I wonder if Bill O’Reilly would be so worried about alcohol getting in the way of contraception if men were responsible for birth control. Currently, the only options for men other than “pulling out” are condoms or a vasectomy. The idea of a birth control pill for men has been floating around for many years with few results, but an article in the New York Times this weekend, suggests that “prompted by women’s organizations, global health groups and surveys indicating that men are receptive, federal agencies are financing research.”
At this point researchers are still looking for methods that are as safe, reliable, and reversible as existing birth control options for women and that have few side effects. Some of the options they are looking at include:
- Using hormones to stop sperm production. Described as “the most studied approach in the United States,” researchers are using progestin, a hormone used in female birth control pills, which interrupts testosterone production and stops the testes from making sperm. In order to make sure that men don’t lose libido and muscle mass, they are also given limited testosterone.
- Interrupting sperm maturation. Researchers at the University of Kansas are working on a pill which interrupts the maturation process of sperm so that they are not functional.
- Blocking retinoic acid. Other researchers are working on drugs that would block retinoic acid which is important for sperm production. Unfortunately, thus far at least one of these drugs is completely incompatible with alcohol – drinking while on it makes men quite sick.
- Reducing the mobility of sperm. A neurobiologist at Harvard “discovered that sperm tails contain calcium-ion channels, with electrically charged ions ‘turbo-charging the sperm’ to reach eggs.” He is working on a drug that would disable this channel.
- Inactivating sperm with shots. Called Risug (reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance), this method involves periodically injecting gel into the scrotum.
- Halting sperm production with ultrasound. This method involves heating the testes which can stop sperm production for months.
Like Viagra, which was discovered during development of treatment for high blood pressure and angina, many of these potential new birth control options were developed for other purposes including treating cancer, worm infections, skin diseases, hypertension, and psychosis. The last two drugs were found to keep men from ejaculating during orgasms, of course, in order to use them as birth control researchers will have to change them to make sure they no longer impact blood pressure and mood.
It may be awhile before any of these methods are widely available though it does make one wonder if a slew of new male-control options will change the debate over contraception. Will critics still be suggesting that easy access to inexpensive birth control methods will create a new generation of sluts?