A recent study, published in the journal Cell and conducted by a team of researchers, including a Texas A&M scientist, claims that it may be sooner than later that men can begin taking their own birth control pills, instead of just women.
Sounds like great news, no? "Sooner than later," dudes can share the responsibility for preventing pregnancy, and all of the associated costs and side-effects. I wouldn't get too excited just yet, though. That pesky ol' male birth control pill has a long history of making "almost there" headlines, only to never turn up.
Let me take you on a little journey through newspapers. The year is 1969. The paper is the Modesto Bee. The story is an AP story headlined: Male Birth Control Will Be Sought. It's cheerfully announcing a $3 million program funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Development to find a "modern male method." The NICHD is optimistic they will find the ideal method of birth control—reversible, safe, inexpensive, side-effect-less—but it may take some time. Five to ten years, says the doctor quoted. Sounds great.
1979. Chinese Claim Invention of Male Birth Control Pill. It's toxic to rats and monkeys, but not to humans. It's "still under investigation here."
1982. Birth Control Pill for Men May Use Combined Hormones. No word on the Chinese rat killer pill.
1986. Male Birth Control Pill One Step Closer. No mention of how many steps there are total.
1989. Men's Birth Control Pill Called Far From Reality. What??? I thought we were so many steps closer! "Less research is going on today than 10 years ago," says the doctor quoted in the piece, but he still thinks a pill will materialize. When? "Within our lifetime."
1991. Study: Male Birth Control May Be Available By Year 2000. Aka, in five to ten years.
1999. Birth Control Pill For Men Seemin' Likely. Yes, of course that gross pun is from a Post headline.
2002. Quest for Male Pill is Gaining Momentum. "A male pill is 5 to 10 years away."
2003. Male Birth Control Pill Soon a Reality. How soon? Five to seven years.
2010. Birth Control Pill for Men Still a Ways Off. Why? Why why why? Why is it taking so long?
Partly it's a matter of biology. The differences between men and women have made it easier to successfully research how to shut down female reproduction, Amory said.
Uh huh, sure, that makes sense. There's a lot of biological reasons men's reproductive abilities are harder to shut down. But this piece, from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2002, has another theory:
Bremner has been working on male contraceptives for 25 years. Research in the field has moved slowly, he said, because society as a whole — and the American pharmaceutical industry — still believe that preventing pregnancy "is really a female issue."
"I just do not see pharmaceutical companies in general stepping up to fund this kind of research," Bremner said. "The American companies — it's hard to get them to talk to you."
It boils down to this: If a safe and effective pill is marketed, will men buy it?
Ah. Ah ha. And so we come to the heart of it. Safer to spend that R&D money on boner pills. Which brings us to today. In researching anti-cancer drugs, scientists have stumbled across a compound, JQ1, that seems to inhibit male fertility. The research is still in the beginning stages though. Lots of trials will have to be done.
"This is an exciting step in male contraception. A compound with more specificity will be needed before clinical trials can be done for humans. It does not mean a male birth control just yet, but it is a great step forward in that direction." [Medical News Today]
So I think we can go ahead and pencil that male birth control into our calendars for five to ten years from now.
Save the date.