created a miniaturised parallel testing device that employs a rapid microscope and image-processing technologies to more precisely track the fast movement of sperm.
Chris Barratt, assistant professor for Reproductive Medicine at Dundee University’s School of Medicine, shared on the University’s website, “There has been no significant change in the field of male contraception since the development of the condom. This means that much of the burden of protecting against unwanted pregnancies continues to fall upon women.”
Barratt estimates that at the completion of this two-year period, the university would want to have found a high-quality compound to advance to the early phases of drug development, based on their experience in male fertility research. According to him, it would be a huge step forward for the field, and it might be the key to ushering in a new era of male contraception.
“We hope to address that inequality and we have already made progress, thanks to our previous round of funding received from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” Barratt added.
With initiatives to help women in developing countries get access to contraception that can control the size of their families, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been a champion of family planning for many years. As part of its mission, the foundation works to empower women and girls to make decisions about their own health, including having access to contraceptive options that suit their individual needs. After global studies showed that males in many nations would be eager to use a male pill if one existed, the company began investing in research into a male pill.
According to the Guardian, researchers at Dundee University have received $929,585 over two years for work at their National Phenotypic Screening Centre. To this end, they’re looking for current medications or chemical substances that can interfere with specific important sperm behaviours (phenotypes). The funding was disclosed at the same time that a team in the United States launched a study of a more traditional method – a hormonal gel. Men were tested in three locations using a gel that is absorbed through the skin on their upper arms and shoulders, and contains the synthetic progestin hormone used for female contraception, as well as testosterone.
In spite of the fact that today’s condoms appear different and are more widely available, the core sperm-blocking premise remains the same. Since the 1950s, when the female pill was introduced, the search for a male contraceptive pill has been without success.
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According to the Journal of Ethics, at present, women shoulder the majority of the health-related and financial burden of contraception. The cost of female methods is generally higher than that of male methods because most require a visit to the physician and some require a prescription that must be renewed. In addition to being more expensive, female contraceptive methods also have more severe adverse effects than male methods, due in part to the fact that many female contraceptive methods contain hormones, when none do for men. After one year of using contraception, the dropout rate for most types of contraception reaches 50 percent due to unwanted side effects. The two male contraceptive options, condoms and vasectomy, have fewer health risks than their female counterparts – female barrier contraceptives and tubal ligation.
In a study, Edwards S.R. says that contraception poses many nontrivial inconveniences and burdens in addition to health and financial concerns: taking time and energy to administer contraception care, acquiring the contraception and reproduction knowledge necessary to effectively prevent pregnancy, and undergoing invasive medical procedures.
While not having to bear any or all of these costs is a substantial benefit for males, the scarcity of male contraceptives, particularly LARCs, limits men’s reproductive liberty. Given the condoms’ high failure rate of 16 percent during usual usage, men who desire to have biological children are unable to manage their reproduction as efficiently as women. Many female LARCs have failure rates of less than 3 percent. Beyond patriarchal reasons, men also rely on their spouses for contraception due to a shortage of effective and reversible alternatives.
As women increasingly express their dissatisfaction with the difficulty of keeping track of their reproductive cycles, a sizable number of males express an interest in assisting their female partners in alleviating the strain of birth control. According to a 2018 YouGov poll, 79 percent of the 1,600 British males polled felt contraception should be a shared duty. The study said a third of men would be willing to take a ‘male pill’. One in three (33 percent) sexually active men would consider taking a male version of the pill; exactly the same percentage of women who currently use hormonal contraception. On the other hand, one in three men (32 percent) are uncomfortable with the concept of hormonal contraception, and one in six men (17 percent) have never heard of it. In contrast, just one in eleven women (9 percent) feel uncomfortable with it, and most are aware of it. Only 2 percent of the women said they hadn’t heard of contraception.
In heterosexual relationships, the availability of a male pill could tip the balance in favour of contraception. It is a positive change, according to eight out of ten British people, who believe women and men should both take responsibility for using appropriate contraception methods.