A Pill a Day Keeps the Sperm Away
Although it seems there are many irons in the fire, there really has been little research into male contraceptives, and very little support from the pharmaceutical companies. Why? "Well, it's not really regarded as a terribly sexy area -- is it really?" Anderson asks. "People have always treated it with a bit of suspicion and thought, 'Well, it's a bit of a dead end.' It's not something that people have thought is particularly wonderful."
If there's no perceived market, there's no money for research. DePaolo also mentions that there has been some hesitation at developing hormonal contraceptives for men, because the pill for women wasn't exactly a "smooth ride ... It's been one that's been quite tenuous with the side effects and everything, and there's clearly the potential to have some of these side effects."
Susan Scrimshaw, PhD, the dean of the University of Chicago School of Public Health, tells WebMD it's also hard to ignore the fact that "for many years, there was little or no focus on men because research was biased towards changing women's reproductive capacity.
"An interesting question is the strength of motivation for men to use it, since men don't get pregnant," she says.
DePaolo says pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. still have not "bought into" the idea that men "are ready to be responsible for their fertility," whereas a couple of pharmaceutical companies in Europe appear to believe, and invest in the belief, that European men are more willing to use contraception.
In fact, a recent survey of men in Edinburgh, South Africa, Hong Kong, and Shanghai by Anderson and his colleagues found about 90% thought a male hormonal contraceptive was a good idea, and about 66% said if it was available now, they would be willing to use it in the near decade.
But would women believe the men really used it? DePaolo calls that issue the "trust factor," because with men, "how are you going to tell" if in fact the man has taken the contraceptive?
"If men do use it, it will have a freeing effect for many women who have biological or other reasons for not using some of the more common female contraceptives. On the other hand, many men may not want to father children outside of a conscious decision to do so. It may be most important for committed couples, where the man is willing to take this responsibility," Scrimshaw tells WebMD.
Contraception, whether male or female, does not alone constitute safe sex, which Scrimshaw concedes would probably be hurt "to some extent" by a male contraceptive.
DePaolo says, "one of the big areas in contraception in general is the development of spermicide-microbicide combinations to combat the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The steroid contraceptive pills aren't going to do that unless you wear a condom."