Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Imagine I am playing defense in soccer, and I’m trying to stop a player from scoring. What’s easier: somehow making the opposing team’s strikers unable to kick the ball for the entire game or simply putting a goalkeeper in your goal to protect against scoring chances?
This hypothetical illustrates the exact struggle scientists have had in their Herculean task of developing male birth control options. Physiologically, preventing unplanned pregnancies is about either halting the production of sperm or blocking them. Scientists — seemingly every year — publish articles claiming promising results from potential birth control options, yet none seem to come to fruition.
But innovation and technology are close to turning a far-fetched fantasy of contraceptive equality into a reality. A concerted effort toward funding research initiatives at this university that work toward developing more robust male birth control options is an important start to worldwide birth control justice.
While we can’t force other universities to join in the fight, leading by example is an important start to research that could significantly reduce the rate of unplanned pregnancies and help both men and women obtain more control over their reproductive rights.
The current landscape of male birth control solutions is relatively sparse, with each lying on entirely different ends of the invasive-effectiveness spectrum of male contraceptives.
The first and most accessible form of male birth control is the condom. While it’s a non-invasive contraceptive, it can easily be forgotten and is one of the less effective birth control methods in preventing pregnancies due to misuse and occasional malfunctions.
The other prevalent male birth control method is a vasectomy procedure. It is a comparatively safe procedure to tubal ligation, the female equivalent method, so there is a low safety risk. However, it is invasive and there is a low but distinct chance — even with reversal — one could permanently lose their fertility. This harrowing prospect scares people away from getting the procedure.
Avenues of research are continuing to open up with sperm blockers, a contraceptive gel that can temporarily block sperm, the equivalent of an intrauterine device or IUD. It’s becoming a more viable prospect with small-scale trials beginning in Australia. While it’s too early to get too excited, given the long line of other failed male contraceptives, this would be an advantageous middle ground between condoms and vasectomies.
There has also been extensive research into the fabled, non-hormonal male contraceptive pill. The non-hormonal factor is a crucial distinction because as it would not alter how men produce sperm, it is unlikely it would have permanent effects.
While research in this field will take time, because it is such a crucial field of innovation, this university should begin allocating more funding toward the field. I was disheartened to find no widely publicized research initiatives by any medical school in the University System of Maryland in the field of men’s birth control; that needs to change.
However, some are more skeptical of these initiatives. Even if a viable male contraceptive were to come into the market, there are worries that they would go unused. While this makes sense given the laughably low rate at which men get vasectomies compared to invasive procedures for women, much of that comes down to widely believed misconceptions about male birth control options.
With developing any kind of new, wholly non-invasive birth control solution, money should also be spent on publicizing the solutions, specifically to dispel common misconceptions and quell fears men may have about any kind of birth control solution. Working in tandem with on-campus health organizations and the University of Maryland School of Medicine, publicity campaigns should be started that raise awareness about this issue on our campus.
Solving the male birth control problem will certainly be arduous, but it offers significant upside to society. Research advancements in this field could create many paths to prevent unplanned pregnancies, ensure the equity of reproductive rights and benefit the reproductive health of all people, which makes it too promising not to pursue.
Not only does this university desperately need to fund projects to pursue male birth control solutions, but the rest of the world needs to follow suit. While they’re at it, investing in effective marketing and communication to ensure misconceptions about male birth control don’t rattle people’s confidence, would help make sure adoption rates are high enough to maximize its impact.
We cannot control how the rest of the world responds to innovation in male birth control, but at least we can attempt to make a common contraceptive at this university.
Ravi Panguluri is a sophomore computer science and statistics major. He can be reached at email@example.com.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story mischaracterized the University of Maryland School of Medicine as part of this university. It is part of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, which is under the University System of Maryland. This story has been updated.