This article reports on a new male birth control pill that’s currently in animal studies, but is scheduled to begin human trials in the U.S. next year (Telegraph, 6/28/10). It was developed in Israel by Professor Haim Breitbart.
It’s a revolutionary concept in several ways. First, it removes a protein in sperm cells that makes it impossible for them to fertilize an egg. So it doesn’t have any of the odious side-effects of hormonal contraception, vasectomy or methods that block the vas deferens. One of those side-effects of hormonal contraception is dramatically reduced libido which few men would find attractive. And, at least in laboratory animals, the low-dosage pill lasts for one month and the higher-dosage pill lasts up to three months.
All in all, at this point the new pill looks like a breakthrough. It would seem to be 100% effective, probably inexpensive, easy to use and with no side-effects. It’s hard to argue with any of that.
It’s also hard to argue with finally (finally!) giving men some control over their own fertility. For 50 years, women in this country have had access to fairly cheap, extremely effective contraception that suppresses ovulation. Over the years, they’ve also had access to a bewildering array of IUDs, post-coitus interventions and abortion, in addition to the usual condoms and just plain abstinence.
Men’s contraceptive choices have been much, much more limited. Essentially, they can abstain from sex, get a vasectomy or use a condom. Of those three, the only one that can be chosen in private is vasectomy, which, because it’s expensive and surgical, is not an option for most men, particularly young ones.
But a pill, particularly if it has all the benefits touted for the one developed by Breitbart, will fix all of that. If this one is as good as it’s made out to be, in the not too distant future, men will at last be able to control their own fertility cheaply, effectively and confidentially.
Now, what we know about the pill for women is that, while it can provide almost complete control over their fertility, unfortunately it has to be used - and used correctly - in order for it to work. And in an alarming number of cases, it isn’t. That’s the conclusion of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy that reports here that some 50% of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. To put it mildly, if there are that many unplanned pregnancies, women aren’t using the wide range of contraceptive options at their disposal.
And the same paper finds, based on research by Child Trends, that children resulting from unplanned pregnancies are far more likely to experience high parental conflict and breakup than are those who are planned. In short, the failure to use contraception and use it properly results in unwanted children born into high-conflict households. There’s nothing about that that’s good.
The remarkable fact is that, when young people are interviewed, they very often say that they don’t want children yet, but are using no form of contraception. Needless to say, that doesn’t make sense, but it seems to be common practice.
Assuming this pill is as good as it says it is, that it’s on the market soon and properly publicized, I see no reason to believe that men will be more adept or conscientious about its use than women are about their contraceptive options. But it’ll be one more safeguard against unplanned pregnancy and childbirth, and the first real way in which men can decide for themselves whether or not to father a child.