Monday, October 28, 2013

Are 'Good Male Contraceptives' Possible, Or Is It 'Pick Two Of The Three Attributes'?

Birth control: old standards
Valerie Tarico of RH Reality Check discusses eight new possibilities for male contraceptives (some completely new to me) in various stages of testing, and of course necessarily examines women's and men's attitudes, old and new, American and international, toward men's taking responsibility for pregnancy prevention... not all that common through history. Here's an excerpt that gets to the point:

On the surface, it may seem that scientific challenges are the primary barrier to excellent male birth control. A woman produces an egg only once each month, while men produce millions of sperm daily. Female fertility can be detected and timed. It starts later and ends sooner than male fertility. But those in the know say biology isn’t the problem. The question is one of politics and priorities. The National Institutes of Health summed up the problem [.pdf] in direct (if wonky) terms over a decade ago:
The lack of progress in developing affordable, safe, effective, and reversible male contraceptives is due not to the biological complexity involved in suppressing spermatogenesis [the production of sperm], but rather to social and economic/commercial constraints.
Today, research on male contraception is 50 years behind research on female contraception. The difference is as much as anything an artifact of history and tradition, which ripple into the present. ...

Well, yes. Perhaps some progress on that 50-year gap will be made in the more progressive nations of Western Europe, and possibly against all odds in parts of Asia, where the incentives for limiting family size are often matters of both health and law. But I doubt seriously the advances will be made in America or by Americans. If gender relationship stereotypes in America weren't already beginning to harden in highly asymmetric ways, there is always religion to obstruct real progress... and religion's new best friend, national politics. I am not hopeful.

(On a not completely unrelated matter, a federal judge has declared the part of Texas's new abortion law (the one State Sen. Wendy Davis filibustered unsuccessfully) requiring clinics to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital to be unconstitutional, ruling that the provision “lacks a rational basis and places an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion.” Note two things: 1) Judge Lee Yeakel did not declare the entire law unconstitutional, only the one provision; and 2) the six Catholics of the US Supreme Court have yet to get their soiled mitts on the law. Don't expect this ruling to be sustained.)

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