Researchers at the University of Washington need volunteers. The UW is one of a handful of prominent facilities working towards the Holy Grail of birth control, the male contraceptive pill, and in order to grasp the chalice they're willing to pay healthy men $1,300 to play guinea pig.
The current limits of male birth control. But do we really want more options?
By their own account, UW is roughly five years away from engineering a pill that would successfully suppress sperm production. In the global footrace to finish first, a marathon that's been running for nearly three decades, that'd put them somewhere in the lead pack.
A medical breakthrough minutes up 23rd Avenue would be a nice feather in Seattle's cap. But what'd be more helpful is if the scientists working to calibrate male hormones would be willing to identify this mysterious tribe of men they think exist who'd be willing to pay for such an intrusion.Keeping a post on male birth control from sounding like an Onion spoof is difficult. Especially since it's already been done. (Sample quote: "We already bear the enormous responsibility of pulling out and now they want to make us do this?")
But taking pains to avoid the obvious gender stereotypes and the Catskills-quality jokes that come with them (Example: "If men can't remember to lift the toilet seat..."), it's still worth asking the question: Just what problem would male birth control solve?
The answer for women was simpler. The invention of the pill more than four decades ago, and the subsequent shift of reproductive decision-making responsibility that came with it, seemed a necessary market correction. After all, if a woman was going to be solely responsible for child-birth, she should at least be handed the purse-strings when it came to conception.
The argument for the male pill, however, is murkier. Although most men probably prefer to have a say in when their partner does, or doesn't, get pregnant, it remains the primary burden of a woman. It doesn't take an expert in cost-benefit analysis to figure out that many may not want to cede that responsibility. And when asked if they'd trust a man to keep his end of the bargain, most women say they wouldn't.
Even assuming a woman would trust enough to go off the pill there's also a more basic question: What man would want to take birth control?
A Chinese clinical trial of injectable testosterone showed promise when researchers found little to no side effects. What was less highly trumpeted was the fact that 30% of the 1,000-plus subjects failed to complete the study, possibly because a monthly shot in the ass was painful on top of being inconvenient.
Even in its more palatable form, the male birth control pill has proven to have many of the same side effects -- mood swings and weight gain being the most common -- that make it a physical burden for women. And given the fact that male insecurity, if it were a natural resource, could supply the nation's power grid for the next century, no one should be surprised if guys get a little squeamish at the idea of having the thing they've been told is what makes them masculine suppressed for the sake of the fairer sex.
And this is all saying nothing of the fact that more male birth control options still wouldn't give men a reason to ditch their old stand-by, the condom. After all, not getting a girl pregnant is only part of the reason guys invest in Trojans. They're also not keen (one would hope) on giving or receiving STDs, a risk the guy pill wouldn't help to prevent.
Of course, thinking sensibly, it's easy to concede that there might be some percentage of men out there willing to take a birth control pill. Men who want to share in the responsibility long carried solely by their partners. Men who want to relieve their wives of the hormone changes that can wreak havoc on their bodies. Men who don't want to appear to be totally selfish assholes. (i.e. Men who would very much like to get laid every once in a while.)
Researchers at UW may not have a hard time finding men like this to volunteer and be paid for their study. But after the inevitable breakthrough occurs, and a new form of male birth control is widely available, they shouldn't be surprised if some of those same men who were more than willing to be test subjects find the prospects of paying for the treatment a tougher pill to swallow.