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November-December 2010

After decades of research, why is there still no contraceptive pill for men?

Kelli KorduckiWebsite

male contraceptive pill

The birth control pill has been a major game changer in the arena of women’s reproductive rights, opening up new doors in society and the workplace. But, in the wake of the birth control pill’s 50th anniversary on the market in the United States and its 40th in Canada, a major question remains: will there ever be a version for men?

The development of a male pill has been a longstanding joke in the pharmaceutical industry, where someone is always willing to predict that the pill is “five to 10 years away” from becoming a marketplace reality. While this ongoing delay is due in part, to the technical challenges of developing a reliable contraceptive formula for men, backward assumptions that men would refuse to take a male birth control pill have arguably proven to be a much greater obstacle.

Researchers, however, have actually proven the opposite. A 2005 international survey conducted by Berlin’s Center of Epidemiology and Health Research found that a majority of men reported interest in using some form of oral contraception, a finding that is supported by two other studies. “I think modern men would like to take part in this decision,” says Ken Rosendal, the CEO of Spermatech, a Norwegian company currently in the early stages of developing a non-hormonal male birth control pill. “A pill for men would have less side effects than a hormonal pill for women.” Rosendal says, however, that funding is a key barrier in the development of such a pill; while biomedical research companies like Spermatech may have the scientific know-how to make the male pill a reality, finding investors to cover the costs necessary to bring the drug to market (an estimated US$2 billion, according to Rosendal) remains a constant challenge.

This means that, until society decides to catch up to science, the male pill will continue—year after year—to remain five to 10 years away.

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