Fifty years ago, the birth control pill debuted in the United States and revolutionized birth control. Contraception came out of the closet, with women embracing not just the pill, but IUDs and the array of diaphragms, spermicides and condoms that were no longer off limits to unmarried women. Canadian women jumped aboard; the pill gained contraceptive approval in 1969 but was prescribed for "menstrual irregularities"--wink, wink--a few years earlier. The pill still rules as the top contraceptive, popped by more than 40 percent of Canadian women between 15 and 44.
But despite the countless advances contraceptives have provided women, many devices come with the risk of serious side effects. Hormones used in the pill, patches, IUDs and vaginal rings are linked with strokes, blood clots, heart problems, breast cancer and that sadly ironic hormonal contraceptive companion, lowered sexual desire. Even spermicides can be dicey. Commonly used brands containing Nonoxynol-9, for example, can cause irritation to the vagina or rectum, increasing users' risk of STIs and HIV.
Women deserve better than the pill and its pals that still cause harm after 50 years. And women deserve a break: Simple fairness demands that their male sexual partners shoulder their share of contraception. After all, men are the leading reason women take on contraceptive risks. And women's male sexual partners have enjoyed the benefits: side effect-free and pregnancy-free sex. The pill's 50th birthday is a good time to pass the birth control baton to men.
Fortunately, new male contraceptive options are on the move, with men at study sites around the world successfully achieving temporary sterility with methods including hormonal injections and gels, sperm-blocking substances and devices, and low-tech sperm-suppressing heat methods. Labs are abuzz with panoplies of non-hormonal drugs designed to alter sperm production and cause reversible infertility. After 40 years of research on male contraceptives, what's clearer than ever is that male reproductive processes are just as easy to manipulate--and sometimes easier--than women's.
"We've got methods that could be brought to market soon--we just need the coordinated will and funding to actually make it …