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A male birth control gel is one step closer to reality, and that’s worth celebrating | Arwa Mahdawi

A male birth control gel is one step closer to reality, and that’s worth celebrating | Arwa Mahdawi

Science may have a new way for men to ejaculate responsibly

Humans have managed to put men on the moon, clone mammals and develop nuclear bombs powerful enough to end civilization in a matter of minutes. One advancement that has remained elusive, however? Male birth control.

That might change. Last Sunday, researchers at the Endocrine Society’s conference in Boston presented encouraging earlystage clinical trial results of a male birth control method that takes the form of a hormonal gel. The trial found that after 15 weeks of applying a teaspoon amount of the gel on their shoulder blades once a day, 86% of trial participants had sperm counts low enough to prevent pregnancy.

Don’t get too excited: this gel isn’t going to be hitting the market in the immediate future. But this is still a big deal. The female birth control pill was approved in 1960 and, for decades, a male equivalent has failed to materialize. Male birth control options are in effect limited to condoms and vasectomies, neither of which is perfect: some men refuse to wear condoms and, according to a survey published by the Department of Health and Human Services, men’s condom use declined from 75% in 2011 to 42% in 2021. Vasectomies, meanwhile, require surgery to reverse and aren’t always reversible. The trial results of this hormonal gel represent a major milestone in the quest for a safe and reversible male birth control option.

Why has it taken so long to get this far? Partly because male birth control is tricky from a biological point of view. Women produce one egg a month. Men, meanwhile, are constantly producing sperm at the rate of millions a day. There have been various attempts to make a male birth control option, but they’ve all hit roadblocks. In 2016, for example, a stage II trial of a hormonal birth control injection for men was halted because of the side-effects – which included acne, mood swings and depression. One man tried to commit suicide, which is what led to the study being cut short.

Female birth control, of course, is hardly side-effect free. For some women, the extra hormones can increase the risk of blood clots and serious cardiovascular issues. A 2023 study also found that women who used oral contraceptives had a 79% increased risk of depression during their first two years of use compared with peers who had never used oral contraceptives. For the most part, women are just expected to put up with these horrible side-effects – largely because these risks are balanced against the risk of not taking the pills and getting pregnant.

Still, while it might be challenging to make male birth control, humans have done lots of challenging things. Ultimately, the fact that the responsibility for contraception still very much falls on women is down to a lack of appetite to change the status quo.

“No pharmaceutical company is willing to put up money to develop a drug if there are not people who are going to take it,” Jesse N Mills, director of the men’s clinic at the University of California at Los Angeles, told the Washington Post. “It’s very concerning and, frankly, testimony to the sexism present in the drug development that it has taken so long to still not have an FDA-approved drug for male birth control.”

The question of whether men will be willing (or will remember) to use the gel every day if it eventually gets approved, of course, is key. A drug is obviously only effective if it’s actually used. Most women, one imagines, would not rely on a man using this gel as their sole birth control method. But that’s not really the point. The point is that we are one small but significant step closer to a world in which the burden for birth control can be more equally shared. Amid a landscape where women’s reproductive rights are under assault, this is news worth celebrating.

Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would protect contraception access

Donald Trump has been cagey about whether he’d be willing to restrict access to birth control as president. In a (rare) smart move, the Democrats forced Republicans to show their hand on access to contraception. And, what do you know? Turns out Republicans aren’t too fond of making sure it’s recognized as a legal right.

Women make fewer mistakes and have better mental agility while on their period

A study from University College London’s Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health found that reaction times, accuracy and attention to detail were better during menstruation. Participants were a whopping 25% more likely to pass a test of their anticipation skills, for example. “As a neuroscientist, I am amazed that we don’t already know more about this, and hope that our study will help motivate increasing interest in this vital aspect of sports medicine,” one of the authors of the study said.

It’s hot rodent boyfriend summer

Mousey men are in, apparently.

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Should blood pressure guidelines be different for women and men?

Emerging research suggests high blood pressure affects men and women differently. “There’s not enough evidence to say: ‘Yes, women should be treated for hypertension at a lower blood pressure level than men,’” one expert told Scientific American. “But there’s definitely enough information out there to suggest that maybe we really need to look into this further.”

Israel kills more than 40 people in a strike on a Gaza school

Survivors have described finding children’s bodies torn apart by the blast. These unbearable incidents seem to have been normalized. It feels like this horror is never going to end.

Mexico elects Claudia Sheinbaum as its first female president

Sheinbaum, a leftwing climate scientist and former mayor of Mexico City, won by a landslide. While the new president has said she sees herself as a feminist, she alienated parts of Mexico’s feminist movement during her time as mayor with police repression of protests.

Has the pope been watching too much Andrew Tate?

In the past couple of weeks, the leader of the Catholic church has made headlines for sexist and homophobic remarks.

The week in pawtriarchy

If you’ve been itching to hear a fun fact about lemurs, today’s your lucky day. New research has found that dominant male lemurs grow bigger testicles when other males are around. Despite males’ ability to grow their gonads, females actually hold the most social power in lemur society. Indeed, a lot of primate societies are not male-dominated. A study from earlier this year found that in 40% of monkeys from the Americas, females are in charge or share leadership with males. Looks like humans could stand to learn a thing or two from monkeys.

Source: theguardian.com