Speaking of Women's Rights: The Birth Control Pill: His & Hers in our future?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Birth Control Pill: His & Hers in our future?

June 23, 1960.

The FDA approved the first form of the birth control pill for use as a contraceptive on this historic day, though nearly half a million women were already using it for “menstrual disorders and infertility.” This was hardly the beginning of widespread use of the pill, as state laws came into place barring it. It wasn’t until a federal lawsuit - Griswold v. Connecticut – ruled that these state laws were unconstitutional that a greater number of married women began to use it. It took another suit in 1972, Eisenstadt v. Baird, to gain access for unmarried women.

Fast-forward fifty years.
Roughly 100 million women across the globe now use the pill. It’s fairly indisputable that the birth control pill has been one of the most important inventions of our time, allowing women to enter the workforce in larger numbers and enjoy a great deal more autonomy.

A birth control pill for men?

Talk of a pill option for men is not a new phenomenon. So why did it take almost 50 years to get this far in its development, you might ask? Though the science is certainly much more advanced (think 1500 sperm to a woman’s singular egg), it’s hard not to assume that our patriarchal society has been in no hurry to even out the burden of birth control. Also hard to ignore is the disparity between how little research was done before the release of the pill and how much careful research is being done before the possible release of the male pill. Back in the day, they pretty much put the pill on the market and waited to see what happened, much to the chagrin of those who grew beards, lost hair, and battled severe depression.

My initial reaction to the idea of a male pill is along the lines of “Great! Men are finally going to share in the bloating, moodiness, and migraines that have plagued women for years.” Quentin Brown, a participant in a UCLA Medical Center Study on the male pill has other ideas. “It is time for men to have some control. I think it would empower men and deter some women out there from their nefarious plans,” says Quentin. “Some women are out there to use men to get pregnant. This could deter women from doing this.” Yeah, give men some control for once. Geez women.

It seems that it would just make good sense to place reproductive control squarely in the hands of both genders. But the social implications of a male birth control pill are as far-reaching and complex as many other current issues surrounding reproductive technology (surrogacy, anyone?). Would men actually be interested in taking the pill? As the cartoon on the cover of thia week's Seattle Weekly suggests, will women trust men to be the ones responsible for birth control? Studies have shown that men and women both perceive women to be better at carrying out regimens (like taking a daily pill, for instance). Is this a reality or simply a stereotype? Do pharmaceutical companies stand to profit enough to make sinking billions of dollars into research worthwhile? Would use of the male pill decrease condom use, thus increasing the spread of HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases?

I guess my hope is – apart from the slew of other unknowns – that development of the science of the male pill will coincide with a more drastic shift in gender stereotypes. The availability of the birth control pill changed the terrain of gender roles once. Perhaps the release of a male pill will change it once again.