Male birth control pill being developed, students hesitant
Published: Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 21:11
BY JACK COBOURN
Managing Sports Editor
Men could soon have a new option in the birth control market, as scientists at the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center in Boston are developing a new pill specifically for men that helps testicles “forget” how to make sperm.
Nursing professor Judy Herrman says there would likely be resistance to the drug at first and thinks there would be a need for education about the drug before it becomes fully accepted.
“I think that there would probably be a lot of work that would need to be done as far as conceptions and misconceptions,” Herman says. “I think traditionally, anything that changes male fertility raises red flags for many men.”
The pill is being developed by James Bradner of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center whose team was originally trying to develop a new cancer drug that would attack a protein in a cancer cell, causing the cell “forget” it was a cancer cell and making it inactive. According to MSNBC, Bradner then began to look at other proteins that had the same structure as the cancer cells and found one in male testicles.
Because Bradner is dealing with cancer and not fertility, he spoke to Martin Matzuk, who has a background in reproductive and developmental biology and works at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Matzuk’s team tested the drug in their lab by injecting it into mice. When they were taken off the drug, results showed they were able to father healthy babies. The doctors also reported the drug was tested on human versions of the protein that became inactive after injection.
Male birth control hormone injections, which will alter testosterone levels and can give unwanted side effects such as breast tissue growth, are also being studied. Because Bradner’s pill attacks a protein, it will not affect testosterone levels and should not have the effects of the injections.
However, according to Herrman, one concern with the pill is that, unlike condoms, it has an inability to prevent sexually transmitted infections. She says it would be marketed to people who still need to be reminded that it will not protect against STIs and HIV, and makers should market it carefully like they market female oral contraception.
“I think it would be highly marketable, it would just need to be in conjunction with other measures,” Herrman says.
Herrman also says while marketability seems favorable, she does not think there has been a positive response because of the worry about infertility and the side effects like breast tissue growth.
Despite predicted hesitation, some male students find the idea of male birth control in pill form favorable. Junior Ian Roberts says he believes as long as male birth control prevents pregnancy, it is a good idea.
“I think any option you can get out there, as long as it’s effective, is probably beneficial,” Roberts says. “I mean, as long as it’s not harmful, I don’t see how it could possibly hurt the situation.”
Some female students also expressed favorability toward the idea of male birth control as it could potentially create more equality between genders.
Sophomore Amanda Perfit says she finds it fair that men should have to take birth control for reasons including the ability to share responsibility and thinks male birth control is a good idea because it would change people’s perspectives of gender roles.
“I think that opinions would change about how birth control for women is viewed,” Perfit says.
Perfit also says she has no problems with the pill’s safety, but senior Jessica Chopyk says she is worried because the pill puts users in the “same situation” regardless of whether it is a pill for males or a pill for females.
She says she is not convinced male birth control popularity will prevail over female birth control popularity because she feels that most men would be deterred by feelings of decreased masculinity associated with taking the pill.
“I think the male ego is a little too big,” Chopyk says.
Roberts says his decision of whether or not to take the pill would be based on its efficacy and as long as the drug is advertised well, people will not have doubts about the pill.
“People are always skeptical,” Roberts says. “The market is fickle. You have to market it the correct way or else I don’t think it will take off.”