December 14, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
On November 22, the Indonesian government announced an effort to connect manufacturing companies with biomedical research institutions in the country for the purpose of producing certain drugs developed there, among them, a male contraceptive pill. Read about it here (Business Insider, 12/3/14).
The contraceptive ingredient of the Indonesian pill is extracted from the leaf of a plant that has long been used by male members of a remote tribe to prevent conception. It is non-hormonal and acts instead on the enzymes in sperm to make it impossible for them to penetrate and fertilize an egg. As such, there are few, if any, side effects to using the drug. Because it can be classified as an herbal supplement instead of a drug, regulations for its manufacture and distribution are less stringent. It may be available on the open market as soon as next year. It is about 99% effective in preventing conception.
Indonesian scientists have been researching the plant since the mid-80s and have succeeded in identifying and extracting the contraceptive ingredient. They are still trying to arrive at a safe and effective dosage, but suggest that a once-a-day dosage should be sufficient to prevent conception. Normal fertility returns within 30 days of discontinuing use.
As to side effects, researcher Bamgang Prajogo says,
Very few. Some guys have gained weight on the pill. Some guys are endowed with a supercharged libido. At least one participant saw an increase in two types of enzymes (SGOT and SGPT) that can indicate a poorly functioning heart or liver (although it’s unclear whether this was related to the pill or some other health issue). But overall, researchers haven’t seen anything that remotely rivals the zits, nausea, sporadic bleeding and other effects many women endure on hormone-based birth control pills.
Absent approval as an herbal supplement, the pill will have to undergo more extensive clinical trials than it has to date. So far, it’s been tested on only 350 Indonesian men and the government will demand far more extensive testing. But someone obviously thinks it has great potential.
Bambang said he received an offer worth billions in funding and lab facilities from a major US firm, which he declined to name. The corporation, he said, also wanted his patent on the pill, which Bambang and his university secured in Indonesia. The offer was declined.
As usual, there are no prospects for this pill to be on the market in the United States any time soon.
Even if larger clinical trials legitimize the pill, the US FDA could force researchers to repeat most of its clinical trials. That could tie up the pill’s potential introduction to the US market for 10 years or more.
The need for safe, effective, and above all, confidential contraceptive methods for men has long been recognized. As things stand now, men have two options – surgery and condoms. Surgery of course is expensive and difficult-to-impossible to reverse. Condoms are all-too-faulty and their use can be difficult for a man to explain. If there’s no concern about STDs and the woman is on the pill or another form of female contraceptive, it can be hard for her partner to explain his desire to use a condom.
And of course he shouldn’t have to use one in those circumstances, but unfortunately studies demonstrate that not all women are honest when they say they’re on the pill. One study of female college students in Washington State showed that 33% of them had already lied to their boyfriends about being on the pill for the purpose of becoming pregnant. A survey conducted in the U.K. found 41% of women saying they’d do the same if they deemed it necessary.
So, for personal reasons alone, men need their own safe, effective contraception. But there’s more to it than just the peace of mind of individual men, important as that may be. The absence of safe and effective contraception for men is just the first in a long line of ways in which this culture informs men that they aren’t really important when it comes to children. Many women rightly complain that “He leaves contraception to me,” i.e. he doesn’t take responsibility for it.
Appropriate as that complaint may be, it ignores the fact that the overwhelming majority of contraceptive choices are hers, not his. It would sound a whole lot better if the complaint came against a backdrop of real, effective, available male contraceptives.
But beyond the question of contraception, our culture continues to leave essentially everything related to children up to women. I support women’s abortion rights and have for decades, but there’s no doubt that one of the messages it sends loudly and clearly to men is that they have no say in the matter of whether or not a child is brought into the world. And it’s not like we couldn’t allow men to simply opt out of his child’s life by signing a document well in advance of its birth. That’s the closest thing we can get to a male right of abortion and it would allow men to do what women are allowed to do – choose not to be a parent to a child they’ve conceived.
The Guttmacher Institute tracks women’s reasons for terminating pregnancies and the reasons they give are almost invariably things like “I haven’t completed my education,” “I’m not financially prepared to be a parent,” “I don’t have a good enough relationship with the father.” To me, those are all perfectly legitimate reasons for terminating a pregnancy. After all, the children we bring into the world should be wanted by parents who are prepared to care for them properly, right? But they’re also reasons that are equally applicable to men who father children. We can give those men the right to opt out, just like we do for women, but we don’t. And that leaves men again feeling like they don’t have a legitimate role to play regarding their own children.
But it doesn’t stop there. Once a child is born, we’re, if anything, even more convinced that men aren’t required. No law anywhere requires a woman to even tell a man he has a child and without that, fathers often are unable to take up their paternal duties, much as most of them would like to. And of course courts that decide child custody deliver the same message hundreds of times a day. Plus, courts and laws throughout the English-speaking world allow mothers to place children for adoption without the fathers’ knowledge or consent.
I could go on and on about the countless ways in which our culture tells fathers they’re not important in the lives of their children even though a small avalanche of social science demonstrates the opposite to be true.
Hypocritically, we deliver that message and then pretend to be outraged when men come to see themselves exactly as they’re described in that message. We hear every day about men who “walk away” from their parental obligations, but we never admit that we’ve been telling them all along that, really, it’s OK if they do. After all, the only one important to the child is its mother, right?
The point being that a safe, effective, affordable male contraceptive pill would deliver an entirely different message to men. It would say “We’re giving you real control over whether you become a father or not.” And “We’re doing that because we know your involvement with your child is important.” And “We want you to be a hands-on dad.” And “We want you to be prepared to be the best dad you can be before you’re forced to be.” A safe, effective, affordable male contraceptive pill would give men a control over their fertility they’ve never had before and simultaneously deliver the message, rarely heard, that they’re important as parents.
And isn’t that what we really want – men who take parenting seriously and devote themselves to their kids? That’s what’s best for kids, dads and moms, so maybe we should start delivering that message for a change.
So as I said, a male pill is far more than just a way to prevent pregnancy in individual cases. It would be a sea-change in the way we view men and fathers.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
#malecontraception, #Indonesia, #abortion, #equalparenting