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With Roe v. Wade out, we need male contraception more than ever

July 29, 2022, 10:15 AM UTC
Hormonal contraceptive methods for women come with side effects such as mood changes, depression, an increased risk of breast and cervical cancer, and blood clots. But when it comes to men, it is widely assumed side effects would be unacceptable.
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Roe v. Wade has been overturned, resulting in reduced access to safe and effective abortions. It’s a devastating moment for the health and well-being of American women and individuals who can become pregnant.

We should consider why women need abortions in the first place. For many (but not all–some women require abortions for medical reasons), it’s unintended pregnancy. For every two pregnant women in America, one of their pregnancies is unintended. About 40% of those women choose to have an abortion, which is now outlawed in as many as 28 states in America. 

But unplanned isn’t a synonym for unprotected. As many as 50% of couples observed in a study by the Guttmacher Institute were actively using a contraceptive when they became pregnant. It won’t be a surprise to learn that condoms are behind many well-intentioned yet failed efforts to prevent pregnancy. The pill, too, can fail: 12% of women who seek an abortion were on the pill. 

Of course, the protections previously granted by Roe must be codified into law. But we also need better contraceptives. We always have. We need to empower people to prevent unwanted pregnancy and the need for abortion. We can also increase access to highly effective contraceptives and bring men into the conversation. After all, women don’t get pregnant alone.  

Efficacy aside, nearly every woman who is on a hormonal contraceptive weighs side effects that include mood changes, depression, an increased risk of breast and cervical cancer, and blood clots.

Male birth control doesn’t exist today beyond the technologies developed in the 1800s: condoms, which come with high failure rates, or vasectomies, which aren’t yet reliably reversible. But if it did, we could decrease unintended pregnancies and, in today’s America, unsafe abortions. 

We need men to claim their full equal responsibility for reproductive health–and it’s not an unrealistic notion. Nearly 75% of women and about 72% of men believe both sexual partners should be equally responsible for birth control. There is a massive untapped market for novel male contraceptives that are highly effective, reversible, and convenient to use. There is also a glaring gap in interest, research, and funding in the field of male reproduction. Biologically, it’s challenging: successful contraception requires us to stop millions of sperm from reaching an egg, and it’s difficult to target human sperm cells.

To suggest that men aren’t looking beyond the condom simply doesn’t reflect the current mood: A recent survey showed that 17 million American men are seeking better contraceptive methods for themselves. 

This wasn’t always the case, of course: It’s widely believed that demand for male contraceptive methods didn’t exist until after paternity tests were developed, putting men on the hook for raising their own offspring.

Regardless, it’s a whole new era for heterosexual women and their relationship with male partners. The #MeToo movement and the 2017 Women’s March on Washington come to mind as flashpoints for modern feminism which aim to hold the country’s most powerful men to account and include a focus on sexual empowerment centered on women’s pleasure. 

Still, many assumed men would be turned off by the possibility of side effects, which suggests a gross double standard in which side effects are acceptable for women but unacceptable for men–a notion that also does not align with the values that younger generations are striving for. 

Let’s empower men to step up during a moment when women’s access to safe and effective abortions is now in grave danger. 

An affordable, reversible contraceptive for men is possible. Private companies are commercializing therapeutics and devices that non-hormonally bring sperm counts below fertile limits in men, essentially offering the benefits of a highly effective contraceptive to men. Other institutions are trialing hormonal methods with tentatively promising efficacy. 

These developments give me hope that someday we can decrease the hormonal burden we put on women in the name of preventing pregnancy. It’s a burden that has compelled so many women to share their stories with me about the effects of birth control on their lives. It’s personal and real. The development of male contraceptives covered by insurance and widely adopted by men can radically change that.

Attacks on reproductive autonomy and a lack of male birth control have put women in devastating positions. But if we’re to decrease the need for abortion, we’ll need men to take on a fair share of responsibility in preventing unwanted pregnancies–and a whole lot of research, funding, and awareness to get us there.

Akash Bakshi is the CEO and co-founder of YourChoice Therapeutics, a company that is developing a birth control pill for men. Akash holds degrees in Biochemistry and Cell Biology from UC San Diego and University of Queensland.

The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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