Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Pill for Men

Scientists in Indonesia have figured out how to create a male birth control pill by extracting a plant substance that keeps sperm from fertilizing eggs.

This article looks at how in Indonesia (and in China, where male birth control is researched intensively), the primary motivation is population control. In contrast, development of new medicines in the U.S. are primarily profit-driven, and the male pill doesn't look like a seller:

A recent study by the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that more than 80 percent of women who’ve ever had sex with a man used birth control pills at some point. A male birth control pill could eat into this massive market. And because other options already exist — condoms and vasectomies — the male birth control pill would need to sell for a relatively cheap price.
I found it surprising that 60% of the men polled in Germany, Spain, Mexico, and Brazil indicated they would be willing to take a birth control pill. Most of the American men I've discussed it with seem hesitant at best and often turn down the idea outright.

Birth control ads have so long put the onus of responsibility on women that I think that will be a hard standard to dismantle. Though ads for condoms have a more shared view of reproductive health, ads for other forms of birth control do not.

This Yaz commercial barely even mentions the fact that its intended purpose is to prevent pregnancy. Instead, it focuses on the benefits to women: lighter periods, treatment of mood swings, clearer skin. Likewise, the images are all of lone women, bringing to mind liberation and self-fulfillment. There are a few men shown in the background as the women walk by, but they are not a part of the equation at all.

This Nuva Ring commercial features no men at all. Instead, it focuses on the burden that women have to carry by taking a daily birth control pill, and it offers them a solution in the form of this once-a-month option. The women who make this step appear less burdened and happy to interact with each other, but men are not a part of the decision because they weren't a part of the original burden.

Okay, so at least this Mirena commercial features a man (and a father, at that!) But let's look a little closer. The motivation for choosing Mirena is that life as a parent is so hectic that this mother cannot handle the burden of constantly thinking about birth control, so she picks a long-term option. To drive home the point of how busy she is, the commercial shows the mom chasing her kids through the grocery store while she shops, cleaning, and wrestling playfully with her children. The dad's biggest inconvenience? Having his M&M's or whatever stolen by his kids as he leisurely reads the paper.

I get it. These products are going to be purchased by women. Women are the ones who use them. So it makes sense to target women in the ads, but I wonder what this kind of marketing has done to our ability to see birth control as a man's responsibility?

Not that it really matters. The article also says this:
But U.S. regulations are likely to prevent American men from accessing these recent developments anytime soon.

Before authorizing a pill’s U.S. release, the federal Food and Drug Administration would likely want scientists to repeat many studies conducted abroad, though some of the data could “potentially be re-used in an application,” Lissner said. The entire process, she estimated, could take five to 10 years.


  1. Here's a sexist question: How many women would trust their male partners to remember taking said pill? :-)

  2. Good question! I also wonder how many men really trust women to remember. I wonder if the threat of an unwanted pregnancy is as looming when your body isn't the one hosting it.