For a very long time contraception has been seen as a woman's problem, and there is no greater evidence of this point than the lack of research into a male contraceptive. That, however, may be about to change. After news that hormonal contraception for men could finally be on its way, YouGov asked men and women in the UK to detail their thoughts on the male pill. Although a third of men said that they would be willing to take a hormonal contraceptive, the poll found that a quarter of men still wouldn't take a male pill. A further quarter said they "probably" wouldn't take it.
YouGov reports that a third of sexually active women currently use hormonal contraception. This figure rises to two thirds for women who are sexually active and aged between 18 and 24. The adverse side effects experienced by women have been publicised but largely ignored for years. It's no wonder then, that 31 percent of men who said they wouldn't be willing to take the pill, but who were in a relationship where a woman could fall pregnant, were concerned about side effects.
To this effect a 2016 study into a male contraceptive injection (that actually showed more promising results than the female version) came to a sudden halt, NPR reported, after the male participants reported side effects, which included acne and mood disorders. These bear striking resemblance to the serious side effects reported by many women taking the pill. Researchers felt, with justification, that these were too severe. However, if skin and mood problems are deemed to be too serious for men to handle, who said they were OK for women to deal with? Eight in 10 people in the UK think that men and women should take equal responsibility when it comes to contraception, but to do that we need to level the playing field. It shouldn't be expected for women to weather poor side effects, while men have the option to ask better.
With all this said, there's still a long way to go in creating a male contraception. “The research that has been done on male contraception you could write on a postage stamp,” Chris Barratt, professor of reproductive medicine at Dundee's School of Medicine recently told the Guardian. And boy, does it show. The NHS currently lists 11 forms of reversible contraception specifically for women with female sterilisation being the only permanent one. Men, on the other hand, have a choice of condoms or a potentially irreversible vasectomy.
Thankfully, several researchers are looking at making a male pill widely available. A recent study found that giving men a daily contraceptive pill for a month successfully blocked sperm production. Participants only reported "mild" side effects such as weight gain, but further studies will need to be carried out to check if these effects are long-term.
Dr. Sarah Jones, a UK-based researcher working on a male-targeted contraception, told the Shropshire Star that "one of the reasons there has been a delay with male contraception is that sperm are very difficult to penetrate and get inside to target the mechanisms that govern their behaviour." However, she and her team are waiting for the pharmaceutical industry to make the next move.
She even believes that a male pill wouldn't necessarily come in pill form, adding: "There may be a way to engineer a plant to grow this compound in leaf or a seed — you could have a male contraceptive snack bar. Who knows where the future will go?"