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Male Contraception – To Be or Not To Be

“This is a men’s world”, says a popular song, and many of the feminists around the world repeat the same statement more and more often nowadays. Well, obviously this is really a men’s world, especially when we speak about football or barbecue. However, there is at least one field, where the absolute hegemony still belongs to women.

I mean birth control. For the time being, there exist dozens of contraception methods for women, including intrauterine devices, skin patches, implants and, of course, pills. On the other hand, look at the options, designed for a man, which allow him to participate in the process of family planning. Surprisingly, there are only few of them. In fact, excluding such debatable methods of contraception as abstinence and withdrawal, a modern man has only two options for contraception: condom or vasectomy. It looks like contraception is definitely not a men’s world.

However, several attempts to develop new contraceptives for men were made; and nowadays scientists do work on the development of safe, effective, and convenient birth control methods, which could be used by men.

For example, the so-called heat method of male contraception was discussed among the scientists in the previous century. The key idea of this method is based on the fact that the temperature of male testicles is always several degrees lower than that of the other parts of the body. Keeping the temperature of the scrotum lower is vitally important for producing spermatozoids, capable of fertilizing an egg. Consequently, the increase of the testicles temperature results in a temporary infertility.

After this finding at the beginning of the 20th century, the method of contraception was developed rather quickly – Swiss doctor M. Voegeli suggested its patients to take hot bathes (46.7 degrees Celsius) for forty-five minutes daily for three weeks. This regimen was said to provide up to six months of sterility results.

“Eureka!” exclaimed Mr. Voegeli and began to popularize his method. “It's too hot!” exclaimed the first men, trying this method and denied to immerse their testicles in the half-boiling water. Thus, the theory, which seemed to be brilliant because of its simplicity, did not receive the appropriate development to become a widely-used method of male contraception.

However, the idea of heat contraception was also taken for basis in a couple of other alternative methods to achieve temporary sterilization. For example, some devoted researchers suggested to use polyester underwear or even ultrasound to increase the temperature of the testicles and thus disable the army of spermatozoids. Hopefully, the development of this idea will not go as far, as recommending men to put their testicles in the micro-wave oven…

Another approach to male contraception is based on the ability of certain hormones to influence male reproductive function. By the way, hormonal daily pills are the most widely used method of contraception for women nowadays. So, why cannot men have their own pills to control fertility?

Experiments with estrogen (it is used in female pills) did not meet the success, since its use by men led to unstable and unpredictable results. Furthermore, it caused the appearance of certain female features, such as enlarged breasts, in men taking the hormone. Of course, male population need not such a contraceptive.

Nowadays, the most promising results in the development of birth control pills for men were achieved during experiments with a combination of male hormone testosterone and female progestins. Here progestin hormones block the development of sperm and testosterone prevents the processes, which turn male into female.

However, the further development of this method also ran into obstacles. One of them is that testosterone cannot be taken by mouth and should be injected only. Surely, the prospect of regular visits to the clinic for the next testosterone injections does not seem to be appropriate for the majority of modern men. The possible way out may be found in using implantable capsules or skin patches with testosterone. This approach is under the research nowadays and, of course, it requires time.

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So, while scientists work hard (or maybe not so hard) to research and develop new male contraceptives, men all around the world have nothing to do but to use condoms and envy women with their arsenal of contraceptive options.

By the way, the true reasons for such situation with male contraception are unclear: either it is because men themselves are not interested in the development of new contraceptives, or it is because modern science is not at the appropriate level of development (indeed, disabling one female egg, released by ovary once a month, seems to be much easier task than disabling millions of sperms, which can be released as often as a couple of times per day). On the other hand, maybe it is because women do not want to surrender such a mighty outpost, which provides them not only with tools to control pregnancies, but gives them additional instruments for maintaining ascendancy over men.

Nick


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