CONTRACEPTION IN THE FUTURE ‘
It is estimated that half of all unintended pregnancies occur because of contraceptive failures (F Stewart & Gabelnick, 2004). Researchers and scientists continue to look for contraceptive methods with little or no side effects that are easy to use. They have also tried to include beneficial effects, such as reduced acne or water retention, to encourage usage (F. Stewart & Gabelnick, 2004). A consistent concern has been finding a method that can offer high effectiveness rates and protection from STIs and HIV/AIDS (Hatcher et al., 2004).
What’s Ahead for Men
Historically, birth control has been considered a female’s responsibility, and that may be why the condom and vasectomy are the only birth control methods available to men. Many feminists claim that the lack of research into male methods of birth control has to do with the fact that birth control research is done primarily by men. As a result, women are responsible for using birth control and must suffer through the potential side effects.
Others claim that there are few male methods because men produce 1 billion sperm for each ovum a woman produces. It is easier to interfere with one ovum, once a month, than billions of sperm at each ejaculation. They also argue that because men are constantly producing sperm from puberty to old age, chemical means of stopping sperm production may in some way harm future sperm production. Chemical contraception may also interfere with testosterone production, which is responsible for the male sexual drive.
It’s interesting to realize that even though there are fewer male contraceptive methods available, an estimated one-third of the world’s couples use these methods (F. Stewart & Gabelnick, 2004). In the future, men may have more options. Some possibilities include hormonal and nonhormonal drug treatments, including gossypol and anticancer drug injections. Both gossypol and the anticancer drugs work to reduce the quantity of sperm produced. However, sperm production has not been found to increase to original levels after discontinuation.
Vaccines designed to suppress testicular function and eliminate sperm and testosterone production.
Researchers at the University of Kansas were awarded an $7.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health in 2005 for the development of a male contraceptive pill (MSNBC, 2005). This pill would be taken weekly or monthly. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts are also working to develop a male birth control pill that would interfere with a sperm’s ability to swim (A. Davis, 2005).
Weekly injections of testosterone have also been found to decrease sperm production. Side effects may include increased aggression, acne, weight gain, depression, and fatigue. Researchers are also experimenting with longer-acting formulas that can be injected every 3 or 4 months instead of weekly.
Scientists are also looking for vaccines that would cause infertility until pregnancy is desired (F. Stewart & Gabelnick, 2004). Immunocontraceptives are vaccines that suppress testicular function and would eliminate sperm and testosterone production. Unfortunately, vaccines such as these would effectively destroy sexual desire as well. It may be several years before we know whether vaccines will be a valid contraceptive option.
Finally, other research programs are looking into agents that can act in the epididymis. Because this is where sperm mature, scientists are hoping to inhibit sperm maturation in the epididymis (J. L. Schwartz & Gabelnick, 2002).