November 2, 2011

Even Better Than the Sponge

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I am writing this as my phone chimes, announcing it is time to take my birth control pill for the day (Note to all you app developers out there: There should be a service that sends women reminders at particular times of day to take their birth control pills, with a little fun fact — better still if your pills just popped out of your phone, since everyone seems to always have their phones on them). I recently switched from the Nuva Ring to the pill form of birth control, so I have had to get used to taking this little pill everyday. Taking the pill everyday has not really affected my life any differently, besides the fact that I seem to take vitamins more regularly too (double benefits!). I have yet to go to the lengths of some women who program their birth control reminders not only in their phones but in their boyfriends’ phones as well. I can’t decide if these guys are really whipped or if they actually care a lot about birth control and not having babies.It looks like soon, however, men might be programming reminders to take their own sort of birth control. This past weekend in Seattle, the Future of Contraception Initiative sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation met to discuss, among other scintillating topics, male birth control.I’m guessing that the average college guy doesn’t really think about birth control except when stocking up on condoms, asking a hook-up if she is on birth control, saying “Oh shit, I didn’t pull out at the right time…” or making the awkward trip to get Plan B in the morning. And, you never know, perhaps a few guys intentionally wear really tight jeans to lower sperm count.Pulling out and condom use are the only ways college guys are really able to take control of their sperm — the former is somewhat unreliable not to mention a bit messy and prone to human error, and the latter is usually put up with but detested. Vasectomies are way out of the picture for college guys (kind of like getting a tattoo on your forehead, it will probably be hard to reverse). I think men would welcome an option to take more definitive control over when they father children that does not involve covering their penises in latex or getting a little snip snip.The burning question on my mind and the bazillion dollar question for a lot of drug companies is whether or not guys would actually take a male pill. It seems in the future men could have a veritable bouquet of choices of how not to become fathers: anywhere from heating the testicles with ultrasounds to hormonal methods of blocking sperm production, to making it impossible for the boys to swim.I talked with a number of guys around campus about whether or not they would take male birth control. It seems when asked the hypothetical question, they say yes Three primary reasons emerged: first and foremost (and not surprisingly), none of the guys questioned wanted to be fathers right now. Secondly (also not very shocking) a number of them expressed hatred of condoms. And thirdly, they liked having more personal influence over birth control. As with any new medication, the guys I talked to were concerned about long term side affects and becoming impotent. But I hope men will get over those things with the help of good research on these drugs. Guess what guys? Women have been there done that with those concerns for decades, and we jumped on the birth control wagon in the ’60s, when to try to appease the Catholic church the birth control pill cycle was kept at 28 days and there wasn’t much research at all about long term side effects.Women I talked to on campus seemed to think male birth control was an awesome idea for putting another blockade up against the possibility of pregnancy, but that it wouldn’t stop them from popping their version of birth control (female birth control does have its benefits aside from lack of babies, like less PMSing and preventing ovarian cancer).So if men and women are taking their respective birth control pills, what happens to condom use? This is to me perhaps the only negative and potentially disastrous result of mixing male birth control into the college environment. Right now condoms provide a lovely combo of birth control and prevention of STDs, but with a different form of male birth control, the incentive to use condoms would be, in effect, halved. I am most worried about that college moment of substance-induced frolicking where a condom is nowhere to be found and BOTH parties are on birth control – yikes.Despite its potential effects on condom use, the male birth control pill would be a great thing for both men and women, who could feel more comfortable about birth control and share responsibility more. Even though the rhythm method has its drawbacks, it at least involves both partners equally in the fact that both must adhere to having sex during some times of the month and not others. Women have taken up the responsibility of keeping condoms around, in an effort to equalize efforts of disease and baby prevention. I think it is time for the drug companies to step up and put out the male contraceptive pill and for both sexes to become more equally involved in this issue.Lauren C. is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at laurenc@cornellsun.com. Below the Bellybutton appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

Original Author: Lauren C.