Can men be trusted to take responsibility for long-term birth control?

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The Future of Male Birth Control

The foundation funding RISUG (aka VasalGel) development hopes for this long-term, reversible male birth control option to be on the U.S. market by 2015 [source: Male Contraception Information Project]. However, without financial assistance from a pharmaceutical company, that might be a tough goal to meet. To make matters worse, despite the 100 percent reported success rate of RISUG gel, it might not look like such a shimmering prospect from a pharmaceutical manufacturer’s perspective, precisely because it works so well. Unlike the female birth control pill that women must take every day, a one-time, long-term male birth control treatment doesn’t promise a significant profit margin [source: Gifford]. Perhaps that’s why from 2006 to 2008 international pharmaceutical corporations Wyeth, Schering and Organon all dropped their male birth control development programs [source: Goodman].

But imagining that pharmaceutical companies finally pony up, and the FDA approves a male birth control pill, gel, implant or injection for the medical market, two big questions still surround its possible use:

  • Will men take it?
  • Will women trust them to take it?

Surveys so far indicate that the answers to both questions lean toward "yes." In a 1997 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, two-thirds of American men said they would be willing to try the new pill [source: Kaiser Family Foundation]. And in an international survey of 4,000 men and women in 2000, more than two-thirds of male respondents said they would use a birth-control pill if it were available, and 75 percent of the women said they would trust their partner to handle the birth control [source: BBC News].

More recent surveys, however, suggest interest has dwindled. Although a majority of adults see contraception as a joint responsibility, not as many men are hyped about male birth control. In 2005, 55 percent of 9,000 male survey respondents said they were interested in a “new male fertility control” [source: Goodman]. For a different survey in 2008, 36 percent of men said they would take a hormonal birth control, possibly indicating that men are growing weary of the wait-and-see for male birth control options [source: Medical News Today].

At this point in the decades-long pursuit of an effective, reversible male birth control with minimal side effects, a more relevant survey might focus on the odds of a successful contraceptive treatment ever hitting the market at all.