Why don't we have a male pill yet?

Drug companies think there's no market for male hormonal contraception -- even though their own data suggests otherwise.

Published August 8, 2008 5:34PM (EDT)

We all heard that male hormonal contraceptives were on the horizon a few years ago, so why don't we have them yet? According to a recent article by Adam Goodman in Time, the answer is, "In a word: money. With the cost of new-drug development hovering in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the pharmaceutical industry decided there wasn't enough of a market to make male hormonal contraceptives worthwhile."

The only problem is, they seem to have come to that conclusion based on misconceptions about the way men and women think, not actual data. Says Kirsten Thompson, director of the Male Contraception Coalition, "The biggest hurdle that I've encountered in trying to share this information is a sort of knee-jerk reaction that men aren't interested in these kinds of contraceptives and that women won't trust them to take them. Neither of those assertions are supported by the data." Yet somehow, the data isn't getting through to drug companies, even when they're the ones collecting it. A 2005 survey by German pharmaceutical company Schering found that 55 percent of men around the world would consider a new form of birth control, and 40 percent of American men would even be willing to try out implants or injections. Contrast that with the 5 percent of 40-year-old men and 15-25 percent of 65-year-old men who suffer from erectile dysfunction and thus make up the market for wildly successful Viagra. Even a small fraction of the men who expressed interest in hormonal contraception would be, as Goodman points out, "a colossal number of potential consumers."

So how do we convince the drug companies that the market is there? Tough to say, if even their own data doesn't convince them. But feminist blogger Echidne of the Snakes brings up one interesting potential argument, in light of the Bush administration's recent move to equate birth control with abortion: "A male pill would do the prevention inside the male body and no stretch of pro-life imagination could make that into abortion! Wouldn't it be weird if that was what made the male birth control pill a reality?"

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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