If men didn’t give much thought to birth control in the past, that changed in 1995 with Seinfeld’s episode titled “The Sponge.” The show highlighted not only the fact that men are so often clueless as to their long-term partner’s choice of contraception, but also showed the devastation that can transpire when certain contraceptive devices go off the market. In this instance, the device in question was “the sponge”, beloved by women around the world, including Elaine and George’s girlfriend, Susan. But when the sponge is taken off the market, it becomes a race to stock up, to fill cupboards with a stockpile. Of course, when something is in limited supply, who you choose to use it with becomes a high-stakes gamble. Potential suitors are no longer flings to be assessed on good looks and charm, instead, they have to be deemed “sponge worthy.”
Regardless of Seinfeld’s numerous take on the challenges of birth control, the episode does highlight a curious fact: despite the advances of science, this area remains one confined to women. Now, it’s hoped that science can help lift the burden from women, who are often left to front not only the costs of birth control, but also the unwanted and uncomfortable side effects, that can range from cramps to prolonged bleeding and pain.
If you never gave much thought to your partner’s birth control, perhaps now you should. As Glamour reports, “Earlier this year (2021), a petition was launched to demand better pain relief for those undergoing intrauterine device (IUD) insertion and removal procedures. In addition to highlighting a disturbing issue surrounding medical perceptions of women’s pain, it also showed what people with uteruses are expected to endure…Just to avoid unwanted pregnancies.”
So, what does that mean for men? Well, there’s now a sense of urgency to relieve women of the burden of birth control and see the male contraceptive pill become a reality. After receiving a $US1.7 million donation from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers at the University of Dundee are now aiming to develop the first safe and effective male contraceptive drug.
As Chris Barratt, Professor of Reproductive Medicine in the University of Dundee’s School of Medicine, told Glamour: “There has been no significant change in the field of male contraception since the development of the condom. This means that much of the burden of protecting against unwanted pregnancies continues to fall upon women. We hope to address that inequality and we have already made progress, thanks to our previous round of funding received from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.”
Professor Barratt added, “By the end of this two-year period, we would like to have identified a high-quality compound that we can progress to the first stages of drug development. That would be a significant step forward for the field and could potentially be the key that unlocks a new era in male contraception.”