Authored by Sarah Ayusa, Biology & Society ‘25
Art by Ishani Chopra, Biological Sciences and Biometry & Statistics '24
The current options for male contraception are the following: condoms, vasectomies, and abstinence. But with current research advancements, could “the Pill” soon be a gender-neutral term? Scientists have explored this question as early as the 1970s, and they have since made remarkable progress .
For example, some researchers are currently developing non-hormonal contraceptive drug options for cisgender men which eliminate the risk of any side effects. This drug, a CDK2 inhibitor, could potentially cease sperm cell production due to the role of CDK2 in spermatogenesis . Further research explores the possibility of an on-demand birth control pill — a soluble adenylyl cyclase (sAC) inhibiting drug which would be taken shortly before sex . The approach of targeting specific genes has also been explored. The Arrdc5 gene, found in multiple mammalian species, was found to lead to infertility in males when inhibited . This accounts for another potential reversible and non-hormonal option for men.
At first these advancements sound thrilling and worth celebration. However, when considering the current issues and side effects surrounding the modern day female contraceptive pill, the quality of research dedicated to potential male contraceptive methods – which female contraceptive methods have not yet seen – is disconcerting.
The combination birth control pill, one of the most widely used forms of birth control for cisgender women in the United States, can commonly produce a lengthy list of symptoms: headaches, nausea, spotting, high blood pressure, weight gain, blood clots, and more . It is also a method that requests its users to endure long-term hormonal use with little knowledge of what physiological effects they might have down the road. The disadvantages unfortunately do not end there. Gynecological procedures, another approach to contraception, also come with their fair share of challenges and consequences. Hysterectomies, the second most common surgery for women in the U.S., have a 30% complication rate. Furthermore, tubal ligations are more invasive, more costly, and more dangerous than vasectomies; 25-30 women die yearly from tubal ligations, yet no man in North America has ever died from a vasectomy.
All of this evidence presents a glaring concern that is not considered when examining sexual health: the neglect and stagnation in the quality of female birth control methods. The current combination birth control pill remains virtually unenhanced since its introduction into the medical market in 1960 . Yet, the promising advances towards male contraceptives already provide more benefits than the female contraceptives the world has seen for decades. Thus, despite insinuating an approach towards equality, is the approach of creating male contraceptives really equal?
Gender equality has been a buzz term in science in recent years. Yet, the world still witnesses a lack of resources dedicated to improving these circumstances. Although women are the target audience of most sexual public health initiatives, these initiatives do not actually indicate an interest or initiative for improving the care and safety of women. There is an inconsistency in the messages aimed towards women in regard to sexual health: although society suggests that women bear most of the reproductive responsibility, there is also a lack of priority within the biomedical industry for the treatment to tend to said responsibility.
The reality and response towards the male contraceptive pill has also not yet been fully conceptualized. Following the creation of this heavily anticipated male birth control pill, how many men will truly consider incorporating this prescription into their lives ? How heavily will this pill be promoted by healthcare advisors as a contraception option in comparison to the female birth control pill? The uncertainty of these situations offer insight into the unpredictable nature of this research and the change in perspective on gender and reproduction required by science .
Therefore, it is imperative that better ways of serving the female population are considered when outlining the future of medicine. If scientists are truly aiming for better healthcare for women, advancement must first be demonstrated by the improved quality of female reproductive resources. Further advocacy must be seen for the relinquishing of side effects and post-surgical complication rates for the most accessible contraception methods. This allows for the end of neglect towards female reproductive healthcare, which currently presents longstanding disadvantages for women, before rightfully venturing towards other reproductive methods. While the impressive achievements that scientists have made to produce high-quality male birth control pills should not be diminished, similar achievements should also be seen in gynecology. It is time to stop undertaking a laundry list of side effects and time to begin envisioning a future which prioritizes equal treatment for women.
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