Tag Archives: fertility

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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Hard Lessons About Abortion And Society (From A Failed Communist Regime)

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There are a lot of sensitive topics that nobody likes talking about. They make people uncomfortable, anxious, and downright angry at times. Sometimes, that’s a sign that we should talk about them. Then, there are times when discussions on those topics have gone horribly wrong, resulting in important lessons that we would be wise to heed.

Chief among those sensitive topics is abortion. In the pantheon of uncomfortable discussions, abortion is in a league of it’s own. I try not to talk about it too often, but I don’t shy away from it when it reveals so much about society, sexuality, and gender issues.

At the moment, the abortion debate is ongoing, but somewhat stagnant. Sure, there are a few extreme pro-lifers who favor the death penalty for women seeking an abortion, which is an irony in and of itself. As it stands though, abortion remains legal in the United States, but efforts to limit abortion access are steadily growing.

It’s hard to know what the future holds for the abortion debate, especially as advances in contraception continue to emerge. Until we perfect artificial wombs and completely decouple sex from reproduction, the debate will continue. Arguments about the ethics of abortion and when life begins will still generate heated and passionate discussions.

While I’ve tried to contribute to these discussions in a reasonable way, there are aspects of the abortion debate that tend to get overlooked. However, they have less to do with the ethics and more to do with the logistics of abortion, fertility, and managing society. It’s in that part of the issue, though, where there are lessons to learn from history.

That history sometimes comes from unexpected places in parts of the world that rarely make the news. For the abortion debate, one place and time period that warrants extra scrutiny is Romania under its old communist regime. For those outside of Europe who never lived behind the Iron Curtain, this part of the world is an afterthought. However, its history with respect to the abortion debate is one worth learning from.

That history is not a good one, as if often the case with repressive communist regimes. Up until the late 1960s, Romania had fairly liberal abortion policies. Most women who wanted one could get one and since access to contraception was so limited, it was the most common form of family planning. To pro-life supporters, it’s basically the nightmare scenario they dread.

That all changed in 1967 when the communist leader of the country, Nicholae Ceaușescu, issued Decree 770. This didn’t just outlaw abortion in almost every instance. It effectively turned every woman’s reproductive system into the property of the state. Women were required, by law, to carry every pregnancy to term and by required, I don’t mean through impassioned protests.

This is a communist country. The Romanian government enforced this decree with the utmost force. It had the secret police spy on women and hospitals to make sure nobody tried to evade the law. It even adopted a birth-focused brand of sex education that are extreme, even by Texas standards. Basically, Romania went from a pro-life nightmare to the a pro-life paradise.

However, Decree 770 had nothing to do with the ethics of abortion, the sanctity of life, or any major concerns about sexual promiscuity. For Nicholae Ceaușescu, this decree was done purely out of concerns for demographics, an issue that is becoming increasingly relevant for some societies.

Ceaușescu had seen that the population of his country had stagnated in the 1950s. He couldn’t have a strong, robust communist country without a growing population of workers. Decree 770 was intended to change that. It may have even made sense at the time, at least from the perspective of a ruthless dictator.

People were still having a lot of sex, as the high abortion rate indicated. By making abortion illegal, the Romanian government would benefit from a fresh influx of young, native-born Romanians who would help build the country’s glorious communist future. Given the country’s current standing in the global stage, it should be obvious how wrong that turned out to be.

To say Decree 770 was disaster would be like saying Ebola is a mild stomach bug. Sure, it might have reduced the amount of legal abortions being conducted in Romania, but the terrible impacts it had on women, society, and entire generations are far beyond my writing abilities.

Women today who passionately protest their right to not be harassed or denigrated would be wise to note the experiences of Romanian women under this regime. In their world, they didn’t just have sleazy Hollywood producers harassing them. Under the Romanian government, they were basically state-sponsored breeders. Any role beyond that was considered criminal.

The punishments for subverting Decree 770 were as harsh as you would expect for a communist society. Women and doctors were thrown in prison. Since contraception was also banned, it forced women to resort to dangerous extremes that added even more suffering. Take this little anecdote from the Irish Times.

“Out of desperation, women would resort to insane methods,” Dr Elena Borza told the Inter Press news agency in Romania recently. “They would use salt, detergent, or any other substance which they thought could help them get rid of the baby.”

This policy was horrible for women, to say the least. However, it’s the many children they gave birth to who may have suffered the worst. Beyond the issues of having larger families in a country that later got hit with a severe economic crisis, this surge in birth rates led to a surge of abandoned children that flooded streets and orphanages alike.

The stories of these children are not the kind that would make it into a light-hearted Disney movie. The conditions that these abandoned children endured were nothing short of traumatic. There was abuse, exploitation, and violence of all types. When there are so few resources to go around, but more and more mouths to feed, it leads to conflict.

I don’t want to belabor just how awful things got for the generation that Decree 770 created, but if you want to learn more or are just a glutton for dark parts of our history, check out a documentary called “Children Underground.” It’ll describe and depict the horrors these children endured in a way that’s graphic, but real.

Even if abandoned children isn’t proof enough of Decree 770’s failure, consider how Nicholae Ceaușescu’s regime ended. He was not hailed as the ultimate anti-abortion leader. He was brutally executed by his own soldiers, some of which were likely children born as a result of that policy. Some might call that irony. Other’s might call that fitting.

Whatever you call it, the legacy of Decree 770 is worth scrutinizing because it provides a case study in what happens when you take anti-abortion policies to the utmost extreme. I’m not just talking about the potential links between abortion and crime, which is still very controversial. I believe a much bigger part of that legacy is how it reduced an entire society to state-sanctioned drones whose only purpose was to work and breed.

It removed agency from couples who didn’t want children. It removed agency from pregnant women. It removed agency from families. It led to terrible situations that resulted in parents abandoning their children. Say what you want about a policy, but when it leads to child abandonment, then that’s a clear sign.

In many ways, Romania still hasn’t recovered from Decree 770. The effects this policy had on an entire generation and their parents left some pretty significant scars, to say the least. Those scars, however, can be critical lessons when discussing issues involving abortion, sexuality, and child rearing

That’s not to say that the experience in Romania completely discredits all anti-abortion arguments. Remember, and it’s worth emphasizing, Romania was a communist country where individual rights, freedom of choice, and personal liberty aren’t established traditions. Its situation is unique and subject to some pretty brutal circumstances.

Never-the-less, the experiences and legacy of Decree 770 provide a critical insight into the complexities of the abortion debate. It shows what can happen when one side is taken to extremes with brute, uncompromising force without first convincing the population of its merits. It’s not just tyrannical. It’s damaging.

At the moment, attitudes towards abortion are fairly mixed, but stable. The majority of people believe that abortion should be legal under certain circumstances. The nature and extent of those circumstances vary, but they’re rarely conducive to extremes.

That’s why whenever a particular side gets too extreme in this heated debate, it helps to remember the lessons learned from Decree 770. Regardless of whether it occurs in a communist country or rural Alabama, those lessons are important to recall. They’re also the kinds of lessons we don’t want to re-learn.

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Study Confirms We’re Hornier Around The Holidays

I love the holidays. In terms of themes, traditions, and elaborate decorations, there’s just so much to love about them. I’ve loved them since I was a kid. I still love them as an adult. The older I get, the more reasons I find the love the holidays.

With that in mind, I’d like to share one of those reasons for anyone who might not have enough to love the holidays as much as I do. Even if you don’t need another reason, one more couldn’t hurt. On top of that, this one has to do with sex, love, and making babies under the light of a Christmas tree. I hope I have your attention now.

No, this isn’t just me trying to sell one of my sexy holiday-themed novels, although I do have one that I’m more than happy to promote. This is me reporting on a real scientific phenomenon that’s both sexy and festive, a potent combination for this time of year, if ever there was one.

It comes courtesy of Health.com, a site not known for being festive or sexy. However, one particular reports on a lesser-known phenomenon associated with the holidays and it has little to do with how many times people watch “The Charlie Brown Christmas Special.”

According to a real study published in Scientific Reports, there is a notable uptick in sexual interest during the holidays and that interest actually results in a surge of babies the following September. No, this isn’t something out of The Onion. This is a direct quote.

More babies are born in September than any other month in the United States, which means that nine months prior—right around Christmas and New Year’s—is the most popular time of year for conception.

Think about that for a moment, especially if your birthday is in September. Despite all the whining about the so-called War on Christmas or the overt commercialization of Christmas, there’s still something about the holidays that gets people in the mood. As an aspiring erotica/romance writer and a lover of Christmas, this fills my eyes with tears of holiday joy.

The actual data of the study is pretty revealing in that holidays seem to have a genuine effect on our collective libido. It’s not just Christmas that sees this effect either, but since it’s the biggest holiday of the year in terms of raw capital, the sexy effects are most pronounced.

If you’re interested in the raw data or just want to know the specifics of such a sexy study, here’s what researchers at Indiana University and the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia in Portugal did to surmise this sexy, yet festive conclusion. It’s not exactly in depth, but the results speak for themselves.

To investigate mood and interest in sex, researchers looked at Google Trends data from 2004 to 2014, and Twitter data from 2010 to 2014, in nearly 130 countries. In predominantly Christian countries, they found that web searches for the word sex were highest around Christmas—even in countries in the Southern hemisphere, like Australia and Argentina, where Christmas takes place in the summer.

In majority Muslim countries, web searches for sex spiked around Eid-al-Fitr, a major holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. This was particularly interesting, say the researchers, since Ramadan is based on a lunar calendar and is observed during different seasons, depending on the year.

The study is the first “planetary-level” look at human interest and desire as they refer to sex and reproduction at different times of the year, says co-lead author Luis Rocha, PhD, professor of informatics and associate professor of cognitive science at Indiana University. And it offers strong support for the idea that interest in sex peaks during major cultural or religious celebrations, he says.

Beyond the data, it makes a lot of sense from a purely anecdotal perspective. The holidays, especially Christmas, make us all more inherently aware of traditions and personal connections. We often take time off work, break from our rigorous routines, and share quality moments with our loved ones.

More quality moments, absent the rigors of work, mean more opportunities to get sexy. Add cold weather that forces us to remain indoors and huddling together for body heat and those opportunities get even sexier. It’s just basic math and the sexiest kind of biology.

Considering there’s more than one person in my family who was born in September, I like to think my folks have contributed to this phenomenon. I think it’s a phenomenon that deserves more celebration, even if it can never exceed the strong association between holidays and overpriced toys.

It’s also worth noting that in the pre-Christian era of Western Civilization, there was this proto-Christmas holiday that Ancient Roman celebrated called Saturnalia. While some of its traditions aren’t directly linked to the holiday that became Christmas, it did involve such festivities as gift-giving, feasts, and constant partying. For those with particularly elaborate holiday traditions, that should sound familiar.

Whatever the source, be it the pre-Christian traditions or the modern commercialism we’ve all embraced, there’s just something about the holidays that makes us all feel a bit friskier. It’s a beautiful thing and the fact that there’s real science to bake it up just makes it all the more beautiful.

So, in the spirit of the holidays, I urge everyone to take some time in between gift-giving and Christmas cookies to get a little extra cozy with your lover. You won’t be offending anyone’s religious sensibilities by doing so. In fact, you’ll be carrying on a proud tradition that the human race has celebrated since it invented the concept of holidays. If we’re going to celebrate anything, we’re going to get sexy while doing it.

With that in mind, I hope this adds a little sex appeal to your holiday traditions. If, come September, you find that your festities resulted in the creation of a new life, then you just gave that child even more reasons to love Christmas. Everybody wins.

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Gender Equality, Artificial Ovaries, And The End Of Menopause

There are certain situations where, if you take away modern medicine, social institutions, and various life hacks, there’s an inescapable gender disparity. I know that by saying that, I’m inviting all sorts of nasty comments. There are those who claim that just hinting at inherent gender differences is to empower the patriarchy, oppress women, and probably strangle puppies in the process.

This piece isn’t directed at those people, nor is it directed at those who want to fight Round 2,697,206,077 of never-ending the gender wars arguments that the internet has made exceedingly easy to wage. I write this with the intent to inspire hope, excitement, and maybe a few sexy thoughts beyond those I share every Sunday.

When it comes to helping men and women operate on a level playing field, technology has been the great equalizer. It’s because of technology that we’ve helped women gain a greater level of control over their fertility. It’s because of technology that men who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to have children can now do so. A huge chunk of modern society is built around having greater control over our sexual health.

For men, that control has gotten pretty darn robust. Thanks to advancements in modern medicine, as well as tireless marketing efforts from pharmaceutical companies, men can enjoy continuous sexual function well into old age. Say what you will about the greed of pharmaceutical companies, but the collective sex lives of men are better because of it.

While that’s great news for men who want to stay sexy into their golden years, this does widen a particular gender disparity that is rarely discussed, if only because it evokes distressing thoughts about what our grandparents do in their private time. While modern medicine allows men to keep humping like they did in their youth, women face the biological equivalent of a brick wall as they get older.

It’s called menopause and like reverse puberty, it’s a fact of life for women. It typically happens in a woman’s late 40s or early 50s. It’s effects vary from woman to woman, but its signature trait is that a woman stops menstruating. That means they no longer have periods, they no longer ovulate, and they can no longer have children.

At the moment, it’s basically a fact of life. If a woman lives long enough, this is what they deal with. It’s like graying hair, wrinkly skin, or liver spots. At a certain point, their reproductive systems cease functioning. While they can still have sex, the various biological changes associated with menopause can make that difficult.

In terms of the gender scorecard, this definitely deducts some points for women. Whereas men have a way to keep their dicks functioning well into their elder years, women’s options are much more limited. Sure, there are a few medical ways to deal with it, some of which can be purchased at a local pharmacy for less than twenty bucks. However, the biology is still behind the curve.

What if a woman wants to continue having children late in life? What if a woman couldn’t have children in her youth, but later wants them even after her fertility has declined? Whereas men can still father children into their 90s, women seem to be out of luck.

However, and this is where I offer a glimmer of hope to those dreading their unsexy elder years, that may change thanks to recent advancements in biotechnology. According to MIT Technology Review, our ongoing research into regenerative medicine is drawing us closer to the day when we can actually regrow a woman’s ovaries. Here are the basics of this amazing and inherently sexy work.

The work, carried out at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, suggests a potential alternative to the synthetic hormones millions of women take after reaching middle age. A paper describing the findings was published Tuesday in Nature Communications.

When tested in rats, the pieces of tissue, known as organoids, were better than traditional hormone replacement drugs at improving bone health and preventing weight gain. The treatment was also as good as hormone drugs at maintaining healthy tissue in the uterus.

In essence, this is like treating your organs as rusty car parts that need replacing. Ovaries, like any other organ in the body, tend to break down as time goes on. We’ve already grown some basic organs in the lab. Growing ovaries, though, has far greater implications than simply keeping your body humming along.

Ovaries, as anyone who sat through a health class knows, are the organs that produce the various hormones and androgens that make up a woman’s biology. It plays key roles in just about everything having to do with female sex and reproduction. Once it shuts down, it’s like the main generator of a building going down. Sure, some parts have backup power, but that’s not enough to keep it running.

The ability to regrow fresh, healthy ovaries completely changes that dichotomy. In some respects, it puts the women out ahead of the men in terms of sexual function in their golden years. Unlike little blue pills or even bionic penises, these re-grown ovaries are entirely functional organs. It’s like resetting, rebooting, and re-energizing a woman’s sexual function.

This doesn’t just mean that women can still have healthy children well beyond their golden years. It means they can also avoid the various downgrades to their sexual function that often comes with menopause. They don’t need to take pills or constantly replenish hormones. They’ll have entirely functional organs inside them to do that for them.

Now, ignoring the possibility that creating new ovaries may also lead to creating enhanced ovaries, this does more than just improve the sex lives of older women. In many respects, it puts them on the same level as their elder male counterparts.

Their sexual function and their reproductive function don’t have to decline with age. Like older men, they can still have sex for fun. They can still have sex to make babies. Their options are just as open. If you’re a fan of gender equality, then this is an advancement that’s every bit as vital as advances in male birth control.

While I’m sure this will still generate some unpleasant mental images about our parents and grandparents, the incentives are already in place and too great to ignore. Sure, there will be some women who opt not to get fresh ovaries, just as there are some men who don’t mind having a less active penis later in life. However, the fact that medical science will give people these options is a true game-changer.

Technology has always changed our society in immense ways, but technology that affects our sex lives and our reproductive health tends to have bigger impacts than most. What happens to our family structures when our grandparents are still having children at the same time as our parents? What happens when getting older is no longer associated with succumbing to menopause and sexual dysfunction?

These are the kinds of questions that don’t have easy answers now, but those answers may end up finding us sooner than we expect. Since I’m in the business of erotica/romance novels, it may very well affect me at some point. Then again, having more people who stay horny into old age might be good for business.

 

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