Tag Archives: birth control

Why The First Male Birth Control Pill Won’t Be Successful (And Why That’s Still Progress)

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When it comes to our health, certain treatments or trends occur faster than others. Fad diets and health crazes can gain favor, fall out of favor, and be forgotten all within the same year. For more serious aspects of our health, the wide acceptance of certain treatments and trends can take longer, even if they work as advertised. When it comes to our sex lives, though, it can be even more challenging.

It’s one thing to be worried about your waistline and your ability to fit into an old pair of pants. It’s quite another to worry about whether certain intimate parts of your body are functioning properly. Naturally, we tend to worry a lot more about the sexy parts. Why else would boob jobs be so popular?

This gets even more touchy when issues surrounding contraception come up. Even when there’s a major breakthrough that has the potential to revolutionize our sex lives and our fertility, it takes time for it to permeate throughout society. It’s also a lot more prone to taboo and political protests than boob jobs.

Just look at the documented history of the female birth control pill. The actual pill itself was invented in 1951. Human testing didn’t begin until 1954 and the FDA didn’t approve it until 1957, but it was only approved to use for severe menstrual disorders. It’s only in 1960 when it’s approved for use as a contraceptive, but it still takes years before it becomes both widely used and socially accepted.

Overall, it took at least a decade before the female birth control pill really established itself as part of modern medicine and as part of our sexual culture. I cite that history because men are close to forging a similar history with contraception. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that men are on the brink of the biggest upheaval in their sex lives since the invention of condoms.

I’ve written about the promise and potential social impact of male contraceptives, referencing developments in products like Vasalgel. However, that method is still in the testing phases and probably won’t get regulatory approval within the next few years. Given that it is also requires a targeted injection, that testing will be subject to a lot more scrutiny, as would be expected of things that involve needles near genitals.

It’s far more likely that a pill will get approval before something like Vasalgel, if only because people are more comfortable taking pills than getting a shot. In fact, as I write this, the University of Washington is conducting a large-scale human test on an oral contraceptive for men called dimethandrolone undecanoate, or DMAU for those who would rather not learn that level of science jargon.

While DMAU doesn’t offer quite as much promise as Vasalgel, it does offer a similar product to the one women have been using for half-a-century now. It’s a one-a-day pill that men can take with their morning coffee. Also like its female counterpart, it uses hormones that effectively block the production of sperm. For men already used to taking pills every day for other issues, it wouldn’t be that hard of an adjustment.

That said, though, this first step towards equalizing male contraceptive methods will face a lot more obstacles than the female birth control pill did when it first came out. In fact, I’d go so far as to predict that if DMAU were approved by the FDA tomorrow, it probably wouldn’t be that successful.

I say that as someone who freely admits he’s not good with predictions, as my Super Bowl picks last year prove. However, being a man who follows these kinds of sex-related issues, I feel like I have more insight than most when it comes to gauging the potential of a major advancement for our collective sex lives.

Like it or not, and I’m sure those versed in identity politics will cringe at this, men are wired differently than women, especially when it comes to their sexual health. There was a very different set of motivating factors behind the female birth control pill, so much so that getting women to adopt it wasn’t too challenging, even if it took years. With men, though, it’s a different story.

Men are already far less likely to go to the doctor than women. They’re also far less likely to ingest something that might impact their hormones and, by default, their sex lives. Since DMAU utilizes hormones in inhibiting sperm production, it’s going to have the potential for side-effects. Even the doctors in the study admit that.

Of the test subjects who completed the study and were taking 400 milligrams (mg) of DMAU – the highest dose tested – few reported symptoms consistent with testosterone deficiency.

The subjects who were given the pill did have weight gains of between 1 and 3 pounds on average, according to Page.

“The weight gain and a small decrease in good cholesterol levels, HDL, are things we’re going to look at more closely in future studies,” Page says.

This is where I have to denigrate my own gender, but when it comes to tolerating side-effects, I think women have men beat in that arena. The many side-effects women endure with contraception is proof enough of that. Men, as tough as we can be, are somewhat dense when it comes to accepting certain side-effects.

It’s for that reason why I think DMAU is going to have limited success at most and will likely fall out of favor quickly once more promising alternatives like Vasalgel enter the market. Even without those alternatives, though, I suspect DMAU will not gain widespread acceptance among men, even for those who have been clamoring for more contraceptive options.

Now, and this is where I’m going to make another prediction, I think that limited success or outright failure will actually mark a huge turning point in the history of male contraception and a positive one at that. To some extent, failure is part of the process when it comes to making progress in our health. Again, anyone who knows anything about fad diets can attest to that, some being worse failures than others.

To some extent, the first male contraceptive pill will be like the first cell phone. It’ll be clunky, crude, and not nearly as efficient as consumers wish it were. It’ll also likely be pretty pricy as well, as only the Gordon Gekko’s of the world could afford those early cell phones. However, that doesn’t mean the product itself was a waste or a loss.

Keep in mind, the first cell phone was probably considered strange and unnecessary in a market that was used to making calls from LAN lines. Why would anyone even want a cell phone that was bulky, expensive, and offered only spotty coverage when you could accomplish the same thing with a phone booth and a quarter?

Over time, though, and as the technology improved, cell phones made their way into the market. I suspect that the first male birth control pill will do the same. At first, it’s going to be seen as strange. It may even seem unnecessary to men who can get the same effect from a box of condoms at a gas station for less than five bucks.

The value, however, isn’t in how men initially react to the first male birth control pill. The true value is just putting the idea out there that men now have this option. Even if only a handful of men take advantage of it, that’s still enough to establish a consumer base.

That small consumer base will eventually grow as the idea of a male birth control pill stops being a novelty like the first cell phone and becomes a legitimate consumer product. There will be plenty of room for improvement. There may even be some unpleasant stories about men struggling with the side-effects.

In the long run, that’s a good thing because once a consumer base is in place, they’re going to demand improvements to the product. More improvements will create a better product. It has helped create a wealth of options for women. Eventually, like the cell phone, male birth control will undergo a similar process until it ends up with the contraceptive equivalent of the iPhone.

That process will take time and there will be missteps along the way, just as there were with female contraceptives. The most important part of that process is just establishing the idea this is an option for men who want more choice and control of their fertility. It’s a level of choice and control they haven’t had before, one that women have enjoyed for decades.

Beyond just giving men more options and choices with respect to their fertility, products like DMAU could start the process of narrowing a lingering gender disparity that has been fodder for plenty of gender-driven conflict. The more we can do to alleviate that disparity, the better.

It’s going to take a while for that idea to sink in. In many ways, the first male birth control pill is going to start behind the curve, but that’s okay. The day will eventually come when both men and women can finally say they have equal control over their fertility. It’s still a first step and given how far the technology has to go to catch up to women, it’s a step that needs to happen in the name of true gender equality.

 

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Filed under gender issues, Second Sexual Revolution, sex in society, sexuality

Natural Contraceptive App Blamed For Unplanned Pregnancies (As Expected)

Pregnant woman standing outside on a sunny day

There’s no question that advances in contraception have had a profound impact on our society. Some applaud it. Some resent it. Either way, there’s no uninventing it. Contraception, be it male or female, is a big part of our society and further advances promise to have an even bigger impact.

I’ve talked about the future of contraception before, as well as the potential impacts of those advances. There are a lot of things in development, as I write this, that men and women alike should get excited about. Between better IUDs and more birth control options for men, we’re quickly entering an age where we have unprecedented control over our fertility.

It’s for that very reason that it’s necessary to take a step back and remind ourselves of the existing flaws we have with the current state of contraception. There’s a reason why those advances I mentioned are in development to begin with. What we have now is pretty good, relative to older, more archaic forms of birth control. However, there are a few shortcomings that tend to lead to dramatic, albeit predictable failures.

One of those shortcomings/failures made the news recently and left several dozen women very disappointed, to say the least. According to a story from TheVerge, a recently-developed contraceptive app called Natural Cycles is being blamed for 37 unwanted pregnancies. Anyone who knows anything about pregnancy, female biology, and nature in general probably isn’t surprised.

That’s because the app in question basically made something like this inevitable. According to the article, the Natural Cycles app is supposed to help women who rely on more natural family planning methods. In terms of the actual process, these are the basics:

The app uses an algorithm and measures factors like temperature to determine the period when a woman may be fertile. It’s a popular alternative to hormonal contraceptives like the pill because it lacks side effects.

It’s pretty basic, but the principle makes sense on paper and isn’t based on radically new ideas. The concept of a woman tracking her fertility to determine the times of month when she’s most likely to conceive a child is fairly well-known. It’s most commonly called the “Rhythm Method” and according to the Mayo Clinic, it takes a lot of preparation.

To use this method, a woman needs actively track her menstrual cycle, accurately determine the parts of that cycle where she’s most fertile, and plan her sexual activity around those time-frames. It takes a great deal of physical awareness, as well as a certain measure of discipline, which some people are better at than others.

The Natural Cycles app is supposed to supplement those principles by aiding in that tracking process. It even tries to provide the woman with more data so that she has a better understanding of her body while tracking her cycle. In theory, having perfect knowledge of her biology will ensure a woman knows when she is or isn’t fertile.

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It’s that exact theory, however, that makes this news about a surge in unplanned pregnancies so unsurprising. There’s a good reason why this sort of approach to contraception is rarely practiced by anyone other than committed couples and is often discouraged as a general form of contraception.

As with so many other theories, the actual practice of the method doesn’t always work in the real world. That’s because the real world is a lot more chaotic, varied, and unpredictable than concepts on a piece of paper. That applies even more to human biology, male and female.

Now, the appeal of natural family planning like the one Natural Cycles promotes is undeniable. You don’t need to take a pill. You don’t need to have something inserted into your body. Plus, it gives you a chance to really know and understand the workings of your body. For both sexual health and general health, that’s has many benefits.

Unfortunately, the human body is not known for being that transparent. It does not come equipped with a USB port or a wireless interface that provides us with accurate, real-time data about our insides, although that’s one advancement science is working on. Absent that data, natural family planning, even with the aid of Natural Cycles, is going to be either incomplete or flawed.

I don’t doubt that the use of Natural Cycles helps in the process, but there’s a good reason why the same Mayo Clinic that so thoroughly lays out the process of natural family planning also identifies it as one of the least reliable forms of contraception. This is what they had to say about the risks associated with this method.

Using the rhythm method as a form of birth control doesn’t pose any direct risks. However, it’s considered one of the least effective forms of birth control. How well the rhythm method works varies between couples. In general, as many as 24 out of 100 women who use natural family planning for birth control become pregnant the first year. Also, the rhythm method doesn’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections.

Given this information, the fact that some of those using the Natural Cycles app ended up pregnant should surprise no one. The shortcomings of natural family planning are well known and, for the moment, no app is capable of circumventing those shortcomings.

It’s not just that even the most basic activities of the human body are so difficult to quantify and track. Doing so and trying to plan around it assumes all those involved behave with perfect discipline. While I still believe that most human beings are inherently good at heart, I don’t doubt that human beings can also be erratic, irrational, and just plain stupid at times.

There will be moments when a woman misjudges or mistimes her fertility over the course of her cycle. There will also be moments when the passions between a woman and her lover will override whatever discipline they had promised to exercise during that time of the month. Even when people aren’t stupid, they can be overwhelmed by a moment.

That’s the ultimate flaw of natural planning and apps like Natural Cycles. It’s not just prone to human error. It relies on the absence of human error in order to work perfectly. That’s not just flaw. Those are unreasonable expectations that no population of healthy human beings can hope to meet.

It’s sad that several dozen women had to learn this the hard way, even if the outcome was fairly predictable. If nothing else, it should remind us just how much work we need to do on improving contraception, women’s health, and our overall understanding of our biology.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, sex in society, sexuality

Pro Life, The Sanctity Of Life, And The (Literal) Value Of Life

People participate in the annual March for Life rally on the National Mall in Washington

As a general principle, I limit my discussions on abortion to a maximum of three per year with zero still being the preferred amount. Last year, I wrote a couple articles about it, but that was it. I tried to make clear on both occasions that while I don’t deny the seriousness of this issue, I generally have little to contribute.

It’s not just because I’m a man and will never need an abortion. Pretty much all the arguments surrounding abortion are intractable. Like debating creationism, there’s no way to convince someone who is set in their opinions to change them. You’d have a better chance convincing someone the sky is green, Mars is made of cheese, and “The Emoji Movie” wasn’t terrible.

All that said, abortion is still a serious issue that is evolving before our eyes both culturally and legally. This is one of those issues that affects everybody, either directly or indirectly. Regardless of whether you’re a baby, an old man, or an aspiring erotica/romance writer, abortion’s reach is vast because it involves life, sex, family, and the propagation of our species. The stakes can’t get much higher than that.

Even with those stakes, the only reason I’m talking about it now is because I live less than two hours away from Washington DC. When there’s a major protest, I generally know about it before it starts trending on social media. The latest gathering was the annual March For Life protest, a demonstration dedicated to decrying the ills of abortion and supporting “pro-life” legislation.

Now, I put “pro-life” in quotes for a reason that I hope will make sense in a bit. I’ve already criticized that term because there are those who use it to hide the fact that they care more about maintaining consequences for those who have more sex than churches, mosques, and synagogues prefer. I don’t intend to belabor that argument, but it is somewhat related to the point I want to make.

Having seen plenty of these protests, I notice a common theme that is at the forefront of the “pro-life” movement, but is rarely scrutinized. That’s the whole concept of the “sanctity of life.” I put that in quotes too for the same reasons I hope are obvious by the end of this article. Unlike the anti-sex crowd, this concept is central to the overall movement.

Beyond the intractable belief that life begins at conception and abortion is the taking of a life, the idea that there’s an inherent value to all life, regardless of what stage it’s at or how it affects the life of the mother bearing it. Without there being substantial value, then the whole arguments about when life even begins becomes meaningless.

I’m not going to make the argument that life has no value or that life, in general, should be devalued. I’m of the belief that we only get one life to live and that makes it valuable to some extent. However, I do want to take a minute to try and quantify that value, if only to provide some context to the “pro-life” movement.

I’m not first one to try this. The late, great George Carlin dug into this issue with more candor and brilliance than I or anyone else ever could in 1996. He dared to ask this question in a way that still came off as funny, yet insightful.

“Only living people care about it, so the whole thing grows out of a completely biased point of view. It’s a self-serving, man-made bullshit story. It’s one of these things we tell ourselves so we’ll feel noble. Life is sacred, makes you feel noble.

Well let me ask you this, if everything that ever lived is dead, and everything alive is going to die, where does the sacred part come in? I’m having trouble with that. Because even with the stuff we preach about the sanctity of life, we don’t practice it.”

It may sound cynical, but it’s relevant if the “pro-life” movement is to have any logical and moral validity to it. If it’s going to ascribe a high value to life, then that value can’t be too vague. There has to be some part of it that translates into real, tangible value. Without that, “pro-life” arguments are just empty rhetoric wrapped in inflamed emotions.

So in order to give that value to life, I want to pose a couple questions to the “pro-life” crowd. I don’t expect anyone to answer, but I think it’s important to put this question out there to put context into the anti-abortion arguments that seem so intractable.

“If you truly believe abortion is murder and want to save the lives of unborn children, are you willing to pay women to carry their unwanted children to term?”

That’s a simple yes/no question that shouldn’t be too hard to answer. I have a feeling many answers will be quick and brash, as most are in highly emotional debates. I expect the phrase “personal responsibility” to get thrown around a lot. That seems to be a catch-all word that conveniently provides an excuse to not help someone in a bad situation.

I’ll set aside the issues with that concept for now and ask the second question. This is where it gets more specific.

“How much are you willing to pay someone to not get an abortion and carry a child to term?”

I expect more variation with this question. I also expect more vitriol because I’m basically asking someone to put a price on a human life. I understand that very thought makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Nobody likes to think of themselves, a loved one, or a child as having some sort of number attached to it.

Then again, we don’t seem to mind that when we get our social security numbers, our addresses, or our paychecks. Like it or not, we’re all ascribed some amount of numeric value at some point in our lives. That doesn’t mean some lives are inherently more valuable than others, but it highlights the fact that we can and do link life to numbers.

Now, in order to help out those who may struggle with this question, allow me to do some simple math that should help make this question more palatable.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 652,639 legal induced abortions in the year 2014. In addition, the average total cost for pre-natal care according to the Kaiser Family Foundation is approximately $2,000. Since that’s only for healthy babies, let’s make it $2,500 to account for complications.

Now, multiply 652,693 by $2,500 and we get $1,631,732,500. For the sake of redundancy and accounting for other possible complications, let’s round that up to a total of $1.7 billion. So for $1.7 billion, you could conceivably cover the cost of pre-natal care to every woman seeking an abortion. For that price, there could’ve been zero abortions in 2014.

With that number in mind, would you be willing to pay that price? I know $1.7 billion seems like a lot, but in terms of the US economy, it’s pennies. The size of the US economy is measured in trillions these days. Even with respect to government spending, the defense budget alone in 2014 was $614 billion. A sum of $1.7 billion barely would’ve registered.

Even if you’re against the idea of the government spending money, on principle, that kind of money is out there in the private sector. According to OpenSecrets.org, the pharmaceutical companies alone spent over $3.7 billion in lobbying over a 10-year span.

Even religious organizations have money to spend on this issue. Back in 2015, CNN reported that the vehemently anti-abortion Vatican had over $8 billion in assets. That’s just one denomination, too. According to the Giving USA Foundation, churches received over $114 billion in tax-free charitable donations in 2014. Given that sum, is $1.7 billion really that much?

It gets even better than that, though. Abortion, as a whole, is on the decline. That means it would be even cheaper to pay the price to stop all abortions in 2018. Abortion still happens, though, and if you genuinely think abortion is murder, then there’s just one more question.

“If you’re NOT willing to pay any price to stop all abortion, then how can you say life is sacred and has intrinsic value?”

I understand that sounds like a loaded question after overly simplifying the issue. I concede that if stopping all abortions were as easy as writing a check for $1.7 billion, somebody would’ve done it by now. It’s not that easy an issue. Abortion wouldn’t be such a hot-button issue if it were.

What I’m trying to get at here is that a general unwillingness to put any tangible value on life essentially undermines the arguments of the “pro-life” movement. We’re willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a smart phone and more than five bucks for a latte. What does it say about someone’s stance on abortion if they say life is sacred, but won’t put up any actual money for the lives they’re trying to preserve?

The March For Life demonstration, as well as most anti-abortion demonstrations, didn’t stress measures like encouraging women to carry a child to term, lowering the cost of pre-natal care, or improving contraception access so that abortions aren’t necessary. Most of it centered on favoring legislation that would make abortion more difficult to obtain.

Never mind the fact that such legislation often has some fairly detrimental effects on women’s health, as John Oliver highlighted a couple years ago. That effort doesn’t vindicate the arguments of the “pro-life” movement, nor does it even accomplish their stated goals. It’s basically a way to claim they’re winning the debate and, as I’ve pointed out before, winning a debate isn’t the same as being right.

I feel like I’ve already talked enough about abortion for one day/month/year. If I want to make one point with this article on abortion and the March For Life protest, as a whole, it’s being “pro-life” and promoting the inherent value of life is a great emotional argument. However, if there’s no substance behind that argument, then it’s not a movement that can logically sustain itself in the long run.

Now, do you understand why I put “pro-life” in quotes?

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, sex in society, sexuality

Men Who Can Give Birth (Is ALMOST A Reality)

It’s a common joke that women make about men. I hear it in at least once in every debate that involves gender issues, feminism, or anything that inspires fist fights over Thanksgiving dinner. If men could give birth, then contraception would be a tax write-off and abortion would be available at every Starbucks.

I don’t deny it. A man’s perspective is inherently limited when it comes to understanding women. That’s why we have all these gender issues in the first place. It’s also why some of them can never be resolved, although that’s hardly the only reason. Despite what some of the radical, gender-bending enthusiasts may say, men and women have undeniable differences in their biology, physiology, and psychology.

We are a sexually dimorphic species. One gender is always going to have some perspective or experience that the other cannot relate to, no matter how close they might be. Whether they’re siblings, spouses, or parents, you just can’t get over the fact that one gender gives birth and the other doesn’t.

Sure, a man can sometimes get boobs, albeit in a very unsexy sort of way. However, he can never give birth. He can never know what it’s like to carry a life inside him and then push that life out into the world in a way that has been described as passing a watermelon through a straw.

Well, what if that changed? What if it suddenly became possible for men to actually have a uterus and experience childbirth? Believe it or not, this isn’t another one of my sexy thought experiments. This isn’t just a funny question for women to ask men about. It’s about to become very serious.

According to a story from The Telegraph, the science of putting functioning wombs into transgender women is just about ready for prime time. That means people who began their lives as men will be able to bear children in ways that no man, no matter how girly, has ever been able to experience.

The doctors made it pretty clear too. This is not like artificial wombs, a technology that’s still decades away from perfection. This can happen with our current medical technology. Chances are, it will happen in the next few years and pretty much every head at Fox News is likely to explode.

This is what Dr. Richard Paulson, President of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said on the matter.

“You could do it tomorrow,” he said.

“There would be  additional challenges, but I don’t see any obvious problem that would preclude it.

“I personally suspect there are going to be trans women who are going to want to have a uterus and will likely get the transplant.”

While men and women have a different shaped pelvis, he added, there would nevertheless be room for an implanted womb.

Think about this for a second and try to appreciate the implications here, especially if you’re a man. The day where that joke I mentioned earlier about men giving birth isn’t going to be a laughing matter for much longer. Very soon, a man might be able to describe for the first time in the history of the species what it feels like to give birth.

This isn’t just big news for the transgender community, who have faced their share of challenges lately. This is big news for gender dynamics, as a whole. Think back to all the controversies surrounding feminism, gendered politics, and the different factors that make men and women assholes. A lot of that is built on some of these intractable differences between men and women.

Men could never give birth. Women have to give birth in order for the species to survive. It’s an unequal situation that inspires all sorts of unequal, unjust dynamics. Whether it’s egregious traditions of misogyny or insane standards of masculinity, these dynamics ensure that neither gender can ever understand each other on the same level.

However, as medical technology improves, especially with respect to gender reassignment surgery, we’re getting closer to the day where someone born as one gender can change their physiology so completely that it would be indistinguishable from other individuals of that gender.

The ability to give birth was one of those remaining obstacles that kept transgender women from being on the same level as their cis-gendered peers. The other half of that equation, namely the ability to transplant a penis, was already achieved. In fact, the recipient of a transplanted penis actually managed to father a child.

That happened two years ago. This step, having someone who was born a man give birth through a transplanted womb, will complete the process of destroying one of those intractable barriers between the genders. Like in vitro fertilization before it, this technology changes and/or removes the limits that our sexually dimorphic biology has put upon us.

Also like in vitro fertilization, which is still illegal in certain countries, this is sure to intensify the debate surrounding transgender rights. For much of that struggle, even with today’s advances, opponents often painted transgender individuals as mutilated perversions of a particular gender. They would claim the bodies they put themselves in are unnatural and a product of mental disorders.

Well, that perspective loses weight once the transformation from one gender to another becomes so complete that they can do pretty much everything that their cis-gendered peers can do. Whether it’s taking a piss or giving birth, this technology means that people who feel they were born in the wrong bodies can actually complete the transformation they seek.

What will that mean for the transgender community? Moreover, what will that mean for how men and women understand one another? What happens to someone’s perspective when they’ve spent much of their life as a man, but then change into a woman who goes onto give birth?

These are impossible questions to answer now, but it won’t be long before someone is actually able to answer them with real, unfiltered experiences. That kind of insight is unprecedented for our society, our species, and everything we think we understand about the opposite sex.

Other advances in technology, such as those that will make us full-fledged shape-shifters, will further blur the lines between men and women. However, before that technology gets here, this critical step in the process will set the stage. It may help men and women get along. It may trigger a whole new set of debates that make us want to yell at each other just as much.

Whatever the case, our understanding of gender and our ability to understand the opposite sex is changing. Also, if there’s a way for me to turn this into a sexy novel, expect me to do so the first chance I get.

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Filed under gender issues, Second Sexual Revolution, Sexy Future

Update On Artificial Wombs And Potential Obstacles

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Earlier this year, I talked about the promise of artificial wombs and how they could be the ultimate solution to abortion, gender inequality, and stretch marks. At a time when abortion laws are becoming increasingly controversial and people are protesting gender inequality in major cities, I think that promise is becoming increasingly important.

As it stands, though, the science behind artificial wombs is still very young. It may be one of those technologies that doesn’t get perfected within our lifetimes, but then again the pace of technology is wildly unpredictable. Remember, your smartphone is a million times more powerful than every computer at NASA in 1969. Technology can sneak up on us is what I’m saying.

Artificial wombs probably won’t advance at the same pace as smart phones, if only because they involve women’s body parts and we’re always a bit more careful/awkward when it comes to women’s body parts. However, that doesn’t keep the technology from advancing.

Just last month, doctors in Philadelphia were able to bring a premature lamb to term using a special fluid-filled bag that mimicked the conditions of a womb. The baby lamb was able to develop and eventually survive on its own outside the bag. By all accounts, the lambs developed normally.

It’s not a full-blown artificial womb, but it’s an important step. The lambs in this case weren’t entirely grown in the womb. They were placed in the bag just 105 days after conception, which is akin to a human fetus being 22 weeks into its 40-week gestation period.

That means that, if applied to humans, more prematurely-born infants could survive to term. On top of that, if there’s a complication with the mother’s health, she needs to only endure half a pregnancy before transferring the fetus to one of these units. Her life will be saved. The baby’s life will be saved. Given how many children die due to premature birth, this is a technology that could potentially save countless lives.

Then, as the technology improves, it will eventually reach the point where a child can develop entirely within an artificial womb. There’s no need for a woman to endure any pregnancy at all. The extent to which that would change our society, from gender issues to sexuality, cannot be overstated.

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That technology is still a ways off, but we’re literally halfway there. Depending on how the pace of advancement will change, due to financial and regulatory pressures, it’s hard to say whether it’ll happen in my lifetime. However, it will happen. There’s just too much appeal to not having to endure nine months of pregnancy.

That leads me to a personal story that occurred recently while I was meeting with some family friends. It’s a story that highlights one of the biggest issues that artificial wombs would have and it has nothing to do with the technology.

Recently, a close relative of mine had a child. It was a joyous occasion for the entire family. I was certainly happy. I’ve had a chance to see that child grow it’s been a wonderful experience for everyone involved.

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It has also led to a number of discussions about the rigors of pregnancy. Many women in my family have their share of stories about what it was like to grow another human inside them over a nine-month period. Some of those stories were funny. Some of them made me cringe in ways I usually reserve for a dentist appointment.

At one point in that discussion, though, I brought up artificial wombs. I asked them if they had the option of having their child, but without going through the rigors of pregnancy, would they do it? After the stories they described, I thought at least some would jump at the chance. However, none of them did.

It’s true. Every woman I asked said they would still endure nine months of hardship for their child. That surprised me because it hints at the mentality women feel when it comes to bearing their children. As uncomfortable and inconvenient as it is, they still go through it and would do it again for their children. That says a lot about a mother’s love.

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It also hints that the prospect of using artificial wombs in lieu of pregnancy might not catch on, even after the technology is perfected. Even if an artificial womb is healthier, safer, and cheaper than natural birth, there may still be women who opt for the old fashioned way of baby-making.

This isn’t just someone who still opts to use a flip-phone over a smartphone. This is someone who is willing to put their bodies through a rigorous process that technology may very well make obsolete. What does that say about the human mindset, specifically those of women when they bear children?

Could this be a mentality that’s hardwired into our brains? Could this also be a product of people not keeping up with the times? Perhaps younger generations would be more willing to use an artificial womb over natural birth. Cultural attitudes may affect it as well. It may very well be the case that being a woman and not giving birth creates an identity crisis of sorts.

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It’s hard to tell at the moment because the technology is so new. It hasn’t even been used on humans yet, but that is going to happen soon, if only to ensure that premature babies survive. After that, there may be a shift in cultural attitudes. If the technology advances rapidly, it may lead to genuine conflict. In that sense, maybe Aldous Huxley, was onto something when he wrote “Brave New World.”

Maybe my family is unique in their attitudes towards natural birth. Maybe this is a question that we’re not ready to answer yet. Maybe it’s one I’ll ask again at another family gathering, if only to see if their attitudes have changed.

Technology changes societies. Some incur more change than others, as the inventor of ski masks can attest. However, we’ve never had a technology that changes how we actually propagate our species. That puts artificial wombs in a special, uncharted territory. What it means for us and the children we bear remains to be seen.

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The Future Of Contraception (For Men)

There are some technological advancements that are exceedingly overdue. It’s easy to be caught off-guard by some advancements. Who the hell besides “Star Trek” and “The Simpsons” would’ve thought that advances like smart-phones and farm simulators would’ve caught on?

These kinds of advances are nice/shocking/annoying surprises. However, there are some enhancements that seriously need to happen for society to fix a major problem. I’m not talking about nuclear fusion, flying cars, jet packs, or sex robots though, although there has been some recent development in that field. I’m talking about male birth control.

Like nuclear fusion and a “Fantastic Four” movie that doesn’t suck, this is one of those advancements that science has been working on for decades now. Unfortunately, progress has been slow, regressive, or non-existent in some cases. At the same time, however, options for female birth control have only grown, so much so that the amount of choices is almost on part with the flavors of potato chips.

So what’s the hold-up? Why is science dragging its feet here and keeping the burden of contraception solely on the backs of women? Well, before all the radical feminists out there break out their pitchforks and bullhorns, take a deep breath and calm down. It has nothing to do with some vast, misogynistic conspiracy perpetrated by the patriarchy. It’s just a matter of human biology.

The basic science of contraception is simple. There are dozens of steps that go into making a pregnancy happen. All contraception has to do to be effective is stop just one. That’s easy for women because it only involves stopping a single cell, namely the ovum. You can stop it with hormones. You can stop it with implants. In biological terms, it’s relatively easy because it’s one cell. It’s the science equivalent of fighting zombies with a tank.

For men, it’s a bit trickier. It’s akin to trying to hit a barrage of baseballs the size of marbles with an undersized plastic bat. The average “load” of a man contains between 40 million and 200 million sperm cells. Even a hulked-out Barry Bonds on his best day can’t hope to hit every one of those cells.

This is why, with the exception of condoms, it’s so difficult to create a reliable form of contraception for men. It’s a matter of volume, biology, and sheer numbers. Again, the patriarchy isn’t behind this. It’s purely a matter of pragmatics.

That hasn’t stopped science from trying. Naturally, there’s significant demand for a product that’ll ensure men that they’ll never be on the wrong end of a paternity test. For the Evander Holyfields and DMX’s of the world, that’s an important bit of assurance because failing that test can cost a lot in terms of legal recourse.

Earlier this year, one attempt at male birth control ended in miserable failure when men couldn’t handle the side-effects. It made men everywhere the butt of a lot of jokes, especially among women who had been dealing with the side-effects of contraception for decades. As a man, I definitely felt an unseen kick to the balls. That said, it did highlight the inherent difficulty in achieving this critical advancement.

Well, the promise of male birth control might actually be closer than we think and not in the flying cars sort of way. According to ScienceAlert, a new product called Vasalgel is making its rounds through testing and so far, it may hold the most promise to giving men the same control over their fertility that women have enjoyed for decades.

How does it work? It’s basically a dissolvable gel that is injected into vas deferens, which are those tiny tubes that sperm flow through after they leave the testes. The gel blocks the sperm, but not the rest of the seminal fluid that gets released upon ejaculation. That means men still get the sweet, sexy release they crave, but that release contains no sperm. It’s the semen-equivalent of calorie-free soda.

This method is far more preferable in the sense that it doesn’t use hormones, which apparently men aren’t as equipped to handle as women. It’s also not a regiment that requires men to take a pill daily. Given the “meathead effect” caused by testosterone, that’s pretty damn important.

When used properly, which is always key in any medical application, Vasalgel works for approximately ten years. That’s basically then years of baby-free boning for men. Considering how many kids certain professional athletes tend to father, that’s a big deal.

Beyond reducing the need to make child support payments, this form of male contraception is vital with respect to leveling the playing field for genders. Let’s not lie to ourselves, guys. We’re playing an unfair game with unequal rules in the contraception game.

We put the burden on the women to manipulate their bodies accordingly so they don’t get pregnant when they don’t want to. They have to down pills, shoot themselves up with chemicals, or implant little devices up into their lady parts. All we men have to do is put on a latex sheath over our dicks. That’s just not fair.

Beyond putting all these expectations on the ladies we want to love and make love with, we’re also putting ourselves at a disadvantage. You want to know why Maury Povich is in business? It’s because men just don’t have any options beyond condoms or vasectomies to control their fertility. Absent those options, we’re still incredibly horny and, as we routinely demonstrate, we don’t think clearly when we’re horny.

With Vasalgel, assuming it works as advertised, the playing field isn’t just level. The whole contraception game is basically on easy mode. This isn’t something we have to apply in the heat of the moment when we’re so horny that we can barely do basic math. This is something we do at a doctor’s office once every decade and then basically forget about it. Like hot pockets and breakfast burritos, it helps when things are that easy.

Picture the following scenario. A 16-year-old boy is an aspiring athlete. Everyone tells him he has what it takes to play at the college level and maybe even the pros. He’s a big star at the school and, naturally, that attracts a lot of women. He knows that getting a teenage girl pregnant is a very good way to derail any promising future. Just ask Travis Henry.

To nip this issue early on, he goes to a doctor and gets a Vasalgel injection. That means for the rest of his high school and college career, at least, he doesn’t have to worry about getting a girl knocked up. He can enjoy all the naked cheerleaders he wants without worry.

Now this wouldn’t stop some girls from claiming he fathered their child. This does happen. Look up something called “Baller Alert” and prepare to become an angry Al Bundy. Some women do prey, and smartly so, on the horniness of men and use it to their advantage. Vasalgel could stop that.

I believe that if and when Vasalgel gets approved, it’ll also come with a certificate or some indisputable receipt that shows that a man does have this injection. Perhaps it even has a date and time stamp with it because that would help establish timelines for paternity suits, if and when they come up. It would give men an extremely powerful tool not just to control their fertility, but to fight back against predatory baby mamas.

Think back to those professional athletes who couldn’t keep it in their pants. How much money and frustration would they have saved if they had something like Vasalgel?

That’s why I believe that male contraception is a vital advancement. So long as there is an unequal dynamic between genders, there will always be conflict. Balance out that conflict and maybe we can focus less on paternity suits and more on finding better ways to relate to one another. If those ways involve a more honest way of making love, then that’s just a nice bonus.

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Thoughts On Male Birth Control And Why It’s Making Men Look Bad

Let’s face it. Men can be very targeted with their masculinity. Show us a deer that needs killing, a wall that needs smashing, or a bucket of fried food that needs eating and we’ll flex our nuts like we’re John Wayne. We all have egos, but men tend to jump at the chance to feed those egos more than most. Sure, it gets us in trouble and we make asses of ourselves in the process, but it makes us feel manly and that’s all we need.

Men may be overly simple creatures in that respect, but by excessively targeting our masculinity, we leave ourselves vulnerable. It doesn’t matter how thick our manly armor is. If there’s a target on our ass, we’ll get hit and we’ll still whine about it more than we dare admit.

This is why the recent news surrounding the first male birth control shot caught my attention. For those of you too distracted by the World Series, the economy, or sexy romance/erotica novels (hopefully written by me), here’s a quick and dirty recap.

In a study co-sponsored by the UN, a group of 320 healthy men in monogamous relationships were recruited to test a new male birth control method. This method involved two injections given every eight weeks, one consisting of a synthetic form of testosterone and the other consisting of a derivative of the female hormones progesterone and estrogen.

I’m not a doctor. I’m barely qualified to make a cheese sandwich so please don’t take my assessment as definitive. Based on what I’ve read about this procedure, it’s basically a one-two punch of hormones basically tricks a man’s body into thinking it doesn’t need to produce sperm anymore. That’s good if you don’t want to be on the wrong end of a paternity test.

There’s just one problem though and it’s a problem that is making women everywhere roll their eyes and resist the urge to punch something. The study ended because, according to CNN, the men became concerned when side-effects like mood disorders and depression emerged.

On the surface, that sounds like a reasonable concern. If something is affecting your mood that badly, then you should be concerned. If this were just a new blood pressure drug, it wouldn’t be news. The problem is this drug affects our sex lives and in a culture where a wardrobe malfunction becomes a national scandal, it’s going to be news.

If those effects involved men growing a third limb or having the sudden urge to sing show tunes in public, it may be news for all the right reasons. Unfortunately, those reasons are nowhere to be found this time. Instead, this news basically gives women everywhere an excuse to bust more balls and honestly, I can’t say I blame them.

Why can’t I blame them? Well, check out WebMD and look up the side effects of hormonal birth control for women, which has been legal and available for 50 years now. Here’s a quick rundown of the side-effects.

  • Nausea
  • Weight gain
  • Sore or swollen breasts
  • Small amounts of blood, or spotting, between periods
  • Lighter periods
  • Mood changes

These side-effects may not be on par with migraines, dry heaves, and explosive diarrhea, but they’re nothing to scoff at. Women have been enduring them for years and they endure them because they want to have some measure of control over their reproductive destiny. That’s objectively a good thing. We all want to control our lives. That should include the stuff that goes on in our bodies.

However, when it comes to contraception, there’s an undeniable imbalance in terms of who has to take the shot and who has to endure the side-effects. For men, there are no side-effects to condoms other than having to worry about whether your lovers have a latex allergy. They’re also cheap, easy to use, and don’t involve pumping chemicals into our bodies. By all accounts, it’s pretty damn easy.

Compare that with female birth control, which requires either a dose of chemicals or inserting something right up through the vagina and into the uterus. They endure this whereas men will go to any length to avoid inserting anything into their penis. That just doesn’t seem fair, does it?

We humans already have an innate sense of fairness built into our brain wiring. When we see something that we know is unfair, it tends to cause us distress. This discrepancy in contraception definitely triggers that response, if only indirectly.

The fact that women have to bear such a greater burden when utilizing contraception is definitely an issue. I believe it’s part of what fuels some of the gender issues that are driving women apart. Again, this may be indirect, but it’s an effect we can’t ignore.

In nature, when there’s an imbalance, any living system, be it a blob of pond scum or the whole of human civilization, will work to rectify it. Creating contraception that shares the burden between men and women equally is part of an effort that has been going on for centuries, often with unequal results.

A story like this just exposes that inequality even more. It reminds us that men are not bearing their share of the burden. It’s still on the women to make sure that they’re on contraception and that it works. All men can bring to the table is condoms and condoms don’t involve injections into genitals.

This study is definitely a setback and one that’s sure to frustrate women for quite some time. To those women out there, I would only urge patience. I believe that medical science is advancing at a rate our horny ancient ancestors can only dream of.

I’ve talked about the future of the human body and how technology will change it. I believe that one day, we will have the perfect form of contraception that works equally with both genders. It’ll most likely involve a single injection of programmable flesh, each designed to regulate our reproductive systems. It means men and women will be equally capable of controlling their fertility.

When that day comes, it’ll finally balance out what centuries of evolution cannot. It will change the way men and women relate to one another. Hopefully, it means we’ll have fewer stories like this where women want to punch the first man they see for being such a whiner. I say any future where women have fewer reasons to punch men is a future worth fighting for.

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