As long as the concept of contraceptives and family planning has existed in our modern world, the responsibility or rather the burden of birth control measures has been a woman’s job. This is not surprising since women obviously have more at risk in the advent of an unwanted pregnancy seeing that they are the ones who will be bringing it to term.
That’s not all birth control is used for however. There are many women out there who rely heavily on these tiny revolutionary pills to maintain their hormone levels and even ward off the symptoms of diseases such as endometriosis and poly cystic ovarian syndrome among others. There is no doubt that birth control not only gives women greater autonomy over their own bodies but also ultimately saves lives. In more ways than one.
However, as any woman is aware the cost of birth control measures is extremely expensive especially since there is only a market for half of the population. In a country like Pakistan where contraceptives are already a serious taboo, the added fear or concern over coming off as “too liberal” prevents more women and couples from having a proper plan in place.
The condom has been the standard for male contraception for decades. That seems to be the only responsibility a man has to commit to while women who have far more to lose have to put up with the cost of birth control pills, devices or injectibles that cause much disruption in their mental and physiological lives.
So, why isn’t male birth control a thing yet? It is the 21st century after all. Surely men also have a desire to have that sense of freedom and autonomy over their own sexual lives? Of course, however as we discussed before men have relatively less to lose in their risk and reward analysis in the case of an unwanted pregnancy. Women are far more likelier to halt their careers, drop out of universities and have to put up with the physical aspect of having a child.
Since the risk of an unwanted pregnancy is so high for women, they are much more willing to invest in a birth control plan. Whereas men just aren’t. This is something contraceptive companies are well aware of and although there have been some serious efforts to develop male birth control, there just simply isn’t that big of a demand to justify it’s supply.
As per a report by the Scientific American, the World Health Organization commissioned a trial to promote male contraceptives however, the results like in other trials were not promising or successful as “Twenty of the 320 participants in that trial dropped out citing problems such as mood changes, erectile dysfunction or pain.” The side effects were almost similar to the ones that women struggle and deal with on a daily basis with their birth control plans including increased weight, reduced libido, depression and acne.
Since the risk to benefit analysis is quite different for men and women, it would appear that men themselves are not willing to take on more responsibility in terms of reducing the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. However, condoms have a 10-15% risk of failure and there has got to be a better way to deal with the issue. The fact remains that for many couples, conventional forms of birth control are not the perfect solution since women with certain health risks might not be able to take birth control with other medication and the burden might fall on the man’s shoulders instead.
According to an NPR report, science correspondent Rob Stein says, “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.”
However, there have been trials for some very unique forms of male birth control including hormonal gels that are massaged into the patient’s shoulders and are potent enough to decrease sperm production but not drastically affect the production of testosterone. There is also a very promising new device that has been lauded as a temporary vasectomy by many since it works when a switch is turned on therefore temporarily restricting the flow of sperms. There are definitely wonderful opportunities and avenues for men to step up their birth control game if they choose to.
So, the question still remains. Should there be greater responsibility on men in the birth control process or like most things should this remain a women’s issue?