Rethinking contraceptive responsibility and male contraception
Updated: Mar 1
The Sexual and Reproductive Health Subcommittee has held their second discussion group this year, initiating a conversation about the idea of shared contraceptive responsibility and the social, cultural and technological barriers surrounding the development of male contraceptives.
To contextualise the topic, we started our event with a brief introduction about the history of contraceptives in general and the overview of the various types of male contraceptive drugs currently in different research phases across the globe. Contraception came a long way, especially considering the early practices such as hanging weasels testicles around women’s thighs or neck to prevent contraception in medieval Europe. The appearance of condoms in the 1800s shifted greatly how people thought about responsible sex, while the birth control pill in 1960s completely revolutionised family planning and brought about an array of social, cultural and economic changes that deservedly led the pill to be referred as the single biggest medical innovation of the 20th century.
But why is that currently there are 11 contraceptive technologies that are designed to impact female fertility (including hormonal, non-hormonal and long-acting reversible contraceptives) while men can only choose between using condoms or having a vasectomy if they desire to regulate their own fertility?
This was the core question of our discussion group, which we then explored from various aspects, including the social, technical and ethical obstacles to successfully developing more contraception options for men. Central to this question is the complex social forces that have led to women to bear the majority of the burdens associated with contraception and the current, arguably unfair or unequal distribution of contraceptive responsibility. We touched upon the issue of trust and the assumption that women would not necessarily trust their partner in heterosexual relationships to take a daily male birth control pill, contrary to the way men currently trust women to be able to responsibly use their choice of contraception. On the other hand, the current feminisation of contraception that primarily targets the female body might easily lead to men’s reproduction being trivialised and a men lacking reproductive autonomy, which is the ability to choose fertility regulation and having ideally more options than the condom or vasectomy. There was a general agreement amongst the attendees that contraceptive responsibility should be more equally shared amongst the sexes, however, the ethical issues surrounding the net side effects if even more people would be on contraception has been a contentious point that we debated in length.
The thought provoking discussion flew naturally and all the guiding questions came up organically thanks to our engaged participants who contributed their views. Thank you to everyone who came along!
You can find more resources about male contraception, contraceptive responsibility and the idea of contraceptive justice here:
AMA Journal of Ethics. “Contraceptive Justice: Why We Need a Male Pill”. (5-7 minutes to read, highly recommended).
BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health. “Attitudes towards the male contraceptive pill in men and women in casual and stable sexual relationships”. (10-15 minutes to read).
Oxford Academic. “The role of team science in the future of male contraception”. (10-15 minutes to read).
Time. “Are We Finally Ready for the Male Pill”. (10 minutes to read, highly recommended).
Endocrine Society. “Dimethandrolone undecanoate shows promise as a male birth control pill”. (2-3 minutes to read).
Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare. “Press statement: male contraceptive pill remains elusive”. (2-3 minutes to read).
YouGov. “A third of men would take a ‘male pill’". (2-3 minutes to read, highly recommended).
NHS Inform. “The pill for men”. (2-3 minutes to read).
TEDMED. “How a male contraceptive pill could work”. (7-minute video, highly recommended).
Male Contraceptive Initiative. “10 Years Away for 50 Years”. (1x 50-minute episode, and 1x 40-minute episode).