Meet the male birth control activists 116 Trending:
ifAphiwe Thusi, 34, never had to wear a condom again, he’d be a happy man. But the graphic designer doesn’t want kids anytime soon and knows that his fiancée has had to carry the burden of their birth control for three and a half years. The lack of contraceptive options for men has left him frustrated, wondering, ‘Why isn’t there an equivalent to the pill for men?’
“My whole adult life I’ve had this kind of weird, powerless feeling around preventing pregnancy,” says Aphiwe. That’s why, for the past several years, he has not only tracked the development of a new male birth control – an injectable called Vasalgel that would temporarily prevent the release of sperm – but also donated money to researchers and offered to participate in clinical trials.
Since the pill first debuted in the ’60s, dozens more birth control options for women have been developed, including the patch, the implant, the shot, the vaginal ring and five IUDS. Men still have basically three options: condoms, vasectomies and pulling out (the latter, for most, is not a great option). “We’re neglecting 50% of our population by not having new methods for men,” says Dr Stephanie Page, an endocrinologist and a leader in the effort to develop hormonal birth control for men.
Despite years of headlines about a possible male pill, researchers say any new male contraceptive is still five to 10 years away. One reason for the lag: a perceived lack of interest. Proponents say they’re up against deeply ingrained cultural attitudes that contraception is a women’s issue. But 13 years ago, a study suggested that nearly half of men would be on board with using a new contraceptive if one were available. Now, some are starting to demand it. Momentum is starting to build.
A biotech start-up is racing to develop a competing version of the gel Aphiwe supports. Scientists are even running clinical trials for other methods – a pill, a transdermal gel and an injection – that would temporarily inhibit sperm production. And the Institute of Health will soon embark on a major global trial of a different gel that would inhibit testosterone to halt sperm production. Experts estimate that if a new male birth control method were to come out in the next five years, it would be a R14 billion business by 2024.
Perhaps most important, men are starting to rally behind these options, saying they want birth control and they want it now. And man, do their reasons sound familiar.
“I want the freedom to be able to achieve my dreams” MIRACLE DIALA
Young men are more likely than previous generations to want to be equal partners at home, so it makes sense that some are super aware of how parenthood would impact their personal and professional aspirations. Miracle Diala, 22, first learnt about male birth control while researching it for a university oratory competition. He wound up winning a national tournament with his speech in favour of developing a non-hormonal method for men and has remained an advocate for it since. First he plans to attend medical school; next up, he hopes to return home and bring medical care to the community. “The prospect of ruining that goal due to a mistake is honestly frightening,” he says. Miracle believes that male birth control would offer men what the pill made possible for women decades ago. “They were able to have that agency, to know for sure they would be able to control their own fertility,” he says. “Anything I could do to secure my plans would be a godsend.”
“It’s my last hope for not having to use the barrier method”
RICARDO VIERA Women have long understood the importance of having choices about their reproductive health. Proponents of male birth control, like Ricardo Viera, 40, want the same – namely, a method they’d find less cumbersome than condoms and less invasive than a vasectomy.
When Ricardo’s wife was pregnant with their third child ( his fourth), they agreed it would be their last. “Four is enough!” says the real estate and property manager. His wife didn’t react well to her hormonal IUD, so she suggested he look into a vasectomy. He doesn’t love the idea of severing his tubes, so if a clinical trial for a new method were to come to his area, he says, “I’d be the first one there, with bells on.”
“I want kids when the time is right”
DR DANIEL DUDLEY
The stakes of having penis-in-vagina sex will always be higher for women, but plenty of men take the risk of unintended pregnancy seriously, enough that it impacts the quality of the experience. “Sex can almost feel like something to fear,” says Harrison Wiesert, 20, a musician who learnt about Vasalgel three years ago and has been following its progress through the product’s Facebook page (@vasalgel). “I have had many friends make one mistake, and now they are fathers. No one deserves that amount of responsibility for sharing love with someone else.”
Several men we spoke to said money is a key motivator – they want to avoid becoming parents before they’re able to provide for a kid. “I’m busy with school right now, and my partner’s also busy with school right now,” says Dr Daniel Dudley, 28, a family medicine resident physician. “I want to be a parent someday, but I’d want to be more financially stable and have more resources to support the family.” He’s not even entertaining the idea of kids until he’s done working overnight shifts during his residency. “I see in my patients so often that when a pregnancy is unplanned, the family suffers,” he says. Meanwhile, he has participated in three different clinical trials for hormonal birth control – slathering himself daily with a topical gel for one, receiving a butt injection for another and taking two pills a day for a month for the third. In case you’re wondering: he didn’t mind any of the methods, but says the injection was the most convenient.
“I want to have complete control over my reproductive rights” ANELE NGESI
Several of the men we spoke with were also aware of the issues their partners had experienced while on birth control. “I’d take a pill to prevent my partner from experiencing side effects of contraception,” says Anele Ngesi, 33, an architect who has been championing male birth control among friends since he was in university. “There are so many small things she does to support me; this would be just another way I could support her.” Gender equality and equal access to health care came up again and again with the (admittedly enlightened) men we spoke to. “It’s not a female reproductive rights issue; it’s not a male reproductive rights issue,” says Anele. “It’s a human issue.” Women agree.