Recently, a clip from "Bill Nye Saves The World," featuring Joanna Hausmann, has gone viral on Facebook. It addresses a very pertinent issue: male birth control.
Believe it or not there has been interest in male birth control since the early 1950's, but there was never enough demand or attention placed on it to legitimize the cost of research. However, in 2008 a clinical study co-sponsored by the United Nations, began accepting its first patients. They tested 320 healthy males, between the ages of 18 and 45, in monogamous relationships from all over the world. The contraceptive was given as an injection every eight weeks. It consisted of different kinds of hormones; testosterone was used to trick the body into discontinuing the production of sperm, and a mix of other hormones were included to keep the injection safe for long-term use.
The findings were astounding considering how barren this area of research has been. Participants were told to use back-up birth control (like condoms) until their sperm counts were below the fertile level. For most of the men this required a 24 week wait. Thereafter it was found that the injection was 96% effective.
Then, the clinical test was cancelled in 2012, due to "serious negative effects of the injection." Patients had been experiencing some symptoms like injection site irritation, depression, increased libido, mood swings and acne.
Since the end of that trial a new male contraceptive has begun the trial process. This method is a bit different and more invasive, but only requires one trip to the doctor (similar to the female IUD).
The trial, named Vasalgel, can be loosely compared to a less invasive and non-permanent version of a vasectomy. Basically, it's a small foam-like piece that's inserted in just the right spot so that sperm cannot pass, but a male can still ejaculate. This option is so incredibly promising that doctors predict it could be on the market in the next year or two. The real question is, will men use it or will the side effects beat the finding down once again?
This is when Joanna Hausmann and Bill Nye come into play. The viral clip from "Bill Nye Saves The World," (a link to which can be found at the bottom of this article), shows Joanna Hausmann interviewing a series of couples. She describes the new possibilities for future male birth control. Many of the men seem interested, if not delighted, with the promise of these options. However, Joanna then mentions there may be a few side effects; mood swings, acne, loss or intense gain of libido, and invasive procedures.
Suddenly, people seem very unsure.
This is an important lesson for the world. Historically, women have carried much of the responsibility for birth control, since men have only had condoms as an option. With this responsibility often comes side effects too; effects that are eerily similar to the trial tests that failed. IUD's and injectable arm implants are invasive and have to be redone in a matter of years. Hormonal pills are pesky and must be taken reliably to be effective. Hormonal injections can be difficult if you live a busy life or are far from a health center. Not to mention every one of these options have side effects that include, but are not limited to, weight gain, loss of hair, acne, tender breasts, irregular periods, blood clots and strokes.
The biggest lesson here is that we, seemingly, value the health of one gender over the other. Sure, many men will not like the side effects and, subsequently, will not take birth control. This is the same with many women who prefer the withdrawal or condom methods. But, if the method is safe for men it should become an option.
The men in the injection study seemed to feel the same way. 75% of participants in that study said they would willingly continuously take the injection.
We only have positive things to gain by releasing more options of contraception. By widening the breadth of availability and choice we can start to build better sexual health in this country and around the world.